Parent Pathways

Hey women: We don’t have to know it all

November 11, 2013 

I recently attended a “Women in Leadership” conference series at UNC-Chapel Hill, and the most interesting takeaway for me was this: Leading involves risk.

In fact, if your goals don’t scare you, you’re not setting the bar high enough.

I attended the speech because I required my students to attend. I’m teaching a news writing class at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and, let me tell you, it’s been scary.

One night early on, I stayed up late finishing deadlines for my freelance work and creating a lesson plan. When I finally went to bed around 1 a.m., the house had been quiet for a while.

I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I started crying quietly, thinking about all I still had to do.

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked. And we think our spouses don’t listen.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I cried, and then the floodgates opened. The middle of the night will do that to you.

“What if they ask me a question, and I don’t know the answer? What if I give them the wrong answer? What if I’m not teaching them enough of what they need to know? What if I’m not good enough?”

And the big one: “What if they don’t want me back?”

My husband tried to ease my fears, but finally he said, “Well, you have to try.”


For the first six or seven weeks, I wondered if I’d ever feel like I wasn’t going to throw up before my two-hour class started.

I got bronchitis the first week, then blisters, then neck pain so bad I could barely turn my head. Next came laryngitis and then an “observation,” which sent me into a whirlwind of self-doubt.

The observation went fine, and the kind teacher who observed me said my fears were normal.

“It takes a few semesters,” she said. “Just remember: You know more than they do.”

Hmm. I was dubious. Still, I kept driving over there, paying to park and lugging a briefcase full of stuff up the steps of my alma mater.

My students started improving; I was getting to know each of them.

One day I found I was brimming with excitement to share the lesson I’d planned that day. Excitement! Was I was starting to emerge from the other side of that big block of fear?

I still get nervous and scared from time to time, but I’ve been amazed by the gifts this struggle has produced.

Courage. Joy. Confidence.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Was this why?

The dean of the journalism school ended the lecture that day by saying that women often reject an opportunity if they’re not sure they know 100 percent of what’s required.

But maybe we don’t have to know all the answers. Maybe all we have to do is try.

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