As far back as I can remember, people have called me bossy, resilient, a leader, overbearing, commanding, attractive, tough, compelling, mean, powerful, sassy, opinionated…
When I was a 19-year-old legal secretary, my bosses thought I was closer to 30. They suggested we celebrate my birthday at the local bar. When I told them I wouldn’t be old enough to drink for another year, their jaws hit the floor. “But you’re so …”
And when I was 28 (same field, different workplace), a co-worker thought I was in my 40s. “Now that I look at you,” she said, peering at my face,” I can see you’re nowhere near 40. But you seem so … ”
Don’t say it, I thought, cringing inside.
Of all the labels, I heard that one most. And I hated it. “Strong” was at odds with everything I believed I was supposed to be. I was on a quest to be the perfect Christian woman. We aren’t supposed to be strong. We’re supposed to be delicate, quiet, submissive. This strength thing kept tripping me up.
Plus, strength inherently requires responsibility. (Like Spider-Man!) It kept happening: People would perceive strength as authority for some crazy reason, and they’d feel compelled to, like, listen to me or something. I already had enough to do without being responsible for whatever dumb thing came out of my mouth!
But worst of all, some people (many people) would react to me in painful ways. I have a mental flipbook of my life, featuring team mates giving me the side eye; friends shunning me; acquaintances assuming the worst of me; people I loved standing apart from me. These things happened as a result of me just … being me.*
By the end of my 30s, I was a wreck. I hated myself. I’d been working so hard to be un-me that I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. It was physically and emotionally draining. (I spent a couple hours last night reading blog entries going back several years. I can see it all playing out so clearly.) I prayed earnestly, tearfully and regularly for God to change me.
I wrote a very mean letter to myself in 2011 that started, “Dear Too-much Tracie: Honestly? I don’t like you very much.” It went on to say, “Whenever you open your mouth you stir up trouble. You constantly ruin things for me.” And, “If it weren’t for you, people wouldn’t reject me. I wouldn’t be socially awkward, too loud, a big misfit, afraid to stand out.” I ended the letter with these words: “If there was a Secure Tracie somewhere, I don’t know what she’d say to you. She doesn’t exist. Maybe she will one day, and when she does, she can write to you.”
Welp. As always, God answered my prayers. As always, it wasn’t the way I anticipated. He didn’t do a major personality overhaul. He just … changed my mind about me. It didn’t happen all at once, but it’s been happening gradually. I’ll write about it another time. All I know is, I put on on Secure Tracie’s coat the other day. It’s a bit big, but I’m growing into it. So.
Dear Too-much Tracie:
You and I are one and the same… and I love you, you socially awkward, too loud, big misfit! Go ahead, stand out!
*I’m not saying I never did anything wrong or that I never owed anyone an apology. That happened too, of course.