A couple of months ago - a thought came to me and just wouldn't let go. There is so much messaging these days around women empowerment. It's a good thing in SO many ways! I too, am often encouraging people in my circle to hustle hard and make their own dreams a new reality. It's encouraging and uplifting and motivating! But the more that I thought about it... In the messaging around being happy, successful and empowered - the recipe is a little unbalanced. We talk about strength, will, tenacity and resiliency like it's the only way to get what we want in life. Well here's the stone hard truth - we are human! Humans cannot be at full strength 100% of the time and as so many of us know - when we try to be - we burn out! Despite our best interests in inspiring women - are we also setting them up with yet another unreasonable expectation? If "being strong" is the ultimate goal - than if we aren't there all the time - does that by default make us "weak"? YIKES!
So be honest - how often do we apologize for showing vulnerability? Have you ever had someone reach an emotional point - even unexpectedly - then let a few tears show through and apologize for showing that emotion? "I'm sorry... I don't know why I'm crying... I'm fine, really." I know I've heard it/said it! I've actually joked about how "I cry at everything". I've JOKED about it! I've made light of that part of myself and in the past - assumed other people judged me for it. Maybe the have - but I'm trying to reframe things now. It's not WEAKNESS to show emotion or to be vulnerable. It's SOFTNESS. It is that softness that is the equal half to the whole of me. I am soft AND I am strong - it's not a question of one or the other. It is difficult to be balanced and authentic when we deny one or the other from shining through.
The more that I think about it - the more that I realize... It takes MORE STRENGTH to be vulnerable and let my real emotions show. It takes courage! It takes humility to ask for help! It takes patience to stop, breathe, learn from our mistakes and then to start at square on again! It takes empathy to truly understand someone else's point of view! Courage, humility, patience and empathy are 100% about strength. Not weakness.
I have also caught myself in the trap of "I have to be strong for.... (so-and-so).... They need me right now." I had a very humbling experience around this when my Dad was dying. I was the nurse in the family! It was my job to advocate! It was my job to be the watchdog! It was my job to care for Dad (with the help of my family, of course) and that meant caring for his emotional well being too! In my mind - this morphed into the unhealthy and unreasonable thinking that "He can't see me cry... It will only upset him." I always tried to show up with a smile and a plan to make HIS day a little brighter. That's just what you do when someone you love is counting down the days, right? You make the most of each one, right? No time for sadness - there's plenty of time for that when he's gone, right?
First of all - I definitely didn't take the time I needed for my emotions after he passed away. Life sweeps you up and it's one foot in front of the other again. So those emotions - they get bottled up inside and then we wonder why a wave of grief that takes us right out... And all it takes to trigger the wave is a Father's day card in the store (yes... I have had an emotional melt down... In a card store... In front of total strangers... And yes... I apologized for doing so. On more than one occasion.
Secondly (and this is the REALLY hard one to swallow)... I wasn't doing anyone any favours by being strong for Dad. Those in my inner circle needed to see that I was vulnerable too. It normalizes those emotions for everyone around us! By letting our emotions shine through we are saying "it's Ok to not be Ok" to others as well. It leaves space for them to be human with us! I'll never forget the day that Dad decided to stop his medical treatment and let nature take it's course. After a lengthy discussion with his doctor, my sister and I surrounded Dad in his hospice bed and the tears just came. And they came and they came. Our hearts were collectively breaking and there was no holding back the flood gates at that point. I remember telling myself "pull it together for Dad". And then he said to me... In a teary, soggy hug... "I didn't know this was all so upsetting to you!" Full stop - in my tracks - it dawned on me that I had done such a GREAT job at concealing my emotions and stoically stood STRONG by his side - that he actually had NO idea just how devastated I was about losing him. Had he wondered if I loved him as much as I said I did? Had he wondered if I would miss him when he was gone? The train of thought went down a dark, guilty tunnel that day but I learned a valuable lesson. From that moment on - I put down the "strong" mask and just allowed myself to be in the moment. Sad, devastated, soggy... Whatever. No more hiding behind the strong.
Isn't it true, too that "STRONG"... Can really just be code for... You can bury your own sh*t for the time being and focus that energy onto someone else? Hmmm...
So it's funny - now that I have thought more about this balance of strength and softness - the more I'm convinced that we need to embrace that emotional, vulnerable self that we try to hide away from others. She's actually a warrior unto herself. It means setting aside self-judgement and loving ourselves for being a whole and complete human being. Hot mess and all - we ARE soft and strong and this should be celebrated, nurtured and cultivated in our younger generations. No more shame.
And so... This is how the KEMBA "Soft and Strong" campaign and jewelry collection came to be inspired. I've asked a few other women to share what "soft and strong" means to them and I'll be sharing their insights over the next few weeks too. I'd love to hear from as many people as possible! This is an important conversation so if you'd like to share your story and your thoughts on the topic, please reach out. Kristen@kembadesigns.com
Sending love and light your way, xx