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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

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    Jennifer Herman

As my father’s daughter, I’m not shy, quiet, or demure but confident, exuberant, and outgoing. Instead of being described as such, like my dad often was, I was mostly labeled “aggressive.”

I can’t remember with absolute certainty ever being told by our father that he wanted sons instead of daughters. But I am confident that by most standards, he treated us as boys. Our free time, particularly in summers, was spent mowing lawns, painting decks, stacking wood, and learning whatever carpentry or plumbing skills were needed on any particular day. While friends were babysitting or working as sales clerks or cashiers, my sister and I climbed ladders and carried lumber, learning the care and maintenance of 2 vs. 4-cycle engines.

I’m not lamenting the work. Along with it came a love of the outdoors and physical activity that still serves us well today. Dad assured us that the skills he was teaching us would ensure our independence and provide us with experiences that would take us farther than the things our friends were busy doing. As old-fashioned as my father could be in every other aspect of his being regarding our futures, he was adamant that we let nothing and no one prevent us from doing what we wanted to accomplish.

Pops didn’t prepare me for the unpopularity that my independent spirit would cause at times in my career. You can imagine where this might be going. I’m the person who sits across from you in a meeting and knows what she wants from herself and especially from you. As my father’s daughter, I’m not shy, quiet, or demure but confident, exuberant, and outgoing. Instead of being described as such, like my dad often was, I was mostly labeled “aggressive.”

I DID THE TRIPLE CHECK when I heard it from my husband and business partner. Early in my career, I learned to soften my approach and tone, and tailored my requests to be “reasonable.” Did it garner new business? Help me hire better people? Make the company more profitable? No, nope, and not at all. Did it make me miserable? One hundred and ten percent YES.

My father notwithstanding, I would be the last person to advocate that people can’t change. I’m a big believer in personal and professional growth. But when you have to change the essence of who you are to please other people, that isn’t personal growth; it’s a mistake.

To be clear, I have worked at becoming more empathetic. I’ve discovered the power of listening, and it took years of trial and error to get it right. I don’t have a problem with change. I have a problem with labels that don’t fit. I know I’m still a (goddamn) ‘Rose’ no matter what adjective is used to describe me.

Although your opinion of me matters to a degree, the words you use matter to me more. There is a world of words that better describe me (and other powerful women) than “aggressive,” and they include but are not limited to the following:

  • Ambitious
  • Assertive
  • Determined
  • Daring
  • Feisty

All of the above are synonyms for “aggressive,” and all are more positive and truer descriptors.They are a better fit, and likely more reflective of the strong women you work with. We have a choice to make when picking words, and I challenge you to broaden your vocabulary and look for something that takes us beyond stereotypes.

I’ve challenged my business partner to do the same. I’ve asked Michael to second guess himself when wanting to ask me to be more sensitive, patient, or likeable in a given situation. Would he ask that of Kevin or Jamie? Or is he only asking that of me? Day by day, conversation by (sometimes awkward) conversation I feel he and I are getting better at navigating our personalities in the workplace. His willingness to be candid and to try are all that I can ask and what makes him a great partner to work with.
So, if you want to work with or for someone where you always know where you stand, have expectations clearly outlined, be encouraged to grow, and be supported and valued for the things you bring to the table, you know where to find me. But if I’m not at my desk, check the gym or my backyard. I could be happily mowing the lawn or stacking some wood.