All my life I’ve vacillated between restraining my natural exuberance in order to “fit in” or allowing my creative self full expression … which I was sure would mean rejection. As a child, my Grandmother often told me to, “quiet down” or “there’s no need for such excitement/drama” or “don’t make a spectacle of yourself.” These words informed my choices for a very long time. In truth, I was a shy geek of a girl who loved reading books, but inside there was a stage performer eager to express herself. But without a role model as creatively dramatic as I wanted to be, fitting in became more important to my adolescent self than taking a risk and walking onto a stage. So I forced myself to be outgoing in a “socially acceptable way” and wave pompoms on the cheerleading squad. I’m not belittling cheerleaders (it’s a lot of work!), but if I had to do it all over again? I’d choose differently.
I’m now 45 and to be honest, it wasn’t until I was hitting my 40s that I began to realize that (good manners and common courtesy aside) it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me. But it’s incredibly important that I have a good opinion of myself because without it, I can’t move forward. If I waste energy worrying about somebody else’s negative opinion, or judging myself so harshly that I make choices that keep me from stepping out onto whatever stage I want and living my whole dynamic self, life becomes stagnant. Fun, excitement, and fulfilling experiences and relationships are sacrificed. And frankly, my dear, that’s just not how I want to live.
This theme was top of mind after spending a full day at the beach with my family, specifically my nieces and nephews (5, 7, and two 8-years old twins.) I watched these adorable, curious, funny children and couldn’t help but contemplate on the effort it takes to raise them so they are kind, considerate, generous, thoughtful, resourceful, and independent human beings while also nurturing their individual, quirky expressions of creativity and personality. My nieces and nephews, without effort, personify creative expression; kids that age often do. Every discovery was the most amazing thing EVER. Impromptu performances were given to their captive audience of adults and gourmet delights were cooked up from sand and plastic buckets (they were delectably delicious!) Each of these children has his or her own approach to the world, and as of yet, they have no inhibitions around expressing it. I hope that continues to be the case as they grow older.
The fact that I’m not their parent, or anyone’s parent for that matter is irrelevant: I AM a role model. This wasn’t something I consciously thought much about before, but recently Mike’s sister sent me a note in which she thanked me for being ‘a strong, beautiful woman’ and said she loves the fact her girls can look to me as a role model ‘for being true to who you are and living a fulfilling, wonderful life.’ Her statements stunned, awed, and humbled me. Not being responsible for raising a child, I’d never really thought about the positive impact that I can have on others simply by living authentically. Mike’s nieces are all in their teens, but they still need positive female role models—we all do! And when I think on the concept of being a role model, it fills me with so much determination to be the best person I can be—for the first time, I’m actually afraid of being less.
If I live my life small, if I make choices that diminish me just so I “fit in” to some social circle, or allow myself to feel less than some other professional so therefore not deserving of the same success, what am I teaching our nieces and nephews? Nothing good.
We all take our motivation and inspiration from different places. And we need those things to keep us going when fear pops up and we encounter resistance to stepping into our full, dynamic selves. If the knowledge that I’m a role model helps me authentically express myself, live as creatively and fully as I can, and make conscious choices to achieve my goals, I’m happy with that. And I hope I can help others realize the same. The world desperately needs us all to step up and be who we truly are. Playing at anything else isn’t what we’re meant to do. So, go ahead, express yourself. Madonna and the Universe approve.