My primary concern about myself has always been that I’m too much. Too loud, too tall, too “big”, too busy, too messy, (too drunk!), too complicated! The list continues as though my very existence itself is an excess.
I think women are especially used to hearing they are always “too” something. The line from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We should all be feminists, as quoted in Beyoncé’s “Flawless” drifts into my consciousness here:
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man….”
The tricky thing is, the line between what’s considered “just enough” and “too much” is microscopic. But I can see it in people’s faces when I cross it. I know the second my “too much” presence has become jarring to someone and my knee-jerk response is to take immediate action to tone it down a notch.
Before I go further, let me again acknowledge that I fully recognize the power in silence, listening and heightening voices that need to be heard. As an activist, these are skills I draw upon frequently and though I absolutely have my privilege-blind spots, I can generally pick up on when to not take up space.
For myself personally, the instinct to silence myself the minute I’ve crossed the line has also been instilled in me through the society I work to fight against. Personally and politically I’m ready to care a lot less about what would happen if I didn’t quiet myself the minute I crossed someone’s limit.
If this is sounding familiar to those few consistent FR readers out there (I see you and I love you!), it’s because I wrote about this in my post Loud on owning my volume and speaking up on my own behalf. Bizarrely enough, I wrote that post almost exactly a year ago and today I feel like I need to return to the topic.
I think it’s because I’ve made some progress.
I think it’s because in many ways, I haven’t.
Shame is one of the hardest wounds to shake, isn’t it? It’s like the minute I’m shhh-ed in a social setting that shhh is echoed in my head by every person who ever expressed that some aspect of my presence was excessive. Shh means I’m wrong. Let me be clear: it doesn’t mean something I’ve said is wrong, I interpret it as meaning my very existence is wrong.
Here’s a concept: maybe there’s nothing wrong with me.
Given my exceptional ability to appear a lot more confident than I actually am (how’s that for a conflicting statement!), it may shock readers and friends that the idea that nothing is wrong with me is something I haven’t quite grasped yet. Like, at all. In fact, it’s probably now more than ever that I almost, just barely believe it to be true.
I have pages and pages in my journal where I have scribbled “I am enough” over and over again.
I truly believe “you are enough” is the kindest thing you can say to someone.
But I also want to evolve. I want to be more than my current enough in a healthy, self-loving way. For starters, I want to evolve into someone that doesn’t need to remind herself she is enough so often. Most days, I want to just know I’m enough and also know where I’m capable of going. And I’m curious about the language that would help me get there.
What if instead of “too much” language we moved into “more” language? Not in a harder-better-faster-stronger-Daft Punk-capitalism kind of way but as in I see this in you already and I want a little more of it! It’s there, let’s just tease it out.
When I completed the Fundamentals course at the Coaches Training Institute, we did this exercise where each person stood up and everyone in the room would call out a character or archetype we saw in them a little bit, but wanted to see more of. They would choose the one that “stuck” the most. I chose CEO. As in people saw CEO in me and wanted more of it from me and I wanted more of it too. It meant that I was enough – I had it in me – and that there was somewhere I could go with it, with a focus.
For someone who had always felt like she had reached and surpassed the recommended limit at “too much,” knowing I could be more was motivating. I wasn’t beyond a limit anymore. In the words of award-winning mathlete Cady Heron, “the limit does not exist!”
I’m going to try out the “more” language on myself and on others. I don’t want to shrink anymore and I don’t want my fellow “too much”ists to shrink anymore either. Gimme, gimme more!
But I want to open up the discussion too! Any other ideas on how we can avoid “too much” language?