I have always been a competitive person, but conflicted about it. I have always and instinctively wanted to be the best — or at least one of the best — at everything I try. At the same time, I have a lot of my mother in me, and she is one of the least competitive people I know. I’m fascinated by her unusual personality, actually. My mom is both one of the most confident and self-actualized people that I know, but also one of the least competitive. With most people you get one or the other, but not both.
So, I like to be the best at things, and frankly I adore it when people notice when I do something well. But I also feel very weird about promoting myself, even when it’s entirely called for.
I suppose this is one of the classic dilemmas faced by professional women: we are taught all our lives to be modest, but the professional world doesn’t reward modest.
I have felt that dilemma most acutely in academia, an institution that was traditionally a male enclave and that — for all the amazing changes that have happened in the last century — still bears many of the hallmarks of a patriarchal workplace: many academics, for instance, still consider it perfectly fair sport to tear a colleague down publicly. And it can be hard sometimes to find a colleague who is genuinely happy that you just published something. I don’t want to exaggerate here: I know many men and women in academia who are absolutely gorgeous right down to their toes, and academia is certainly nowhere near the backbiting world of for-profit business. But the culture does have a strong competitive core.
And then there’s the world of knitting. I don’t need to tell you that for a long time, the gender makeup of this world has been quite different than that of academia. It really shows.
I have long known that knitters are an unusually supportive and congenial lot. More recently, I have had the pleasant surprise of discovering that the same is true of knitwear designers. I would have thought that since the stakes are higher — knitwear designers do, after all, compete with each other — there would be less of the bonhomie usually found amongst knitters.
Not so. Designers generously share lengthy tutorials about how to size patterns up and down; they notify each other when magazines and yarn companies post calls for designs; they promote each other on their blogs and Twitter feeds. It’s amazing, truly. And it works. Independent designers particularly seem to have found that they do best when they take the all-ships-rise-equally approach.
It’s a beautiful thing and I’m proud to be part of it.
And some day I will be a big enough person that I will stop feeling a giant, hairy twinge of jealousy every time someone else releases a new pattern….