Imagine you have this well inside of you which is full of ideas, philosophies, thoughts unique only to you. Imagine there’s talent in so much of what you do, that you feel possessed by your need to share the interior of your mind with others. Imagine you have a drive, a singular ambition to use the contents of your brain and your heart to shift the world if only in some small way. Imagine you yearn deeply for impact and power and wealth and influence and fame and acclaim. Imagine your interests lay in being visionary, inventive, different, interesting.
Imagine this all exists inside of you just waiting for the moment to burst out into the open air.
Then, imagine you grow up and you learn about yourself from the culture you live in. You learn that your talents are never as good as the shell those talents are presented in. You learn you are meant to be decoration on the sideline of someone else’s dream. You learn that probably the best you could hope for is to hold onto the lapels of someone else’s ambition and ride that to the top. You learn that it’s nearly impossible to own yourself in a world that seemingly wants to own you.
You learn that you essentially need to unlearn everything your culture told you about who you are and what your value is in order to do anything you desire to do with your life. You learn that all those years of not knowing any better, of not being self-aware enough to stop toxic beliefs from affecting your self-image are years you can never get back. Years you wasted on self-doubt, self-loathing, self-hatred — all inherited from a culture which swallowed you before you learned to stand on your own.
So, your ambition becomes malleable, a thing that can be chipped away day by day. You watch your “role models” be beautiful first and everything else second. You watch as strong, incredible women forget to build their lives. You watch as women resign themselves and continue to put their power into the hands of men because it’s simply too difficult to swim against the tide for years and years. You watch as talent, intellect become buried underneath superficialities. You watch woman after woman cave into themselves.
You become a little smaller in your approach, a little less lofty in your daydream. You start to put limits around your best ideas; tiny, and then tinier boxes to fit what you’re capable of, what you can “realistically” do. You let that indignant, bullheaded part of yourself soften, tired of being tired and more tired of being angry. You start conforming yourself to the norm more and more, molding who you are around who you’re supposed to be all while trying to make yourself believe these are your true choices.
You start seeing who is collecting awards, accolades, wealth, influence and you notice very few women. You start feeling less capable, less optimistic about what you can realistically achieve. You start to deflate, little by little. You find that familiar flush of anger spreading across your body. You realize those in power make it nearly impossible to succeed and then dock you for doing the impossible. Then, this same powerful group wraps up the reasoning for your lackluster success in a bullshit burrito saying women are fundamentally flawed in some crucial way that only they can understand.
Anger. There’s that anger again.
You realize that all the time you spent unlearning what it means to be a woman, every man you’d known spent that same exact time climbing into their dreams. That, while you were focused on just trying to survive, they were thriving, unaware of any reason not to keep going higher and higher in the life you wanted but felt too frozen to reach for. You realize you’re angry you internalized a toxic belief that your work had to come packaged inside a beautiful body if you wanted it to be noticed, that you are somehow less, that your ambition is in any way diminished or unimportant.
You realize that while you deflated, the ones who were taught to striveinflated, more and more and more until there was no more room for you, small as you might have made yourself.
You become enraged when you understand that your struggle was not yours alone, that there has always been less opportunity for women, less options. Angry at yourself and the culture you were born into that tells little girls they are only as good as how they look, that this is where their value lies, while telling little boys their value is limitless, dependent on nearly anything they decide for themselves. Angry, thinking about what you could have done with your twenties had you believed in the limitless of your value. Angry, thinking about the countless times your value was diminished, when the brilliant parts of yourself kept becoming dimmer and dimmer and dimmer until only a tiny flame remained.
Angry, knowing things will change, but by only a fraction. Angry, knowing you have to work harder and smarter and longer and then only hope for recognition. Angry, that potentially this well inside of you will never be truly emptied, will never be truly seen. Angry, that it took you a decade of strife to undo this conditioning. Angry, that it took you so long to get even here to the recognition point. Angry, thinking about wasted tears and wasted time. Angry, that you didn’t know better.