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Are you just a …?

A couple years ago, I was at a gallery opening with some creative women, and they were each sharing what they did. After hearing one woman say she was a mixed-media artist and another say she was a photograph, the third said, “I’m just a longarm quilter.”

Why did this person’s passion become a “just a?” And why did she think she was “less than”?

If you grew up in the 60s with the women’s liberation movement, you might remember hearing people say “just a housewife.” I can remember thinking I would never be know as “just a.” In actuality, being a housewife is probably the hardest job around, raising healthy, happy and productive kids. It’s definitely not “just a.”

Back to the artists I met. I know that this longarm quilter is not the only one who says “just a” when someone asks what she does.  Maybe she has second thoughts about the phrase, and I hope she does. Maybe she doesn’t.

When I started to reflect on what this woman said, I wondered where she placed her value. Did she value herself and her work to the same degree as the mixed media artist and the photographer? How did she value her work? If that is where you fit in this equation, take some time to go back and look at what your value is and why you might refer to your passion and/or profession as “just a.”

You may have started out with big dreams of taking your passion and creating a career. What happened along the way that derailed you? It may have been a specific incident or it may have been a comment from someone you knew. Ask yourself, at what point you started looking at your passion as a “just a.”

The other thought is that she was scared to think bigger. We have all been there. Stepping into something bigger is downright scary. You wonder if you can really do it, if you have what it takes. And, of course, the answer is absolutely yes. So much of growth is a mental game, and that is what you have to tackle first. Take time to dig deep into why you are scared and figure out how to get beyond scared. You may need to read a book, take a course, or work with a coach to get past this. It’s worth it to get the mental game in the right place.

And the next time you start to say you are “just a,” stop and think about what you are saying to yourself and leave out the “just.

Your turn!

Did you ever refer to yourself as “just a”? What led to the aha moment when you knew you needed to drop the “just” and stand in your power as an artist?
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4 Responses to “Are you just a …?”

  1. Stephanie Dyke said:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Morna! It’s a really good reminder to be proud of our skills and to stand up for our work. Confidence is a really tricky thing, especially for creative people. I’ve definitely been guilty of “I’m just a…” in the past. For me, it came from this deep fear that I didn’t measure up to everyone else’s accomplishments. You know, our old friend “not-good-enough.”

    I also think “I’m just a …” is sort of like getting a compliment on your outfit and saying “oh, this old thing?” It distances us from truly owning what we do, just in case there is criticism.

  2. Morna said:

    Stephanie, thanks for adding to conversation. I think women can have a harder time owning ourselves. I think this is even more difficult with people curating their lives on social media. It’s no wonder people get caught up measuring against others.

  3. Kim Johnson said:

    Sometimes, others call us “just a…” And for whatever reason we accept it as the truth, then regurgitate that identification. I once worked in our local school’s special education department. I was advocating for a student and the principal stated that I was ” just a one-on-one aide”, instantly reducing the credence of my advocation (in my mind). I found myself referring to my position as “just-a” from that moment on. I bought his labeling!

  4. Morna said:

    Kim, powerful contribution to this topic. It’s not just owning your value, it’s expressing that value to others so they see it. Easy to see how you can buy into someone else’s label, particularly when the person using it is your superior.

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