I recently bought some colorful new tops – gauzy sweaters and tank tops in different colors to layer underneath them. They’re really cute. Friends have noticed them and complimented me on them.
A few years ago I would not have dared to dress this way. That is, I would not have worn clothing that might attract attention. I wanted to look like I cared, but not too much. Bright colors? Outfits that showed some originality? Not a chance.
I admired people who did dress well, but I believed that dressing well was Not For Me.
Unconsciously and over time, I curated a robust list of things I was attracted to but which were Not For Me:
- living in a big city, which might expose me as a country mouse;
- singing, which might bring attention to my voice;
- dancing or team sports, which might bring attention to my body and how I moved;
- long hair, hair not in my natural color or noticeable makeup, which might bring attention to my looks;
- putting myself forward, which would put attention on me alone. I could, however, represent my school or employer if asked.
I did allow myself to be smart, capable and friendly, but otherwise I kept myself in a pretty small box. It was safe in that box. If I stayed in it then no one would ever say – no, no one would ever think – “Who do you think you are?”
“You Are Not Authorized.”
Have you ever been terrorized by this question? The truth is, it still terrifies me. But only several times every single day. Implicit in “Who do you think you are” is “You are not authorized.”
We are social animals, so looking to others for approval before we proceed is normal. The urge to fit in is 100% human, and it’s served us in our evolution. But every light has a shadow. The urge to fit in becomes pathological when what others think is more important than what you, yourself, think.
I tried to get out in front of “Who do you think you are” by putting an affirmative frame around the box it kept me in. I was only being “sensible, realistic.” “I’m a short hair girl.” “I prefer simple, ‘classic’ clothes.” “I’m just a sedentary person! I like books!” “I do the work because I love it; the money doesn’t matter.”
Those statements may have been true, but they were never the whole story. The rest of the story was that if I never tried, I could never fail – at being attractive, at being heard, at moving my body gracefully, at business.
Let Nature Be Your Guide.
My first hint that I didn’t actually need anyone’s authorization was birth. (You knew I would work it in somehow!) It was such a raw power, and it was just coming through me. It didn’t ask permission. It didn’t wait on authority. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that Authority – the doctors and the hospital – waited on it. For the first time I glimpsed that social and institutional powers recognize an authority greater than their own: our essential, animal nature.
In my life I ignored my animal nature – the curious, playful, attracted, risk-taking and magnetic part of me. I listened only to my social self – the part of me that avoids risk and stays in control by playing skillfully a game that others designed. Last week I wrote about formal schooling being only half an education. Well, living through my social self was only half a life.
It has been a slow awakening, but an irreversible one. I began to see that every Not-For-Me belief was a brick in a wall that I built between me and creativity and joy. Between me and the life that desire was inviting – and authorizing – me to live.
Desire Authorizes You.
So I am tearing down the walls, one belief at a time. If you’re a regular reader, you won’t be surprised to learn that doing the things that scare me has been much less scary than thinking about doing them.
Living in London cured me of my fear of big cities. Rather than feeling out-classed, I found it welcomed all comers – better, in fact, than the small town I grew up in. I fit right in. While in London I worked with a personal shopper to help me learn how to dress so I’m not just covering my body but liking how I look.
Since moving to Hawaii I am taking singing lessons and learning to be heard, even if I hit wrong notes. I’m surfing, and I notice that when I do I don’t give a thought to how I must look! I’ve bleached my hair and am growing it out, just because it scares me – and, weirdly (?) thrills me, too. I’m playing with makeup, including being comfortable not wearing any.
As for putting myself forward professionally, master coach Sherold Barr turned “Who do you think you are” inside out for me. I told her how much I wanted to change the conversations we have about birth and motherhood, but was afraid. She replied, “Who are you not to?” What a liberating reversal! Who am I to ignore my calling? Who am I to hide away my gifts because I’m afraid that not everyone will appreciate them? What if someone does?
Desire is holy. Desire authorizes. It’s the meaning of one of my favorite quotes, from Fredrick Buechner: “God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Who am I to ignore that?
Who are you? Who do you think you are?
I have put the best of everything I know into my prenatal program, Becoming A Mother. I invite you to check it out here. One of my favorite lessons in the program is “You Are an Authority.” A theme that runs through each lesson is how your body is a trustworthy guide. Recognize these ideas? If you love them as much as I do, please share the heck out of that link! If you happen to be pregnant right now, enroll in the tele course!