It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ― E.E. Cummings
I am standing among a group of women, all alumnae of the same elite college. We’re gathered at ImpactHubDC,* the local presence of a “global community of professionals taking action to drive positive social and environmental change” that opened here in April. Hours earlier I had contemplated bailing on the evening, not being much of a mingler nor thinking myself any good at networking. But I am here and I am chatting with a woman who tells me that no less than the Dalai Lama himself has said that Western women will save the world. Looking around the room, I think, “The future is in very good hands.”
You know that funny coincidence, when you learn a new word or concept and suddenly you see it everywhere? I had one of those weeks. Apparently, the Word of the Week is: Courage.
To be honest, part of the reason I was tempted to no-show on the networking event is that I haven’t entirely figured out how to talk about my life with a group of complete strangers. Am I retired? Does my “reboot” description come across as a euphemism for something dire? How much about my reasons for leaving work do I reveal in the first rounds of socializing? What’s my new narrative?
I was nervous.
And I shouldn’t have been.
If I’ve learned anything in these past months it would be that while a few folks are a little baffled, a couple jealous, some downright incredulous, the overwhelming reaction has been admiration – people see the move as brave. It seems l’m living other people’s dream – the one that scares them so much they can’t really contemplate it for themselves. They’re just glad to see someone doing it.
No doubt I raised a few eyebrows, but “reboot” seemed to make sense to people and I found my way through a new narrative. All-in-all it went just fine. Actually, better than fine. Most of our conversations that evening were about clarifying hope and goals, taking action – and how we could support one another in those efforts.
It wasn’t about me and my little side show. This was about all of us, gradually, collectively making our way to becoming who we really are.
I can’t tell you how many people told me they’d taken a step back at some point, gotten off the merry-go-round, taken stock and made, as I like to say, a hard left. I found in this collection of women some wonderful and unexpected mentors and role models. With each new story I thought, How cool! What courage!
Earlier in the day, I’d had lunch with C. who is recently divorced, recently unemployed, supporting two kids in school and looking great nonetheless. I think it is fair to say it’s taking considerable courage to live her life right now – an entirely different kind of fortitude than anything I need to muster. We sat in a park and contemplated the art installation on the grassy lawn in front of us. An over-sized chalkboard was painted with the heading “If only I have the courage to…” Across the dusty surface passers-by had scrawled their inner most fears and dreams. After we’d eaten, C. and I added ours – sharing with the world and one another hopes we’d not disclosed before, perhaps not even to ourselves.
Today I returned to the park and the chalkboard and read the latest installments, thinking about courage and what it takes to tap into it, unleash it, let it fly. Like the women gathered over wine and carrots in D.C., each chalky thought seemed like a step closer to being who we really are. With each such step, I think the future is in very good hands.