You must learn to be still in the midst of activity
and to be vibrantly alive in repose.
~ Indira Ghandi
I am a strong person. A strong woman. I have an iron will and determination. A focus and tenacity that will not quit.
My first boss after I became a park ranger compared me to a wolverine, a creature that once it clamps its jaws on its prey will not release them even into death. He would joke about the unsuspecting people who would underestimate my relentlessness nature.
When duty calls, I answer. I can carry the world on my shoulders. When a task is daunting, I bend myself to the task. And when the task requires me to take control, step up, speak out, I do, although being visible in this way is especially uncomfortable.
You see, my strength is a quiet strength.
And while I have always had an inner will and determination, and it has taken years to develop the ability to project that strength out into the world, I am still by nature a quiet and introspective person.
We have a dear family friend Charlotte who’s long been one of my biggest fans. She interpreted my behavior when I was a toddler as quietly observing and assessing my world and those in it.
I don’t speak for the sake of hearing my own voice, or for the sake of being heard. I don’t insert myself into a space to make sure others notice me. I don’t make waves because I can. I am not loud by nature: I reserve that for times of need. In a noisy room I do not speak up just to be heard; but I will speak up when I need to say something. And when I need to say something I wait for an opening rather than cutting people off. I neither need, nor want to demonstrate my strength. I get no satisfaction in throwing my weight around.
But in a world where grandiosity, noise and boasting are celebrated, strong, quiet people like me are routinely overlooked. We are sized up and determined weak, insignificant, inconsequential, unthreatening.
Some people of course see who I am; undoubtedly they are generally more perceptive, or perhaps share traits like mine, or maybe know someone like me. They know that strength does not only present itself in loud, boastful packages.
But those others? If there ever comes a time when I assert myself, it almost always is unpleasant. I don’t know what their perceptions are, but after a lifetime of experience I have a few ideas:
· Because they are loud and outspoken and I am not, they believe I am weaker,
· They believe that they have the upper hand in our relationship,
· If I do speak out or push back it completely confounds and angers them,
· They respond by rejecting or attacking me.
This has definitely happened in working relationships. And in a capitalist society, most companies are built on a hierarchy that rewards self-aggrandizement and puts those people at the top.
Living in a patriarchal world, the assumption is that men are stronger than women. Generally speaking, if women do not demonstrate their strength loudly and boldly, that assumption stands. So in a male-dominated culture, most men do not notice my strength.
Unfortunately, too many women friends have followed this pattern.
I have always been drawn to women who are bold and outspoken. I love what I perceive as a rejection of patriarchy and the embrace of feminine power. I’ve always looked up to their fearlessness, the way they speak their minds without worrying about ruffling feathers – something that I definitely struggle with. I am fascinated by them, and curious to know how they grew beyond the bounds of gender roles.
But within these friendships, the same dynamic has usually happened: while I perceived that we were on equal footing, my more outspoken friends have often thought they had the upper hand. I did not believe I was giving them the power by giving them the floor, but they assumed I was.
A true friendship requires give and take, compromise, and a willingness to talk through conflicts. But many of my friendships with outspoken women only lasted until that time that I pushed back: at which time I was met with confusion and anger, followed by complete rejection.
For a long time, especially in the work environment, I experimented with how I presented myself: trying to project a stronger image initially; trying to soften my pushback if that need arose. In all honesty, all of my efforts and considerable internal angst reaped zero rewards.
And in seeing a similar pattern emerge among friendships, a deeper truth has dawned on me. I need to stand firmly in who I am, and learn to accept the consequences of living my truth. People who only see strength in loudness will underestimate me, and I need to accept that. Those same people will be angry when I stand up to them, and I need to accept that as well. Other people, those who are more perceptive of the variances of personality types, will see who I am. We will continue to get along well.
There is nothing in me that I need to fix. Become more authentic? Sure. Tell the truth faster? Always room for that. But there is nothing wrong with being quiet. And there is definitely nothing wrong with being strong. These things are a part of me. The world does not need to accept me. I need to accept myself.