As empowered, 21st century women, we can have it all. And we can do it all. But with the demands of our lives, juggling family, relationships and career, you might find yourself wondering, must we have or do it all just because we can?
Women have long been held to a model of effortless perfection, often expected to do and be too much. But there are great benefits found in the freedom from the need to measure up to the standard of others, leaving behind the proving and pretending that chokes the life out of us.
Jennie Allen provides exclusive insight and actionable guidance for Womanistas to stop striving for “the all.” As the author of “Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard” and founder of the popular nationwide conference, IF: Gathering, Allen encourages us to live by our own model.
Let go of perfect
None of us are perfect. As Allen points out, so many of our problems arise when imperfect people try to act as if they have it all together. But what’s the result?
“We hide behind images we create of happy, clean, impressive lives,” she says. “But if you create an image to hide behind, you’ll have to spend all your energy holding it up.”
While it’s an exhausting way to live, most of us don't want to put our imperfections and struggles out there for people to see. Not only do we end up missing connection with others, but like Allen suggests, we lose out on real depth.
“When you put your hardships and struggles out first, everybody else gets to do the same — it’s contagious,” she says.
While other people are freed through our honesty and confession, Allen adds you don’t need to tell the whole world, just “a few warrior friends who won’t settle for our being plastic and fake.”
Create a community with those unlike you
Understanding happens the moment you invest in relationships with a diverse group of people.
“I think somewhere along the way to adulthood we tragically lost our capacity to risk, to press into scary new experiences and replaced it with safe lives where our focus is measuring up and being accepted and being enough,” she says. “In building relationships with people who are different from ourselves or our families and friends, we have to ask ourselves: are we really willing to risk saying the wrong thing, risk hearing how we are part of the problem?”
Allen states that the answer should be “YES,” as the other side of that risk is often where deep, fulfilled relationships and understanding are waiting. As someone whose heart hopes to see racial unity and diversity happen in this generation, Allen reveals she was one of those who built a world that looked just like her.
“In moving outside my own box, I was able to see the injustices and inequality all around me,” she says. “It’s amazing what you learn when you build community with those different from you — I’ve encountered new words and phrases and ideas I would never have known without these conversations.”
As Allen puts it, stepping outside the sameness “expanded” her world, saying she is “a better person, a better leader and a better mother, for it.”
Just let it go
It seems easier said than done, but Allen says the first step to letting go of all the things we carry is quite simple: just name all of them without fear of bringing them to light.
Encouraging us to call, text or meet with a friend, Allen offers an alternative to our tendencies to struggle alone, in the dark, with the things we are carrying.
“We’re shouldering our struggles like a backpack and doing it disconnected rather than looking into each other’s eyes and saying, ‘I’m dying here,’” she says. “If we could just utter the words and be vulnerable, somebody could speak the truth of grace over us.”
Allen says this openness allows us to be free and love life again, no matter what may come along. It might not be easy to open up to others, but she urges that it certainly makes it a lot less hard.
Stop the comparisons
We all battle feelings of inadequacy on a daily basis. We walk through life afraid we can’t measure up to those at work, church, in our friendships and communities.
“We compare ourselves to people we know and meet and feel like a mess compared to them — but guess what?” she asks. “Each of us has stuff in our life— stuff that makes us feel inadequate [and] rather than keep trying to hide behind those perfect images, I think it’s time women started to be vulnerable and real with those around them.”
Allen notes that we tend to numb ourselves with Netflix, shopping, alcohol, social media and careers, but numb is not living. It’s a form of “sleepwalking through our one gift of life.”
“It’s time we stopped numbing ourselves with distractions and start living the life we created to lead,” Allen says. “Call a friend or meet someone for coffee and be open about your struggles — it’s only through those raw, open conversations that true relationships are formed.”
She goes on to share that the more we stop comparing our lives to others, the more we can ease into the freedom of just being ourselves.
“Being ‘enough’ should not be our goal because enough is a mirage that cannot be caught,” she says. “It’s time we stopped chasing it.”
Develop a sense of calm
With a firm belief in taking time to cultivate our inner growth and contentment, Allen shares she recently completed a 36-hour silent retreat where she turned off her phone and spent time wrestling with her chaotic mind and soul.
“In a world that is so cluttered, chaotic and loud, it’s important to take time for your soul and yourself,” she says. “Whether it’s meditating, journaling, taking a technology fast or engaging in rich conversations, take the time to dig in and nourish a life that includes more calm.”
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