I see my elderly neighbor—a Texan and military veteran—while we walk our dogs. “I saw your youngest the other day. You’re raising some fine, strong young men,” he commented, smiling. “Why thank you, Ed,” I said sweetly.
Good mama. I’m a good mama.
The YouTube hits keep coming, as does the media coverage, of a video I served as creative director and writer on. “We didn’t have a story until you came along,” says the executive I worked for on it. “Thanks–you were a rock star.”
Rock star. I’m a rock star.
“I’m sorry, I don’t date people I work with,” I say, looking him directly in the eye. He is waiting for me to say I’m flattered or I’m sorry, but I won’t–I didn’t ask to be hit on at work. Silence ensues. I smile and walk away. “Bitch,” I hear, under his breath.
Bitch. I am a bitch.
“The end product was good, but I find her—while diplomatic–very direct,” says a client. “She cuts to the chase. Strong coffee.”
Strong coffee. I am strong coffee.
“But limits on screen time are so yesterday,” my son says. “You’re the meanest mom.”
Meanest. I am the meanest.
“You look beautiful tonight,” he tells me. “You’re glowing. You’re mine.”
His. Yes, his.
“You’re such an airhead,” says a friend, as I search for the reading glasses atop my head.
Airhead. I am an airhead.
I tell my college pal that she is strong and will get through the latest tornado to hit her life. “You are the best friend ever,” she says.
The. Best. Friend. Ever. See?
“Chill out,” I say to my sister, flashing her a look. She doesn’t even have to speak. Her face says it all.
I get the suckiest sister award.
All of the above—or not.
It takes a strong core to remain who we each are, yet fluid, as we are buffeted by the judgments and opinions flying our way. In a 24-hour period, we can be a rock star, an airhead, a bitch, an object of desire. As women, we are so quickly and easily labeled. Society seems to like to throw archetypes at us fast and furious—shrew, mother, sage. The Handmaid’s Tale is full of them.
And yet, in the middle of this maelstrom, we are who we are. Not just one of those labels—and maybe none of them.
I wonder if Ed, the veteran with traditional values, saw me run a conference call and “boss” people around, if he’d be as friendly? Or would my label turn to “bitch”? How about if my client, who thinks I’m strong coffee, saw me well up every time I think of my eldest heading to the military? I’m betting she would think “weak tea” instead.
A recent psychological mapping test clocked me in at 100% complexity. Lots of layers and multiple facets. I was raised or maybe just genetically programmed to think—and to feel—on many levels.
We may not all clock in at that level of complexity, but most of us are more than a single dimension. We just don’t seem to be spectacularly well-versed in allowing for that in others. We judge or label based on a single interaction or a specific situation rather than allowing a full person to unfold for us. Hence, the political divide in my country right now. The mean girls dilemma generation after generation. The marriage crisis. Hell, even book club politics.
The fact that I am diplomatic but cut to the chase is the reason so many clients hire me. And why some don’t. Some desire a partner who helps them shape a message, a story, a vision. Others would prefer someone who acquiesces and is simply an extra set of hands that puts virtual pen to virtual paper. I can do both but the former makes me come alive—and is what I’ve won multiple writing and marketing awards for doing. Creating something different wins awards, but not necessarily the support of those who can’t envision where you’re taking them. “Strong coffee” is a compliment from one person, an insult from another. It all depends on your perspective.
My Keepers—yes, with a capital K—are those who allow for all of my selves, all my roles, all my rock-star qualities and sucky bitchiness and meanest mom edicts. Thank God for them. And for a strong core. Because otherwise, it would be really easy to lose myself amongst all the labels and opinions. I have Keepers at work and at home. Some live near me, others too far away.
I’m sure you have your own Keepers. Your own multiple facets. Your own chafing against labels that don’t begin to reflect the beautiful, complex person that you are. You get to define who you are. Don’t forget that. Don’t buy all the labels. They are akin to naming an elephant its trunk because that’s the only part of it you can see or feel. Naming it so doesn’t change what it is—it’s still an elephant, despite your myopia.
Keep on keepin’ on. Define yourself rather than letting others do it for you. I’ll be right next to you, albeit in my own corner of the world.