The first decade of life is a truly formative one, where we learn who we are and where we fit in with the outside world. By the time we become a teenager, our experiences so far in life have molded us to be known as a certain “type” of person.
I was a quiet and shy kid in public or at school, but had glimmers of leadership. I was intelligent and quick to learn and create ideas. I was also quick to suggest the best course of action on projects and would lead whomever was in my group (usually my cousin as we shared every class from grades one through nine and were most comfortable choosing eachother as partners).
Until one day in grade seven, while collaborating on a project, she suddenly turned to me and with a bite to her tone said, “Why do we always do everything your way? You aren’t the boss.”. How long this festering frustration had dwelled within her I was too immature and hurt to ask.
I shut down. I wanted to cry. I wasn’t trying to be mean, I just thought I had good ideas and she never voiced hers. Sadly, the idea that I had been hurtful, prideful, forceful or – shame on me – thought I had a better idea than someone else devastated me; after all, in my world, no one was praising a child or a woman that thought for themselves or led with their opinions or creative ambition.
She chose another partner and I never led or suggested or led the charge with my ideas in that setting again. And quietly our relationship changed; she was the only best friend I had as a child. I never got too close to anyone again. I became “friendly with everyone, friends with no one”.
Decades later, I revisit the memory with chagrin, knowing as I do now that it was one of the many formative experiences in my life that taught me my expected place in the world.
“Children and women should not be bossy.”
“Don’t think too much of yourself.”
“You need to be taken down a notch.”
“Who do you think you are…?”
“You need to follow the arrangement that has been put in place for all of our collective good.”
“Women shouldn’t speak to the congregation.”
“You need to be a good example of a submissive wife.”
“Your husband isn’t acting like a proper head of the family? You need to support him more/better.”
“You can’t just leave your husband. It will be a bad example to those that look up to you. And besides, he didn’t do exactly x, y or z, so you aren’t allowed to leave him anyway.”
No, I grew up in a world that taught me very young to not have a voice, to not lead. And I grew comfortable there. I found a husband that needed a lot of supporting. I failed at any job or business that I maintained control of, and excelled in working for people that could clearly tell me what to do. I flourished under the praise of those whose expectations were met. And I held those women who dared to express their many opinions, (which they seemed to have on every single subject under the sun from mechanics to drywalling to cooking to farm animals – even when I knew they didn’t have a clue what they were talking about) with obnoxious force with derision, shielding myself from them and deciding that I disliked women intensely. I didn’t realize at the time that there are women who are powerful beyond anything I could have imagined who use their power in such a way that is neither obnoxious, annoying or oppressive.
So when my inner being decided without me planning it, it surprised me as much as it did everyone else that I got out of bed one night and walked out of my marriage, making my first real decision, which at the time didn’t feel like a decision at all.
It was my first “real” one because I knew on some deep level that I was doing it for me and me alone. I wouldn’t be praised for it, or high fived. My choice would come with ostracism and judgement. It was the first time I was acting in such a deliberately selfish manner that others would be hurt and I would pay a dear price for it, regardless of whether that choice would save my soul or not.
Turns out my first real decision was both as bad and as good as I thought it would be. I did pay a dear price for it and for the subsequent necessary decisions that followed. And it was just the first in a series of many decisions that I got to start making, albeit very uncomfortably as I was new to doing things that suited me and me alone.
But it turns out that, after nearly a decade of being gone from that situation, I have found some of that creative glimmer that I did have but allowed to be squashed so early in life. I wrote a book about it.
Regretfully, I have feared showing my truth to the people around me, certain that there would be haters, and slipping back uncomfortably into the supporting role I always took, finding comfort in hiding my story as I know it will displease some people that I really like. I find this to be incredibly sad, knowing as I do what an inspiration the women who are brave enough to write about their stories have been for me and what they have learned from them.
And really, the whole point isn’t to be liked, is it? As I have recently read in Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed (excellent by the way – read it), it’s to be who you are with unshakable integrity. The ones who approve will surround me with love. The ones whose love is impeded will stay away. Either way is a win, right?
My hope is that as this next phase of my life plays out, there will be someone who realizes that it is alright…no – more than that – perhaps even her mission to make herself heard in a non-obnoxious, constructive and empowering way, to live her truth, whatever that may be, and use it is such a way that it could change the world for the better