Have you ever thought about who you want to be in this world?
Not what you want to be. Who.
One of my mentors assigns me “homework” on a regular basis as a way to further explore and follow-up on the things we discuss. Each assignment starts exactly the same, with a section called “Permission Slips” and a question: What do you need to give yourself permission to do/not do in order to get the most out of this assignment? This past month the question was different:
What permission slips do you want to write yourself in order to show up as your most authentic self—here, on the water, on the erg, in the weight room, and with your coaches?
This shift in language, or maybe it was an intentional modification to the question, triggered something in me in a big way. Full disclosure: I hadn’t paid much attention to the question in the past. It seemed like a formality, and, when I sit down to write and reflect, I write honestly and openly, always. So aside from giving myself permission to simply let the words flow—no edits; no agonizing over word choice or sentence structure—I haven’t had much to say here. Until now.
What permission slips do you want to write yourself in order to show up as your most authentic self…?
My most authentic self.
(Side note: Authenticity is one of my core values so the word “authentic” holds a lot of weight with me.)
On the water. On the erg. In the weight room. With my coaches.
Let It Flow!
In the spirit of honesty, authenticity and plain old full disclosure, here’s what came up:
Permission to TAKE UP SPACE.
Permission to take up space.
Permission to appear confident.
Permission to BE confident.
Permission to be strong.
Permission to voice my opinion.
Permission to communicate openly and respectfully.
Permission to know what I want.
Permission to say what I want.
Permission to go after what I want. Lol.
Permission to stand tall and be proud of who I am.
Permission to win!
I wrote. I paused. I folded some laundry and thought more about taking up space. And then a memory came up. I was at crew practice at Lehigh, standing around in front of the boathouse in Allentown, and someone told me that the freshmen women thought I was intimidating. I can’t remember the exact context—who I was with or specifically what I was doing—but I distinctly remember my response: ME?! Intimidating? I’m not intimidating! I’m like the nicest person in the world!
Gang… women… yes, all my ladies in particular, this one’s for you. Have you ever stifled who you are or what you want in favor of approval? Or to meet someone else’s standards or expectations? Or to act according to social pressures and norms?
Hand up. Guilty. Right here. As a woman who chose to pursue a career in athletics over a conventional profession and starting a family, believe me when I tell you that I spent most of my twenties grappling with why I wanted something different and whether or not I was ruining my (and my husband’s) life.
Here’s the deal though. I don’t want to sacrifice how I show up in the world. I don’t want to let others define what I should say or how I should act or what I should feel. And I don’t want to let my own personal fear of other people’s perceptions dictate what I do and don’t do.
I admire strength and courage and ferocity and focus in other women, and I want to fully embody those characteristics myself. Because I can be all of those things AND be nice and caring and compassionate. I can be all of those things AND be a dedicated spouse, a loving daughter and a good friend. We don’t trade kindness for strength, or compassion for confidence. We don’t trade generosity for ambition, or wholeheartedness for focus and discipline and vision. We are multifaceted beings. We can be ALL of these things at the exact same time and so very much more.
The Female Brain
I just started a book called The Female Brain written by neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, MD. I’m only two chapters in but so far I’ve learned that we females are wired for communication, connection, emotional sensitivity and responsiveness. This “wiring” is the result of structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal and functional factors specific to women. For example, in terms of structure, here is a sampling of the areas that Brizendine sites that are different in women and men:
1. Anterior Cingulate Cortex:
Weighs options, makes decisions. It’s the worry-wort center, and it’s larger in women than men.
2. Prefrontal Cortex:
The queen that rules the emotions and keeps them from going wild. It puts the brakes on the amygdala. Larger in women, and matures faster in teen girls than in boys by one to two years.
The center that processes gut feelings. Larger and more active in women.
The elephant that never forgets a fight, a romantic encounter, or a tender moment—and won’t let you forget it, either. Larger and more active in women.
These structural difference, plus an array of functional and chemical variances, contribute to the traits established in the female brain during girlhood; traits including communication, social connection, desire for approval and reading faces for cues as to what others think or feel. Brizendine writes:
So why is a girl born with such a highly tuned machine for reading faces, hearing emotional tones in voices and responding to unspoken cures in others? Think about it. A machine like that is built for connection. That’s the main job of the girl brain, and that’s what it drives a female to do from birth…. If you’re a girl, you’ve been programmed to make sure you keep social harmony.
So, what do we do with this information about the brain? How can it serve us, particularly when pursuing careers and going after goals that require action and aggression—traits naturally more robust in men? Well, first, let me say that in terms of rewiring our brains, I know that it’s possible but need to learn more. Stand by! Second, self-awareness is key in sports and in how we show up in life. With that in mind, my plan right now is to simply pay attention and recognize if and when I’m sacrificing what’s important to me in favor of approval or connection. Because at the end of the day, life is short, and I want to show up strong and confident and proud. I give myself permission to take up space. I give myself permission to fully be me.
And now, I pass the question to you…
What permission slips do you want to write yourself in order to show up as your most authentic self?
Pause. Reflect. And then let the words flow!
Happy training, gang! February can be a tough month. Warmer days are near. Stay focused. Stay strong. Keep taking steps toward those goals!