“I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nutured by people around them. I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life who taught me about quiet strength and dignity.”
- Michelle Obama
This week, we’re on to Bitch Tip #3: Develop your own feelings and opinions. Then, figure out how to articulate and express them in a healthy manner.
At first glance, this tidbit sounds a lot like Bitch Tip #1, and it is, with a few small twists. Part of knowing who you are is, of course, knowing how you think and feel about certain things. And it’s important to know how to properly express those feelings and opinions in a healthy way.
As I mentioned in that earlier post, one of the best ways to cultivate your own tastes is to experiment. Read books, travel, go to cultural activities. Make yourself into a well-rounded person, an admirable person. In other words, make yourself into a person whose opinion you would respect. The more you respect yourself and your contributions, the easier it becomes for others to do the same. Don’t be the main character of Runaway Bride, the inconsistent ingenue who can’t even figure out what kind of eggs she prefers. Try all of the kinds of eggs and decide which ones you like, so that when the waitress comes you can order for yourself.
The same goes for feelings. It’s crucial, in my opinion, to take note of your baseline emotional state. Are you a naturally empathetic person, or are you a tough nut to crack? Weepy or stoic? A ballbuster or pushover? Chances are you’re, as a Meredith Brooks would say in her oh-so-appropriately-named song, Bitch, you’re probably a “little bit of everything, all rolled into one.” But it’s also likely that you tend towards certain emotional habits. Knowing these habits can make it a lot easier to navigate personal and professional relationships, not only because you’ll have a sense of which areas are your strengths and weaknesses, but you’ll also be able to articulate your emotional needs to others.
So just what is the healthiest way to express yourself? Well, that depends on the circumstances. Certain emotional displays that might be appropriate at one time (such as bawling your eyes out) might not be appropriate in all settings (like the boardroom.) We are emotional beings, and while I’m not advocating that we all turn into ice queens incapable of shedding a tear, I will say that there is a time and a place for all forms of feeling. Developing the ability to compartmentalize and separate your intellectual and emotional selves can really work to your advantage, so long as you are taking the time to properly care for yourself and your mental and emotional health. You don’t need to tell that really personal, somewhat uncomfortable story to everyone in your office. If you need to work through something that is seriously upsetting you, confide in your family, partner, or few closest friends. And on that note, make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who truly do care for and love you, so that you have an outlet and support group when you need it. (And so you can support them right back- you have just as much responsibility to nuture and care for others as you do to do so for yourself.)
It’s also important to give yourself the opportunity to have a well-rounded emotional life. So often we get caught up in the rush of things, the stress and the pressure, and they build until we crack. If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit of a perfectionist who has the tendency to run herself into the ground. I’m so focused on achieving my goals (and so busy), that I have to remind myself to take a break every now and then so that I can recharge. My life will never be “balanced” in the way that women’s magazines claim the perfect blissful life should, but that’s ok. As long as I get a little bit of balance every now and then, I’ll be ok. I make sure to take care of myself, to exercise consistently, and to spend time with my family and friends. It’s ok to have some fun every now and then, and it’s ok to be lazy now and then. That downtime is necessary to maintain stability, health, and happiness. Not to mention how much aggression you can get out by taking a cardio kickboxing class.
Michelle Obama is an excellent example of a truly emotionally mature woman. She’s a tough cookie, and an extremely intelligent, well-educated, matter-of-fact public figure. You can bet that in her high-profile role as First Lady that she comes in contact with thousands of people who she would like to go Jerry Springer on, but she has amazing self-control, decorum, and grace. Clearly she has well-developed opinions and emotions, but she comports herself in such a way that she manages to be both inspirational and human at the same time. Despite the fact that mudslingers attempted, in her early days in the public eye, to label her as “another angry black woman” (a term so derogatory that I had to put it in quotation marks), she quickly squelched all hints of this imposed identity and instead gained a reputation as a calm, stable person. Yet, as sophisticated as she is, she is both humble and warm, and openly displays her love for her family and friends and her devotion to the causes she holds most dear. She mixes regalness and relatability in the sames way that she mixes haute couture with J.Crew cardigans. It’s no surprise that she is so widely well-regarded.
Now, in many ways our emotional lives are a direct result of our given life circumstances; the families we grew up in, the way we were raised. These things aren’t perfect, and neither are we. And sometimes, we have to go through some pretty messy phases in order to get to a more enlighted state of being. So remember to be patient with yourself. We all lose our tempers, we all make mistakes. But we’re also ever-evolving, and every new day is a chance to change.