(Don't) Avert Your Eyes
I was blessed to hear the most delightful story not long ago. A fellow fempreneur asked me to speak at an event she was hosting. She wanted to gather female business owners to support and celebrate one another, and I was delighted to be considered as a speaker. The event organizer was Melissa Reynolds, a woman I had followed and enjoyed on social media. When we first met to discuss the event, I found her even more pleasant than her on-line presence. She was genuine and kind, funny and curious. When we parted I found myself with a slight girl crush!
We met again several weeks later over tea, and as she settled into the chair across from me, matching mugs of London Fog between us, she said "there's something I want to tell you." She proceed to share with me that she'd been noticing me on social media for a while...and hadn't liked me at all! "When I first became aware of you on social media, I kept thinking, who does this girl think she is?" She confessed to wondering what qualified me to key note a fundraising event the year before. "You just really triggered me," she shared.
You might be wondering what I found so delightful about such a story, and the answer is: everything. I love that she was brave and raw enough to share this with me. We'd already had one great meeting. We were obviously sharing a vibe for her event, ideas flowed easily between us. It would have been so simple for her to keep this information to herself, to own it only in her heart, or to fail to own it at all.
I love that she asked me to speak anyway, even though part of her wanted to judge and dismiss me. This is courage in its purest form, to invite someone who ruffles your feathers. someone who feels a bit big for their britches, into your space. This was an event for her business, for her community, a love offering from her soul. That soul had to be deeply fortified to take the perceived risk of inviting me in. I find that so inspiring!
But the thing I love the most is that, instead of shying away from my light or trying to dim me, she leaned right into her dislike. She let my light illuminate what she was holding in the dark. She concluded her story by sharing that she's learned when someone triggers her, it's a call to look inside. She did that with me, and found that she was angry because I was doing all of the things she wanted to be doing. So instead of hating me for what I did, she started doing some of those things herself. The moral of this story? Don't throw shade, let the light shine right on your shadows.
Throwing shade. A slang term meaning to publicly criticize or dismiss another. Also, a beautiful metaphor for how humans often respond when they find others shining too brightly for their taste. I've been the recipient of a lot of shade through the years. I've been told I'm intimidating, unapproachable, a downright bitch. I'm too sensual, too open, too physical. According to some I am too thin, too muscular. Others find me too trusting, too forgiving. I eat too much, or perhaps just too many vegetables. I'm involved in too many things. I show up in too many places. I simply don't behave like I should. Or so I've been told.
And of all the things I am too much of, I am Far. Too. Loud. I talk too much, in a voice that's carries too far. I ask too many questions. I have too many ideas and opinions, which I share far too widely. I am too overt, too domineering. I experience a distinct overabundance of emotions, which I share too openly. I tell too many stories, too many bawdy jokes. I am too verbose. Too many words spill from my mouth, and those words are too elaborate; my very language is superfluous. I simply don't speak (or rather, remain quiet) like I should. Or so I've been told.
There's been so much shade thrown at my voice. It started when I was very young. My elementary school report cards were horribly predictable: Debbie a bright student, but talks too much. I was oft admonished for my lack of an inside voice. Family members teased me (lovingly) for never being quiet. And this culture I grew up in, where women's voices are hushed, where the most common preface to a display of emotion is "I'm sorry," and most recently where those who question openly are framed as enemies of state.
Over the years, the light of my voice grew shuttered, like a dark lantern. All of the wattage was still inside of me, but a door had been closed between me and the outside world, so that my noisiness was stifled. I had a lot to say, but I only let it out in carefully modulated ways. Before any post, any speech, and comment, I was always editing, eternally curating my unique sound so the world would fine it more melodic. I was more palatable this way. Or so I've been told.
I am writing this on my 48th birthday, and it has taken me nearly all of these years, a scant half-century, to realize that I'm here to be too loud. I'm here to be too bright, to burn through shade. It's my job to dazzle, to shine with fierce brilliance. And to make other people uncomfortable by doing it. And the vehicle for this radiance is my voice. There's a reason that little girl was always talking to her classmates, in a voice that was supposedly unsuitable for the interiors of buildings. There's a reason I have big ideas, big feelings, and a big vocabulary. There's a reason I make some people uncomfortable. These are not liabilities, shameful aspects of me to be closeted for the comfort of those around me. These are my gifts.
A part of me has always known this. I was a confident writer as a child. I have always loved to sing. A part of me has always adored my big, loud voice. My teenaged self had a deep understanding of my role, as a questioner and as one who leads others to question. Still, shade was thrown and some of it stuck. Without meaning to, I allowed myself to be dimmed. Over the last several years, as I've sought physical and psychic healing, as I've moved deeper into purpose, I've been removing the shutters from my light. I'm getting brighter and brighter, louder and louder. Now, as I approach the proverbial hill, I imagine Melissa is far from alone. A lot of people probably wonder who I think I am. Judgement is likely raining down around my fierce light. I imagine there is quite a crowd out there, wishing I would Just. Be. Quiet.
Alas, I will not. I'm getting increasingly comfortable with being the bright one, the loud one, the one that makes people squirm. Understand, this doesn't mean that I am going through my days attempting to make others uncomfortable. It simply means that I'm no longer going through my days trying to avoid that fate. Now I'm just going through my days. I'm just being me. I'm just using my voice, speaking my truth, doing what feels aligned and lit with purpose for me. That's the very thing that draws shade--speaking individual truth, going about one's business with no filter built around the expectations of others.
And in this I am not alone. You've seen the other bright lights, whether you've started directly into their solar glare or you've averted your eyes. Melissa is one of these lights. And there are so many more like us. We're here, now, because it's time. You may have noticed that the world seems imperiled by darkness these days. That's because it's time. Time for change. The darkness is calling out the light. The change we need, that we are poised for and prepared to undertake, comes from individuals embracing their unique light and letting it shine. Part of my work in this lifetime is to shine first, so that people who are ready can let my light illuminate their darkness, so that they can see what they've been keeping in the shadows and choose to let it sparkle.
You'll see more and more of us, the glaringly unapologetic. And when you do, you'll face a choice. You can throw shade. You can try to convince us to dim our light, to turn it down, to fold up, be smaller, shine less. Many are still choosing this, to damn the light in others. Alternately, you can just avert your gaze. Without trying to stifle another's light, you can turn away, ignoring or quietly judging these bright stars. When the light hurts your eyes, you can turn them back towards the darkness.
Or...you can lean right in. You can allow these megawatt individuals to cast light into your shadows. You can ask, what's so triggering about this person? What don't I like about them, and why is that? What do they have, what are they doing, that I wish I had, that I want to be doing? You can recognize this truth: when you're in touch with your own light, no one shines too brightly. If the light of another strikes your face and you feel fear or pain, it only means that your own light is waiting to be seen, to be loved and acknowledged and set free in the world. It is only when you cling to the darkness that you resent the light. When you're willing to expose that inner darkness you, too, will blaze brightly.
I can't choose for you, but if I could, I would choose the later. I would choose for you to lean into the light, to be willing to be uncomfortable, to reach towards the ones who trigger you, instead of turning away. I would choose this for you, and also for us. Because the world is waiting. For my light, for your light, for the light. The more of us who choose to shine, the faster we will drive away the darkness.
My light is my voice. What is yours? Art? Leadership? Raising children, curating meals, advocating? Whatever it is, we need it. We need YOU. So the next time you see a light that feels too bright, I invite you to lean in. It's natural do want to throw shade. Resist. It's uncomfortable to stare at the light. Don't avert your gaze. Let the light in, let it shine in the darkest corners of you. Let it reveal the gifts that you are here to share. Don't turn away; we're waiting for you.