Apr 2, 2011
Friends, believe it or not, my cousin Cathy and I are very different. Or we used to be. Even when we were kids, Cathy couldn't have cared less what other people thought about her. I, on the other hand, was always highly sensitive to what others thought of me -- or what I thought they thought -- and I let this influence choices I made for many, many (many) years.
I'm not a regretful person but I do wish I had been more confident earlier on and done what I wanted from an earlier age. Of course Cathy's choices have sometimes gotten her in trouble. She refused to believe that sticking her hand down a mailbox to retrieve a letter was in violation of the law and hence just served four months for mail fraud. Why she was retrieving the letter is another story.
I bring this up for a couple of reasons. My mother came for a visit the other day, which, like so many other visits, was preceded by a general de-dragging of the apartment: put away the dress projects, hide the jewelry, etc. But this time, after the success of Cathy's Broadway outing I decided that it was time to introduce my mother to Cathy. You may be wondering how my mother could be in the dark about my own cousin, but suspend disbelief for a moment.
Now I had shown my mother Cathy's first outing in her little black dress a long time ago, and she seemed faintly amused, but since then I hadn't mentioned it again and she hadn't asked (which is SO my family). This time I told her the whole story about how I got the Priscilla tickets and what an exciting night we had. She seemed to "get it" and asked a few questions like, where did I get the stole? Now mind you, my mother is over eighty, and this kind of thing is a little beyond her comfort zone. Of course, she LOVES Michael -- with whom she shares interests in opera and mysteries and crossword puzzles and houseplants and cooking -- so the fact that he was in the photos made the whole thing more legitimate for her.
But I did feel proud of myself for being upfront about the whole thing; I'm too old -- and way too lazy -- to go about cleaning the house every time she comes to visit. And what am I protecting her from -- or am I protecting myself from her potential disapproval? Shaming was a big part of my childhood experience.
My latest article in BurdaStyle is about why men don't sew, and one of the reasons I listed was the fear of being stigmatized for pursuing a "feminine" activity -- which home sewing unarguably is in the United States. And some of the comments attested to this fact. It just made me feel more strongly than ever the importance of being yourself and not investing your energy in others' approval. Life isn't short exactly, but it's not long enough to waste years not doing the things you really love because you fear the judgment of others. I spent decades doing this -- learn from my example!
In closing, friends, are there things you'd like to do where the only thing blocking you is fear of how other people might respond? I've learned that when you're doing something -- anything -- with full authenticity, it's exciting for everybody. I can count on one finger the number of times Cathy has received a negative response.
The great thing about doing what you love is that it creates a shift: it starts with one thing, and the vitality and sense of affirmation is so great, that you then take on another thing and another and before you know it you are living a life that's truly consistent with who you are. It's inspiring. Have you ever tried to hold one of those huge inflatable beach balls under water? That's the amount of energy it takes to hold yourself back, to keep a part of you down. When you release that, suddenly life is easier and all that energy you had dedicated to self-repression is now free for self-expression -- and joy!
Can you think of one little thing you've been reluctant and/or scared to do for fear others won't approve? Take a little time this week and do it. Better than any vitamin pill, it will energize you and get those creative juices flowing. You'll like yourself better too.
What would you really like to do -- if you had the guts?