My brother is one of the most confident people I know. In fact, I often tell him that he straddles the line between confidence and arrogance. From time to time he steps fully into either side because he is human and balance is a hard thing to achieve. Throughout our lives my mother has told him to be more like me; to be more responsible, more organized, more focused in school. What can I say, I was a good child. I was that child that other parents told their kids to emulate because I was good at being good. Recently, however, my mother told me something that shocked both my brother and I because we never thought it would happen: she told me to be more like him. How tables turn.
She wanted me to be more like him in the way he believes in himself and his abilities; in the way he has no problem being seen and taking a seat for himself at the table regardless of whose table it is. Let me tell you, my brother doesn’t care whose table it is. He cares about whether being at that table will get him where he wants to go, and if it will, he will show up and make himself comfortable. It has served him well, this ability to believe that he belongs wherever he chooses to go. He has received so many opportunities which he would have had no chance getting if he were like me.
Let me explain. The way that my brother straddles the line between confidence and arrogance is the way I straddle the line between caution and fear. So where he asks, ‘Why not?’ and leaps at every opportunity to showcase what he can do, I ask, ‘Why and why me?’ and think of all the ways things could go wrong. That thing of being good at being good? It doesn’t always work out so well.
This thing that my mother told me, it wasn’t the first or last time I was hearing it. Before she said it two other people had. And when I asked a few of my friends, they had the nerve to confirm that it was true. How dare my own friends say that I doubt myself too much? Do people even understand loyalty anymore? Of course I was mildly offended at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized they were right.
Naturally, after such a revelation, I began to look for answers. Why was I like this? Did I doubt myself more than the average person? How many times had I said no when saying yes would have brought me so much more? Which is when I got my hands on a copy of Shonda Rhimes’ book, The Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person. I read about it online and thought that perhaps Shonda Rhimes and I had the same problem and that if she had found a way to work it out then her way would help me work it out. After all, she is Shonda Rhimes.
In the Year of Yes, she talks about how she realized one day that she never said yes to anything. Despite having three super-successful TV shows running, she was afraid, she didn’t take risks, she didn’t want to be seen, she wasn’t living her best life. I read this and at first thought, “Really, Shonda? If I was a superstar writer like you, people on this internet would not rest.” Until I remembered my own revelation and realized that if I were in Shonda Rhimes’ shoes, I would have been doing exactly what she was doing. I mean, I am not Shonda Rhimes and I am already doing it—hiding myself away from the world, not wanting to even find out how much more I could be if I just stepped outside of myself.
I don’t think that people like me are fully to blame for being this way. That ability to stand up straight and let everybody see you and say, “I have something to add,”—that’s not something you are born with. It’s something you learn. You are taught (by people, experiences, whatever) to speak up. You are taught to make mistakes and to learn from them. You are taught to find value in what you say and do. You are taught to be curious, to ask questions, to be creative, to want more.
I don’t think I was taught much of this. I was a good child, remember? Good at being good. Which often means good at not asking questions, good at taking instructions, good at being comfortable and letting other people take risks while you stayed in a bubble. Actually, I don’t think girls are taught this as much as boys are. As children, we are taught to sit still, legs crossed, skirt tucked under our thighs, and smile. They are taught to run around and do—Do whatever, just as long as you are doing because the important thing is that you are active, out there, bold, straddling the line between confidence and arrogance.
In narrating her own struggle in Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes helped many like me figure out what to do with our cautious, fearful selves in a world that demands boldness. This is why I enjoyed this book. I could see myself and my struggle with allowing people to see and hear me. I could remember being terrified of raising my hand in class even if I knew the right answer. I could hear my mother asking me why I didn’t apply for that thing and my friends telling me that I live in a bubble which protects me but also prevents me from seeing more, experiencing more, learning more, living more. I could picture my boss telling me that I need to learn to market myself because I have the abilities but nobody else knows that I do because I don’t let them know. Reading Year of Yes was a journey. A journey of only two days because that’s how quickly I devoured it, but a journey nonetheless.
I’m hoping that 2018 is the year I learn that it is okay to take up space. No, I am determined that it is. That’s right, I am going to have my own version of Year of Yes. I am learning to let others see the value in me. I am learning to say no to my fears and to say yes to opportunities. I am learning to be confident in my womanhood and to believe that I do have what it takes to be everything I hope to be. I am learning to be more like my brother. Imagine that. It’s amazing what a good book can do in your life!
Author: Michelle Korir
Michelle Chepchumba is contributor at Wanjiru Kihusa. She loves cats and enjoys reading and writing in an attempt to discover the mysteries of the human mind. She also works in mental health and writes about life at www.thescroll.co.ke.