Finding Your Voice As A Woman, A Discussion

I’ve talked about Women Among Women in previous posts, and here I am at it again.

This group. Ugh.

This group is A-mazing.

Our March meeting was on the topic of Woman’s Voice.  It may have been my favorite discussion to date, and our conversations continued past the night of the event and into the group’s Facebook page. There were various subtopics we discussed under “Voice” that had me pondering for days following. Specifically, the fact that finding your voice does not always involve a transformation or life-altering experience. (So unlike books such as Eat, Play, Love want us to believe.) Instead, some of the epiphanies my peers experienced came over a coffee break with a friend or on a random Thursday afternoon surrounded by their male coworkers or while listening to music while on their daily run. You can’t predict when you’ll have that A-HA! moment, but you can embrace it when it happens.

In the hope of not losing these thoughts moving forward, I would like to share some of the broader topics I gleamed from the discussion about how a woman can find her voice and how she can use it. The following are pieces of that dialogue, in no particular order, as well as some of my own opinions on the topics. I would love to hear from you also — once you consider the journey to discovering your voice and/or the difficulties you’ve faced when using your voice, please leave a comment to further this discussion.


Sometimes, not saying anything is the best answer. You see, silence can never be misquoted.

The power in silence.

When it comes to your voice, sometimes there is power in silence. Voicing your opinion or replying to another person’s opinion may not be necessary, and the stronger response may very well simply be saying nothing at all.

If someone doesn’t like your presentation at work or your review on Facebook or your suggestion at the recent PTA meeting, think before responding. Will rising to battle better the outcome or further the greater good? Will a response cause a heated debate and ill-will between the parties involved? Does the opposing opinion affect your work, your reputation, or your life in long-term negativity? The best response from you may be nothing at all.

Instead of being the change needed for every situation, your actual purpose may be as a wheel in the clock — pushing an agenda a bit further ahead but not causing a kink. Sometimes your role is to focus on doing your job and doing it well. It is human nature to not please every other person in the world; we all have different personalities, beliefs, ideals, etc. after all. You could complete a project to perfection and someone can still find something they dislike. As one of my coworkers says, “You could be the juiciest strawberry in Michigan, and find someone who doesn’t like strawberries.” That’s life.

I try to give everyone I interact with the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he/she is having a bad day and is responding out of exhaustion or frustration. Or perhaps he/she has a strong rooted emotion against something you do and you simply do not know his/her background to understand the reaction. I prefer to think the best in others. Instead of focusing on why someone reacted in a certain way, I attempt to focus on myself and my reactions. I’m human so I sometimes fail, but the majority of the time I am able to take a step back, assess the situation, and find some insight into the other party’s response. You can only control yourself and how you react, so why put too much effort into worrying about someone else’s agenda?

To really get to know yourself, try doing a mental review of the situation in question, especially if you have been challenged or felt uncomfortable. Ask yourself, “Am I responding in accordance with my personal values? Will responding bring a better result, and ultimately happiness into my life?” Spend some time with the answer and see how it makes you feel. You might find that silence is your best friend in more circumstances than you thought before.


People have a sixth sense, and they can sniff it out if you aren’t being true to who you are. – Christa Quarles

Avoidance gets you nowhere.

I think a big culprit of a woman finding her voice is when she discovers a passion. It is much easier to speak out or up about subjects that you have investment in and knowledge about.

I like to call myself an “extroverted introvert” because I find a lot of enjoyment in being surrounded by people while remaining in my own corner of comfort to observe. Having that space also allows me to meditate with my thoughts during discussions and learn more about how I tick. Over the years of self-discovery, I have realized that my voice is stronger where my passions flourish. It was a slow epiphany that grew as I gained experience, power, and became a leader in my specific areas of expertise. It was not until a stepped into a place of leadership that I felt forced to step forward and say, “This matters, and I’m going to do something about it.”

If you experience something that goes against your beliefs or personal values, then you have to be bold enough to recognize that avoidance of the subject gets you no where. And in turn gets the world no where also. Consider moments in history where women went against the norm of society and dove head-first into uncomfortable conversations: Queen Elizabeth I and her “video et taceo” governing approach, Lucy Stone’s influential Woman’s Journal, the USA Gymnastics national team coming together against Larry Nassar. The world has not been changed by closed mouths.

One of my peers at Women Among Women shared my thoughts on why passions push you forward to finding and using your voice:

Peer L: I think a great starting point for those looking to find their voice or to gain confidence is to get involved with something you’re passionate about, like a volunteer organization. It allows you to connect with others with similar interests and who inspire you to be an advocate for yourself and/or something that you believe in. It’s easy to have a voice about something you’re passionate about and you’ll gain the confidence to let your voice be heard in other areas of life, including the times where it may be more difficult or come with greater risks.

In the same respect, another peer commented on how using your voice may seem like a hindrance to finding success. Especially for those who own a business and are expected to practice perfect customer service. Avoidance and remaining silent may seem like a better route in such circumstances. Unfortunately, the cliche that the customer is always right is actually wrong. The customer always should be heard and understood, but it is okay to walk away from his/her business if their opinion directly collides with your beliefs and values. There will always be different and better business opportunities, and exercising your voice will make for good practice in growing yourself into a more poised and respected leader.

This thought also encompasses the idea of speaking up in difficult situations, like when a coworker takes credit for your work. This example was discussed heavily by my female peers who have experienced working in male-dominated environments. Women tend to sit silently as credit for projects is taken by their more out-spoken male counterparts. Why is this still happening, ladies? As Christa Quarles, the CEO of OpenTable, said, “There have been stories for centuries of the self-made man, but today the self-made person is not a truth. Nobody succeeds alone. We are all part of a much greater fabric. So it is okay to look to others for help, but by the same token, don’t let anyone steal your power and make your story theirs.” Finding our voices where women have been quiet for so long seemed to be a sore spot in our discussion and a topic that needed more consideration.


If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be. – Maya Angelou

Stereotypes add up.

Speaking of more consideration on male-dominated work environments, is this not a large area of discomfort women face when it comes to our voices? The attendees of Women Among Women shared numerous stories from their own lives where it seemed “feminine stereotypes” were thrown in their faces when they attempted to make their voices heard in the work place. It seems as if stereotypes add up when it comes to speaking up.

One of the most common stereotypes women face professionally is being labeled “bossy” when in roles of leadership. Or, depending on your leadership approach, you could be described as nosy, uncaring, strict, over-enthusiastic, etc. Why are women given negative labels as leaders while their male counterparts are given respect? Though this question was asked multiple times throughout the night, no definitive answer was discovered.

I don’t have a good answer either, as I’ve never dealt with this situation. Personally, I have never been given a negative label as a leader, nor have heard coworkers speak of other females in management in such terms. I have been blessed to work under numerous women who I viewed as mentors in my industries and who I greatly respected.

The experience I do have is in using my voice in my careers. I am not comfortable publicly speaking, but I have learned to raise my opinion during professional meetings. One day I realized that being shy and retreating was the easy thing to do — and I never wanted to be the person who took the easy way out. I quickly found that I didn’t have to be the loudest or deepest voice at the table to share my opinion and have it taken seriously. And so my voice grew over the course of my managerial roles.

Perhaps it is the shifting of our culture (the time of #MeToo and other women empowering movements), but it seems as if the tides are beginning to change in the professional world. Women are taking roles in leadership more often and respect is on the rise. We are forcing ourselves to speak up, despite our nerves, and contribute to the conversation in what once was an intimidating environment. Our voices are ready and we need to continue to let them be heard. Let’s keep on pushing forward, ladies — the world is changing at our sound.


Move in silence. Only speak when it’s time to say, “Checkmate.”

Finding your voice in conflict.

I wrestled with one concept in particular following the WAW meeting: how to find your voice within a conflicting situation when there is a real and imminent danger. Another of my peers struggled with the same thought, and she reached out to the group via Facebook to continue the discussion the day after the event:

Peer A: For many, finding our voice feels natural. We grab the bull by the horns and make ourselves be heard – professionally, personally, in crowds. But there are those who it doesn’t come natural to. And some have very real consequences/backlash that can come with speaking up. Not everyone has a support system or backup plan that would allow them to leave a job, or a relationship, etc. How do we still make those women feel empowered? I don’t ever want anyone to think that just because they haven’t found a way to “find their voice” in a situation means they’re not strong.

I am one of those people who does not have a naturally loud voice. I am a strong INFJ meaning I will do everything in my power to keep the peace. Yet I am also a very passionate person who holds her values and morals to a high esteem. Sometimes I find it difficult to balance these two characteristics because I might need to ruffle a feather or two in order for my opinion to be known.

I have a personal experience where I kept my voice quiet for a long time. Very similar to what Peer A says above, I walked out of a career with no backup plan and a lot of student debt/living costs/bills. After staying silent for two long years, I finally had had enough though. I placed my keys on my former employer’s desk and walked out without looking back. As someone who rarely raises her voice, that move in itself spoke legions.

Unfortunately, I think many times finding your voice can result in sinking a ship. When you embrace your values and identify your passions, you become a force with which to be reckoned. Remaining silent does have its values in some situations, but when it comes to a situation where you NEED to use your voice, silence is a form of validation. Validation for mistreatment, poor morals, or improper behavior. It is when you begin to feel nervous about speaking up that things are starting to shift — you’re feeling nervous because you know what you have to say needs to be heard. And if you don’t choose to say the words, they will fester inside of you like a poison.

Finding your voice can be healing.

Yes, you may sink a ship — you may lose your job, you may lose a friend or a romantic partner. You could even lose a family member. However, how good of a situation are you in if you’re feeling those nerves already? You’re going against your innate core in order to appease someone else. My two-year long silence resulted in black outs while driving, visits to a neurologist, and taking a prescription to battle the inflammation in my brain causing immobilizing migraines. The stress of my silence caused me physical pain and placed me in very real and imminent danger.

But then, in my own way, I found my voice and got out of the situation. No back up. Loads of debt. There were quite a few tears… but I picked myself up and moved forward. My reputation and character carried me into a healthier and better fitting job position — acting as the wine club manager and event planner of a local winery. If you can find your voice, then you’re already strong. You have a passionate spirit that will carry you into the next adventure. Yeah, maybe you get knocked down for a second, but that just means you will bounce back with more force. Roll with the punches and be true to yourself.

Peer A: Yes, to all of these things. There’s not a word in here that doesn’t resonate or that I don’t fully support! But I still think that there are grey areas. Leaving a job with no savings if you have a family to support isn’t an option. Leaving a job if you have rent to make and have no other means of financial support isn’t an option. 

As far as why those women feel like they have no support, there’s probably a myriad of reasons. From a personal standpoint, I know that there are a lot of women whose support I know has been offered to me in the past, but honestly their lives are busy, and it’s easy to feel like an inconvenience. I know that I’ve been judged by women who say they’ll offer support no matter what. And I know that saying that you’ll offer support and actually doing it are two very different things. There’s a plethora of explanations, I’m sure. 

So, I guess what I’m referring to are the in-between hours/days/months/years. What other ways can you find your voice beyond quitting your job, leaving your relationship, cutting ties with family etc. Within extremes is always a middle – being the loudest doesn’t mean you’re being heard. Although, I suppose finding your voice and being heard are also two very different things as well.

I couldn’t agree more with Peer A that every area of life has grey areas. When you’re on the outside, it is so easy to say to someone struggling, “Just do something and make a change.” There are situations — especially when you have dependents — where speaking up is not an option, especially when the result may be termination and/or abandonment.

Though I’m no expert, if I were in a situation like Peer A mentioned (a “middle extreme” if you will) I would make my voice known to an intimate group of peers and/or friends. Simply speaking about things can cause peace — I am all for a good rant with my closest girlfriends over wine. It does the heart good. Perhaps this is not what society views as strength but “sucking it up” and continuing forward with your work/relationship might be the only option. You may not be speaking to your assaulter, but you are being heard by people who care. I have found relief in that knowledge.

Also, speaking with friends or a special network might be worthwhile, and not only for your mental health’s sake. You might make a connection with someone who understands what you’re going through and who can help you find a better solution than just “sticking it out.” I think that goes back to what was said above: silence can be a value. You have to choose your fights — not every battle is worth it.


I am not a difficult woman at all. I am simply a strong woman and know my worth. -Angelina Jolie

Remember your worth.

Angelina Jolie is my favorite actress. She’s beautiful and poised and a fantastic artist. But why I adore her has more to do with her attitude than her art; she holds herself with an enviable confidence and strength. Plus she uses her high-profile status to promote her passions and she holds true to her personal values. That is the mark of a worthy celebrity in my book.

Many voices are left unheard due to the low self-esteems of their owners. Women who have experienced loss or guilt or failure throughout their lives and who have not yet learned that those past or present lows can result in future highs. I have been there as well. I wish I had known sooner how valuable I am and respected my worth. If I had, I may not have gone through some of my rougher patches where I allowed others to use and abuse me. Remember, ladies, that you are valuable. 

If it were not for my past failings, I would not have learned my value though. Nowadays, when I fail, I look that failure squarely in the eye and ask, “What did I just learn from you?” In some circumstances I learn that the failure is a closed door to which I do not own the key. Thus I move on. Other situations need more investment and work. Putting more time into something causes maturity and grows you into a better version of yourself. I’ve learned to not let any rejection ruffle my feathers. One “no” here may simply mean taking a detour and finding another path. Persistence is the key to those doors.

I have always been fascinated with stories of famous women who initially failed. Women like J. K. Rowling — my go-to answer when someone asks me to name one person, living or deceased, I’d want to have a coffee date. Rowling’s mailbox was filled with rejection letters when she sent her original Harry Potter manuscript to publishers. It took rejection from twelve different publishers before Bloomsbury Publishing sat down to read her manuscript. Yet she persisted in sending the manuscript after each rejection letter. If she had given up, my childhood would have been very lonely.

Another woman who failed in her past was the founder and CEO of Lippe Taylor, Maureen Lippe. Lippe couldn’t pass a typing test and failed her interview of working her dream job at Vogue. She went home from the failed test and signed up for classes at a secretarial school. Six months later, she returned to Vogue able to type and take dictation, and she landed the job. After learning the art of marketing she went on to found Lippe Taylor, who has worked with well-known brands like Nestle, Gerber, and Ikea. One of my favorite quotes from Lippe is, “Failure should teach you survival skills, not resignation.” The worst thing you can do when you face failure or rejection is internalize and let your feelings impact your self-worth. Live and learn — and quit taking things personal.


A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult. – Melinda Gates

The difficulty in being heard.

Why do we go through the difficult journey of searching for our voices? What is their importance? Using your voice is the surest way to build connections, find solutions, and live your truth. Your voice helps the world understand what you believe, hear what you think, and appreciate who you are in the deepest and rawest form. Thus it is important to use your sincere voice and not a pseudo rendition.

Women, like men, were not created to be quiet and sit in the background. We were designed with thoughts, values, and feelings that contribute to the greater good. Ignoring your voice leads to frustration and a fear of expression. Those who keep silent miss their goals and live in regret.

As we’ve discussed in various ways above, sometimes having a voice can cause momentary pain and hardship. The beauty in finding your voice is not in the easy moments of life though, it is in the difficult. Hard and happy are not exclusive — Life can be both.

At our WAW meeting and on the Facebook group, conversation on the difficulty of having your voice heard was discussed. Especially in those moments of conflict when voicing your opinion may have negative fallback. Peer A had a great suggestion as to how to be heard within difficult situations:

Peer A: I started thinking of ways that could still provide [those in conflicting situations] a voice: volunteering with young girls and showing them how to have a voice. One way is by walking away from conversations that make you uncomfortable – it’s not always necessary to put someone in their place. Sometimes it’s enough to just remove yourself from the situation.

This reminded me of a concept I was taught in college: “No.” is a complete sentence. It does not require justification or explanation. Saying “No” is a difficult thing to do, but necessary in a number of situations. I have been actively practicing saying “No” more in my life, and though it is only one word, I can see the difference in my voice when I firmly state it. My voice assists me in achieving my ever-changing goals and finding perspectives that belong to me and me alone. Challenges are instrumental to growth, so relish in the difficulty of discovering your voice and using it in your every day life.


Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.

Pass your voice on to the woman behind you.

In the end, the importance of finding your voice is to pave the road for other women. There is a greater promise for the next generation when we find and share our voice in order to be heard. With all that has been said in this discussion, being true to yourself is Obstacle #1. The next obstacle is being a source of support for others who are going through similar experiences. Why do some women feel like they have no back up or support? Reach out and help one another! We have all been through hardships — we all have baggage — and we can help one another in some form. You never know the difference a kind word or a gentle nudge of encouragement may help someone lacking confidence in her own voice.

Peer L: As mentioned, knowing how and when to let our voices be heard and knowing when to stay silent are both equally important and powerful. For me, observing other women who seem to have mastered the staying silent vs. speaking up thing is inspiring and empowering in itself. Maybe it is simply being a role model for other women around us. While we must individually decide what is important to us and what we stand for, we need to help others find this out too. We need to be there for one another and sometimes that also means being the voice for one another.

I think having a voice is such a great gift to give to someone else. So once you discover yours, share it with the next lady in line. We’re all in this together, right?


With all these thoughts and opinions, I continue striving to find my individual voice. I am thankful for my little piece of the blogosphere where I can practice using my voice more readily than I do speaking — written word is more my cup’o’tea. My passions and beliefs push me into characteristically uncomfortable positions daily, but I have found success in many facets of my life by remembering my value. Sometimes I tread water during my journey, but other times the water stills and I can find refreshment in my personal experiences. There’s rejuvenation in expressing myself and using my voice when the time calls for it. I know the worth of my voice and I will grow and strengthen it until I die.

I’ll leave the discussion with this thought: seeing a woman being able to own what she’s been through, stand up, be honest, put her heart out there and be connected to people — that is amazing and empowering.

Please feel free to continue this discussion in the comment area below. I would love to hear your input and learn from your own experiences.

With you and for you, my friends,

Thoughts On Loving My Body & Wanting To Be Perfect

I came across the Thought Catalog article “I Love My Body, But I Still Struggle With Wanting To Be Perfect” written by Ginelle Testa yesterday and couldn’t help myself from nodding along with the author’s thoughts on the subject. “Yes! This!” was the repeated phrase in my mind as I hungrily devoured her words. Like Ginelle, I too find myself having contradicting conversations throughout the day at my reflection: “you’re perfect the way you are” to “ugh, why do you look like this?” For someone who likes to say she’s an encourager of the female body and womanhood, I struggle daily to look like the celebrities I see on social media each day. I love my body, but I wrestle constantly with wanting it to be more. To be better. To be perfect.

Body and fat positivity are important to me. I want to practice body positivity when thinking about my body. I want to celebrate myself as I am — fat rolls, cellulite, stretch marks, and all. I follow a number of InstaCelebs who promote this movement; women who flaunt their own perfectly imperfect bodies with pride as to how they work and what they are able to do. Me, I truly care about melding this movement into my own life but wrestle with the concept when I catch a glimpse of a mirror. I compare my body to what I wish it looked like or what it once was. However, I appreciate Ginelle’s statement that “rewiring my brain is going to take a lifetime.”

I still find myself wanting my body to be different. Three weeks ago I received information on my health which answered a multitude of questions and I have actively been able to change things in my life to start seeing differences in my mental, emotional, and physical health. I have been waking up to hit the gym, and in the mornings I marvel at how strong my body is and all the actions I am able to do — I can walk, bend, jump, lift, etc. Unfortunately I still find myself daydreaming about being a thinner person. Sometimes those daydreams span hours or days of my life, overtaking my happiness and earlier pride. Then I catch the negativity I’m placing on my shoulders and become even harder on myself because I remember my desire to advocate body positivity. This can quickly become a downward spiral.

I know that radical body acceptance is the only way for me. Being the overly rational person that I am, I understand that radical body acceptance is my only path. I must be content with finding peace in the questions: What if my body never changes and this is it? Do I want to spend my life fighting or do I want to grow to accept it? Now, it is okay to want to make changes to my self-care, but I also realize that radical acceptance is my only choice for real happiness. I need to accept and be content with who I am and what I look like presently… for a content and happy future.

Weight loss is completely ineffective. Oh, how this statement stings. Five years ago I dropped 60 pounds and had 21% body fat. I wore a Small in tops and a size 6 in pants — and never had to try clothing on prior to buying because I could make anything work.  But was I happy? No. I still saw issues with the skin on my neck, the slack in my arms, and the cellulite on my thighs. And I believed my looks correlated with my happiness in all other aspects of my life. If I was feeling down on my appearance, my self-confidence tumbled as well. I grew dependent on others’ compliments to raise my head. I lost myself at the gym and in unhealthy diets and by acting materialistic. I was not the type of person I yearned to be.

Today, I’ve gained that weight back and I am as unhappy with my body as I was when I was thin. However, I am the happiest I have ever been in all other areas of my life. How can this be? It is actually pretty simple. Weight loss is an ineffective option when it comes to my happiness. I may not always feel confident in how I look, but I have the capacity to square my shoulders and keep my chin held high because I know my strengths lie elsewhere. Now my focus is on setting goals and maintaining healthy habits rather than try to force change.

Diet culture also pummels me with messages. “Despite the fact that weight loss doesn’t work, diet culture is constantly berating me about how I should be smaller.” Ginelle, girl, #yasss. It is so difficult to continuously stay focused on finding happiness in my present when all of social media I am told I am unimportant and unworthy due to my size. Scrolling through posts of thin, exotic women turns my heart green with envy and I begin dreaming of a different body for myself. I am exhausted with this constant barrage of diet culture.

Comparing myself to others gets me in trouble. As with any other woman in the world, I find my mind comparing myself to my skinny friends quite easily. I am aware how I hide myself in photos, not wanting to leave any evidence for others to judge me next to my thinner friends. On days I know I am meeting up with someone, I can sometimes find myself sobbing into a pile of clothes I have tried on and taken off. Once I regain my dignity, I choose the baggiest option… and still frown at the mirror. It is a tiring game to feel as if you never measure up to the girl next to you.

It is inspiring to see girls of my size carry their weight gracefully though. I admire them and their beauty. I have to remember that the world is filled with people of all shapes and sizes, and that thought pushes me to sometimes try new outfits. Some are going to work with my present body and some are not. On my “good days” of body acceptance, I grasp at those outfits which make me feel empowered and beautiful like my body-counterparts and lift my head high. There is no reason I cannot strut like anyone else!

Also comparing myself to where I used to be makes me upset. It is sad how often I compare my present self to my old self. I found measurements a few months back that I took in 2014. The differences were outrageous. I felt gross. I felt lazy. I felt unworthy. Then I remember the lifestyle I led which drove me to my old self. I was a gym rat, working my body to exhaustion and living on a handful of daily calories. My body was thin but it was not healthy. Today, I may not be as healthy as I would like to be, but I am actively working to change that. Most days I know that I am indeed a lovable and worthwhile woman.

Logically I know I’m good enough. Just as Ginelle shares her ups and downs, my own roller-coaster outlook on body acceptance is similar to hers: I know I’m good enough just as I am. My logical mind knows this. I have gone through the pain of having people tell me that I was not good enough, that I was not worthy, that I was not lovable. I have battled those thoughts and gained wisdom and resources to combat them. Yet, I am human and I am going to fail from time to time. When it comes to my body, I may not always think logically and instead allow my emotions to hijack my thoughts. But in the end, I am thankful for a fully-functioning body that gets me to where I need to go and can perform the actions I need it to do.

I may always have a part of me that desires change. Truth be told, I am never going to be a perfect body-positive advocate, friends. I continue to workout and eat healthier for the very simple reason of losing fat. I will keep watching movies with beautiful celebrities and feel that twinge of guilt that I am not good enough. I have accepted I will never get back to my 2014 weight, and that is because I do not plan to ever return to my unhealthy lifestyle. I’m never going to be 100% okay with the way I look and I am okay with this because…

I’m only human — my mixed feelings are natural. As Ginelle admits, I realize this post was a bit of a whirlwind. Can you guess why? My thoughts and feelings on this topic ARE a whirlwind! I am human. I have “feelings, thoughts, and desires that are all over the map.” And most importantly, these feelings, thoughts, and desires are. completely. normal.

Ultimately, I’m going to keep feeding acceptance in my mind and life. Yeah, I’m going to keep having exasperated episodes when I look in the mirror, and I’ll still scroll through Instagram with guilt, and I may find myself researching the latest fad diet. But I will also continue to allow myself happiness for my personal victories and pride in my body’s performance. I am going to encourage myself with thoughts that center around acceptance of who I am. I’m going to celebrate my body — rolls, marks, cellulite, and all. I want to expel body positivity to my girlfriends, my family, and my future daughters.

So it only makes sense that I start with my own.

Thanks for joining me on this ride today, friends,

Defining My Tribe

A local winery owner I know launched a women’s group back in February called Women Among Women. I’ve attended a few of the monthly meet-ups and have loved participating every single time. The group is more than simply networking, and focuses on topics decided upon by the attendees. Sometimes there may be a guest speaker, but more often the attendees have an open discussion on the specific topic of the evening. Topics have included goal setting, switching careers, and getting over life’s missteps gracefully. The women who attend are students, entrepreneurs, managers, mothers, spouses, volunteers, and so much more. It is a warm and inviting environment where each woman can connect with one another, share their personal experiences, and learn.

I met an awesome hustler a few months ago through this group. This woman began a podcast last year which has become a weekly delight for me to listen to on Wednesdays while I go about my work. The podcast, Hustlin’ In Heels, gets “real about struggles and celebrations of being a modern-day badass babe.” Basically, it’s a podcast Uncorking Peonies can get behind (and I definitely encourage anyone reading to give it a listen!)

Last week’s installment was all about building your tribe. The co-hosts talked about how they define a tribe, who they invite into their tribe, and what being in a tribe means. Their discussion got me thinking about how my tribe is continuously growing and evolving, and how I got to be in the various tribes I now find myself. Thus, I figured I’d focus my “annual Thanksgiving post” on my blessing of friendship and tribe.

To me, tribe is a universal word that is always attempting to be defined on a personal level. In the most basic sense, a tribe is built on similar social and economic ties and within a common culture. Yet a tribe can be so much more. It can be an intimately exclusive group simply built around care and love. Your tribe members have earned your trust, they hold you accountable in your endeavors, and they struggle through Life by your side. I love my husband and I love my parents, but they are not who I consider my tribe — they are family, which is a whole other elevated element of my Life. Instead, my tribe are those girls who are my ride-and-dies.

As a child, I can imagine I tied my identity to my family, similar to any other kid. I am an only child with a small extended family, but most of my memories as a youngster are centered around family holidays, vacations, or outings with my parents. It was not until my preteen years when I began to shift away from my familial tribe and looked to be invited into a friend tribe.

Unfortunately, I am an innate worrier. This means I suffered through my adolescent and teenage years — some of the most difficult years as a girl — in a constant state of worry. Did I fumble my way through that conversation? Am I cool enough to be her friend? That girl is hotter/smarter/cooler than me, so why would she want to hang out with me? I was in my head all the time and had very low self-esteem. With fear of what others thought and loathing of myself, I stepped into several friendships where I struggled to find my groove. There were multiple times I tried to force a relationship to no avail. Be it that personalities collided, trust was lacking, or my own inhibitions got in the way, by the time I reached my senior year in college, I lacked a core tribe.

Typical to human behavior, I played the victim card when friendships failed. “She hurt my feelings. She did me wrong. I was always the only one invested.” were my usual phrases when brushing off the pain of another failed relationship. When I realized I lacked a tribe, though, I began to reassess the past. Yes, those friend-fails may have been due to misunderstandings and crushed feelings, but I was not free from blame. I have difficulty trusting others due to my lack of self-esteem. I’m forever considering alternative motives and asking questions on someone’s intents. My personality is to give my all to a goal (in this reference, a functional friendship,) and sometimes I forget a friend’s personality might not match mine. Or worse, I forget a friend’s life does not center solely on our friendship.

In short, my past friendship fails have been 50/50 when it comes to who is to blame. And due to my own failings and lack of relationships, I found myself alone upon graduating. Right before graduation I had ended my romantic relationship which was truly my one and only core friendship at the time. So I found myself heartbroken, scared of an unknown career path, floundering in student debt, and alone. I lacked that intimate female camaraderie which I had struggled to find for years.

The day came though where I had to place my fears and self-esteem behind me, and throw myself in the hands of the only girls I found near me: my roommates. These two girls had only been my roommates for three months, and we had met on Facebook. I worked an hour away each weekend, studied a lot, and spent most of my free time with my ex, so minutes with these girls were few and far between. Our friendship was very elementary at the time.

Yet when my earth shook, they were there. They listened while my heart broke, held me while I sobbed, and took me for so many cups of FroYo I couldn’t even keep count. And through all the vulnerable moments, I began to heal. Their love made me feel safe and they helped me navigate the following months with grace and dignity. They were my first Tribe, and the perfect founding block on how I learned how to grow my future tribes.

Over the past several years, building my Tribe has become a wonderful hobby. Similar to what Angie says on Hustlin’ in Heels, I find more joy with the people I surround myself with because I trust them. That means going outside my comfort zone to meet new women, listening to their stories, and moving through life with them. Tribe is more than simple friendship; it is the group you do Life with and who does Life with you. Life is amazing and rewarding, but it comes with challenges. I’m not afraid anymore to admit I need help sometimes. As I meet new women and form relationships with them, I place my trust in them — something which I once shuddered at the thought.

The Tribes I have built are my support system. Some may be personal friendships and others professional, but I know they all have my back. I have come to realize that having a tribe is not only something I wanted for so many years, but Tribe is something I needed.

In the all-knowing words of Beyonce Knowles, “I love my husband, but it is nothing like a conversation with a woman that understands you.” There is just something special about allowing yourself to be vulnerable and transparent and raw with a fellow female. Women understand women — we’re all from Venus after all.

Over the past few years, I have worked to cultivate connections with like-minded individuals in various parts of my life. These women help turn my visions into reality and help me achieve ideas too big for me to accomplish on my own. This might be by urging me to have fun and go out, listening and providing advice during a difficult time, or telling me what I don’t want to hear when I’m being stubborn. To me, Tribe consists of those women who will not only listen to me, but will constantly push me to be better.

As I move through my life I know I am no longer alone when it comes to friendship. I have women behind me to uplift me, support me, encourage me, and check in with me periodically. And the reason they do this is not out of obligation or familial ties. No, these women do so because they choose to love me and have my best interests at heart. Their love and care is unconditional, which ultimately makes them family — my Tribes are my sisters. They are with me during my successes, but they also forgive all my failures. They tell me I’m a rock star, even when I’m not. My Tribes allow me to be human — wins, fails, and all the accompanying tears.

Your tribe can’t be there just to pat you on the back when you’re already feeling great. Your tribe has to be able to provide you with that extra energy needed when times are rough. They have to provide tough love sometimes, or a hand off the ground. My Tribes have helped me personally, professionally, and in so many other ways. They are my best friends, my closest confidants, and my hope is to give the love, compassion, and care back to them, as well as spread it to others.

Every woman needs a tribe.

Shout out to mine.

I Was Taught Strength

I’ve always known what strength a woman can have. I have a strong mother and I have strong grandmothers. I grew up learning from strong female teachers and have been blessed with strong female friends. They have all been role models to me, showing me the different forms strength can take, giving me a goal to set since I was only a toddler.

I had been a good little student with notebook and pen in hand, jotting notes on what strength looked like, yet with all the strong women I watched I did not possess genuine strength myself. I was a caterpillar in a cocoon, waiting for that all-consuming metamorphosis which would truly teach what strength was to me.

It was not until April 19, 2016 that I was taught what strength I carried myself.

Before 2016 I thought I was strong. I had been through relationship heartbreak and survived. I had suffered a bruised ego, a bruised body, and bruised self-esteem countless times and lived to tell the tales. Each is a terrible pain in its own right, yes?

Hardly.

In April 2016 I was taught what real pain feels like. Not just the pain of being scraped or dumped or cheated on or isolated.

In April 2016, I experienced extreme heartache. The type of heartache that can’t be repaired with a drunken text, a girls’ night out, a Band-aid, or months of vacation and/or self-care. I experienced the type of heartache where the person you lose is never coming back.

That person was beautiful. She was breathtaking. Someone that deserved to live a long, happy life free of hurt. But that person was ripped away from this world. She didn’t get enough time with her family, her friends, her community. She didn’t get to say everything she should have. Didn’t do everything she was meant to have done.

My strength stirred the day I found out the news — and every day since. I questioned myself. I questioned the meaning of Life and the purpose people play in it. I questioned God.

Because the entire situation was so incredibly unfair.

But God doesn’t play favorites.

My strength rippled deep in my heart and became a crashing wave. And before long the crash shifted to a roar as my eyes opened to how the world turns. It wasn’t the shadowed world where pain is felt then decreases with time. Instead, the world could be dark and dreary, slamming grief on a daily basis.

Yet here I am. I’m still breathing.

Death made me strong. Death gave my strength life.

I had never been forced to face Death before. So abrupt, so impacting. And it was either survive or drown.

So I decided to swim and I grew stronger with every stroke.

A strength that pushed me to persevere for a cause so dear to my friend. A strength that urged me to grow relationships with others close to her — women I now consider some of my closest friends. A strength that has grown into an adaptable hurricane and made me capable of weathering an unpredictable and uncontrollable Life. A strength that reminds me daily that Life is so worth the ride. A strength that carries me through all of the ups and downs cast my way.

Of course, I’m not done crying. Sometimes the tears arrive when I run across her picture or hear Uptown Funk play on the radio. Sometimes I cry when I feel overwhelmed planning an event or I see a flash of the color pink. Sometimes I cry when I catch a glimpse of blonde hair while on the elliptical or drink a sweet white wine. And the tears show up at this time of year in heavy force.

But those tears don’t make me weak. They make me strong. They make me a survivor.

I’m strong because I handled the biggest loss imaginable and I know what it feels like to miss someone that I can’t reach out to. I’m strong because I didn’t let Death turn me into a cynic. I understand Life’s insecurities and Life’s unfairness better now. I understand what it takes to get through pain and grief, along with a bit of prayer and the love and support of my friends and family.

Nothing can break me now.

Yes, my strength can ebb and flow, but like the mighty ocean it is ever-present. My strength refreshes my life, my dreams, and my goals. There is no pain greater than losing someone you love, but I now know I can overcome even that pain.

Thank you for being a mentor, role model, friend, and one of my biggest fans, Denise. I miss you every day…

But I miss you a little extra today.

The Art of Being Alone

We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.

How many people can say they have perfected the art of truly being happy and alone? So many of us are constantly looking for fulfillment and happiness through external forces that we forget genuine happiness can only come from within.

I have witnessed so many people in my life filling the void of loneliness by skipping from relationship to relationship. It strikes me now that these friends of mine, and sometimes myself, do not take the time to allow themselves the freedom and opportunity to explore what self-fulfillment and happiness really mean.

As I consider this exploration of self-happiness, I’m thinking of a specific friend who is making some questionable life choices. It is obvious to me that she is not happy with herself, with what she has accomplished in her own life, and she is instead trying to find that happiness through other people — specifically numerous members of the opposite sex.

I am a firm believer that we, as humans, were made to touch, dream, and be together. However, I also think that in the world we live, many of us do not understand the difference between being alone and being lonely.

Last summer I discovered how to be happy while also being alone. I mean, I spent a lot of time with people but it wasn’t actually being with people. You know what I mean? It was at work, and that’s not the same connection as having a relationship in terms of no longer being by yourself. I had no one to come home to, nobody to whisper sweet nothings to, nobody to have dinner with and tell about my day. I had no one to take vacations with, nobody to cry to or hold me when I’m sad, and no one to take care of me when I’m sick. As a friend put it: I didn’t have my lobster yet. Yet being on my own forced me to learn to be happy with myself. I had to learn to take pride in my own achievements, calm myself in my own terrors, and comfort myself in times of sadness.

But then things changed. I had another source to find happiness in, and I lost myself in the joy and comfort of love’s whirlwind.

Re-finding your happiness, alone, is difficult. At last, though, I can feel the waves of change coming my way. Over the past few weeks, there have been multiple times where I veered back and forth between feeling scared and lonely to feeling a sense of promise in my solitude.

I have no doubt that there will be agonizing and heartbreaking moments in the months coming up, but I also know that there is a silver lining: I know how to support myself.

So many people, like Seki who seeks the company of crowds, are terrified of themselves. The thought of being at home, alone, by themselves, with no one to talk to is debilitating. So they do everything possible to avoid it. Whether it be clubbing, drinking, overworking, overexercising, or any other overactive social lifestyle, they all have the same goal intended: avoiding the pain and darkness of being alone. This comfort is fleeting, though, and not a sufficient long-term method to deal with the true loneliness felt within.

The reality of life is that you are your own person. If you can’t enjoy being alone and by yourself, then how can someone else? You need to find that long-awaited comfort to truly be happy with yourself and with life.

Saki takes a lot of pride in calling herself “single”. However, when one considers that term, how single can a person be when they are always chasing another guy, or spending time at another party, or hanging out with another friend? When Saki looks at her life, she sees “alone” and “single” as two separate terms. But I do not. Being single, to me, is not a status. It is a word that describes a person who is strong enough to live and enjoy life without being dependent on others. 

For many of us, being single/alone is hard. Being alone requires us to find the time and slow down enough to let circumstances become enabling to “singleness”. Being alone means you aren’t looking for distraction (like scrolling through your phone’s notifications for some sort of meaning to your life). Instead, being single/alone is the art of embracing all of yourself — discovering what is beneath your surface, learning new talents or redefining old hobbies. Being single is being yourself, without running away from any fault.

As I look to my future, there are a lot of questions as to where I am going and what is planned for me. I may relapse (kicking and screaming, most likely) into loneliness every now and then, but overall I plan to embrace my new found freedom and reestablish what it means to be Ashley. I am going to face the darkness felt when I am completely alone and be one with it. Fearlessly and gracefully.