Hi, I’m Emily!

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Don't Let Humility Keep You Small

Today I feel like a time signature that keeps on changing. I feel like desaturated purples and reds and pinks - all a little grey. I feel worried that I’m not worried enough, worried that I’m worrying so much. Worrying, they say, is like paying a debt you don’t owe.

I was born and raised with in a small-town mindset in a mid-sized city in the midwest.

From day one, I was taught to hold firmly to my All-American, God-Given Capital-V-Values. And humility was one of those values. It’s a perfectly lovely value, and it has its place. True humility is doing great, selfless deeds and not requiring nor expecting recognition.

But I’ve started to notice something quite troubling masquerading as this wholesome, white-picket-fence belief. Humility is a trail of fake stars, unabashedly leading us on a cosmic journey towards mediocrity.

Humility, as so many women especially are taught, is about making yourself as small and unremarkable as possible. You can write a song and sing it for your family and friends, but don’t you dare think about being a performer, because that’s unreasonable. You can beautify yourself, but don't even think about loving the way you look because that's vain.

We are told to be humble and to have humble aspirations because people don’t believe the risks are worthwhile. People often want what’s good for us, but not necessarily what’s best for us - if a risky path is the best option, they’d rather see us settle for what is safe and second best. Sit down, be humble, as the kids these days are saying.

I’ve been reminded time and time again that I’m from a small town, and told that I should aspire to be as quaint and little and cute as possible.

When I left the confines of my Catholic high school and entered the realm of a public university three hours from home, my entire world changed. I met people with big ideas, I met people who looked differently, who lived differently, who believed differently than I did. I met people I loved, and I met people who I realized I didn’t hate - I just disagreed with.

That’s when I was “poisoned” against my small town life. I started to want to travel, to live in big cities, to create my own path and to buck traditions. I recklessly entertained the idea of becoming a writer - only to be reminded that with an English degree, that I’d likely be a teacher.

And it got to me.

I took a marketing job that made me miserable. I upgraded to a better job that eventually turned miserable as well. I wasn’t writing, or aspiring to live in big cities anymore because it wasn’t “reasonable”.

I grew out my hair because that’s what brides do, and then I got married because that’s what good girls do. I started to settle in to the way I "should be." I stopped dreaming beyond what was directly in front of me.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I soon realized that the box wasn't fitting me. So I went ahead and got too big for my britches and moved to California.

It's fine to choose to stay small, but I decided I didn't want to be made small anymore.

You see, humility is just a terrible facade for shame. Loving the way you looked made you vain, caring for yourself was selfish. Being proud of something you did and wanting to share about it? Hell no.

When I moved to California, I expected a city full of top-notch narcissists. Instead, I found a city full of people who were proud of what they do and excited to tell others about it. I found a beautiful, energetic community of people who wanted to share their ideas and expand upon them. I found a city full of people who weren’t so deeply rooted in their shame that they forgot to grow.

So many of us are told to quiet down, or to sit back and wait our turn, or to just accept the cards that we’re dealt. I think it’s an unfortunate response people feel to their own failure to take risks or to make something big of themselves.

And I'm not saying you have to aspire to be famous to feel the shame. It's everywhere.

I’m talking about people who shame women for sharing photos of their bodies on social media. I’m talking about the people who remind others that their sexuality is not something that should be openly discussed - much less be proud of. I’m talking about the people who refuse to hear a woman talk about what angers her, what terrifies her, what emboldens her, what drives her to be powerful and brave.

The small-town mindset has been parading shame as humility all my life and I’m sick of it.

I’m tired of being reminded to stay small, to stay quiet and out of sight. I’m tired of being worried about what others might think about what I choose to do with my body: pierce it, tattoo it, cut my hair.

My beautiful reader, I beg of you: evaluate what you’ve told yourself to be humble about. What is it that you don’t want to brag about because you’re embarrassed or because it’s “not right”?

My homework to you is this: take that thing that you’d never brag about, and brag about it.

Tell someone how badass you feel as a runner, tell someone how you’ve started a blog, tell someone about the poem you wrote.

Tell someone how proud you are that you’ve turned your life around, that you’re proud of how you’ve grown mentally, physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually.

Because if we all let shame sink us, we’ll all be forever stuck in the same place. It’s a cohesive, homogenous, predictable place. We're all the same in our shame.

But there’s something so beautiful and true and difficult that lies beyond that shame. It's the only thing any of us ever really have: our true, unique selves.

Once you move beyond what the world is telling you to keep to yourself, you enter into what you can uniquely offer to it.

And then, my friend, you’ll be larger than life. And you should be proud of that.

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