It's a youth group of sorts. REAL will stand for, among other things, Respect, Empathy, Action and Learning. Our group's goal will be to create a safe and fun environment wherein adolescent girls can build more authentic relationships with their friends, families, earth/environment and selves. We will emphasize REAL connections with others (as opposed to mediated), REAL expectations of ourselves and our bodies, and REAL goals for how we'd like to use our time. We will have guest speakers share with us their talents, experiences, work lives, family choices, and/or simply what they wish someone had said to them when they were teens. We will have topic talks about health, friendships, current cultural issues and how to be and become the kind of people we want to be in the world. We will make things and do things...explore our own creativity through art and music projects... and connect with others through meaningful community service.
For the inaugural meeting, I was asked to come and introduce myself and share one big truth that I adhere to in my life. Today I will go before this group of amazing young women (I know they are because my daughter's involved!) and present this:
My name is Gina and I am a stay-at-home Mom to five kids as well as a writer, actress and activist. I write a blog called Sister Serendip, which is mostly about our fun and creative family but is also a place for me to talk about more serious topics like transracial families, open adoption and surviving sexual assault. I do most of my acting with the Meta Theatre Company, which is a social justice theatre troupe. I also organize community events like the Martin Luther King Day of Community Service. And now I’m going to tell you about one of my own big truths:I’ll admit there are a lot of things about being an adult that are pretty great: driving, staying up late, all hours access to junk food. But one of the things that really sucks is that you can find yourself saying--and actually believing--all those totally stupid things that clueless adults are always saying to kids. Yeah, I’m an adult now and I’ll confess: I cannot believe the cost of gas these days! And you kids really do grow incredibly fast—in the blink of an eye, even.
When I was trying to think of “one big truth” to share it felt pretty overwhelming but then I realized that this one thought has been popping into my head a lot lately so maybe there was a reason for that. The thought is this: all the same things that made me ‘stand out’ as a child really make me stand out as an adult.
What one big truth could I glean from that statement? Be yourself? Oh no! I’ll sound like one of those idiotic adults that repeats meaningless statements. I can’t do it!
Nothing else came through to me quite as clearly though so I will share it but in hopes that I can share some fresh perspectives on what that means when applied to real life. Here goes:
A funny thing about being yourself…sometimes you have to fake it a little. Sometimes you have to try on other people’s ways to see which pieces fit to keep for yourself and which pieces to leave behind. Other times you have to just wear or do or say the things that YOU really want to even if you have to ignore the fact that you feel a little unsure about it. After awhile something amazing begins to happen—while you’re faking that confidence, you actually gain it. Soon people say things to you like, “I’d love to be able to get on a stage and perform like you do.” “If I tried to put rusty old junk in my garden like you do, it’d just look like rusty old junk.” “Oh you can wear hats, I can’t pull that off like you do.” (Hats?? Spoken not by headless folk, either. Figure that one out.)
But even though you’ve surely heard people say, “be yourself!” hundreds of times before and clearly most of you here already try to live by that truth, there’s an aspect to that I don’t really hear people discussing: that while you’re being true to yourself, remember to make room for other people’s truths.
Don’t get me wrong: some of them are toxic and it’s okay to cut them out of your life. But it took me a long time to realize that just because their truths might be the polar opposites of mine doesn’t mean there’s no space for them in my life. It doesn’t mean I have nothing to learn from them or nothing to gain by knowing them. I’ve even discovered that I can actually be friends with people that seem to have absolutely nothing in common with me. Finding the truth that each person shines for themselves and then surrounding myself with those various sources of light creates an amazing backdrop to let my own authentic self to shine.
I do hope that I was able to get you to think about what “being yourself” means in some new ways. That being true to yourself doesn’t mean that everyone else has to be true to your belief system. That it sometimes takes some massive amounts of self-assurance or weeks or even months of faking it until it kicks in. Sometimes it takes a little courage, like me today taking the risk of sounding like a boring old lady advising a group of young ladies with a phrase they’ve surely heard hundreds of times before: be yourself!! Please try not to gag until I turn my back.
Oh but one last thing: always listen to your elders ;)