I was raised to be a quiet, polite, good girl. Of course, nurture alone didn’t form me. As an introvert, it’s entirely my nature to hang back to get the lay of the land and advance slowly. Add to that the fact that I’m big sister to eight brothers and sisters, a wife and mother of two and you get a lifetime of putting others first.
Back when I was a practicing attorney, one of my lawyer friends told me I was the most assertive person she’d ever met. I was shocked, but maybe she was right. When push comes to shove I know how to shove back and my legal career did teach me to curse like a sailor. But, that persona was cultivated to get the job done. It’s not my default.
It never really hit me how hard I found it to say “Yes” to what I wanted until I got breast cancer. Once I became mindful of letting “Yes” into my life, I launched a blog, wrote two books for cancer survivors, got passionate about volunteering and picked up speaking engagements.
Then, the unthinkable happened. I got old enough to get a glimpse of the empty nest.
Sending both of our children to college wasn’t exactly like getting a pink slip. It was more like the premonition that haunts you immediately before getting the ax. But the good news is that the universe is merciful and I was being eased into obsolescence as a full-time nurturer.
With time to think I realized I had just scratched the surface of saying “Yes.” I believed Joseph Campbell when he said, “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” But, how do you know what your big adventure is if you don’t ask the bigger question, “What do I want?”
Once I dared to ask the question a lot happened. First, asking the question interrupts the involuntary impulse to automatically consider someone else’s wishes. (Him: “What do you want for dinner? Me: I don’t know, what do you want?) Second, asking the question forces me to actually come up with an answer. (Me: “What do I want for dinner?Hmm, I need a minute to think about it.”)
The beauty of daring to ask what I want is that I get to decide how to act on the answer. Self-awareness brings a choice between standing up for what I want and letting it go. Whatever I decide, I get to create self-satisfaction and luminous generosity, untainted by the resentment of giving in again and again.