When I feel nervous or scared or intimidated by the brawny world around me, I close off. I leave whatever goals or tasks were on my to-do list and about-face back to my comfort zone, shrinking several inches from my already small 5’2″ frame as I watch the busy world continue on around me. My text inbox racks up to 300+ messages, my emails pile as high as the caffeine I’d need to read them, and I fall down a dark hole of self-questioning and doubt (think Alice and Wonderland, but less drugs).
This is too big for me and everyone knows.
The pressure of my own expectations pile on me one pebble at a time until there’s suddenly a boulder resting on my chest. I feel small. I feel trapped. And I start wrapping everything I write, do or say with these two main fears:
Why does this matter to anyone
This doesn’t matter to anyone
This self-mutilating thought process is rough, and though I don’t find myself in that position everyday – I often struggle with letting doubt and insecurities control my ability to produce thoughtful, creative work.
I don’t have a method to break the confines of doubt, but I AM TRYING. So far, my only success has come from this realization:
The first way to fight feeling small is to TAKE UP SPACE
I’m sure its true in any instance of oppression, but the only way to fight pressure is to push against it. This concept seems pretty self-explanatory when you’re looking to fight against gender roles, racism, or other glaring issues because the need to be noticed is crucial. Taking up space becomes a means for pushing back, a way of fighting against limitations from any person, cause or agenda.
Fighting for what is right for a group comes easily for me. I can support you. I can fight against oppression from misogynists or bigots. But when I am the enemy, and the oppression is coming from my own self doubt, that’s oppression I just don’t know how to fight.
Can I have a solo protest against myself?
A dance instructor in the city recently told me I am afraid to take up space in a room. He was talking about my ability to chasse across the floor, but if you know me – you know I took that shit wayyy too personally.
Here’s the scene: I was taking a solo lesson with a contemporary dance teacher named John. I was dressed in a purple leotard in a fluorescent lit room with mirrors on every wall. Things were already too intimate for my liking, but in the middle of the lesson, when John realized that I was scared to “take up space”, the intimacy became too uncomfortable. I felt found out. I thought John knew I’d been faking this whole confident bit, and I was weirdly mortified. Does he know? HOW DOES HE KNOW?!
I slowly felt all of the little pebbles began to roll off my chest.
The truth bomb hurt, but John was right – I am afraid to take up space. I am afraid to be an inconvenience, afraid to be noticed, afraid to be judged.
As the pebbles fell by the wayside, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed. John noticed (because teary-eyed Cap actually means I have a lobster face with snot flowing out of every hole in my face), and he confidently declared that he was going to get me “out of this shit!” We spent an hour and a half practicing moves that were out of my comfort zone. I wish I knew enough dance terms to express how freeing it was, but you’ll have to just trust me – BABY WAS OUT OF THE CORNER.
I left that class feeling two feet taller. My shoulders were broad, by posture was straight, and I was somehow existing outside the border of my own skin. I felt I understood my place, and claimed it. Maybe that was just on a sidewalk, or a subway seat, but it was mine. I realized I was heavy. Not from burdens or pressure, but from the simple acknowledgement that I am rooted in my goals. They are a part of me, just as I am a part of this world. We are together, slowly claiming our spot amongst the chaos. I guess that probably sounds weird and trippy to anyone who has never felt displaced in their work, but for whatever reason – it is the only thing that has made sense to me these past few months.
It seems, at least at the early stage of “finding oneself”, that you must first realize you are already there. You are found in the very notion that you are you. If you trust your ability to take up space, you can not only push to the border or limitations – but past it.
So, here’s me begging you to claim your own spot, your home, your own significance. Let the world see you’re here.