I’ve spent years telling the stories I thought other people wanted to hear. But as I mentioned last week, those stories can carry a lot of weight – making it harder to find the voice for my own words. Over the years, I became physically ill and spiritually depleted from trying so hard to tell everyone's story but my own.
In this year of transition, I wanted to be very deliberate about how and where my voice would be used and which stories I’d choose to communicate. In the beginning, I didn’t really even know who I was, much less where my words would land. But through the guidance of some newfound good friends and the faith and support of my old friends and family, I’m finding my own voice to tell my own story.
Story, our stories, are imperative to being able to live a full and authentic life. I’ll give you a simple example based on a conversation I had with a couple of my cousins a few months ago. I’m embellishing the conversation a bit to make a point, but I think you’ll see what I mean.
I had posted a meme on Facebook about not needing to look presentable in public in order to attract the male gaze. One cousin said she felt better about herself if she pulled herself together a bit before she went out in public. Another cousin and I both felt that we’d look presentable if we felt like it but that sometimes you just have to embrace where you’re at in the moment and go out in public looking messy and that’s ok. Women are often expected to look like they have their proverbial shit together and when they don’t the judgment is harsh:
“She’s really let herself go.”
“I want the mirror that told her she looked good.”
After the conversation with my cousins, I got to thinkin’ about how the three of us were raised. Our mothers all came of age in the 40s and 50s – a time when a woman’s biggest accomplishment was attracting a good husband. After all, a man was needed to gain any status in society. We couldn’t even open our own bank accounts. The thought was, “What decent man would want a woman who went out in public looking disheveled?!”
These days, I don’t need a man to open my own accounts. I can do whatever I want for the most part (except make healthcare decisions, but we will save that story for another post). My greatest accomplishment is not “marrying well.” My great accomplishments are raising three kind humans, my writing career and my community-building successes.
The story I want to tell is that I’m human. Sometimes, I leave the house looking like I mean business and some days I leave the house looking exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated…because that’s how I feel. Now, can I make myself feel better with a shower and lipstick? Absolutely. Sometimes I have it in me and sometimes, I don’t. I’m human. I deal with depression regularly. If I have made it out of the house to find food and pick up a prescription on those days, it’s a huge victory. I’ll take it.
But our stories go deeper than that. Let’s think for a minute about the stories we consume. If all we see at the movies are stories about successful white men, that’s what we assume is normal. In reality, humans of all different shapes, colors and cultures are out there working to make the world a better place. My friend Naomi McDougall Jones has a great TED Talk on this subject. I highly recommend listening. One of the examples she gives is how many girls took up the sport of archery after watching The Hunger Games. We all have to see what we want to become.
What we see and what we consume matters.
In January, when I’d dumped all my proverbial bricks on the ground, I was able to take some time to really take a look at what I wanted to claim as mine. I’m a control freak. I don’t like surprises. I want to know what’s coming at me and have at least three contingency plans for every situation. But at the start of the year, there was no plan. All I had was me and all I could do was focus on the next right thing. I had to do something I can’t stand. I had to follow the guidance of a decorative sign I could buy at Home Goods: “Trust the Journey.”
Six months later it still makes me cringe a little.
Six months later, I’m about to embark on a journey I couldn’t have even imagined last winter. The next post you get from me will be written from the road as I make my way to the Women Deliver Conference in Kigali, Rwanda. Six months ago, if you asked me who I was, I’d say a “failed politician” or “servant leader” or, most likely, “I don’t know, I’m in transition right now”. Today, I will tell you I’m a storyteller, change maker, and community builder.
That’s my story…. And I’m stickin’ to it.
Be sure to check out my podcast this week. I’ll introduce you to my new friend (whom I met through Naomi) Charlene SanJenko of Regen Media. We’ll be talking about just this – telling our stories and trusting our journeys!
Genealea and I are doing a giveaway for our followers! During the month of July we are challenging you to donate one hour of your time to your favorite community organization or charity.
To participate, pick an organization to donate one hour of time to. Take a photo of yourself doing the work and send either Genalea or me a DM with details about what you’re doing and why. You’re not required to post the photo – but if you do, tag Genalea_Barker or me @adventuresinkarmalot!
August 1, Genalea and I will enter everyone’s name in a drawing for a free autographed copy of her book and some special treats from me including a souvenir from my trip to Africa!