The Problem with Stereotypes

Nari Running NassauI typically don’t get overly emotional at advertisements, however well-made and well-targeted, but the “Run Like a Girl” ad had me tearing up during the Super Bowl. The ad resonated deeply: from a young age I was brought up to challenge the status quo and contest stereotypes. Growing up in a male-dominant culture, I was both the president of my class and aspired to have tattoos. I was bookish and rebellious all at the same time, out to prove that women could have it all.

What I realized only too late was that contesting stereotypes could be as restricting as conforming to them. In either case, you let someone else’s ideas of who you are guide your actions.

Apparently, I didn’t want to have it ALL. Some things were better left behind. It took until my late 20’s, but I shed the bad girl persona, quit smoking, drinking, and realized how much happier I was with a more reasonable bed time. Though I still love tattoos!

My daily mantra now is to tune inward and to listen to my true self. What lights my fire? What makes my eyes twinkle? What can I not wait to do again (eating breakfast doesn’t count)? Shedding expectations, both those of others and your own, is difficult. Especially if you have spent years giving them power over yourself.

Somewhere deep inside is a voice willing to give you all the answers if you can just walk away from the stereotypes instead of trying to prove them wrong.

Stupidly Fearless

Warrior 3Recently every time I find an incredible opportunity in front of me, my immediate reaction is that of excitement, followed closely by trepidation. Over the course of the night the anxiety comes in swells, every possible disastrous scenario plays out in my head, and when I wake up in the morning, I am absolutely certain that there is no point of even trying since it couldn’t possibly end well.

Occasionally I look back to when I was a kid and wonder where that stupidly fearless version of me has gone. There was a time that I was convinced I could fly if only I tried hard enough. I tried flapping my arms and jumping off much-too-high tree branches. There was no way in hell I was giving up. When I learned biology and physics, I just modified the dream of flying slightly: I was willing to settle for being a pilot or an astronaut.

But the older we get the more our experience warns us of potential failures and negative outcomes. And as humans we are programmed to seek safety and stability: if we are safe where we are, why chance it and rock the boat? Yes, the potential reward may seem exciting but is it worth the risk?

Often fear sets off a flurry of negative thoughts, which get out of our control, and then in turn set off a biological fight or flight response, which makes us avoid the thoughts (let alone the actions) that led to the anxiety in the first place. We give up before we even have a chance to get started.

But what if we stop and breathe? What if we face the fear of the unknown instead of running away from it? What if we ask if there is any truth to our anxieties? What if we tell ourselves that most negative outcomes we dread will never happen? What if we remind ourselves what our original motivation was for contemplating the action? What will our lives look like if we practice welcoming the possibilities?

One of my goals for 2015 is to be childishly “stupidly” fearless and say YES to my big scary dreams.