Not too long ago, I had a conversation when I was told that I shouldn’t have a chip on my shoulder. The context of the conversation was around the fact that in preparation for this meeting, I should know that the other party wasn’t always super comfortable with women in meetings. That was a kid’s glove approach to saying that this man was both sexist and ageist when it comes to women in leadership, even if they need them. It was interesting to me that his problem became mine and the focus was making sure I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder instead of addressing the reverse. But that’s the back story. The direct statement of you shouldn’t have a chip on your shoulder has stuck with me. I firmly believe that our individual experiences shape our mindset and the chip on your shoulder is warranted. You should carry the chip on your shoulder, but never an axe to grind.
When you have a chip on your shoulder, you symbolically carry the knowledge of a personal past experience that you wish to not repeat or transfer. That chip directly correlates to you as an individual. How you handle that chip in order to minimize its effects for both yourself and the collective is the power move. It’s never a personal agenda against say, a box person. That would be an axe to grind. An axe to grind is a revenge motivated tactic. Like most of the mindset of The Revolt, we place our energy on the individual values and our own goals. I refuse to have an axe to grind because that hands the power to the individual causing the action. When we transfer the power of our efforts to revenge over resolve, we play their game.
There is a fine line between the two, so let’s talk about how to hold ourselves accountable to maintain the balance that makes the most sense for our career advancement. Chips, never axes being the rule.
- Talk About It – I think the biggest mistake I’ve made is not sharing my experience with peers. Sharing for knowledge, not for reaction or retaliation. And sharing your story is not just in the current moment it happens, you have to commit to share your story for educational purposes. I think sharing your story is an important part and duty of carrying a chip on your shoulder. We talk a lot about appreciation and sharing your story allows others the chance to empathize with and understand your position. It won’t always be easy to share but it’s cathartic. Fair warning, there will always be people who don’t get or respect it, that’s because they are in a box. Don’t allow them to silence the story behind the chip on your shoulder.
- Collective Cause – Examine the chips that have stacked up on your shoulder. In addition to speaking your truth, what action can you take to decrease the impact on others? Think of this as your donation bank. You’ll see that much of what you value derives from what you’ve experienced or appreciate from other’s experiences. So put your values to work to support the collective in respect to a chip that has been assigned to you. For example, in my initial story I shared that I was told I should not have a chip on my shoulder that women aren’t always welcomed in pitches and strategy sessions. Yes, I have a chip on my shoulder for that. I carry a chip on my shoulder for every man who ignored me while I was presenting, every “little lady” comment, etc. So now my responsibility is to stack that room with deserving and hard working women so there are no options but to be comfortable. I’ve dedicated myself to women’s empowerment in the workplace in a positive way without retaliation against specific small minds. It’s bigger than me and I remember that.
- Individual Accountability – A chip on your shoulder is often from a negative experience and negativity can be all consuming. When that happens it’s easier to shift from chip to axe real quick. Axe carriers are less effective in the collective cause and cloud the vision you’ve created for your own growth. I have to look at it as a situational analysis. When an action in the workplace triggers my chip, I analyze my reactions short term results to my goal result. This does not mean I don’t flex my bold move and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t put an individual in their place. It’s the after effect of how I carry it and its impact on my work and my life that I assess. Typically when I have an incident, like the one mentioned above, I’ll add a note to my check-ins to be sure I don’t allow that person’s energy to consume my valued growth.
The truth of the matter is this: we all have a chip on our shoulder, and rightfully so. The box people will tell you to mask it, bury the hatchet and suppress your individual feelings. I say fuck that theory. I say carry a chip on your shoulder to respect what you’ve been through, but hold yourself accountable to not grind an axe. And never allow the experiences that created the chip become so consuming in your mind that they take the precious headspace away from your overall goals. Use what you’ve been given for experiences to be better for yourself and refuse to play their game. The focus on you, your career, your values and your goals. Use that chip to elevate your purpose.