When I was 11 years old, I was partnered with this boy in my class for a poetry project and book report. Robert Frost was our charge, and we decided to make a video report reciting ‘Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening’ amongst other selected works. I would go to his house after school for many days to work on this.
The boy was funny, exuberant and charming, and well beyond my shy and introspective reach. So quite predictably… I fell head over heels in crush with him.
We would talk on the phone and vaguely flirt in the awkward ways only pre-pubescents could. He would make me feel special, and seen and understood in a way that I had not previously considered possible by a boy. Not having any idea yet of course, that I felt understood only because I was coming to understand parts of myself I never had before — not because this well meaning boy had any clue.
It was the awakening of my girl into womanhood, the bright new shoots of my budding sexuality. But I didn’t know that then. I just knew I was enamored… lost in a sea of giggles and sparkly feelings that were previously largely unknown to me. I was becoming something different, right before my eyes—something valuable and lovable and powerful with this newfound sway.
And then one day, feeling particularly radiant from a phone call the night before, in my aqua shorts and tucked white-tee, I skipped off to school expecting more of the intoxicating rush, but instead was met with silence. The boy ignored me all day long. He consorted with his friends, they laughed and talked like it was any other day. But he did not see me. I was not special. I did not understand.
It wasn’t until that evening on the phone that I found out the cause for this change. The boy informed me that he had been that way because “I didn’t look good” that day. And there it was. The first of many breaks that would come to my heart and sense of self.
What the 11 year old girl understood was that she was ugly and fat and deeply not-right in some way. That she was not good enough, pretty enough, or cool enough. What the 11 year old girl did NOT understand was that this would be internalized and acted out over the forthcoming years of her life as a constant attempt to regain what she had lost.
What she learned that day was that her value and beauty was not her own. It belonged to those outside her, to tell her how it was, and whether or not it was good enough. What she learned that day was that the magic of all those stirring and powerful feelings she felt, belonged to him—and to others—and they could be given, and taken away.
What she learned that day was that her sexuality—the inklings of which she barely knew—was the property of men and how they felt about her. The bright new shoots were promptly cut (as they would be many more times in many more ways), to brown and wilt for decades.
And why do I share this very personal account of embarrassment and humiliation with you on my business blog today? Because everything is connected. And it is precisely painful stories like these, the ones that we ALL have and carry in different forms, that hold the keys to the doors we need to unlock, to see the new spaces we need to see, to get where we’re trying to go.
Over the next couple years more things like this would happen. My parents would separate, and then divorce. My mom would come out to us in a small foothill town that “talked”. My life would be blown apart as I knew it, and so would the bright young girl—in ways that all of us do at that age—regardless of our different stories. And all these things would build on eachother… as these things often do.
But what I know now, is that while that pain shaped me, and made me into an outstanding perfectionist and people-pleaser for the next nearly 30 years (which would serve me well professionally, and enable me to survive through impossible times), it also severed my connection to my sovereignty.
It put me out of touch with a powerful part of myself that I now understand to be intimately connected to my presence and voice as a woman, and as an entrepreneur. Because you see… we reach the length of which we believe we can HOLD.
We can’t step into new places until we step out of old ones. Nobody wants to visit the pain, but the pain is the crimson leaf that falls to fertile ground. Healing old wounds nourishes the roots, so the shade of your tree reaches farther, so it holds more, and holds you, strong and solid and firmly in the earth.
I had to go back and see for myself. I had to find what I had lost. And I did. It was ugly and hard, I won’t sugar coat, but I did.
The boy didn’t have the power… I did. The magic I thought was him was me all along. That lush world of experience I was so smitten with was born in and out of ME. That’s where it lived then, and that’s where it lives now.
No boy and no girl, no man and no woman gets to tell me what I’m worth and how, or who I am. My life is a landscape all my own. I get to traverse it, to touch and feel it, and live my full experience, in the way that is best for just me.
But I couldn’t do that really until I took back what I had long ago given away. Given away so many times, in so many ways, to so many people, I’ve lost count.
But it’s time we take back our sovereignty—visit the places we’ve given ourselves away—and take the whole of ourselves BACK. Because when we do this, and really know this, the floodgates of choice and opportunity open back up. Ways and modes that were previously unseen suddenly are clear as day, and the power begins to shift in this world from corrupt hands, to capable ones.
And this world needs more capable hands.
Hands that hold… that reach out and connect. Not hands that grab and hurt. But we can’t really do that until we know we’re whole, otherwise we’ll constantly be reaching from our painful place of desperate lack. I did this in a thousand hurtful ways until I saw.
That girl in me was reaching all the while. Reaching for approval, love and validation. Reaching for someone to finally tell her she was “good”. But she’s not reaching anymore. She’s smiling, and shining, and knowing what she’s got to give. She’s knowing it’s really none of her business who wants that, and who doesn’t, because SHE wants it, and that’s finally enough.
So she just keeps opening her hands. The most wonderful people and experiences have come in and out of these hands, both before and after the pains and healings. But boy is it sweeter when I’m not holding on so damn tight.
I’m not 11 anymore. I’m weeks away from turning 40. And as that 40th year approaches, I take stock of all the miles I have come, and all the miles left out in front of me.
I take stock of the boy and man I love now who really DOES see me, love and understand me, and makes full room for me as I am. I take stock of the love I have finally found in myself, after all this time out here wandering. I take stock of the business I have built on a wing and a prayer, that is flourishing now beyond that young girls wildest dreams. I’m so grateful for it all, and every messy part that brought me here.
I couldn’t help but go back and take a peek at that old poem of Mr. Frost’s today,
and my how it comes full-circle to me now…
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
but I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep.”