Last week I had a phone conversation with a woman who is powerful beyond measure. She is a leader, a problem solver, and someone who others look to for inspiration and guidance. This woman’s vulnerability was palpable. She was clearly feeling worn down by the weight of overwhelm and exhaustion, brought on by staying too long at a job that demands too much. On the day we spoke, she had had enough. Enough of being the one to put out the fires. Enough of being there for everyone else. Enough of a system that didn’t recognize her humanity.
"What do you need?" I asked her, recognizing her desire for change.
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone.
"I can't even answer that question right now," she said.
"I have no clue what I need.”
Disoriented from decades of caring for the needs of others, the path to wellness and wholeness felt obscured and out of reach. After our conversation, I asked this woman if I could tell her story because so much of what she said resonated with me and I know versions of that same story are being lived by a countless number of us. It is easy to feel trapped by the needs of those around us—financial, social and familial pressures—that our own needs, or our own feeling of disorientation, depletion, and exhaustion, is left unchecked.
In his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the domestication of humans and how, since childhood, we have been taught the rules of what it means to be successful in our society. We are brought up believing that if we please others—our parents, partners, friends, bosses—then we will be accepted and seen as worthy. We are taught to prioritize acceptance, status and financial success above our well-being and wholeness. We find ourselves being corralled and nudged by a giant repository of “shoulds” and “musts,” and our own needs get buried under its weight. Some days, the pressure of these expectations can take our breath away and make us feel woefully ill-equipped for the task we are being asked to fulfill.
If we are lucky, something shifts in our life and we start to see through the stories we have been told. This shift could also be brought on by a tragedy, an illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or even simply by exhaustion by trying to live our life for others. When we arrive at a point when the status quo no longer works for us, we begin to recognize that when we live our lives on other people’s terms, we can never win—we can never be enough.
What we really need as a society is to undomesticate ourselves. We need to relearn how to first identify our own needs and to then fiercely protect them. We need to imagine a society that supports fierceness rather than conformity. Not an aggressive or angry sort of fierceness, but one that is powerful, purposeful and clear. The word “fierce,” after all, is rooted in the Latin word ferus, which means “untamed,” and the old French word “fiers,” which means “brave, proud, strong, wild.” If we ignore our strong and wild untamed selves, we let go of our dreams. We postpone our deepest desires because we “should” be doing something else. We bow to what we think the world wants from us, and somewhere along the line, we allow what is most precious to us drift away. However, when we tap into our fierceness, we are rejecting this domestication process and accessing a deeper and more authentic part of ourselves.
So, today I am cheering for those who, despite the exhaustion, overwhelm and disorientation, want to be fierce. I am cheering for the parents who are helping their children tap into their own needs and write new stories about what it means to be a success in this world. I am cheering for those of us who are taking the risk to stand up for themselves—their needs—and to clearly identify what they need moving forward without feeling apologetic or fearful of how those around them will respond.
When we choose fierceness and protect our needs from the pressures that surround us, we give others permission to do the same. We offer up our own untamed and wild authenticity as an example of what is possible - a world where what matters most - our sense of wellbeing - is protected with all the fierceness we can muster.
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