“You’re a superwoman!” Every so often this seemingly innocuous compliment slips from the mouth of one of my friends or sisters and, without fail, each time I hear it I cringe internally. It’s not the act of being complimented that unsettles me it’s the terminology being used in the formation of said compliment. I have never been and never will be a ‘superwoman’. The very idea is mind boggling, awe-inspiring, and completely unattainable.
I enjoy the concept of superheroes, heck, I was Black Widow for Comic Con last year but I know that in the end superheroes as we imagine them do not exist. I have discussed in the past the pressures that young adults face as we try to assert ourselves within a world that seems determined to encourage us to do everything and do it right now. I’m not sure if I can identify a time in my life when I wasn’t busy, perhaps elementary school when I spent lunchtimes indoors so that I could read, apart from that though there was little rest. To be fair I wanted to be busy, being an only child can be boring at times even with an imagination. However, as I matured and worked my way through the school system I found myself discovering more concrete ways to keep myself occupied. I joined clubs, I created clubs, I ran events, and I wrapped myself up in what felt like a blanket of productivity. At times I was constructive but there were also times I seemed to be grasping at straws. I was drowning and I didn’t even acknowledge it.
Earlier this year I addressed the idea of knowing your value and how you cannot define yourself by one aspect of your life. I am certainly guilty of doing that – for too long I have defined myself exclusively by my academic success (or failure) – it’s still a struggle for me some days to extricate the value of Sam the Person from Sam the Student. Both of those are titles I associate with myself, I am a student and a person, but the former does not encapsulate the latter. One title I have never felt comfortable accepting though is Sam the Superwoman.
My primary reason for actively rejecting this title is that no matter what there is always someone doing more than you – so who am I to take on an honourific that is so vast in scope that no one person could honestly fulfill its qualifications. I reject the title because someone has to – as people we cannot continue to perpetuate the myth of having it all. When friends and sisters exclaim over the things I’m doing I appreciate their support and interest but I do not believe myself to be a superhero. Yes, my schedule is busy but that doesn’t automatically qualify me as accomplished. I feel accomplished when I’m engaging with people that I like and when I’m doing activities I enjoy.
Since August I have been working as a security guard. When I informed my friends of my new position there were definitely some surprised reactions – studying the humanities isn’t exactly a normal segue to a law enforcement position. I never thought that I would be capable of working in an enforcement field like security, though to be fair, that was the result of my own self-imposed limits. The jobs I worked before were all relatively alike and safely within the bounds of my already established skill set, for example: I have been a freelance writer and an ambassador at Carleton; security was a new challenge and it terrified me. I was open and honest with my friends and family – the prospect of a new challenge was intimidating yet exciting for me – they all just told me I would be fine. And I was fine. I greatly enjoyed my work as a security guard; however, I recently handed in my two weeks notice at work for academic reasons. Everything had become too much and I felt like life wasn’t just happening to me it was running me over. Unfortunately, because of my desire to be a good role model and ‘fulfill’ the potential that others imposed upon me I convinced myself that I simply had to push through this tough spot. So I tried to push through – it didn’t work.
Before I decided that I had to cut down on something in my life and that work was going to be the casualty I spent the day agonizing. Thoughts such as, “If only you pushed harder you would be fine,” and “You cannot just quit in life,” ran through my mind but in the end the words of one of my professors echoed in my head. She basically told me, “If you want to achieve your academic goals you have devote more time to schoolwork.” Ultimately, I made the decision to put my academic career first, that was always the plan anyways and I don’t know how I got so lost along the way. I am at Carleton first and foremost to be a student, not an employee, a club member or a club executive – those are all perks of attending university but they are not the reason I am enrolled in school.
I was so caught up in everything else that I was doing that I forgot about my first love – learning, but that wasn’t the only reason I was afraid to examine my life too closely. I had bought into this idea of the ‘superwoman’ that others had been imposing upon me and I felt as if I had a duty to uphold their ideals. It’s odd because I’m usually the one advocating for others to take a step back from overwhelming situations but when it comes to myself I apparently wear blinders. There’s a mentality in society, particularly directed towards women that if we aren’t doing everything we’re nothing and I’ve fallen prey to this mode of thinking more often than I would like to say. However, that’s the problem – we don’t want to talk about when we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed because it could be construed as weakness. (NB: It’s NOT a sign of weakness) We still feel uncomfortable with discussing our inability to reach what my fellow HUMSCHUMS would identify as the One or the Good – simply we are striving for something that is beyond our capabilities as human beings to attain yet we’re still pushing for it. I fully support ambition and drive, both are admirable qualities but allowing yourself to sink so far that you become a shell of your former self – that’s not being an accomplished person. You are your own worst enemy and in the end, you are the one that will easily defeat yourself if you don’t fight for what you need.
I find Rolling Stones lyrics appropriate for this post, when they sing “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes well you just might find/You get what you need” the band is referring to the fact that no matter how difficult it is getting what you need is paramount. No matter how scary it may seem to admit that you’re overwhelmed, tired, stressed, or sad it’s better to express your emotions and take the correct steps to help yourself than it is to feel disconnected from your environment. Last year one of my Littles gifted me a box that she crafted, inside was a letter that touched my heart. She wrote that she was looking forward to getting to know me, “Not Sam the Superwoman, but Sam the person.” Those words still echo in my head periodically and this week I think I’ve made that first step to being Sam, to just being me; I am not a superwoman and I am proud of it.