For almost every woman, a day came in our childhoods where we never played with our toys or put on dress-up clothes again. We stopped going on swings and riding down slides while screaming our heads off. We no longer had time to let our imaginations run wild as we stared up at the clouds. It was time to grow up. We had to prepare to be adults, caregivers, and partners. Who has the time for play and hobbies when we have to be the most perfect versions of ourselves all the time while taking care of everyone else and asking nothing in return?
And to make matters even more frustrating, the minute any of us picked up an interest that was deemed “for girls” – we were looked down on just for liking something that was feminine. Everything from romance novels to glitter to Taylor Swift to the Barbie movie. All used as indicators that we’re clearly not intelligent, sophisticated humans but rather are just “silly” women who haven’t grown up. So to stay safe, we keep our shelves stocked and our playlists filled with every piece of content that will help us grow the “right way” – never daring to openly share that we have other interests that serve no other purpose except to make us happy.
Breaking the cycle of constant improvement
I want to pause here and say again that there is absolutely NO SHAME in wanting to improve yourself. Rather this is a word of caution to be careful how far you’re pushing yourself, how you’re talking to yourself, and how you’re allowing yourself to feel joy. And perhaps most importantly, who you’re showing up as in spaces with other people.
During the pandemic we started hosting virtual workshops for women to help them feel connected and supported. At the end of one particular workshop, I asked all the attendees to provide some book recommendations we could share as a follow-up. I even explicitly asked for fiction book recommendations because I knew the majority of the books were likely going to be in the self-help genre. Despite openly giving permission to share a book that was meant just for fun, we didn’t receive a single recommendation aside from the book I mentioned (it was likely “The Power” by Naomi Alderman).
That experience opened my eyes to seeing this phenomenon happening around me constantly – even in my own friend group. As much as I love having conversations that go deep and help me know more about someone, I also love seeing someone light up when they’re talking about their brass figurine collection or a book series about a female serial killer (my esthetician just told me about this series and it was such a fun conversation).
Feeling like you have to talk about “adult” stuff in spaces where you’re needing to network and connect with others is accepted as the “normal” thing to do. But what if you asked someone to talk about the last time they laughed? Or played a game? Or got lost in a story? Just imagine the types of conversations and friendships that could stem from one person being brave enough to disrupt the status quo. As humans, we all want to be seen, heard, and valued. But if we think we’re among people who wouldn’t value our fascination with Lisa Frank artwork or antique typewriters – it’s likely we’ll continue in this cycle of feeling like we have to constantly be improving ourselves so we can talk about the last self-help book we read and the strides we’re making in personal growth.
So here’s my challenge to you – be brave and break the cycle. Go do something today that’s purely for your enjoyment. Start a conversation with someone you just met about something fun or silly. Make someone laugh with their whole body or remember something they hadn’t thought about since childhood. Try being okay just being who you are – flaws, weird interests, and all.