One of my earliest memories associated with feminism was a TV commercial that admonished parents to not buy their daughters tea sets but to buy them chemistry sets instead. It was an attempt at shaking up the status quo, to introduce science to little girls who otherwise wouldn’t have thought to ask for it because it had never been modeled for them, and to broaden the career horizons of many young women. That commercial infuriated my mother.
A former supervisor-turned-dear friend once described me as someone who accommodates others day after day until reaching an unspoken limit where I can’t take it anymore. He said that’s when I “dig my heels in” and refuse to budge, catching everybody off guard because they had no idea I was accommodating that whole time since I seemed to be participating so willingly. I learned much later that this was classic Phlegmatic behavior.
I’m trying to remove the word “should” from my vocabulary. Or at least, to drastically reduce its usage. Should is a shaming word. It says, “You don’t have to, and you don’t want to (because if you did you would have done it already), but somebody else (to or for whom you are not responsible) thinks you ought to.”
When I began my blog a year ago, I decided to put in place some guiding principles to keep me in line with its vision and purpose (steps toward a thriving, flourishing life), as well as to keep me honest with myself and my readers. Internet etiquette is different for everyone since we all have different expectations of what’s appropriate and beneficial to “put out there,” and it’s so easy to get swayed by other people’s convictions of what your blog should be. Instead of taking on what someone else found appropriate, I put together my own set of rules for my writing. Here is what they were:
I get a lot of advise. Some of it is passive, like what I read in self-help and other non-fiction books with valuable life lessons. Other advise is more active, like people telling me specifically that I should try something they’re doing that they love.
A lot of it is good advise. But I’ve realized that the more advise I consume, the more overwhelmed I get. I’m on information overload. I cannot possibly follow every word of advise given to me by every author, every Ted-talk speaker, every pastor, every friend, and every family member. I don’t have enough brainpower, emotional capacity, or hours in a day.
Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing between a legitimate feeling of guilt and an illegitimate one. What I mean is, when someone I respect or love disapproves of a choice I make, I feel so bad about disappointing them that I start to feel like I’ve actually done something wrong. Even if it’s not wrong, just something they don’t like.
It’s even worse when they bring God into the equation.
A friend of mine once told me that thousands of years ago in Israel, newlywed couples would retreat for a year to get acquainted with one another. They’d be isolated from the people they knew, leaving behind the former ties and making new ones with their spouse, before re-emerging in their society as a couple united in mind and purpose.
I don’t know where she got her information, and whether it was historically true or not, and generally I thought something like that was kinda unnecessary in the day and age (and the type of society) where couples actually do know each other very well before getting hitched. But something about it drew me to the idea because I was in the kind of long-distance relationship that didn’t allow for us to be around each other very much in normal everyday experiences. We talked a lot on Skype, and I was sure that he was the right guy for me, but I knew that sharing a home and a life would be a hard transition for a couple who couldn’t act like a couple most of the time and who essentially turned back into independent people as soon as the computer screens closed or as soon as one of them got back on a plane to go home.
I have always fancied myself pretty good at reading other people’s minds. It comes from my tendency to over-analyze small details: the micro-actions or inactions of someone I’m familiar with. It’s a self-preservation tool to try to be prepared to respond in any situation. I’m always thinking about what other people are thinking about.
And I’ve been told (by someone I love and trust) that I’m not as good at it as I fancy I am.
Long ago a friend of mine reflected on a friend of his, and his reflection has stuck with me over the years. He had observed that his friend, who used to be quite bubbly and energetic, became much more reserved and mellow since getting into a serious relationship with a very conservative guy. My friend was worried that his friend was changing who she was to accommodate her boyfriend’s expectations of what a good, proper, and (in their conservative Christian perspective) submissive woman was supposed to be.
I was never quite as bubbly as my friend’s friend. However, I was an introvert who often faked being an extrovert when I was trying to win people’s affection. And I worried that when I started intentionally choosing to act more introvertedly with people, that they would worry that I was changing myself for my boyfriend, too.
A friend teased me when I became a missionary, saying I was becoming a professional Christian. I knew my friend was joking, but the joke represented a mind frame among evangelicals that was deeply and fervently held: that pastors and missionaries and other ministers are (or ought to be) better Christians than everybody else. After all, they’re “getting paid for being a Christian.”
I don’t think it’s accurate, and I’m wondering how Christianity strayed so far from Jesus’s message that we all fall short of perfection and all need him for help.