My instinct is to run. To run far away. I started to literally feel those metaphors and similes. When responsibility hit me, my shoulders felt weighed down. I had never understood the metaphor of having a weight on your shoulders when you have a lot to do, but in that moment I understood it perfectly. I thought I was actually going to crumple to the floor and burst out in tears in front of all of these people who are supposed to look up to me as one of their leaders. It just felt like too much.
Eventually, I got used to that weight and was able to continue moving forward. I have to stop occasionally to roll out my shoulder blades, but in the end I’ll survive. Stuff is getting done, and I feel a sense of pride. Even when you think you understand how much work goes on behind the scenes to get something done, you never really do until you’re standing there doing it yourself. I hope the girl who had my position before me knows just how much I appreciate everything she did last year. I don’t know if I ever thanked her. I know that when I went in for an interview to go on a national trip and was asked who my role model was I said her name, but she has no way of ever knowing that unless I straight up tell her, which seems a little awkward. The only person who will ever know is the girl who interviewed me, who had my role model as the only other candidate who ran against her for her current position.
I want both of those girls to like me. I guess technically they’re women now, because they’re both over 18, but that has always seemed like such an awkward word to me. I can tell there’s a lot of subliminal conditioning that’s happened to me in my life because whenever I think of the word “woman,” all I can think of is someone who is married and just had a baby, while when I think of the word “girl,” I think of any female who isn’t married and doesn’t have kids. It’s such a ridiculous concept and it bothers me everyday. It’s one of those things that just dehumanizes people in an animalistic way. You refer to a female bovine that has not yet given birth as a heifer and one that has as a cow, and those same concepts should never be associated with a word that’s supposed to mean whether you’re an adult or a child. Adulthood is something that should be based around either age or mental maturity and responsibility, not having sex and giving birth.
I found something when studying mental health and nurture vs. nature concepts last year that really struck me as interesting, though I have no clue where I found it to be able to sight the source. It stated that whatever your first thought as a reaction to something is is what you have been conditioned by your family, religion, and/or the rest of society to believe, while your second thought is what you truly believe and what you see as right. I have to remind myself of this every time I start to have these conflicting thoughts because I know that the first thought is always the aforementioned connotation, while the second is that the difference lies in age and/or mental maturity and responsibility.
This whole thing also reminds me of when I was reading about when women joined the work force and began to work in sweat shops. They were always referred to as girls, no matter how old they were, and it was seen as incredibly condescending for these exact reasons. The men in charge of the factories saw them as girls because they weren’t at home with their children as a “woman” would be, but that had nothing to do with what they were. They were over 18, mentally mature, and responsible; the last two of which had to be evident based on the fact that they were getting themselves to the factory to work because they knew they needed the money to live. The subconscious effect that the people who we surround ourselves with has on our lives is absolutely terrifying.
Anyways, back to the two women whose approval I seek. Last year, I was a member of the group, and they were both on the executive board. I wasn’t sure what they thought of me, but was pretty sure the one who I saw as a role model thought that I was immature. The year I was born in was the latest year you had to be born in to be able to be in the group. To make matters more difficult, the age requirement was a year younger than it had been the previous year. I took on as much as possible, and some of it went well, while others kind of flopped. I never stopped persevering though, and decided to run for an executive position for the following year (this year). I was the only person who took the time to meet all of the requirements, and now I have that position.
I was leading a discussion at the last meeting to pick a public issue for the year, and all was going really well. Then I looked to my right, where the two of them were sitting, and realized they hadn’t said a word to contribute anything the entire time. They were talking amongst themselves, while occasionally glancing at the board to follow along. Towards the end of the discussion, when we were compiling stuff into categories and getting rid of some ideas that everyone had already decided against before beginning formal voting, one of the women raised her hand. She got lost at some point and couldn’t figure out where we were. I quickly went over each of the points and she said “That one’s a dangerous topic.” The topic I had just gone over was mental health; the one I was the most passionate about.
She said she didn’t feel comfortable talking about it and said that it was more of a private issue. My best friend, who also suffers from anxiety, jumped up and practically shouted “THAT’S THE PROBLEM!!!” She apologized for speaking before being acknowledged, and I said “It’s fine, it’s a topic I’m very passionate about to, so I completely understand. Please continue.” She went on to say “People are scared to talk about it, and so they increase the stigma and make the problem even worse. We need to be the one’s to break that barrier and start talking about it. We can directly help people through talking to them and teach them about resources to cope with mental illnesses that are out there. We have the ability to save lives with this topic.”
The woman still wasn’t on board with it. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it, and if those of us who don’t suffer from any mental illnesses say one thing wrong, we’ve made the problem worse and can be accused of perpetuating stereotypes. It’s a dangerous and politically charged topic, and it’s not one we should do if we care about our reputation.”
I was devastated. I felt like the discussion was going so well, and then I heard those words from her towards the topic that I had put all of my support behind. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her again after that other than when we had our emergency executive board meeting to figure out exactly what the topic we had chosen would entail and how to fix the chaos that was going on from miscommunications in committee meetings. She seemed really drained from just the first half of the retreat, and just wanted the facts and to be able to make it through the last committee session in one piece. She and the other woman left that evening to head back to college for classes the next day.
The next day, I received one of two spirit awards given out for my leadership skills, particularly in leading the public issues discussion, and for my energetic disposition throughout the whole weekend. I was so happy I didn’t even know what to say. I just wish they could have been there to see it; that they hadn’t left for college already. Maybe they did know. Since they’re on the executive committee as well as the executive board (the rest of us are in charge of a specific committee so we’re not part of the general executive committee) maybe they had a role in me getting the award. I’ll probably never know for sure, but it still gave me some hope that I am on the right track, so I’m still happy.
Responsibility can be exhausting sometimes. When placed in a stressful situation, our gut instinct can often be to run as far away from the situation as possible. However, if you listen to the second thought in your head that challenges you to stick it out and comes up with new solutions to overcome obstacles, you will never regret it.