"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they are supposed to help you discover who you are."
Bernice Johnson Reagon
Part Two is here.
None of these pieces of my dream for women and girls can exist in a vacuum and while many of us can and do challenge ourselves regularly, it is so important that we experience inspiration and encouragement from others as well. Whether it is a boss or a mentor, a parent or a teacher, or simply a throw-down from a friend or adversary, often those obstacles placed in our way by others are more likely to get us moving than any we could make for ourselves.
When I think of times I was challenged I have a difficult time containing the list. It appears in my head as one of those trick cans of peanuts you can buy at novelty stores and as soon as I pry off the lid colorful snakes come erupting out in all directions. I attempted to categorize them and quickly realized that it didn't matter.
Giving someone a difficult task to complete or asking a question that prompts them to really think deeply and introspectively is truly a gift. Not only does it give them the opportunity to test their skills, but it sends the message that you believe they are capable of completing the task. My daughter whines and drags her feet and avoids doing the homework that is the most challenging for her, but when she finally resigns herself to doing it and makes her way, however arduously, through the process, she is always rewarded with pride in her own efforts and work ethic when she is finished.
If we live in a world where we marginalize certain groups of people by not asking them to do things that require creativity and focus, hard work and critical thinking, we are doing them a disservice. So often we would rather be in a position of influence and power where we simply give others orders or tell them what we think instead of asking them to do the messy work of finding answers and coming to conclusions. For so many years in this country we believed that women were not capable, physically or mentally, of doing many of the things men could and we didn't allow them to test that theory. They were not challenged because it was automatically assumed that they couldn't rise to the task.
My father wanted sons. He got one, but then I came along. And for the first few years of my childhood, I was compliant with my parents' plan that Peter play soccer and I dance ballet. Gradually it dawned on me that because Dad coached my brother's soccer team, my brother got to spend a heck of a lot more time with him than I did. Every Saturday we would pack a cooler and a blanket and head out to watch Peter run around on the field with his team as Dad stood on the sidelines hollering instructions to them. I wanted to do that, too! I didn't want to be sitting on this damp blanket eating orange slices and watching them chase each other around. Put ME in, coach!
I lobbied. I fought. I pled. I batted my eyelashes. I drove my father nuts. Finally he decided that the only way to shut me up was to put me on the team. That Saturday I got my very own black-and-white striped polyester jersey, put on some of my brother's old cleats, and Dad sat me in the goal. I was the keeper. This was the ace up his sleeve. I was to be the goalie in a game of soccer between two teams made up of boys three years older than I was. He figured I'd run screaming off the field before the first quarter was over.
I think I probably gave up ten goals that game and I know Dad was pissed. He did not like to lose. Neither did I. I was bruised and sore, grass stained from cheeks to ankles, and more tired than I had ever been, but you couldn't have wiped the grin off of my face for anything. I had just proven to myself, if nobody else, that I could rise to the challenge and at the age of eight, that lesson stuck with me for a good long time.
Let's do all of the women and girls we know a huge favor and put them in situations where they are asked to do just a little bit more than they think they can. Let's be sure to let them know that we have confidence in them as they embark on this lifelong journey to discover just who they are and how amazing they can be.
Continue to Part Four