There are many articles and studies about “impostor syndrome” and its impact on women. Essentially, the premise is that these women may appear outwardly successful, but privately, they feel unworthy. Self-worth is certainly a whole topic in itself, but the idea that one feels like a phony when they have, in truth, worked hard to earn and are deserving of their accomplishments is unfounded. It defies reason, and yet it is so prevalent.
Making friends and allies as adults is hard, and it is still one of the few things I get hung up on when I let my thoughts start to wander. Did I say the wrong thing? Did I wear the wrong thing? Is it just so blatantly obvious that I grew up . . . different? I now live in a metropolitan area and am socially surrounded by people that grew up here. Suburban life is all they know. Going out to dinner is not just for a special occasion, makeup is on even when they are just grabbing groceries, and hair is always styled. Not only do I not have time to make all of this happen, but mostly to me it just sounds so uncomfortable. This often translates to now working in agriculture off the farm, too.
Now, I do not want to fool anyone. I can get dressed up and rock a pair of heels with my head held high like I belong. But it is not my norm. I am just . . . pretending. Where am I going with this? Well, just the other day I was talking with a dear friend. She’s one of the few I’ve met in adulthood where we just clicked. Of course, it is no surprise that she is a dairy girl, too. I’ve known since we met that I could just be myself. I can show emotions that I usually keep tamed; I can complain and get excited and just know that she gets me. Anyway, we were talking about how we can both wear suits and heels and look put together but we know we are just pretending. This isn’t who we are or our preferred way to dress, but we know it’s necessary to remove others’ bias and look deserving of a seat at the table, even if by all accounts we have already earned it. Truthfully, most days I would rather be cleaning stalls than I would be wearing uncomfortable clothing and having to sit and remember trivial things like which bread plate is mine. But I know that both have value to advance women in agriculture.
Recently I was on a call for a nonprofit, Annie’s Project, that I volunteer for. Its mission is to advance women in agriculture. Those involved with supporting this group are quite diverse in the roles they play in agriculture. But what I love the most is that it is a space where everyone just comes as they are and has the same mission in mind. One woman was calling in from a parts run. Another had just come in from evaluating their crops. Another was in between events at the county fair. It felt like home. Like family. Moments like this remind me that I am not going it alone. It fills my cup even when I did not know it was getting empty.
At my core, I’m just a farm girl who likes manual labor and wearing a ponytail. While I may never feel like I truly “fit in” in some areas of life, I must remember when the doubt creeps in that it does not undermine my success. Sometimes you have to look the part so that certain people will listen. (And no one there has to know that you have a change of shoes ready in the car that you throw on before you even get out of the parking lot.)
Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."