In the January issue of skirt!, the magazine featured me in a Q & A and one question in particular made me pause:
Who is the woman who has most inspired you and why?
A series of names and faces flashed across my mind. I thought for a while, and then I replied:
If I listed one, I’d have to list 10. Most women inspire me. I have a gift for seeing what’s amazing and beautiful about a person, and that has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself. When I’m down in the pit of life, I can always think of someone who inspires me to get back up.
I stand by that answer. But if I could change one thing about my response, I would. Instead of saying, “I have a gift for seeing what’s amazing and beautiful about a person,” I’d say, “I choose to see…” because allowing myself to be freely inspired by other women is more of a conscious choice, rather than something that has always come naturally to me.
To be truly inspired by other women, I had to first learn to stop comparing myself to them.
When I was a young girl, my mom would sometimes say, “You have to run your race and find your place.” She was telling me to stop measuring my value against everyone else’s. She was telling me that I am my own person. My path is my own.
Back then, I didn’t fully understand what she meant, but after running my race and searching for my place for four decades now, I’ve gained perspective. I’ve learned how to look to other people to determine what I can learn from them, not to size them up or grade their worth (or mine).
Everyone has a story.
I’m the co-producer of Charleston’s Listen To Your Mother show, a live, staged reading that features women and men sharing their true, personal essays about motherhood. I’ll never forget one night during a rehearsal when cast members were hearing each other’s stories for the first time. A woman looked at me with a mix of amazement, humility, and sudden awareness.
She leaned over and whispered, “We all have these stories that we carry around inside of us.” She paused, and then added, “But we don’t wear it.”
I looked around, and it was true. Based on how we looked and carried ourselves on the outside, you’d never know the personal struggles we’d faced or the battles we’d fought; the failures, the disappointment, and the heartbreak we’d endured.
On International Women’s Day, I shared this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert:
The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it.Those women are my superheroes.
I love this quote because it challenges me to let go of my assumptions about women who seem to have it all. It’s common to see someone’s calm and put-together exterior and assume that on the inside, they feel calm and put together. It’s common to see someone’s outward success and assume they must have something that we lack. It’s common to think, things must have been so much easier for them. That may be the case, but the truth is, we don’t know. And making assumptions is rarely helpful.
If we’re going to assume anything, perhaps we should assume what author Wendy Mass has said, “Be kind. Because everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Life’s hard. But the point isn’t to romanticize the pain and struggle to create a “misery loves company” kind of solidarity. Instead, we can allow ourselves to be inspired by the fact that, in spite of it all, we are still standing.
When we see someone standing in their own light, why not allow ourselves to soak it up, bask in its glow? That light can awaken something inside of us that’s been dormant for years. It can motivate us to take action. It can be the catalyst that compels us to make peace with our own hurts and disappointments.
Someone else’s light can remind us that we are also a light. We are strong. We have the power to be the superheroes of our own stories.