Over a year ago, I had someone I respected ask me why I chose to be so open about my hobbies and interests. At first this question caught me off guard. I'd never considered that I shouldn't be able to talk about my love of Star Wars or excitement about the next concert I was checking off my bucket list. After all, nobody bats an eye when men come into the office buzzing about the latest football news or plans to go hunting over the weekend. Why must I risk compromising my credibility by being open about who I am? After all, it's connection and mutual interests that build relationships. I was hurt by the implication I should have to compartmentalize myself to make others happy.
In that anger I wrote the following journal entry, which I never intended to make public. My preferred method of processing strong emotions is to write, so I vented onto the page and then moved forward. I recently stumbled upon these words and while it was painful to relive the feelings that generated them, I couldn't help but think others may relate to this experience. I have to work hard every day to set my own rules and not be sucked back into the trap of trying to please others. I'm grateful to be surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues who appreciate who I am- quirks and all. I share these personal thoughts to remind anyone with similar struggles that you are not alone. Being yourself takes courage, and I will do whatever I can to support you on your journey. It's us weird ones who will stand out and change the world!
"Have you thought about how people might see you? You've worked so hard to be respected. Why would you risk that by presenting this side of yourself?"
I'm constantly reminded that I am a threat. I'm young (relatively!). Confident. Opinionated. Expressive. Everything this society prefers to crush and push down. My sheer existence is subversive. I wish thoughts of what others might think would never cross my mind until I was asked, but these opinions are my constant companion. Like the time I was asked in a job interview how I would go about getting people's respect in the leadership position I was seeking. Nobody would say they doubted me because of my gender, but they drew a comparison that was not-so-subtle enough for me to know what they were getting at without being blatant enough to admit it. I embraced the question and gave the perfect answer, which apparently put their fears to rest. During the first media interview I did after getting a new leadership position the reporter led with, "so you're 30 and a woman, does that kind of thing happen often with this kind of role?" I refused to let my age or gender be my story and took the response in a different direction. But it hurt.
Throughout my career I have had to find a way to live with the pressure of who others want me to be. Intelligent but not intimidating. Outgoing but not trying too hard. Down to earth but not below them. Each time I have to bite my tongue or turn on the charm to be accepted, it hurts. I don't have the luxury of failing to think about what people may perceive. Should I wear a dress or pants to this meeting? Heels or flats? Lipstick or no makeup? Do I look like I'm too serious or am not serious enough? Whoever invented the phrase "damned if you do, damned if you don't" must have been a woman.
There are a thousand decisions I have to make to not push people away, but I'm nearing my limit for being able to let others' views drive my decisions. As someone who naturally tends to draw self-worth from being able to please others, I've spent my entire life trying to avoid disappointing people. It hurts to know I that I can't keep it up anymore, but also a freedom that comes with realizing that people will judge me no matter what I do. So I will let them. I will turn down the volume on the white noise of their opinions playing in my brain until the day I barely hear them at all. I pity those who will be left out of my life because they can't see beyond who they want me to be. But I won't hurt myself anymore by letting others define who I am. The weight of so many expectations can be crushing, only as long as I agree to carry them.