I originally wrote this blog post December 2015 for Plaid for Women, an incredible community where women support one another. I wanted to share this post because it is a message that we too often forget – strength does not come from doing it all alone.
My two boys and I just finished the most epic road trip ever, covering nearly five thousand miles of the American southwest and the Californian coastline. For almost three weeks we enjoyed one another’s company, laughing and making memories that will certainly last a lifetime (score 1 mom)! But then I got home. My position at work was changing and I was stuck in the dreaded transition phase. Two family members fell on tough times and needed my support. My oldest child was starting his first year of homeschooling. My mother was not feeling well. I had committed to singing in two bands and had major gigs coming up. Everything collided in my life at once. I felt like finding a rock and hiding under it until the New Year.
Now I am a strong Christian woman who believes in the power of prayer, but at that moment, my faith was weak. I prayed to God but because of my internal frustrations I could not find peace. Nothing in my life prepared me for all of that – and I’ve gone through some crazy things. I felt alone and decided to keep it all in, fearing that expressing the heaviness of my burdens would reveal weakness. I kept it all in until one day I snapped! I literally broke down crying. The pressures I allowed to build up inside of me had become too much to handle and I broke.
It was after work and I could not take it and went to my church and shared what I was going through with my pastor. Tears flowed freely while my face contorted and my mouth wailed. Never had I experienced so much heaviness. I told him everything that was going on and how I felt and he told me something I had never heard before – “you need to let people know how you feel.” WHAT? Share my feelings?
I was always taught to “be strong,” “keep it together” and “wipe those tears.” How do I express how I feel without hurting someone else? More than that, how do I express how I feel without looking weak?
See, we weren’t meant to walk this world alone – God made Eve because God saw that Adam was lonely. . We are social beings; to keep everything in for the sake of “being strong” is asinine. The more we allow this to happen, the more we fool ourselves and wreak havoc on our lives.
There is a fallacy in what we identify as strength. The strong ones are not the ones who allow themselves to carry the weight of the world all alone, no, the strong ones are the ones who recognize where they need a helping hand and ask for it. Yes, the strong ones are the ones who share how they feel, they cry when they need to cry, they have friends they confide in without fear of judgment, they acknowledge their emotions without allowing their emotions to control them. The strong are not those who merely walk around with smiles pretending everything is ok – on the contrary, the strong ones smile but are aware and acknowledge the crazy in their lives.
How did we get to that place where we think we have to do it all on our own? We put ourselves through so much guilt and get ourselves so worked up behind the thought that emotions expose weakness. I know better now that strength comes from admitting our weaknesses and not from pretending we do not have any.
It is amazing how quickly our minds can pass judgment. I understand the biological reasons why we have to, but it still amazes me.
I remember being a junior in college. I was an Aviation Management Major and had the privilege of attending a conference hosted by Women in Aviation International. I was really excited because I got to fly to the conference, stay in a nice hotel and learn more about the aviation industry all on my school’s dime. The conference was your typical conference: speakers, presentations, vendors, networking. The hotel was a lovely hotel that had trees and a faux river that ran through the lobby. Everything was amazing to my college eyes. All but me.
I was a single parent and had given my last dimes to pay bills before I left home. I attended this conference with no money at all and therefore was unable to eat. I sought out every event where there was food, because meals were not provided. In my fit of hunger I felt myself becoming bitter and angry. I felt like the professional women there could not possibly understand what I was going through, being broke and hungry. They had their fancy careers and made their gobs of money. They couldn’t possibly get it.
It wasn’t until years later when I took a corporate, office job and was invited to attend an event where there were beautifully dressed, well poised, professional women that my eyes were opened.
I met an older lady who took time to get real with me. She shared her story of how she too was a single mother at one point and had to rely on others in order to care for her son. She described how hard she worked to get to where she was today. She described the discrimination she faced as not only a woman but also a black woman. How she cried at times in her private moments.
At that moment I realized how foolish I was at the conference years ago to assume that the women there could not possibly get it. Honestly, I was now one of those women I judged. I was attending special events regularly and getting dressed to the nines. If someone were to just see me they could assume my life had always been pretty.
You see, we cannot look at someone and know their story; we can only learn someone’s story if we give them an opportunity to tell it and we are open to listen.
It is easier for us to dismiss one another based upon our assumptions but I believe that if we took time to listen we would find that we had more in common than we think. That wealthy business person might have grown up in poverty, and it was the struggle they faced in their youth that gave them the drive they needed to pull themselves out of poverty. That mother who seems to have it all together, may have lost a child and understands the fragility of life.
We all have something. Something that is a part of our story. Sometimes our somethings are big, sometimes they are small, but one person’s something is not greater than another’s. We are all just trying to live.
I challenge you to go to someone today and listen. Really get to know who they are. Not what they do, but who they are. Be open. You might find that you have more in common than you thought.
Have you had an experience where you made an assumption about someone, or a group of people, only to have the assumption be wrong?