How Can We Learn to Belong to New Communities?

I read a terrific piece by Hannah Fry that women don’t excel at math because of sexism. Sexism! Not innate or learned ability. Sexism.

When I was a kid, the culture “said” that women couldn’t do math.

However, I had two immediate examples that women were great at math. My mom could remember duplicate bridge hands for weeks and discuss where she and my dad should have bid and played differently. (She was always correct.) My sister, with her intuitive feel, always excelled in math.

I finally felt better about my math abilities when I took geometry and got to use symbols. (Arithmetic still challenges me. If I realize I need to do arithmetic in the moment during a talk, I warn the audience that I much prefer symbols to numbers. There’s a reason we have calculators.)

Three women and three different ways to excel at math.

I didn’t have the “talents” my mom and sister had. Instead, I had to learn and practice—to build my math self-esteem—to feel that I belonged to “knows math” community. Not as a fake, but for real.

Not all communities require learning and practice to create the self-esteem to belong. But if we practice gaining specific skills to belong to one community, that self-esteem might help us learn to belong to other communities.

Start With Yourself

I wanted to join the “can do math” community for myself, not to prove anything to anyone else. That helped because I could admit that I needed to learn and practice different aspects of math.

That’s when I discovered a terrific aspect of learning and practicing. The more I learned and practiced, the more self-esteem I had. The more self-esteem I gained, the more I could learn and practice. I’d created a reinforcing feedback loop that worked for me.

Choose Communities That Fit Your Abilities and Interests

Even with all my self-esteem, I cannot belong to any community based on physical abilities because I don’t have them. (Given my vertigo, I will not gain those abilities.)

Nor do I want to join, say, a piano-playing community. I’m not interested in that.

And while I belong to several writing communities, plenty of writing communities don’t fit how I write. Or what those communities read and write does not fit my taste.

We can’t—and don’t need to—belong to all possible communities. We choose—and can always choose again.

Which Communities Do You Want to Choose?

I don’t consider communities that exclude people because of their race, gender, or origin. Those kinds of communities are generally not to my taste. Or they wouldn’t want me!

I’m also not interested in joining a coffee community. (Chocolate might be a different matter.)

I choose communities where we can exert our growth mindset to work as a community to improve ourselves. (See How Do You Work to Increase Your Self-Esteem?​)

Too often, our culture is invisible to us. We can change the culture when we choose communities that lift all of us. Maybe not right away, and not for everyone.

We don’t have to pick something big, like sexism. Instead, we can choose something small and personal. As we learn and practice, we build our self-esteem. Then, as other people select our community, we can change the culture, a little bit at a time.

We can learn to choose and belong to new communities. And maybe more women will realize how good they are at math.


I’m almost ready to open the registration for the  Q1 2023 writing workshop. If you might be interested, go to that page and add yourself to the mailing list. I only mail when I open registration.

I’m within days of letting my editor loose on Become a Successful Independent Consultant. Don’t buy the book yet, unless you want to see how much I changed between the original version and this version.

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Till next time,


© 2022 Johanna Rothman

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