Two things I know for sure:
1) I have the most incredible mom on the planet. She mothers with deep love compassion and sacrifice. She is unconditional. She is brave and strong.
2) My twenties have been blessed by the emergence of many beautiful female role models. They are powerful, soft, intelligent, funny and unique. Each of them teaches me in her own way about womanhood, femininity, being a parent, a spouse, a partner.
One thing I struggle with: Embracing in myself all of the exquisite feminine strength I see in my mom and other women.
Late in high school I got this idea of myself that I was a strong, sassy woman. To me that meant being assertive. outspoken. not taking shit from anyone. The older I got the more I felt like this idea of myself was myself. It became my entire identity. I felt powerful and accomplished. I liked that people respected my authority. People told me I was intimidating and I took it as a compliment.
My voice is always heard. I speak my mind, talk over other people and demand that people take notice of what I have to say. In large groups of boisterous men I can hang tough with sarcasm and insults.
For years this felt like both a personal and feminist victory. I felt empowered. I told the young women in my life whom I mentored that it was important to be strong. Be assertive. outspoken. don’t take shit from anyone.
But about five years deep in a spiritual practice and many incredible female influences later, it started to feel like an obstacle. I felt lonely and isolated. I wanted to know what it meant to open up my heart but all I could ever do was open up my mouth. I was desperate to understand what wasn’t working.
Slowly, I opened myself up to softness. It started with a simple commitment to “be nice.” With every person I knew, in every public encounter, I focused on this one thing. I noticed almost immediately the positive effects of this practice in my life. In turns out, people like when you’re nice to them. Shit, who would have thought?
The more I acted nice, the better I felt. And sooner than I ever would have expected, I didn’t have to try so hard. It became how I was rather than just something I did.
Being nice unlocked other traits I hadn’t seen in myself since I was a little girl. I cried more in two months than I had in five years. I cried in movies, commercials and books. I couldn’t watch a single thing on the Oprah Network without puddling into a pool of tears.
I started to help people. I helped strangers: open doors, pick up dropped produce in the grocery store and find places when they were lost.
I wanted people to feel loved and cared for by me. I wanted to connect and listen to them. I started to bake and cook for anyone who would eat it.
It all felt incredible.
The behaviors and attitudes I observed in myself were the feminine qualities I had been denying and rejecting (mostly out of fear) for years. I feared that if I loved people, they would hurt and betray me. I feared that if took care of people, they would walk all over me. I feared that if I connected to people, I would feel vulnerable and exposed. I thought if I cooked for people I would fail at it. I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone witnessing my failure.
Today, in the midst of what feels like a phase of emotional and spiritual transition, all of those fears remain intact. What I’m learning, is fear is a barrier to my happiness. Fear is a barrier to me living my fullest life. Fear prevents me from letting my whole self show up in the world. When I soften, embrace my femininity and allow others to do the same, I chip away at my fears. The more I accept that I just might be a caretaker, a mother, a gentle and kind woman, the more I feel acceptance in the world.
I still feel powerful. My voice is heard. I command respect. But in moments of softness I find my strength and my voice by allowing people to see me instead of demanding their attention. I can still be outspoken but conscious of what I say. And, one of my greatest lessons to date, is that the best way to “not take shit from anyone” is to not give it out.
Womanhood is beautiful. Femininity is luminous and powerful. To love, be compassionate, caring, open and soft are lessons I learned from my mom and the gifts of a vibrant life. I do not have to sacrifice my strength to be a woman, I just have to give up the fear that I do.
I feel gratitude for all of my many female mentors and inspirations. This particular reflection was inspired by two brave women telling their own stories of struggling with the balance of softness and strength: