Sometime last fall, as the leaves were turning brown and the chill was starting to set in, I noticed a trend in many of my conversations. The word “just” came up more often than is likely to be natural. Then I noticed something else. These weren’t conversations I was having with friends or with peers. I didn’t softly utter sentences like “I’ll just be real quick, I promise,” preceding every sentence I spoke over a game of Clue. They were sentences sent in emails, spoken during conference calls, and in work meetings. The opening line of an email, and nearly every interjection I made was almost always accompanied by the word “just.”
“I just want to say one thing…” “You have a point, I just think…” “I just wanted to email you to…”
These were all phrases that I spouted out way too often. As I was sifting through some work emails, “just” jumped out at me. I scanned through the emails, and then looked at emails sent to other authority figures, other professional contacts. “Just” was all over the place, leaping out like a scared little bee, afraid of its own point. I knew I was doing it compulsively, without thinking, so I decided to do a little experiment.
I tried to stop using the word “just,” or at least pay attention when my fingers graced over the letters, as my tongue formed the word. It was—is—like breaking a habit; it’s become second nature to use “just” as a preemptive before authority figures and colleagues. After weeks of biting my tongue, and pounding the delete button, I came to the conclusion that my hypothesis was correct: I wasn’t using the word “just” because it was a favorite word of mine, but rather I was using it as an insecurity.
I used it not how it should be used, but as an apology. Even worse, I used “just” to suggest that even I don’t think much of my thoughts. It read like a “I don’t blame you for getting annoyed that you have to listen to what I have to say, so this will be real quick and then I’ll shut up.”
I don’t get why I undermine myself in front of authority—but I do. Simply by using the word “just.” That four-letter word is so simple, yet powerful. It implies that I am trying my utmost to be quick, succinct as possible, so the listener/reader won’t have to spend too much time listening/reading my thoughts.
I know that we all have insecurities, whether romantically, professionally, or personally. Insecurities may even be needed, as they push for improvement, for change, for growth. But at least in my book, they set you back. They act like little bars in front of the door, and fallen trees amidst the hiking path. They’re there, they happen, but you have to get around them, or stay frozen and stuck, or else turn around altogether. You have to figure out how to maneuver, how to metamorphosize, if you ever want to keep going forward.
So I’m tired of using the word “just.” I’m tired of apologizing, of belittling my own thoughts and opinions in front of others and to myself. If I’m tempted to use “just” before I make a point in a board meeting or to my supervisor, I think of this little mantra: “I am here and you deserve to listen. I have thoughts you need to hear. I work hard and you need to know what I’ve been up to.” I know that I’m not the only one, the only woman (as that’s who it tends to be) that unnecessarily apologizes, who tries to make everything as painless as possible for everyone else. But I’m consciously removing myself out of that group, and getting the respect I deserve.