This last week at school, our kids enjoyed a morning of running on the track before school started. It’s a really fun morning, where we all get to enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine and some exercise. As we were wrapping up, I told my kids and my husband that I was going to do one more quick lap.
When I got back from that last run, my son and husband were there. But my daughter was gone. She had left with her friends to head over to the school.
At first I was sad, but then I thought that maybe this was a good thing for her. She can be on the shy side, and I was impressed she would go with her friends. But I’m a stickler for saying good-bye every morning before we part.
So after dropping off my son, I ran over to her door just in time to see her and say good-bye. She looked upset but turned away from me and went inside.
I thought maybe she was embarrassed that I ran after her all sweaty in my gym clothes. Or thought maybe she was tired from running. No matter the reason, I could tell she was a little bit upset, but didn’t think too much of it.
Later that night I spoke to her about it and was surprised by the flood of tears that suddenly poured out of her. She had a friend pull her away and say, “Come on! I want you to come with me!” as I was running that last lap.
Then at the door, when she saw me, her friend pulled on her again, “You don’t need to see your mom. Come with me.”
Now granted, this is all through the filter of a young girl, so who knows what was really said. But the point was, she did what her friend wanted her to do instead of standing up for what she wanted.
For those of you who know me, you can imagine how well this went down with me.
Going with the crowd? Oh no. I don’t think so.
Letting ourselves be told what to do by someone else? Um, no.
I asked her what she had really wanted in that moment when she saw me. “To come and hug you.” She said through tears. That about broke me up inside. “Then why didn’t you?” I asked.
“Because she told me I couldn’t.”
Ack! We spent several minutes talking about how our own voices are the most important. About how we need to trust our own instincts, and really stand up for what we want and what we believe. I gave her phrases to say in situations like that. Everything from “No thank you” to “Stop it” and “No way!”. We practiced saying them, and when to say them.
And it was somewhere during this process that I realized this is something that so many of us struggle with, long after our kindergarten years.
How many times do we bite our tongues and choke back feelings (and tears) so we don’t rock the boat? How often do we shove aside our own needs so we can meet the needs of others?
I’m not saying there aren’t times to put the needs of others ahead of our own, there are. But they are rare and special. That shouldn’t be the norm. And when someone really needs our care, as we age, during illnesses or through special circumstances, it is still our job to make sure our own needs are met, too.
But during the day-to-day life that we live, we need to stand up for what we want. We need to ask for what we want, and respect what we need. At times this can really feel like we’re swimming against the current, or that we aren’t doing what comes naturally, but I believe we should do it anyway.
Listen, we have one shot at this life. And as women especially, it’s our job to create the life that we want. There will always be people around us who will want to push our limits, to make us feel that we’re being selfish, or that we don’t know what we’re doing.
And we should create the life we want anyway. We will always have reasons that we can use for not going after what we want. But what other people think should never be that reason.
As I taught my daughter last week, I taught myself, too. It’s OK to say no. It’s OK to say stop. And it’s OK to say, “Oh I don’t think so”.
And as we go our own way and march to the beat that makes us happy, some people may become uncomfortable. But you know what? That’s their problem, not ours. Hopefully their own discomfort will inspire them to reach out and do great things with their own lives, too.
Either way, you only get one life. And this one belongs to you.
Go get it.