Words, words, words I'm so sick of words I get words all day through First from him now from you Is that all you blighters can do? - Eliza Doolittle, singing Show Me (My Fair Lady - Lerner and Lowe)
The amazing Joy Tanksley over at Being Joy posted a teaser today, promising to share all her secrets about self-invention. (We’re looking forward to the revelation, Joy!) In preparation for the revelation, she challenged her readers to pick a feeling word that describes how you want to feel.
That got me thinking.
Why can’t we all do this? Why can’t we always choose our own word(s)? Why should we accept those tired old descriptions of ourselves, just because of history, habit, common use, and social expectation?
For example, I, a forty-something suburban wife and mom of 3, former attorney and banker, have been called the following:
smart, safe, energetic, tired, serene, frazzled, loving, obnoxious, conservative, liberal, quiet, outspoken, funny, sad, optimistic, depressed, rich, poor, silly, serious, truthful, untrustworthy.
These words have been used to describe me – sometimes, by people who know me well, and sometimes by people who hardly know me at all.
Words can be like little cages. Sometimes other people build those cages – but sometimes we build them for ourselves based on our internal ‘shoulds’ and social expectations. How often, when someone has said, “You look tired” have you repeated the words to yourself “I look tired”? Or when someone said, “You’re slow” you think, “I’m slow.” How often do you let your actions reinforce those words, by acting tired or moving slow after hearing that we look tired or are slow? How often do you accept those words – without asking yourself, “Is that really true?” How often do you test those words by trying to be or do the opposite? We can let other people’s word-cages surround us and define us and direct our actions. OR we can choose our own words – and we can BE the word(s) that we choose.
All of the words used to describe me, even the ones that ring true(r), are a bit stereotypical, a bit overused, or just plain trite. BORING!
What if I chose my own word? I’d start with my ‘requirements’: I want a word as brilliant and intense (and warming) as the sun, as noticeable (and beautiful) as that splash of red in a fashionable woman’s outfit, as energizing (and delicious) as the strongest espresso, a word that MEANS something to me, that motivates me, and helps me live the life I want. A word that is NOT automatically associated with a middle-aged woman living in a nice house in the suburbs with her husband, 3 kids, dog and cat. Even if that woman used to be a Corporate Lawyer in a Big Company.
The word itself doesn’t have to be flashy, but it needs to generate the feelings I want and need to live the life I want.
One of the senior attorneys at the Big Company once shared his Magic Word with me, a word he said to himself when attempting a scary task (like jumping from a pole 20 feet in the air during a retreat). It was Aslan. Whoa. Not an adjective or noun or verb. The name of a fictional character in a children’s book. Yet, if you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, you understand that that word conveys so much: power and gentleness, wisdom and sacrifice. A word that can motivate a serious Corporate Lawyer to leap off the top of a 20 foot pole. That’s a pretty good word.
For me, I want a word that conveys courage, but in a little different way than the courage of a big muscle-bound hero in a comic book (that may not be your take on courage, but it’s what makes courage a little inaccessible for me). For me, a better word is intrepid. Because, for me, intrepid conveys the state of mind of the country mouse setting off for the city or the child stepping into dark and unfamiliar territory. Of vulnerability and small steps in the face of fear. It feels more attainable and accessible for me than big bold courage. So definitely, intrepid.
But because I (betcha) can’t eat have just one, I also want a word about authenticity – without the ‘corporate’ ring of authenticity. Sincerity is a bit too girly and gentle for my taste. I think my other word is truth. Truth conveys honesty but is a little harder-edged than sincerity. It rings of tough choices and something more mysterious and compelling than accuracy.
Intrepid. Truth. 2 words that do NOT automatically bring to mind the safe suburban boring picture that ‘forty-something wife and mom’ bring to mind. 2 words that can motivate me and help me work my way around big and small challenges. I like that.
My question for you: What is YOUR Magic word? If you don’t have one, pick one. Try to find a word that will motivate you and remind you of what you value. Feeling stuck? Check out Joy’s word list to get your creative juices going (but don’t be limited by the list if it’s not exactly you). Type a word that you think is close into an online thesaurus. Don’t worry about getting it perfect – you can always change it if things don’t work out between you and your word. Or you could always ask the Magical Quest-o-Meter 🙂