As a girl, there was nothing that could get me to dim my light. I was a climbing, singing, flipping, dancing, smart, confident kid. Being myself came naturally. I didn’t even question it. Of course, I was well instructed in the rules of social interaction as well. I could sit still. I said please and thank you. I didn’t cause a ruckus at a restaurant. I was really well-behaved.
I grew up believing that I could literally do anything. This belief mainly came from the instances in which I was either the only girl or one of only a few who were participating in primarily male-dominated activities. When I was six years old, I joined the local hockey league. My friend Danielle was on the team too, and I remember one other girl on another team. She had poufy, curly hair and was a little younger than me. I can’t remember her name, but I definitely noticed her presence. It was just the three of us surrounded by boys. My older brother was on our team and my dad was our coach. I practiced hard and played my heart out. I always had a lot of it – heart, that is. In most things, I had a decent amount of skill, but the thing that always set me apart was my heart.
My father reminds me often about my game-winning goal in the playoffs. Little old me, literally FTW.
I had no reason to doubt myself. I knew I could accomplish great things. I knew I could be the winner, no matter the opposition.
While most girls were spending their Saturday mornings at Brownies, I was at the golf course taking lessons with the boys. First we would go to The Board of Trade, where my grandfather was a member. I learned how to swing the club properly, and how to stay relaxed to set myself up for the best outcome. Once that lesson was over, we went straight to Credit Valley Golf & Country Club, where my father was a member. I learned even more about how to hold the club properly, and how to set myself up with proper aim. It’s not lost on me that the skills I learned on those Saturday mornings apply to pretty much any goal I want to pursue in life.
My golf swing is so good that it stops men in their tracks on the golf course. I hit the ball so far that their jaws drop. I leave them stunned when I blow their expectations out of the water. They would never expect such skill from a girl.
With such a strong start, it left me really confused about what went wrong.
When did I stop believing in myself?
What made me pull back?
What made me dim my light as I entered adulthood?
When I was in middle school, my accomplishments were no different than on the golf course. I did very well in school. In the eighth grade, my light made another girl nervous. It made her so jealous that she decided to leave a very nasty note in my locker. All these years later, the only word I remember from the page full of insults was “slut.” Not because I actually did anything that would be considered slutty, but because that’s how she learned to shame girls who were getting too much attention. Girls that made her doubt her own light. I’ll never forget how hurt I was. Before the letter, we were friends – or so I thought. I didn’t understand what I could possibly have done that would make her lash out like that.
I was so upset. That night, I sat on the floral couch in the living room with my mother. I confided in her what this girl had done, and how much it hurt. You better believe my mother went full mama bear. After comforting me and reassuring me that it wasn’t about me (the girl who was bullying me had issues of her own), she got in touch with Mrs. Bully – the girl’s mom. My mom thought she should know what her daughter was up to, and that it was unacceptable, and that I expected an apology. The girl who bullied me assured her mom she would apologize.
The next day, I opened my locker to discover a fresh letter. Much to my chagrin, it was not a letter of apology. Nope. She decided to double down. She really sunk the knife in and called me more terrible things in addition to pointing out that I was such a loser for telling my mom.
We were graduating from middle school that year. We were both really smart kids. In fact, she had skipped a grade, so in a relative sense, she was absolutely smarter than me. My homeroom teacher (who knew about the drama) took me aside after class one day with some news that was a little hard to swallow. He told me that I was up for two awards, but the school policy was not to award anyone with more than one. So the French award would go to someone else. (I know you know what’s coming). Even though I was the one who deserved it, he said, the French award would go to my bully.
I had so many feelings about it. I mean, I get the idea of wanting to spread out the awards, which was fine. What I couldn’t stomach was the way I knew she would gloat at having beat me, when I knew that it wasn’t actually true. She never got punished for bullying me. She was awarded, in fact, because that’s the way the world works, as I was then learning.
And so it’s no wonder I started to dim my light. It’s no wonder I was nervous to shine too bright or get too much attention, lest someone attack me and get rewarded for it. I wasn’t interested in repeating that experience, so my subconscious made a little note in a folder called, “How To Stay Safe,” that said, “Don’t shine too bright.” It got filed away in a deep dark corner. So deep that I didn’t even realize it was there until many years later when I started to connect the dots.
In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks calls this an upper limit problem. There are certain beliefs we take on in order to try to keep ourselves safe, and these beliefs, he says, stop us in our tracks when we get too close to the edge. If we feel ourselves flying too close to the sun, we sabotage ourselves somehow. We lack the capacity to let ourselves experience that much joy or success or love. It feels like a threat to our safety, so we pull back.
How bright do you let yourself shine?
What did you learn about how successful you’re allowed to be?
What did you learn about the worthiness of your dreams?
Do those lessons influence your choices now?
I’d love to support you on your journey back to your bright, shiny self. Let’s connect for a chat, shall we?