Stella Ivory: On feeling like the 'kid' in the candy store

I am sitting back at home in my humble student flat in Wellington, drinking luke-warm tea, and contemplating the slightly surreal few weeks that I have just returned from.

I spent the day after I arrived answering people far too cheerily that, “No, for some reason, the jet lag hasn’t affected me at all!” It’s safe to say made this judgement too soon and alas, woke up at 3.17am the following morning, unable to get back to sleep.

A few days ago, I returned from Copenhagen, back from representing AYLI at the Women Deliver Conference. Studying Development and having a huge interest in gender issues, it was like being in a kid in an all-you-can eat candy shop. Except the candy was inspirational ideas, advocative stickers and unashamed feminist ideals EVERYWHERE. It was better than a dream.

But, in this candy store situation, I equally also felt like a kid. Or, at least, under qualified and somehow unworthy.

When I had met the AYLI delegation at a training weekend a few weeks prior, I also had this ‘kid’ feeling. I wasn’t especially younger, or less experienced, but I was in a constant state of low-key intimidation and feeling generally inadequate. The women I was surrounded by had Masters degrees and had travelled around the world and interned at the UN and had been high school duxes and were doctors and lawyers and change makers and smarter than me and more deserving then me to be there. Everyone was simply better than me.

Travelling on a long bus ride to see friends later in that weekend, I mulled over these thoughts, and of course, as all negative-thoughts which-you-know-are-not-constructive-or-helpful-in-anyway-but-you-still-can’t-make-them-stop thoughts, they grew into more legitimate and seemingly reflective of reality thoughts. Luckily, upon arriving to my friends, as all good friends do, they managed to bring me back to earth, and to consider the opportunity of attending Women Deliver with AYLI in a far more positive light:

"I deserved to be there as much as anyone else, and that’s why I was there. I can bring something to the table that no one else can in quite the same way, just as everyone else can. And, most importantly, I can’t compare my journey to anyone else’s." 

So, even though they hadn’t reminded me of anything that I didn’t already know I was supposed to be thinking, it was nice to have some extra help squishing those unhelpful thoughts.

But, fast forward a few weeks, at Women Deliver Conference, Bella Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark, and the same feels were creeping back. I was in a plenary session, where the likes of Helen Clark and Melinda Gates were speaking to us about how they’re helping girls and women to have a place in development, at the highest level, next to people who worked for organisations like the British Red Cross and the World Health Organisation.

Surprise, surprise! The feelings of inadequacy were resurfacing rapidly, and I found it increasingly difficult to validate why I was there. Why did I deserve to be in the same room, having the same experiences, and having access to the same resources, as these people? And equally, although I really wanted to speak with them, who was I to bide their time, as simply an undergraduate university student from New Zealand? These people were even more amazing than my delegation members who I had struggled to justify being around just a few weeks earlier!

Luckily, once again, the rational voice of an outside perspective came to my rescue. Suzy, our head delegate, pointed out that half the cause of my feeling insecure was because I was putting these people on a pedestal of heightened morality. These people who I was deeming amazing and successful were, in actuality, still, just people. They were just as much a person as I was. They may have done amazing things and were people who I deemed to be successful, and who I respected greatly, but I was just as human as they were.

So yes, I did deserve to be there as much as anyone else, and that’s why I was there. I could bring something to the table that no one else could in quite the same way, just as everyone else can. And, most importantly, I can’t compare my journey to anyone else’s.

Although these insecurities may seem trivial, especially in the case of having already been chosen to attend Women Deliver with AYLI, I know that I am not the only one who struggles with such feelings. In being given such incredible opportunities, it can be so daunting to contemplate that we are deserving of the opportunity to speak with Aunty Helen or listen to Melinda Gates, among the many other things that we were lucky enough to partake in during the trip. But, it is always worth remembering that we are all just people, no matter our current circumstance, and we are all deserving to have incredible opportunities such as those that AYLI provides, no matter how doubtful of that we may feel.

 All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

Posted on May 28, 2016 and filed under Women Deliver 2016.