As I write this, I’m sitting in my hotel room looking out the window at a stunning sun-dappled mountain view. A mountain I should be skiing on. Instead, here I sit. Writing. Working. Opting to do the ‘responsible’ thing. But my focus is split. Because it’s tinged with a sharp-edged ice-blue regret. A blue that matches the sky taunting me through this body-sized looking glass. A blue that matches my mood. And it gets me to thinking. How often do we, as women, deprive ourselves of opportunities in the name of responsibility or some other such misguided self-imposed identity? What’s your favourite flavor of self-deprivation? When did it start for you?
For many women, this self-denial starts in childhood. You get rewarded for your sacrifices, praised for your generosity, compassion, responsibility, restraint, dependability or any number of other names that really meant you missed out when others didn’t. Do any of these sound familiar? I think of my younger self, the girl who spent her Saturday matinee popcorn money on a loaf of bread to bring home from the corner store instead. How sad is that? But I remember hitting a threshold after having gone from high school to university to law school, pushing for straight A’s, working twice as hard as the male lawyers at a male dominated law firm, and taking care of my parents’ debts when they over-extended. I decided I needed to grab life and squeeze to get every last drop it had to offer. Everyone thought I was having an early midlife crisis when I turned down a partnership at the law firm to travel to New Zealand and Australia. I went skydiving, bungy-jumping (forward, backward and tandem no less), caving, rappelling, scuba-diving with sharks, bird-watching – no adventure was too small or too large. No fear to great to push through. I wanted to experience it all.
Then I became a mother. And everything changed for me. It wasn’t conscious. But I stopped scuba-diving and other adventures, opting to let my husband go while I stayed back to look after the kids. It’s not that there weren’t other options available. It’s not that I was being a martyr. Something had changed in me. At some level, I think I became more risk adverse. But if I dig deep and am brutally honest with myself, it was more than that. It was some primal sense of misguided duty to pious self-denial. And then of course came the next two decades of self-sacrifice for the kids. And I’m not bitching about that. But I’m cautioning that those mindset shifts seep into other areas of our lives. We stand back and miss the group photo being taken. We don’t get that photo with Colin Farrell when he walks right by us in the hotel lobby. We let some guy push through to take the last spot, take the spotlight or ask the question at the mic. We pass on opportunities, both personally and professionally. You get the idea. We each have our own unique list of missed moments and openings.
Maybe for you it’s not even a mindset shift – maybe you never hit that threshold – maybe you still haven’t grabbed life and squeezed to get some sweet juice for yourself. Either way, I invite you to think of the opportunities you may have passed up. Whether from fear, a sense of duty or responsibility, self-sacrifice, not wanting to seem pushy or greedy or entitled or ‘too much’, a feeling of not deserving, a hint of martyrdom or a seeming inability to push through a lifetime’s identity as the giver (or whatever your particular limiting poison may be). Imagine your life if you hadn’t passed on all those opportunities. What if you’d taken that trip, that chance, that moment? What if you’d taken all the moments? How different could your life have been if you’d advocated stronger for yourself in your internal negotiations? And make no mistake; it is a form of negotiation. Each opportunity presents an option. Every self-denial is a choice.
And what of our daughters (or other young women)? What message do we send them when we sacrifice ourselves, self-efface, or step down from life? Aren’t we telling them that they don’t deserve a full, rich life as women? I watched my daughter pretend she didn’t want a brownie if there were only two on the plate so her brothers could have them. And when I caught my husband praising her sweet selflessness I jumped in and insisted she take a brownie for herself. Admittedly I did this in a somewhat shrewish mode, no doubt inspired by my own baggage around lost opportunities, and probably causing equally damaging baggage and trauma for both her and the boys, but my heart was in the right place. It was a start.
Maybe it’s time we negotiate our lives with purpose. What if you decide today to abandon your limiting beliefs and give up your favourite flavor of deprivation? What if you determine to live your life with passion – every day, in every moment? What if you recognize that life is short and it’s incumbent upon you to advocate more strongly in your negotiations with yourself? My invitation (or challenge) to you today is to be intentional in how you negotiate your life. Push past your fears. Break through old patterns that no longer serve you. Choose to embrace opportunities as they present themselves. Choose a life fully lived and expressed.