Ashley, 32, United States

IG PhotoWhat is your story of strength?

You know on some days, when I am reflecting on whether I am strong, whether I can make it to the next day, the next month, to the end of the year, sometimes I don’t feel strong. But then I reflect on the human experience, and think, people have made it through tougher situations than what I am going through right now. So I start from an extreme point and go to a more personal point. Whether it is friends or family, sometimes it is hard for me to realize the truth I speak to other people, to friends and family, about their strengths about myself. So I choose people that I trust, that are logical or truthful, to tell me these things about myself. When they give me feedback, I trust them.  

It sounds dramatic, but in some ways I look at myself and think, you know, I haven’t broken yet. And I suck it up for five more minutes, ten minutes, the next hour, and I go on.

Part of that story of strength involves my parents divorce, which was really hard on me. But there was a community of people, including my parents, that really came around me. It was during the 90s when a lot of people were going through divorce, and it was one bad story after the others. I couldn’t believe that, I just had to believe that the circumstances were unique, my family was unique, but I had to see that story in the broader scope of things and then narrow down to my individual experience. Then I had to weigh things out and find the good–people coming together and loving each other. That is where a lot of strength comes from, to understand that being critical can be necessary, but being giving and loving and generous is good for the soul.

So when I think about how hard the last year was or even when hard things continue to come up, I know what I think and feel, but I also want to know other people’s experiences too. It is the community experience, it is the outreach, it is knowing that other people experience hard things too, that everyone has gone through that bad experience. And then you see them make it to another level of life in their life, and you realize they made it, that I can make it through as well, and can be as kind and as giving as they are. To see others going on, that gives me strength.

Can you tell me about a woman in your life that embodies strength?

My grandma Nelle. It would be a lot of women in my life, but her in particular. Recently, things have just weighed on me more heavily. This time last year, I could have called her and asked her perspective–and if grandma said it, it was gospel truth. She had lived 103 years.  She lived through the Great Depression, lived through World War II, she was a mother and a wife during World War II, she lived through all the things we look back on as shockingly horrible times. And yet my grandma survived that. Her past did not dictate what she became, what her life became, what her children’s’ lives became. So if my grandma said “this too shall pass,” I would say yea, I believe you.

I was really blessed not only to have strong women in my life, but also to have those women spoken about in highly revered and respected ways. Some of my earliest memories are of my great aunt Willie. She was strong, strappy, incredibly generous, kind. I was very young when I would go to her  house in Tennessee, but I remember nothing but love, respect, and goodness  from her. My grandma Nelle also spoke about women in the most respectful terms. My great aunt Polly was known as an adventurer–and then there are my aunts, my cousins, a lot of strong women that I am so fortunate to have in my lineage, but also to have had to engage in conversation. There was no disrespect, no delineation between men and women in my family.

Can you tell me about a time you failed or disappointed yourself?

In one sense it is tough to figure out how to categorize what a failure is. I would probably say disappointment right now, but the thing is that the story is not complete.

Right now, I could say I am disappointed, but that is not the end of the story. If my story ended tomorrow, I wouldn’t be disappointed in my life at all. I would be proud of the fact that I changed careers, went to graduate school. But then I ran into this ridiculously hard wall, finding your place in a new city, in a new career–that is where I would say I am disappointed. It is hard because I feel–and I don’t normally take confident stances like this–but I know that I am well qualified. However, being well qualified does not always mean you get what you want. The general trope is that if you work hard it will pay off, and that not working out was a disappointment–not that it always worked out in the past.

It is a disappointment right now, but it is also not the end of things.  Acknowledging that it is a disappointment, not ignoring it, not trying to twist it into something else, but then making the most out it. That is where I am right now, asking what’s next.

While I have much larger goals in mind than what I am currently living out, nearly everything that happens on a daily basis, the strangers I walk past or interact with, the wacky stories I end up getting from those interactions, or even having a great job I didn’t expect to have–it is all rich, and enriching.

And if it turns out that I am in a situation where I really don’t know what to do, and have to ask for help because I don’t know what to do, the reverse is that I get to see how fortunate I am to have such good people around me. This is the thing in the disappointment of the last year, beyond having a positive attitude–that this is not the end, not the end of the dream, we make new dreams, new plans–is getting to see how rich in life I am.

What I have up to this point is a wealthy life in many ways, friendships I wouldn’t have dreamed of having, so many of them. So when I think about that, I am satisfied. And I want to be better because of those of relationships.

How can women better support each other?

I read something in one of the other blog posts, probably something about being less critical of one another, that I completely agreed with.

I think it is about a two way street of confidence. It is hard to coach yourself to be confident, but by doing so, you are doing a service to yourself and to other women. Because if you are confident, the successes of friends or coworkers, the successes or the failures of other women don’t weigh as heavily on you. You can rejoice with your friends, coworkers, other ladies in your community, and you can empathize. And you can do that without being threatened.

That is something I see in my friends, when they are there for each other, or thinking about the selflessness of my mother or my aunt. Their whole perspective is that they believe in me completely and support me. Even when I fall down they will say, it is okay, you have other chances, learn from those mistakes and move on. And that is something we can foster amongst ourselves as women, to really be empathetic and encouraging, and build trust.

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