Tuesday, March 31, 2009
tunity, since founding Girls on the Run, to embrace a deeper under-
standing of the power of running. Prior to 1993, running for me was a means to an end. A trophy was the goal and anything less meant failure. My approach to running basically drained the running process of any real joy or sense of accomplishment, no matter the outcome. But since starting Girls on the Run, my experiences have become much richer, fuller and more meaningful. Running is no longer a means to an end, but a powerful metaphor for what could be.
Hope. Joy. Determination. Compassion. Strength. Love.
His name is Paul. He is 39 years old. A handsome professional man, Paul drives a BMW and wears custom suits with starched crisp white button-down shirts. He is respected and reserved. Yet little known to his friends is the hell in which he has lived. You see, 8 years ago his wife, his life partner and best friend died. She died giving birth to their daughter Shelby.
Shelby’s entrance into this world wasn’t easy. For hours, over 20 innocent and vulnerable hours, Shelby and her mom worked tirelessly to take her from the warm safe waters of her mother’s womb to this world. So when Shelby was finally lifted into this world, her mother went on to the next.
Paul’s world isn’t what he had expected: the crisp starch of his collar, the million-dollar home and a daughter, who looked like every other 8-year old, but had the intellectual and conceptual understanding of a 4-year old.
His life felt like hell. It’s hard work being a single Daddy with a developmentally delayed little girl. Every morning as he would gently brush her hair, Shelby would tell him stories--stories that break a father’s heart. Stories of how she is afraid to speak sometimes, because the other students at her school make fun of her. Stories of how they call her dummy or generally disregard her as anything, but a nuisance. Paul didn’t know what else to do and so when the Girls on the Run brochure floated home in her book bag, he enrolled her. Shelby’s spirit soared at Girls on the Run. Her teammates understood her uniqueness and accepted her not in spite of it, but because of it.
Over the program-weeks, Shelby had come to trust her teammates. They weren’t like the other girls at school. They didn’t make fun of her. They wrapped their little souls around her and walked her through the Girls on the Run games and activities. The Girls on the Run girls were different. They listened to her when she had something to say and they saw the humanness of her. They valued her for who she was.
On this particular day, Shelby was running in her first Girls on the Run 5k and her father was there to see her. I stood at the finish line cheering clapping and high-fiving girls as they crossed that finish line. One hour later every girl had finished. “No wait,” the police escort informed us. There is one more little girl. And so while most folks had moved on to the after-party in the nearby park a handful of us waited.
When off in the distance I saw a little figure walking, as if on a mission. Her arms pumping beside her like pistons. Her blonde pigtails flopped on either side. Her coaches were beside her, smiling and crying. Slowly word spread that Shelby was finishing and one by one folks returned to the finish line. As Shelby made her way up that last stretch of road, hundreds of people ran to take their place roadside.
The momentum was building and then as if directed to do so I looked to my right and there dead center in the finish line stood Paul. His starched shirt, khaki pants and polished loafers. His hair was perfectly placed. Shelby’s jacket was neatly draped across his left arm.
The man was stoic, reserved, empty eyed… and alone.
And then without warning, this man, this brave, brave man dropped to his knees…Shelby’s coat falling to the asphalt below…and with wild abandon, he lifted his arms to the heavens above and wept from the depths of his soul. Tears were flowing down his cheeks to the earth below, like small blessings on the path of his daughter’s approaching feet.
I won’t ever be able to shake the image of this man as he fell to his knees, surrendering his pain, revealing his willingness to shed the external armor of a man trapped in the box of cultural success and apathy, to expose his soul, his core, his vulnerabilities. To welcome his little girl, Shelby, as she ran to him, there at the finish line. Welcome her with his arms around her small body. Welcome her to this new life, this new heaven, the one in which they could inhabit peacefully together.
Running is no longer a means to an end, but a powerful metaphor for what could be.
Hope. Joy. Determination. Compassion. Strength and of course the greatest of these…Love.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
I've been here for four days, visiting with our girls in our Girls on the Run of Los Angeles program. Board Chair, Elizabeth, has kept me busy...a good thing as far as I'm concerned. I'ts not often I get to spend time with our West Coast councils. I'm physically tired, but emotionally and mentally captivated by the conversations I've had with the women involved in our work here.
On Thursday night I spoke to 150 wonderful people...girls in our program, their families, their coaches and our volunteers. I looked across that sea of faces and the radiance from within each of those individuals was at times, during my presentation, almost overwhelming. I am frequently (much to my children's disbelief!) left speechless at events like this!
I saw our vision manifest in each and every girl and woman there and can feel the momentum buidling.
And, the vision is this...
A world where all girls and women can recognize and achieve their greatest human potential.
I invite you to join me. What piece of this vision are you creating with your personal choices and your professional life?
There's a whole section below awaiting your response!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I sat in that room, watching all of the effort going into this re-branding intiative and was overcome with gratitude...pondering where I was in my own life fifteen years ago and where I am now. Jennifer and Jana, our two main contacts, along with all of the other wonderful folks at Goody, GET what this movement is all about.
They took a big risk yesterday. Rather than launch the new products, Jennifer stood before that group and launched a new idea. Bravely, she suggested they consider a new definition of beauty...a definition based on confidence, authenticity, inspiration and good works in the world. A definition that includes support of one another and the elimination of gossip, judement and harsh criticism.
I'm not typically nervous when I speak, but yesterday I could feel my knees shaking and my heart racing...considering the potential influence in the room. Seated before me were the story makers...those people capable of truly influencing the way beauty is portrayed in popular culture and the media.
I realized that every woman there is in many ways, just like me...trying to figure out how to balance our culture's view of beauty with her own...how to put my best self forward without caving into the belief that all I am is my appearance.
Oh...to be able to...everyday...do what I love and use my natural gifts and abilities to create positive change in the world. THIS is when I feel and am quite certain appear the most beautiful.
The "conversations" are still playing out in my head. I am overcome with what is possible...the possibility that yes...some elements of the Girl Box are slowly disappearing and the barriers that limit our girls' potentials are beginning to disintegrate.
Monday, March 23, 2009
To be completely honest, the thought of leaving the warmth of Charlotte (highs in the 70's last week) and flying to Flint, MI where the highs were in the 40's and the flight required a stop...well...just wasn't necessarily something I was looking forward to...
BUT, once I arrived, the warmth of our volunteers, our council directors and the children in Owosso eliminated any doubt, whatsoever, about my being there.
This is an area that has been hit hard by the financial challenges in the auto industry. My friends there tell me that many, many of our children in the program have been impacted by the economy...and yet the kids keep coming back to Girls on the Run.
I joined a group of beautiful girls at Bryant Elementary...and was overcome with tears...as they gathered around me, hugged me and bubbled over with enthusiasm for life, their friendships and the connections they have made through Girls on the Run.
I left on Friday, uplifted by the hope of those children and awed by their ability to see, feel and express it, even when the world around them may be suggesting otherwise.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Several weeks ago while working on our NEW Girls on Track middle school curriculum, I was pondering a question that required the additional insight of a middle schooler. With my 13 year- old son Hank captive in my car on the ride home from school I asked him, “Why is it that if everyone knows smoking is bad for them, they smoke that first cigarette anyway? What happens so that the years of hearing “smoking is bad for you and can kill you” shuts off and they reach for that cigarette?”
Hank paused for a moment and then said, “They just aren’t listening.”
“Listening to what?” I replied.
“To the truth that is inside. They know it’s bad for them, but they just aren’t listening to that little voice inside. They are listening to stuff on the outside.”
And so, I got to thinking. What else do we not listen to? How often do I know the answer but am so distracted by the noise outside myself that I can’t hear what I already know to be true?
When we are very young, we know instinctively what is good for us. We cry when we are hungry, wet or in distress. We smile at those who genuinely smile at us and flinch when startled.
Children have a natural instinct for knowing the natural course of action. What young child would intentionally inhale a cigarette? They wouldn’t. Their body would reject it.
Sadly, around fifth or sixth grade the volume of the noise from the “outside” has built to such a fevered crescendo that it often drowns out the noise of that quieter but all-knowing voice on the inside. That’s why girls smoke, drink or give pieces of themselves away. They are responding to the voices of the status quo that tell them their worth is measured by a certain set of behaviors, actions and unobtainable standards.
I've often written about the importance of taking ownership of our bodies and intentionally setting a course of action that will create a culture, society and vision for women that allows them the freedom to honor their bodies.
I would also now offer that an important part of the Girls on the Run movement is creating a culture, society and vision for women where all people have the freedom to honor their inner voices.
So… because I am a Girls on the Run-ist celebrating the joys of Girls on the Run-ism (:)) I choose to take the following steps to honor my voice and the voices of women everywhere:
1.) First off, I honor MY voice. Making time to reflect, meditate and quiet the noise of the world around me is an important part of my daily life. Carving out critical time to focus on my intuition/inner voice/ knowing allows me to, as Gandhi so eloquently wrote, “Be the change I wish to see in the world.”
2.) I make a very conscious and intentional effort to differentiate my “knowing” voice from the “outside” voice in the internal dialogue that I have with myself, every day.
I do not respond immediately to activity around me based on either voice, but slow down, breathe, really listen and THEN respond. The action I take is based on the voice that provides direction toward an action where I am lifted up rather than pushed down. For example, how easy is it to jump into a gossip "pool." Without intentional thought, it can be very easy. But when I stop, breathe and listen to my inner voice, my response is to step away from or stop the gossip. When I take an action based on the direction of my “knowing” voice I feel lifted up. The voice inside moves me toward actions that lift me - it is the ultimate truth.
3.) I vow to do my best to honor the voices of those around me.
When I see a woman or girl who is courageously stating her ultimate truth (particularly when it may be counter to the larger group around her), I will honor her strength to do so. I may not agree with her position, but I must respect her right to share her voice. In doing, I help create a culture that gives each of us the freedom to fully express ourselves, without fear of alienation, labeling or retribution.
4.) I will try to eliminate negative judgment from both my internal and external dialogue.
First and foremost, this means I will not negatively judge myself. I will seek words that lift me and others up rather than use words that deflate. Finding words that lift will help affirm the worth that every person has, whether girl, boy, man or woman. There are no deficits. We are full, whole, one and worthy. Words that elevate my spirit are those that come from that intuitive and truthful voice.
I have only recently tapped into this level of awareness, and am delighted to know that there is only more that will reveal itself as I seek it. I love the expression… “We don’t know what we don’t know.” One year ago I did not know or have the same level of awareness that I do now. I wonder and am excited about how much more “not knowing” there is… for me to explore, tap into and one day know!
How have you celebrated and honored your voice?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
But, look at 'em. My daughter Helen saved $80.00 of her own money to custom design these babies...online.
She toyed around with a variety of different styles...trying out a wide range of colors, prints and words.
And finally about two hours into it, the one and only remarkamostest, superlicious, fantabulous and wondernormous Helen Barker officially landed on the hot yellow leopard print combo with the word "smile" embroidered on the back.
There isn't another thing I need to write about her.
The shoes say it all.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of girls over the years and find myself
reflecting on their wonder, their light and their power. South Carolina, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan…I am still amazed by the pull Girls on the Run has on the people who are attracted to our program. The girls, their families, the coaches, the sponsors, the schools all seem to mysteriously emerge in the light of sunrise and find their way to the day's work we call Girls on the Run.
I could fill an entire book with the stories of the girls I have met. I am literally transformed by each one…gracefully pulled forward to a space I didn’t know existed inside myself. Mikayla lives life from her wheelchair. Brianna had heart surgery just weeks ago; Christy lost her mother to cancer and Nakia’s dad is in Iraq.
Kalamazoo is in Michigan and currently hosts one of our largest Girls on the Run councils in the nation. On May 21st, I'll be there again to see 2000 girls cross the finish line. Over 5000 people will fill the football stadium at Western Michigan University to cheer on the girls in our program. The amount of energy in the stadium is palpable…girls laughing, leaping and lapping up the support of this small mid-western community.
I recall this day a couple of years ago. I had the privilege to attend the event with many of our Girls on the Run International staff.
After most of the girls had finished, an impromptu line formed, girls wanting me to sign the backs of their shirts. What a privilege for me to share, with them, this precious dot on the timeline of their lives (and mine.)
“What’s your name,” I ask a young woman, probably 11 years old or so.
“Good job Emily! That must mean you are EXTRAORDINARY EMILY.” I sign that on the back of her shirt and add a quick “Molly B.” We embrace each other and off she goes.
“What’s your name,” I ask again.
“Way to go Amber! That must mean you are AWESOME AMBER.” The process continues for several minutes. My heart is filling up to overflowing with each and every exchange.
And then I come to…her.
“What’s your name?”
Standing before me is a delightful mess. Her shoulder-length, light brown hair is completely soaked. She stands no taller than my waist--thin little legs with knobby knees, ribs apparent through a drenched t-shirt and miniature hands, as delicate as a china doll’s. Her face is beet red with freckles peppered across the fair skin of youth. Her baggy shorts are tied as tightly as possible around her mid-section, the hem of them still below the knee.
She is speechless.
I kneel to be eye level.
“Hey there, what’s your name? Do you wanna tell me?”
Someone from further back in line, clearly much bigger and older hollers out, “Her name is Melissa!”
“Melissa. Mmmm,” I pause for a moment. You are definitely Magical Melissa.”
And this…this is where words fail me. In that wordless space between the two of us something magical was being exchanged. I knew exactly how she was feeling. I could see it in her eyes, feel it in her gaze and literally touch it with my soul. In that brief instant, we were one in the same…Melissa and me. She was me and I was her and for a second I stood there before her as the 4th grade Molly who somehow didn’t feel like she fit in. The fourth grade Molly who was scared to speak up in class, told that tomboys were weird and somehow just didn’t feel pretty enough.
In that visible empty space between the two of us, I saw what was in her and she saw what could be in me.
“You just can’t find the words, can you?”
She shook her head, a smile rising up from somewhere deep inside began to make its way across that beautiful beet red face.
“Will you sign my shirt?” I asked.
She enthusiastically nodded her head.
I handed her the pen, turned on knee to present my back to her. I felt her tiny fingers straighten the fabric of my green Girls on the Run t-shirt and delicately scribble out words yet unknown to me.
Later on that night, I slowly undressed, exhausted from the day. I carelessly pulled the t-shirt from my back, tossed it onto my hotel floor, replaced it with a clean one and snuggled my way into much needed sleep. Reaching over to turn off the light, I glanced to the shirt that lay at my bed side.
And then I see her words hiding there, tucked in among the dozen or so names and scribblings across the back of my shirt: Magical Molly.
Melissa may have said nothing, but my memory of her speaks volumes.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Now...onto that poem.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I founded Girls on the Run to provide girls with the tools to, in spite of our culture’s constant objectification of them, intentionally seek people, activities and circumstances that celebrate who they are rather than how they look.
My son Hank was only 11 months-old when I piloted Girls on the Run. Lately, I've been amazed by his incredible sense of empathy for girls and women. I knew he would "get it" eventually, but the fact that he "gets it" now, at the start of adolescence, has me quite amazed. I've thought a lot lately about how Girls on the Run plays out in my son’s life. He is a fabulous 13 year-old `who has grown up in the culture that Girls on the Run is creating, where all spirits thrive and no one is judged on pre-conceived or stereotypical ideals.
The question that keeps coming up for me is this: How do the systems, businesses, media and institutions that use the objectification of women to garner power demean men? Watch an NFL or NBA game, read a Sports Illustrated or any other men's magazine and you will see the blatant objectification of women in each and every venue and publication.
Hank is 13, just on the edge of adolescence where he cannot mention a girl’s name without some kind of blush to his face. There is a curiosity of the unknown, the physical side of a relationship that until now hasn’t really been of interest to him.
I recall, as I write to you now, when several months ago, he called me into his room. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. "Read this," he said.
The book is entitled, "Voices of Sudan" and on page 42, the chapter is entitled "Sudanese Women".
"Their babies...their babies die," he said...this more of a statement rather than question.
Hank’s willingness to be held by me is not as welcomed as it used to be. But right then, the two of us, sat there. My arm around his strong, muscular body, the book gently resting now across both our laps and the silence that comes with feeling powerless...and somehow oddly I felt empowered with him there next to me...my young man-son.
I lost myself for a minute...and then I noticed my tears. Hank's radio was on and the voice of a very perky woman was letting listeners know that Hooters restaurant was currently expanding and many job opportunities were available.
I reached over and with my whole body fully embraced Hank.
And on this day, in that moment, my son realized how important it was, to just...let me.
Yes, even Hank gets it. Manipulating men to pay money for overpriced wings at Hooters to get a glance at a woman in revealing attire is assuming these men have the intelligence of a dog and the awareness of a rock. Hooters and every other establishment, system, advertising strategy and institution that caters to this shallow and one-dimensional view of men is, in my mind, just the flip side of the objectification of women.
I expect more from my son Hank (and the men in my life) because he IS more. So are the men who sit in the booths at Hooters. Maybe they just don’t see how they are being manipulated by a culture and an establishment that only wants their money.
I am examining with open eyes how men are stuck in the "boy box". I see clearly that men are objectified in our culture in four main areas: how much money they make their authority over others, their sexual conquests and their athletic prowess. The problem, however, is that although they may be objectified in these ways, they still remain in positions of power, whether it be in the corporate, political or religious sectors. To stray from the norms of this box would counter everything that gives them power as currently defined by our culture. It's a crazy never-ending circle.
I'm coming to realize that my role as an empowered woman, on a mission to break free of my own Girl Box, is to have a compassionate understanding of how our culture boxes in both genders...and that the best way I can help others liberate themselves from the constraints of their "gender box" is to push my expectations of them to higher ground...as I have done with Hank.
He has experienced at an early age the power that comes from helping others, being his authentic self and having true and "real" friendships with both genders. I have gently led him down the halls of my life, showing him in a non-threatening way, the challenges that girls and women face every day. He has wonderfully and openly received a view of them that not only lifts him to his greater Self, but in doing so, lifts me as well.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
She pulls her hair back into a ponytail, rolls up her sleeves and begins this whole routine..."Come on girls...You can do it! Good job...GOOD JOB...Keep going. That's it, Believe in yourself. Never doubt. If you smile you can run stronger. Celebrate the day. Celebrate your body. Celebrate yourself" And then she starts jumping up and down and running in place, dancing and basically looking like a complete and total maniac.
"Helen, is that really what I look like at Girls on the Run?"
"At Girls on the Run? Mom, you look like that MOST of the time," she will respond. "Only more!"
So, I'll admit it. I'm a complete and total goofball when I get around kids. This goofball spirit that manages to lie dormant at most other times of the day just erupts and completely takes over my being..
"Hey sista. What's up? How ya been? Whas crakalackin?" I'll hold out my hand (for a return high-five slap) to just about any third grade girl, anywhere, anytime. Doesn't matter whether she's actually done Girls on the Run or whether I know her...because I want to know her. I WANT TO PLAY!
Over the years, I've learned that being playful isn't something that just happens...we have to make it happen. There is this voice from inside the "Girl Box" that tells girls that it isn't sophisticated or grown-up to play, act silly or be a goofball. You can see it happen around fifth grade. The willingness to just break out into a disco, anytime--anywhere, simply disappears and girls become inhibited and overly concerned with what other people think. They just lose that fun, silly, playful spirit.
Whose fault is that? Is it theirs? I think NOT! I think it is OURS. Heck, if adults were playful, silly and uninhibited more girls would see it, want it and never lose it!
So I ask you...no, I'm telling you...no, I'm demanding you to try this small experiment with me. Seriously...I'm NOT joking. (Even though I have a huge smile on my face, I'm NOT joking!)
I think we need to incite a "Dance Revolution!"
To prepare yourself for our global revolution, you have to watch this video. Come on now. WATCH IT! Take a look and then come back.
On THIS MONDAY...September 21st at 4:00 EDT I want you to break out into whatever level of dance you can muster up. If you are a Volume 10, I want to see an all out full body disco or runnin' man. If you are a Volume 1, I want to see, at least an attempted disco or booty shake. For all of you in between, let it rip. In the words of the King of Pop himself, "Show me what you can do."
If you are so inclined, ask the people around you to join you. "Come on. This is fun. Join me." I have absolutely NO doubt that the retiree standing behind the grocery check-out line would love to disco. She's probably not discoed since she was twelve years old and YOU...yes YOU...will be her liberator.
I have no doubt that the guy fixing the broken pipe under your kitchen sink has NEVER danced while on the job. I'm quite sure there is some kind of rule against that, but ask him anyway. "Come on buddy. Put down that wrench and DANCE!"
Okay, so he will think you are completely crazy. He may even talk about it for the rest of the afternoon...heck the rest of his life...but who cares?
If you can...forward this blog to anyone and everyone you know. Maybe if we are lucky it will make it to the floor of Congress, an international tennis tournament or even a celebrity-attended music awards show.
We need to add a little play to this universe. A little goofball. A little FUN!
MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR Monday, September 21st for 4:00. Go ahead. Do it! And then around 5:00 (or 4:01 depending on how it went) I expect a report, from each and every one of you that rose up to this challenge and for one minute, on September 21st, 2009 at 4:00 EDT, stepped out of whatever boxes that restrain and confine you, to dance...to remind the world that being playful and child-like (rather than childish) is a pretty amazing way to be. (I'll be snapping photos...so be prepared to see those on Monday evening!)
Seriously (or playfully), post your comment here and show your allegiance to the belief that if we all just took one minute (or a few) and danced...danced like no one was looking...there might be a lot less finger-pointing, name-calling, shouting at, hearsay and bullying and a lot more attention to the things that really matter, like laughter,compassion and the power that comes when we dance with each other.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Running does wonders for your body…sure. But the real wonder comes in how it makes a person feel. Running is feminism at its finest. When you run you OWN your self, your body, your breath, your thoughts and your intention. Running with your daughter provides her with the experience of body ownership. I can make it run, leap, laugh, think and sweat. I am one with it. It’s mine. I own it.
2. Running together is time together.
The T.V. is off. The to-do list, cell phone, homework, housework and bills are at home. For thirty minutes, you’ve got the air around you, the sunshine, your feet, your breathing, your words, your voice and your hands should you want to hold each other’s. Running or walking together can satisfy that yearning you’ve both had to connect, love, share and just be…together.
3. Running is Quiet
Do this. Don’t do this. Try this, Buy this. Eat this. Don’t eat this. Listen to this. Don’t say that. Lose Weight. Add these, Apply that to those. Take this. We are constantly hit by advertising messages that have, over the course of our “growing up,” replaced the “knowing and strength” of our own inner voice with a shallow and externally driven one. Running with your daughter provides an amazing opportunity to intentionally NOT talk--to just share the space, the time and the quiet. Who knows what your inner voice might tell you? “You’re beautiful just the way you are” might actually be a phrase that makes its way back into your self-talk.
4. Running is about setting goals.
Face it. Sometimes it helps to have a goal…you know, to put a little money where our mouth is. So, to provide some incentive to get out there together, pick a 5k race/walk/event and put it down on the calendar. If your finances can support a road trip to a fun destination, go for it. If not, create a fun weekend around an event in your own hometown. Girls on the Run has over 100 5k’s in cities across the U.S. and any one of these would make for an awesome girl’s weekend. Celebrate, honor and activate your power by setting a goal and going for it with each other.
5. Running is about memories.
There are these really wonderful things called endorphins. Maybe you’ve heard of them. They visit you twenty to thirty minutes into a mild to moderate physical effort. Endorphins are small chemicals that are released in your brain during exercise. They elevate your mood and can actually heighten your memory of the experience that is creating them. When my daughter Helen was only six she did her first 5k with me. We walked the whole way. We were also dead last. Heck…there was just too much to look at along the course. Don’t run too fast or you’ll miss the pretty flowers, puppies and people!. At the end of what I had expected to be a life-changing experience for the two of us, Helen crossed that finish line, somewhat nonchalantly I’ll admit, turned to me and asked “NOW, can I have that doughnut?” Memory made.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Richard and I were driving back from Charleston on Sunday. We were in the car with each other for three hours. No television, no music, no children and phones turned off.
We got to talking about barriers that limit our ability to reach our greatest human potential.
“What,” I asked him, “have been obstacles in your past or now that have limited your ability to reach your greatest human potential?”
“I’ve got to really think about that,” he responded.
We drove in silence for quite some time.
In that silence I pondered the question myself. What are the barriers that limit me, perhaps even actively restrain me so that I am unable to be?
I narrowed it down to two: internal and external messages.
Negative internal messages have been the barriers I have built myself. I may have acquired these personal views of myself from outside influences, but over the course of my life I’ve assimilated them into my psyche and made them my own. Some of these messages were “I’m not smart enough” or “I am not the organized type so I can’t possibly serve in any positive capacity” or “I’m not a strategic thinker.” In my 20’s the negative self-talk was often focused on my appearance. A recent addition is “I’m too old to do that”.
Negative self-talk does nothing but limit my potential. The focus is not on my strengths, but on areas I consider weaknesses. Achieving my greatest human potential can only take place when I recognize and embrace my gifts. Then, and only then, can I begin to tap into the “bigness” of my personal power.
External barriers that have limited my (women’s) potential over the centuries are far-reaching and include familial, social, cultural, religious, governmental or societal systems and institutions. Many institutions are controlled by a dominant group that, in its desire to maintain its dominant status, must position those that are in the non-dominant group as less than, weaker, inferior or incapable.
As I pondered the question I had asked of Richard, I realized that much of my life’s journey has been about increasing my awareness of these barriers. I was first aware of the internal barriers, because I could actually do something about those. The internal barriers were driven by me, spoken by me, and at times actually nurtured by me.
When I was in my teens and early 20’s I was completely unaware of my own negative self-talk. As a matter of fact, it was a tool I frequently (and unconsciously) used to bond with other women. Thanks to Girls on the Run and my evolving awareness, I am realizing that half the battle is getting out of my own way! By embracing my gifts and taking delight in who I am, I can recognize and position myself to see, hope and dream about my greatest human potential!
Ironically, once my awareness in this personal area increased, my awareness regarding where these messages were coming from increased as well. I can no longer open a fashion or pop magazine without literally feeling wounded, hurt and downright angry about the messages within and their demeaning and limiting affect on girls’ and women’s human potential. I often feel helpless when it comes to these bigger, institutional barriers. How can I possibly do anything to influence these institutional systems so that their dominating leaders can see and believe in the potential of girls and women?
But incredibly…this is where you come in. Girls on the Run and the reach of this organization are growing! We are self-aware women and men, each recognizing the power we have to create an environment that honors and celebrates girls and women! We do this by stopping our own negative self-talk and shifting our internal focus toward honoring our gifts and the gifts of those institutions and organizations that are systemically contributing to a culture that allows us to do so. A simple, yet powerful act.
The fruits of our labor are rapidly approaching. As our numbers grow and our awareness expands, there will be the transformational shift that Girls on the Run envisions…the shift, first at the personal level and then at the larger, cultural and societal level. We will no longer succumb to the external messaging we get from those familial, societal or cultural institutions that perpetuate our image as weak, inferior or in need of repair. When our numbers are large enough…when this movement is in full force…those systems that have controlled us and the generations before us, will have to transform. They will, as we have done, shift their focus toward embracing our gifts and honoring our power.
Deep stuff. Really deep stuff. Richard never did get to his answer, because I gave him mine. What barriers have you removed or what barriers are you still struggling with that limit you and your ability to achieve your greatest human potential?