In the book The Breath of a Whale, author Leigh Calvez writes about her experiences as a scientist and naturalist—studying the mating and migration habits of humpback whales.
In the book, she describes one moment in her career when she noticed something terribly wrong.
The US Navy had just begun testing Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFA) underwater off the coast of Hawaii—sending powerful sound waves into the exact place where the whales come to nurse their babies every year.
Calvez and her research team worried that the sound waves would disturb the mother whales and their calfs—and sadly, they were right.
Shortly after LFA testing began, she noticed one baby whale all alone, separated from its mother, thrashing and swimming in bizarre circles, clearly distressed. Calvez knew that unless it could somehow be reunited with its family, it would soon starve and die.
She observed lone babies not just once, but several times—with whales and dolphins, too.
She reported her findings to the military. Instead of taking her seriously, they questioned her and tried to poke holes in her findings.
“How do you know the calf was distressed?”
“Are you sure?”
“Really? How can you be sure?”
They asked her a slew of questions, undermining her authority as a researcher, and subtly insinuating that perhaps she was allowing her emotions and her affection for the whales to cloud her judgment. You know. Just another “hysterical, overly emotional woman.”
After that phone call ended, Calvez was so stunned that her head was spinning. In her disbelief and grief, she even began to wonder, “Could they be right?” “Maybe I’m wrong.” “Maybe they know more than I do.” “After all, this is the military we’re talking about. Surely they know what they’re doing.”
She began doubting her instincts and her own research.
It took years before Calvez came to grips with the fact that she had NOT been wrong. She had been gaslighted. She had allowed persuasive authority figures to rattle her confidence. And she vowed never to let this happen again.
This story is powerful for so many reasons—and it’s an important message for women and girls.
Trust your instincts.
Trust your research.
Trust your inner guidance even when others don’t believe.
Trust that you know what the hell you are talking about and you are not an idiot.
Don’t allow an authority figure—whether it’s a military official, your mentor, a colleague in your mastermind group, or even a coach that you’ve hired—to cause you to second-guess what you KNOW.
We live in a culture where women are regularly demeaned and ridiculed, so it’s no wonder we have a tendency to doubt ourselves.
But just like Calvez standing at the edge of the ocean, seeing the truth with her own two eyes, trust yourself.
PS. What’s one area of your life (or career) where you tend to second-guess yourself, or defer to other people’s decisions instead of making your own? Stop that. Claim what you know and hold true. Be unwavering and unstoppable.