Making Success Accessible

19 May 2016

Working through some issues on the Software Carpentry Instructor Training material today, I was struck by this comment by Elizabeth Patitsas:

“Women can be demotivated by seeing exceptionally successful and feminine female role models and think, “I could never be like her!” and conclude they need to be like her in order to succeed in CS/science.”

Intuitively, this makes sense to me. I’m much more likely to look at someone who is very successful or highly competent and promptly identify all the ways I’m not like that person and therefore never will be in the future either.

In fact, I’d guess that the potential for success is not a great motivator in general. There may be something comforting in hearing that you too are capable of great things, but to me, even potential accomplishments can read like threats, raising all my competitive, defensive hackles, like I’ll need to prove myself.

If, then, representative “success” is not a good motivator, how should anyone (but particularly “successful” members of an underrepresented group) portray their success among a group? Is there a benefit to the (supposedly common among women) behavior of downplaying one’s success?

My instinct is that falsely diminishing one’s accomplishments is equally problematic as glorifying them. Perhaps the middle point is simply shifting emphasis - instead of talking about the accomplishments that make it to a resume talk about a good (and bad) moment from the process that got you there.

It makes me think of this wonderful quote by Josh Garrels from the trailer to The Sea In Between:

You can wield your profession, your craft, in a way that hurts people because you’re so good. And so when someone can present it in a way that is inviting people into their joy, that’s when the most beautiful things are formed.

I love that phrase - inviting people into their joy. To me it sugggests that, when trying to motivate people, it’s helpful to convey that the work at hand is not worth doing because of some final measurable criteria at the end, but because the experience of the journey itself will be worth it.

How to do this? That I don’t know. I do know that a process mindset requires its own maturity. I opine away with the full awareness that I live my own life motivated far more by final results than intermediate process. But to motivate other people, particularly in areas where I have achieved “success” myself, it feels like it’d be worth digging into the process that got me there, pulling out memories of the process that were worthwhile and fun (and, to be fully honest, memories of challenges and roadblocks). This older post might be a good place to start!

(And if the process wasn’t at least a little bit worthwhile and fun on its own - is it something you want to motivate other people to do? )

response » reflections » empowerment, computing, culture,

Recent Posts



Popular Tags

ACT (2) RCF (6) Software Carpentry (6) books (3) care and keeping of prs (6) collaboration (9) computing (13) culture (10) empowerment (6) family (2) gender (2) git (9) hope (2) language (3) lessons (4) math (8) mental health (2) movies (2) personal (5) problem solving (3) programming (9) science (2) self care (3) shell (2) teaching (11) true story (5) tutoring (2) work (12)