Blogmas Day 3: Threatened by Expertise

Today, I want to talk about feeling threatened. I know, what a holly jolly topic of conversation. But this is something that has been on my mind for some time now, and though I don't have any real conclusions on the matter, I want to share. As a college student, a journalist, a woman, and a millennial, I think I know a thing or two about feeling threatened by others.

As a student: Am I more confused and overwhelmed than my classmates?
As a journalist: Is someone going to comment on something I've written, telling me I'm dumb?
As a woman: Am I safe walking to my car alone at night?
As a millennial: Is anyone over the age of 35 going to take me seriously?

In some aspects, being threatened is healthy. It's important to take these thoughts into consideration to make sure you're aware and performing at your personal best. But it seems like way more often than is normal, I feel threatened or belittled for no reason at all, by people who are terrified of being lesser in their areas of expertise.

Okay, maybe threatened isn't always the right word. Maybe challenged or pressed work better. But the sentiment is the same: some people are so concerned about asserting their experience and knowledge that they come across as unnecessarily aggressive. Let me give you an example so you kind of get what I'm talking about.

Recently at work, a mother and daughter came in shopping for makeup. The mother, probably in her early fifties, asked me for a foundation recommendation and a color match. She was lovely and super fun to work with, but her daughter was driving me up the wall. Every thing I said, tip I shared, or question I asked, she needed to cut in and make sure I was aware that she knew more than me.

"I think this foundation matches you best," I'd say, to which the daughter would respond, "But it might oxidize throughout the day, which is when air and sun exposure changes the color of your makeup."

"This mascara is a bestseller," I'd offer, to a cutting, "Yeah, but I read online that it clumps."

"Do you need any finishing powder to put on top of your foundation?"
"Mom, I have stuff at home that works better."

At no more than sixteen years old (if I had to guess), she had a rebuttal for everything. At first, it was nice to have a second opinion, but after a while it was tiring. I get it, girl: you have done your research. I think that's awesome. But for the love of God, I promise I'm not trying to knock you down a peg, I'm just trying to do my job.

Another example of this happens a lot in group projects, both for school and work. There's always that one person who can't take anyone else's ideas without a side helping of disdain. Every suggestion is followed up with a "Yeah, but..." or a "Well, I think..." or an "Instead of that..." and my one question is simple: Is that not tiring? Doesn't it suck to constantly be shutting others down?

Ultimately I know it's not about the person receiving the message, but the person delivering it. When we threaten or challenge others, 98% of the time, it's because we in turn are the ones really feeling that way. And I get it: that's not a comfortable feeling, but then why deflect that onto someone else? Sure, when discussing foreign policy or personal safety, it's important to push back and speak up to be heard, but a lot of things aren't worth baring your teeth for. We want others to know we're smart or knowledgable or that we've done our homework, but when we make a show of it, it's just to fluff our own egos. This might come as a shock, but sometimes we don't have to be the best at something to enjoy it or have a perspective on it. We don't have to buckle under the pressure of being top dog. We don't have to let others' knowledge and perspectives directly threaten our feelings of self-worth.

I know this is something that I've had to work on in the past, and it's not something I'm totally immune from, but I'm working on it. I encourage you to do so, too, if it's something deep down you know you struggle with. If you're feeling threatened by someone else's expertise, resist the urge to react. Ask yourself if the person you're speaking with is actually trying to belittle you, or if you're being irrational. Don't bite back so much if you don't need to. Let your good ideas and your talents stand on their own; that speaks volumes.


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