Ten years ago this week I left my job teaching high school history and went back to grad school. One week later, I started a Masters of Professional Counseling program feeling equal parts excited and anxious. It felt like such a leap to leave the security of the classroom for the unknown of a new profession. I wasn’t entirely sure what life would look like upon graduation, but I knew that whatever form my life as a counselor took, I wanted to walk alongside women in their journey from brokenness and to wholeness, from heartache to redemption. I wanted to help women discover, or rediscover, their voice. I felt that desire deep in my bones.
Over this past decade, I have been privileged to hear so many beautiful and powerful stories. There is truly no greater privilege than holding someone’s story as they wrestle and search and mourn and surrender. I’ve had the honor to witness women come to life, take giant leaps of faith, give hard no’s and hesitant yes’s. Often, I sit in awe of the courage and strength I see demonstrated in my office.
But what I have consistently noticed over these years is our continued struggle with question Am I enough? This question can take so many twists and turns, but I feel like for so many of us the question of being enough is closely tied to how we see and feel about ourselves as women. What does it mean to be a woman? What does that really mean?? And… am I enough as a woman??
Our minds have been flooded with messages and images as to what it means to be a woman. A short surf on the internet can tell you how you can and should have a curvy figure like Kim Kardashian, how you can and should have it all, how you can’t and shouldn’t try to have it all, how to get a date, how to keep a man happy, how to be high school skinny, how to climb the professional ladder. We’re given all of these messages, and they create a very black and white view of life and womanhood- you either are or you aren’t. You either are these things that make you a woman- scratch that… make you a “better” woman- or you aren’t.
In wrestling with this question in my own life, I’ve always felt like I was vying for a seat at the table… as if life was nothing more than a giant middle school cafeteria and the table where you sit determines everything about you. If I could just figure out the right steps of what it means to be a woman then I could sit at the table… then I’d be accepted, I’d be okay, I’d be enough.
I have tried on many hats trying to earn my seat at that table.
I have tried to become some sort of distorted version of a Steel Magnolia where I stuffed all my feelings. I have tried letting all my feelings hang out and saying whatever came to my mind.
I have tried being hip and trendy attempting to emulate the pages of fashion magazines thinking that would answer my question. I have wanted to be the granola girl with a free spirit hoping that was the key.
I have lost my voice for the sake of a relationship because I believed the lie that there is nothing worse than not being in a relationship. (Sidenote- there is something worse than not having a boyfriend, partner, spouse; it’s not having a voice.)
I have ridiculed myself for not being sweet enough, thin enough, pretty enough, thoughtful enough, quiet enough, content to let others lead enough, cooking enough, not having enough children.
I have downplayed my intellect, my curiosity, and my ambition because I didn’t think they were feminine. I have shouted that I’m right, I have railed against stereotype, and I have tried to act like one of the guys thinking that would make me strong and finally heard.
I have tried on many hats in this department of what does it mean to be a woman and I have come to one conclusion- trying to be the woman other people want me to be and I think I should be in order to gain approval and acceptance is exhausting.
Trying to become the woman God created me to be is freeing.
How do I learn to become the woman I was created to be? Maybe a more accurate way to look at that question is how do I learn to give myself permission to be the woman I was created to be?
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that my faith plays a giant role in my life. As much as I rely and lean on my faith, if I am honest, what I have heard growing up in the four walls of the church has sometimes only frustrated my efforts to discover these answers. Growing up Southern and Christian, it has sometimes been challenging for me to identify what descriptions and expectations for women are cultural and which ones are scriptural. In the South, it is easy to confuse and combine the two.
When I think about what it means to be a woman, I think of words like strong, multitasker, highly capable, intelligent, caring, leader, loving, hard working, outgoing, creative, and introspective.
But if I am vulnerably honest with you there is a whole other list I think of that often has hung over my head like a guillotine blade. Sweet, quiet, soft, unassuming, pretty, thin, married, mother of multiple children, peaceful, self sacrificing, a great cook, always happy/pleasant, never angry, never sad, not too opinionated, not too ambitious, not taking up too much space, secondary.
Now, is there anything wrong with some of the descriptors on the second list? No. Absolutely not.
Are some of the descriptors on the first list “better” than some of the words on the second list? No. Absolutely not.
There’s nothing wrong with being sweet, with being attractive, with being a great cook. We cannot stigmatize qualities just because we fear we don’t have them or they intimidate us. That is bullying.
It is not better to be an outgoing leader than to be a quiet mother. One is not better, more worthy, more valuable than the other. The problem is we fall into the trap of thinking one list is better than the other and some of the words on both lists become sources of identity and worth- there is no flexibility, there is only have to be, must be, if you’re not then you’re less than.
But here’s the thing… giving yourself permission to be the woman you were created to be does not involve checking items off a list. It does not require you to perform for your seat at the table or play a part like an actor on a stage.
Your place at the table is not determined by whether you’re a Ms. or a Mrs., whether you have 0 children or 10, whether your resume has thirty years of corporate experience or no college degree, whether you are Betty Crocker or Sheryl Sandberg.
You have a seat at the table. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pay for it. You don’t have to act for it.
You have a seat at the table because you are you and that is enough. You have a seat at the table because you are a daughter of Creation. You were knit together and set apart well before the world could tell you otherwise.
The roles in your life will eventually shift. The job that gives you worth will eventually go away. The relationships that give you identity may change. But WHO YOU ARE- who God created you to be with that grace-infused worth- that is unshakable.
Just because your reality may not fit a certain picture, that does not mean that you are less than. You are a beautiful creation put here to fulfill a unique role and purpose.
So pull your chair up and claim your space. Use the sense of humor God gave you, the intellect He gave you, the sensitive and nurturing spirit, the quick thinking, the opinions, the skills, the talents. Use all the gifts and life experiences and be you.
My friends, that is what it means to believe and live as you are enough- to live as you were created. Created with purpose and for a purpose. Go ahead… take your seat. It’s been prepared especially for you.
How have you struggled and made peace with the question Am I enough? How have other’s expectations negatively impacted your view of yourself as a woman? What does being a woman mean to you?