I borrowed the title of this post from an absolutely amazing community of women with whom I have had the pleasure of engaging recently. This community is the reason I participated in the “Playing Big” workshop with Tara Mohr, the reason I had heard of Tara Mohr in the first place, and much of the reason I have been blogging again. I want to give these amazing women some credit and share how they are shaping me. In many ways, I’m also hoping to hit a few topics that are ruminating for me today because they all intersect.
If you are like me, you may not have heard of the women of #WLSalt before. I had seen the hashtag as I began engaging a little more on Twitter, but didn’t really understand it. Eventually, I found the website and started following @SAwomenLead and began “lurking.” Like any community, I was unsure of whether I would fit in, if my values aligned, and if I would be welcomed because (I’ll be honest): women scare me a little bit. And up until some reflection based on a great blog post about bullying (and our subsequent thick skins) from Kathryn Magura, I probably would not have recognized that it was fear that kept me from engaging. Instead, I would have relied on some other clichés that I’ve stocked up to discuss how I feel about “women:” they’re catty (think Mean Girls), they’re dramatic, they’re…well, I just don’t like them. And yes, I realize that this is an inherently flawed perception as I am, in fact, a woman. I think (hope?) that like many other women, I want to feel like I’m different from all that business. That somehow, judging them lifts me above them. We all know how that works out, right? That makes me the bully.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of bullied moments. I related so well to Kathryn when she wrote, “I was mostly bullied by girls who used their words.” That moment in 4th grade when that one girl somehow silently turned all the other girls in my class against me after a fight I cannot even remotely remember (P.S. I transferred schools. I told my parents I just wanted to try something new. Fake bravery in my desperate pain). I could pretty much tell you that all of high school was awful. Like when that girl three lockers down talked negatively about me more than loud enough for me and anyone in a five-mile radius to hear. Also like Kathryn, I thought that this bullying made me stronger. Time after time, I pretended that those girls didn’t matter and that they were just jealous. Maybe they were. In my distaste for women, I learned some stellar flirtation skills that got me a decent amount of attention from young men. In that time, though, my ease in connecting with men became my own version of a thick skin. If only the thick skin kept out the hurtful comments.
Like Jenna Magnuski wrote (in her own fabulous blog response to Kathryn’s), I couldn’t wait to get out of high school and away from those terribly mean women. Honestly, I was hurting too much inside that I couldn’t imagine a world where I had to continue to bear that hurt. Instead, I’d go off to college and “start over.” Except that I was in a new place with new people, doing the same things I had done for the past four years. What is that saying about doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? Oh yeah, the definition of insanity. Luckily, though, I did meet some phenomenal women who showed me that women are not the enemy (or at least they don’t have to be).
Nonetheless, those friendships were few and even in the many years since college, I have kept women at a distance. Letting them in through my thick skin exposes this extreme vulnerability. I’m so afraid of being hurt. I question motives and internally compete with them for no reason. I want to be (and feel) prettier, smarter, funnier, and all-around more liked. The catch here is that I encounter beautiful, intelligent, witty and all-around very like-able women. Unfortunately, the thick skin I have developed has turned into this awful inner monster who urges me to push other women down so that they are not in a position to hurt me. My inner monster is afraid for me. She remembers with too much clarity the girl in 4th grade and the teenager at the locker. She even remembers those phenomenal women who are no longer a strong part of my life. She doesn’t want me to feel that hurt again, and so she helps me build strong walls for fear of being judged. My inner monster has kept me from being supported, affirmed, lifted, and transformed. But no more.
Today’s Women in Student Affairs (WISA, the NASPA Knowledge Community) post truly struck an identifiable chord with me, starting with the quote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?…Your playing small does not serve the world… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ~ Marianne Williamson
I have these rare moments of inner brilliance, where I feel confident and capable. Yet, so many of my experiences have led me to feel more trust in my inner monster and inner critic (more on her in another post) than my inner star. And in the best set of circumstances (Nevitt Sanford style), I am finally ready to be both challenged and supported as a member of a community of women.
Enter the sisters of #WLSalt. I leaped on the opportunity to take part in the conference call with the amazing Tara Mohr and dove into the backchannel on Twitter (search: #BIGWLSalt). And it was more phenomenal that I could have imagined. Instead of feeling like I needed to compete or put others down, I sensed the comfort of an incredibly caring group of women. Since then, I have begun more steadily exploring how to Play Big and I know it will be a long journey. Luckily, I have gained an astounding network of women who are leading the way. Whether knowingly or not, their mere existence is supporting, affirming, lifting, and transforming me. And I am ever so grateful.
My husband has begun asking what I’m so involved with on my keyboard over here, and judging by the length of this post already, it’s probably time to wrap up. A quick update on the relationship I am building with myself before I close. My cheerleader was a little quiet yesterday. In all honesty, I didn’t need her much. My ally was still taking care of me and I wasn’t really ready for pep. I’ve stored her away for another time. My critical thinker held hands with my ally and together, we took the journey that has ended up on this page. They have both helped me feel safe enough to say that I’m afraid and strong enough to know I can overcome the fear.
Much love and many hugs to the women, ekt