It’s the end of a week-long, all-woman, writing retreat. The twenty of us who have written, shed tears, and laughed together are saying goodbye (there was more to it than that, than a simple “saying goodbye;” there was magic). A voice whispers in my ear, “You’re such a remarkable young woman, so put together.”
Friends, I cringe.
Not in a deflecting-a-compliment kind of way. In a how-dare-you-say-that kind of way.
Like I’ve been insulted.
I want to tell this woman, you’re wrong! I’m not put together! Haven’t you been paying attention at all this week—the vulnerabilities I shared, the wounds I exposed, the words over which I stumbled?
But how can I be put together when I don’t feel put together?
And then how can someone see me so differently than I see myself?
The fact that this description is so triggering for me is especially ironic given that I spend a lot of time in my head trying to plan and control everything so that I give the appearance of perfection, of being put together. Hasn’t she given me everything I want—the validation that I am put together? Erin, you did it, you fooled her!
But something doesn’t reconcile. The pieces don’t seem to fit.
My mind starts to wonder: was I not vulnerable and open enough? Did I misrepresent myself? Did I keep a wall up so that she couldn’t see the real me? I thought I was trying so hard to be real, did I fail? How can she possibly say that?
I’m sure by now you’re all seeing another possibility, one I find so hard to admit: what if she’s the one who can see the authentic me, and I cannot?
What if I can be vulnerable and open and real and all those things and still be seen as having my shit together? Like those aren’t diametrically opposed views? That being vulnerable doesn’t have to equal “hot mess.”
That perhaps it’s my definition of “put together” that needs to change, not hers.
I don’t know how I got this definition, although my stoic Midwestern roots come to mind.
Put together ˈpu̇t tə-ˈge-t͟hər (adjective): someone who can grin and bear it, who doesn’t show that anything is wrong, who has no chinks in their armor. Someone who spends a lot of time talking about the weather instead of about emotion.
And the idea that “put together” is somehow qualitatively better than the alternative is wrapped up in there. That’s the model of what to be. Those are the examples I had and what I was praised for as a young person, so no wonder I aspire to that.
It’s hard to see ourselves as others do.
It’s hard to have our subconscious definitions and values challenged, even if it helps us. Helps us to see more clearly, more accurately, more truthfully.
What preconceived ideas do you hold onto? Would others describe you in the same way you describe yourself? Comment here or on my Facebook page.
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