American football has always been my first love. I have been a devoted New York Giants fan since birth. Being a football fan has taught me a lot of lessons, such as the importance of teamwork, always having a good work ethic, and how to work hard but play hard too. If there’s one main lesson that I learned early on, it’s that my life is like the game of football – the odds aren’t always stacked in my favor.

I’m nine years old and I want to play football at recess. I am excited to play, but I’m picked close to last because the superior team captain picks the “real players” first. I’m sixteen years old, captain of the flag football team of my high school. No one takes that seriously though, since girls’ flag football “isn’t even a real sport.” In my elective Flag Football college class, no one passes me the ball since I’m the only girl and they “don’t want anybody getting hurt.” Even last week, I tell some people that I purchased New York Giants tickets for my dad for Father’s Day, and no one believes that we are both Giants fans and travel to a different stadium together as one of our favorite traditions.

Even though these types of comments have been ingrained in my memory since I was nine years old, it is the most recent conversation that really affects me. It’s as if someone learned about a part of my identity and then they started to question it. What do you mean you can’t believe I love football because I’m a woman? I felt like I had to prove myself as a true fan. I left the conversation irritated and angry. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to validate my own experiences.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to validate my own experiences.

These football-related experiences are just a few examples of how normative culture values affect me in my daily life, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. As I’ve recently entered the workforce, I’ve been exposed to plenty of cultural stereotypes based on unconscious assumptions people have made about me. There’s the look of shock when I tell people I work in the tech industry, followed by a more understanding expression when I mention I work in Human Resources. And then there’s the doubt and questioning after I tell people I graduated from Arizona State and work amongst people from “those really prestigious California schools.” These types of comments have become such a normal part of my life that sometimes it takes me a while to recognize that it’s wrong.

I used to want to take people’s doubts about me and use them to prove something – to prove that I am qualified to do my job, that I am more than what you assume about me, and that, yes, I am a true football fan. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that I have absolutely nothing to prove.

And here’s the thing. We all have things about us that don’t fit definition of “normal” – and that is okay. We all have a choice: we can continue to do the things that bring us joy or we can give in to the peer pressure of trying to fit in with society’s idea of “normal.”

We all have a choice: we can continue to do the things that bring us joy or we can give in to the peer pressure of trying to fit in with society’s idea of “normal.”

It’s important to surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve always had that support from my family, especially my dad, telling me it’s okay to be passionate about the things that are important to me – everything from football to fostering shelter dogs to research on the different generations in the workforce to promoting early-in-career talent. I’ve learned to find others to include in my tribe. Whether it’s coworkers or college friends, I’ve decided to be more intentional about surrounding myself with people who give me the confidence to be myself.

So, yes, football has helped open my eyes to the fact that the odds may seem to be always stacked against me. But it’s also taught me that I have a choice about which perspective I take. Great things can happen when everyone and everything is against you. And I don’t know about you, but rooting for the underdog is always more fun – just ask the 2007 New York Giants.

About the Author

Nicole Cuce

Associate HR Analyst

Nicole joined Symantec in July 2018 as a member of the HR Rotational Program in Mountain View, CA. She is passionate about leading with a growth mindset, employee development opportunities, and education.