I wasn’t cool as a kid. I was quirky, nerdy, not athletic and I most certainly wasn’t popular. And for a long time, I didn’t care.
Because I was smart—being smart and vocal was my thing. I loved to share my opinions; class debates were my absolute favorite (whether or not the teachers intended for us to debate or I just spoke my mind in the moment and ignited one, I can’t remember).
But I remember the moment I started to silence myself.
It was in middle school, and I was called on to answer a question in class. I knew the answer. But a rush of shame washed over me. I remember the physical feeling of it, like my body was suddenly trying to protect me from danger. The protection it offered was silence. They’ll roll their eyes at you again. They’ll smirk, they’ll whisper and you’ll be even less cool than you are now.
“I don’t know,” I said to the teacher (who knew I was lying). And I got quiet—for a long time.
Somewhere along the way, I had received the message that in order to be accepted, I needed to act a certain way. To hide the part of me that was the most me. So I raised my hand only sometimes. I stopped debating with classmates. I stopped standing up for myself when I felt wronged.
I became likable—maybe even a little cooler.
Fast forward a couple of decades: I am still a quirky, unathletic nerd (but I have tattoos so maybe, I am a little cool now?). But I have learned that the part of me I was so desperate to hide is actually the part of me I am most proud of.
I have to fight the urge to stay quiet—to fit in, to not make ripples—every day. Because making ripples by standing in my truth and speaking my mind is the thing I am best at. It’s what lights my fire, makes me the happiest, and I believe, part of my role here on this earth.
I don’t think my experience is a unique one. Women—mothers, especially—are told all the time, subtly and overtly, that we must change, adapt and bend who we are to make other people more comfortable. That somehow a watered-down version of ourselves is the one we should present to the world.
Well, I have learned that no matter how much water we throw on that internal fire, its embers still burn, even if it’s just a little.
So, mama, I ask you, what is the thing you’ve been throwing water on all these years? What “flaw” have you been hiding from the world?
What part of you did they tell you wasn’t good enough, wasn’t right, wasn’t allowed, wasn’t appropriate?
What if the thing you have been hiding is the thing the world needs most?
Maybe you’re like me, and you have been quiet when your soul is loud and on fire.
Or maybe you’re an introvert, but have felt like you needed to be extroverted to be accepted.
Or maybe it’s your love of sculpting, or your desire to become a farmer, or whatever quirky and totally awesome thing sets your heart on fire.
Whatever it is, the world needs it. Especially right now.
When I am struggling to make a decision, I often use a ‘regret barometer’—what decision might I regret more? I’ll tell you that I have never once regretted speaking up. Because speaking up is me, and you can’t regret your most authentic self.
A note of caution: Women who are unapologetically themselves are terrifying (why do you think they’ve tried so hard to convince us we need to water ourselves down?).
So this unveiling is going to be uncomfortable. Every time I stand in my truth—stand up for myself, speak my mind—I get nervous. I stare at the ceiling at night wondering if I was too much or too loud. But the thing I am learning—slowly—is that I am not too anything. I am just me. And that’s great.
But the world may not be kind, which means that it’s up to us to support each other’s re-emergings.
When you see a woman standing up for herself, stand next to her.
When your friend does something “uncharacteristic” (but totally awesome) tell her you noticed and loved it.
When someone makes themselves vulnerable, applaud them.
When someone makes a life-decision that you don’t understand but that makes them indescribably happy, smile for them.
And when you feel that twinge, that inner-knowing that says, “here’s who I really am,” listen. You owe it to yourself—and mama, you owe it to the world.
Speaking of tattoos, I have this (not so secret anymore) secret tattoo that’s part of a phrase by Isadora Duncan. The tattoo says, “you were wild once.”
It’s a reminder that once upon a time I was authentically, unapologetically me. I was a messy-haired little girl who danced on the sidewalk, played in the woods, spoke her mind, started debates and lived with the beautiful abandon of a child who doesn’t care—doesn’t even think about—what other people think of her.
I was wild once. I am wild still. Sometimes she just goes into hiding.
It’s my responsibility to coax her back out—to tell her that she’s safe. That her quirky and opinionated voice is allowed and valued.
Maggie Kuhn said, “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes.”
Shake with me, mama.