Chris, 50, United States

chris-b-5Q: Can you tell me your story of strength? What makes you strong?

I can’t help but think about the question through lense of different seasons of my life. The younger me would look at strength through what I achieved. A lot of the work that I did when I was younger was helping to empower others, and women, particularly those with eating disorders, working with issues of worth and value and self esteem. It really connected me to empower others. I felt strength (and still do) when I am helping others find that core within, and empower them so they can go on to do what they want to do.

As I’ve gotten older, the same focus is there, but the season of my life has changed. Now, I’m a lot braver. I have more boldness within me. I feel like I censored myself more when I was younger, trying to be “good.” In the season, I’ve begun to really assert myself and speak my truth, even if it is an opinion that may be a little more controversial. I don’t think nearly the same now as I did when I was younger. The strength I have now is speaking my truth for me and being bold with that truth. 

Q: Can you tell me about a woman who exemplifies strength in your life?

I have to lift up one of my dear friends, who is 35. She is a spark when it comes to strength within herself. She grew up in a very fundamental spiritual environment. It was an environment that was very patriarchal. At a very young age, she recognized the tension and the dichotomy within the system, and the inherent issues with that. When she was younger, her goal in life was to be a mom and have children and be the good wife. Her one goal in life (before she started to question her beliefs) was to be a pastor’s wife. She was brought up to think that being a wife is the only goal you can have in life. When she was 6-7, she felt like she wanted to be more of a leader, though it was only a fleeting thought because she believed life had to be lived in a certain way- i.e. she wasn’t meant to lead.

She broke free of that, speaking her own truth only in the past 5-6 years. She has ostracized herself from her family, but she has incredible support from her husband. Now, she is actually in a vocation where women are the minority (ministry). But now, she is so empowered and feels like she is a voice for women. She has become a social activist and a fighter for the rights of the “other.” She speaks her truth- that she felt stifled for such a long time. So, she became a minister. It was never a role she thought she would go into because of her very strict background.

In the end, she chose to stick to her ground, what she knew she had to do, despite the consequences. I’m blown away by how far she’s come- especially because of where she came from. She took those steps because it was her truth, not just because it was rebellious or easy. For her to have left a very conservative education institution and flip to a completely different way of living her life, I can’t imagine how much courage it took for her.

Q: Can you tell me about a time where you feel like you failed or truly disappointed yourself?  

This issue I’m thinking of relates to my strength- it comes from my strength but it is also one of my shortcomings. Funny how that works, there always seems to be a tension between our greatest strengths and weaknesses.

I had a situation that had been brewing for a couple of months. It was a situation that was very volatile. A lot of emotions were involved. The whole environment was off and was very unstable. Essentially, I chose to speak my truth, because I have this new boldness and I’m trying to speak my truth with courage even when it isn’t easy or convenient. I confronted someone who I had some real tensions with. A lot of the underlying tension was me feeling that I was being condescended to, in part because I was a woman. I spoke my truth (and I could have said more!) and the situation that I thought had been resolved, unfortunately ended up with me leaving this particular environment. And it wasn’t on positive terms, it was actually very sad. There were a lot of hurt and betrayed feelings. A lot of questions were left unanswered.

Looking back, I had gone into the situation with a focus on being strong, having that belief that we should speak our truth, and that’s a good thing. But in retrospect, I would’ve chosen my words differently. I would’ve approached it differently, I would have been less reactive. I think the strength I went in with overshadowed the situation. When I think about it now, there is some room for improvement with me- and learning to be more discerning in my boldness.

So often when women approach a situation with bold strength, they are portrayed as a bitch. Men are celebrated as ballsy leaders. There is such a stereotypical way of looking at women in leadership positions. When they are in a position with a voice, and have the option to speak up, they are often times still viewed within these gender bounds-  you’re supposed to be a leader but only within the accepted rules and boundaries for women.

How can women better support each other?

I think we get most of our conflict from other women. Why are women not cheerleaders for other women? It drives me nuts! The whole comparison thing! The competition thing, the whole set up. We need to empower each other.

And we wonder why there are all the stereotypes of women, or little pieces of drama that we build up in our head and our world. We need to step back and realize people aren’t thinking about us, they are just thinking of themselves. If we can step back and get out of our heads, out of ourselves a little, there is so much more positive power in numbers. We work better together. There is already an oppressive nature toward women. Why would we isolate ourselves further? We should unite and become a force that is more positive.

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