"Tracks" & "Wild": the Search for our Inner Wild Woman

This weekend, I watched 'Tracks', and besides recommending that everyone see it, I wanted to talk about the fascination these stories hold. Stories like Tracks, like Wild by Cheryl Strayed. These women walk on, stripped down, bare boned, independently braving the unknown. Is it because they aren't living in fear, or that they're rejecting society's expectations? That they're choosing to plunge into deep psychological introspection through grueling physical demands? The fascination of the hermit paired with the rejection of gender norms? It's the wild woman/high priestess archetype via popular culture.

Tracks (based on the memoir by Robyn Davidson of the same name), is the story of an Australian woman who, in 1977, walked 1700 miles across western Australia, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, with only four camels and her dog. It also shows her relationship with Rick Smolan, a National Geographic photographer. Rick joined her occasionally to photograph her for the magazine, which she grudgingly allowed to sponsor her.  The photographs and attending article (which she wrote) were published in the May 1978 edition, and were wildly popular. The film and the memoir share the challenges, excitement, stress and solitude she encountered on the way, as well as the realizations she came to while walking.

Robyn and Cheryl Strayed's refusal to give into fear has huge appeal for me. Mostly because I can be so afraid. Every time I come home alone to an empty house, I do a 'sweep'. I leave my shoes on, and go to room to room, (ESPECIALLY behind the shower curtain) checking to see if 'someone is hiding'. But seriously? Why. Even right now. There's definitely some kind of animal in my ceiling, and I keep jumping and having little heart palpitations with each noise I hear. Even thought I KNOW it's just a critter. There is a not a man hiding in my water heater closet with a knife. I know that I'm probably not the only woman (or just regular person) who feels like this and does this home check. But why do I feel this compulsion and fear? How wonderful it would feel to let go of those fears.

Granted, both Tracks and Wild feature blond, educated, white women, women who have the luxury of rejecting cultural fear and gender norms without the threat of reprisal or censure. In fact, there are hundreds of modern nomadic cultures where journeys of this kind (hundreds or even thousands of miles on foot or with pack animals) are standard and normalized. We don't make movies about Tuareg women, and Oprah doesn't recommend books about Romani women. There's a well of legitimate critique of these journeys being cultural appropriation. Excitingly, Tracks was aware of its roots in the Aboriginal walkabout, as the filmmakers honored Robyn Davidson's intentions. A cultural and feminist activist, Robyn writes passionately about advocacy for Australian Aboriginals. The movie shows this advocacy, as when Rick Smolan is shown to invade a secret death ritual to surreptitiously take photos, we're invited to judge his inappropriateness, and Robyn's stilted (and at times romantic) relationship with Rick is sharply contrasted with her easy and peaceful time spent with Mister Eddie, the Aboriginal elder Robyn walks with for a stretch.

Beyond their whiteness (if that's possible), there's a far deeper rejection of gendered norms. In the book Tracks, Davidson writes

"I liked myself this way, it was such a relief to be free of disguises and prettiness and attractiveness. Above all that horrible, false, debilitating attractiveness that women hide behind. I puled my hat down over my ears so that they stuck out beneath it. 'I must remember this whn I get back. I must not fall into that trap again.' I must let people see me as I am. Like this? Yes, why not like this."

In the movie, they show her rejecting this attractiveness: her face covered in dirt, body sun burnt and raw, hair wild and rank. Even the nudity is less of a titillation, and more of a rejection of the very need for clothes. This is drawn from true life, as Rick Smolan says in a recent National Geographic article

"“I got in huge trouble with the Geographic because you weren’t supposed to develop your own film,” he continued. “But one of the challenges was that she didn’t wear clothes a lot and I didn’t want to send pictures of her naked.”"

This control is telling in its own way, as it was Rick imposing gender roles on her, kindhearted the impulse may have been. He even recognizes that, going on to say that

"“I used to develop the film myself in Sydney or Melbourne to show her. And the more beautiful I made her look the more she hated them,” Smolan says. “You made me look like a goddamn model,” she told him."

But beyond the rejection of beauty norms, I think we're drawn to these stories of women alone on journeys of the spirit, because traditionally, it's men. The Native American spirit walk, the 30 days in the Sinai desert, Chris McCandless, the Aboriginal walkabout, all men. Even the Appalachian Trail Convservancy, the preservation and management body for the Appalachian Trail (a relatively accessible 2,000 mile walk along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine) says that only 25% of their finishing 'thru hikers' are women. Long-distance, solo female travel is rare enough that organizations exist to facilitate and help women in their journeys: She's Wanderful says "The power of the Wanderful network is in our ability to bring women travelers together around the world and to create a space where we can help each other travel confidently, safely, and passionately (and to have an outstanding time while doing it)." Organizations like this don't really exist for men, because there isn't a need for it.

In her interview of Cheryl Strayed and review of Wild, Kathryn Schultz writes,

Granted, men, too, sometimes seek out extreme environments in response to psychic wounds, in life as well as in literature. But for them, the wound is optional; men are free to undertake an adventure without needing trauma (or anything else) to legitimize it. By contrast, a woman’s decision to detach herself from conventional society always requires justification. Women can, of course, go out exploring for pleasure or work or intellectual curiosity or the good of humanity or just for the hell of it — but we can’t count to ten before someone asks if we miss our family, or accuses us of abandoning our domestic obligations.

In Tracks, as in Wild, the women dramatically forgo those domestic obligations. Siblings, parents, friends, are all left behind as they strike out on their own. They become the Wild Woman and the High Priestess; archetypes of instinct, ferocity, and introspection. Qualities that I strive to embody and that lie at the heart of empowerment. To trust yourself deeply, to have confidence in your own strength and protect those that depend upon you, and to dive deep into your own heart and spirit. To truly know yourself and have the power to back up your knowledge. These are the tenets of empowerment, and these are what I hope to bring at least a little of, to each woman who attends one of my events.

Know yourself, trust yourself, love yourself. These are the dreams of my heart.

From left: Strength card from the Labyrinth Tarot, The Hermit from the Tarot of Reflections, and The High Priestess from The Fountain Tarot

So feel your boldness, reject the need for 'pretty', and strike out on your own road. I can't wait to see which path you end up taking.

love,

ktk

The Release of a New Decade, and Our Next Event!

I turned 30 years old on Saturday, and I feel different. You folks already in your 30's (or 40's or 50's) will probably chuckle, but I do. Fall has always brought me a sense of a new year - new school season, colder air harboring changes, and the strongest of our modern American rituals: the birthday. It all comes together to bring this feeling of newness. And 30. A whole new decade. So at a family birthday gathering on Friday night, I asked everyone over 30 to talk about about what their entry into my new decade was like. I'd hoped for a tidy little theme (big surprise), but they were all over the board. For some, turning 30 was a year of struggles, and for others it was ease. Clarity and confusion. Stability and changes. Each person had their own path through that year. So I've decided to figure out how I feel on my own.

30 year old selfie

Because this fall feeling has a different quality than normal. As well as the newness (new opportunities, new commitments, new plans), I feel release. That this year's word theme of 'enrich' is coming to an end. That these last two months, the microbes broke down the matter, and the compost pile got HOT. Activity and friction and changes. I have a sense that the 'breaking down' has ended and I'm left with lovely dark crumbly soil ready for planting. And there is so much comfort and confidence in that.

Asia from One Willow Apothecaries has a gorgeous blog post that really fits how I'm feeling,

 When we let go of everything that is ready to decompose, we make space inside of ourselves for newness to be born. Dying has never been a finale, it is only a brilliant bridge to a new section of life. Like compost turned to rich and seed-ready soil, dying prepares us for a new phase of living itself. Though our smaller selves might dissolve, dying has never been an ending at all. It is, instead, an ecstatic transformation into a wider self. ...

Now is the time. In the knobbed hands of the wind, the antique scent of dried leaves and the warm cinnamon feeling of fire in the trees. Now is the time to let the dying enter you as clean and beautiful as the stone that was forgotten and then exposed in the wheat gold of fading weeds. Allow in the beautiful melancholia and heart-throbbing abundance of life itself. Let every day end like a cello on its last note. And relish. Relish, relish this season of profundity and release. Because, despite what we have grown to fear, dying is a beautiful thing. For then, we can rest. For then, we can embrace the unbelievable joy of what comes next.

I feel like a big chunk of my self guilt and insecurities have fallen away. I know that I still have my worries - I will always be a serious person. But, this morning, I feel so much more ... solidly me. I spent my twenties figuring out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be, and now I feel like I know what I want to do and who I want to be. To bring folks into community, to let them realize "it's not just me", to hear their laughter and witness their care for each other. To be a carer.

On that, I'd like to announce our next event for A Road of Your Own: a journaling workshop! Join A Road of Your Own and your peers on November 21st, 2015, at 11:00am to develop a journaling practice that works for you! We'll discuss daily or weekly journal strategies, practicalities of when and where you can write, prepare our own journals, get compelling and interesting prompts, and get writing! A journal is included in registration if you don't have your own. Lunch will also be provided. Click the banner below to register! Look forward to seeing you all there!

You Can Write

Tackling Self Confidence - The Impostor Phenomenon

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Two weeks ago, I asked each of you to complete a poll about what topic you were most interested in for future events, worksheets, blog posts etc. The results rolled in, and the big winner is:

[polldaddy poll=9021746]

Self Confidence and Self Advocacy!

The risk of reaching out and asking for feedback, is that the one thing that you're most vulnerable about, might take the cake. And look what happened! One of the biggest things that I struggle with got 40% of the votes. Looks like it's time to take the plunge and be vulnerable.

What I'd like to talk about today is 'The Impostor Syndrome/Phenomenon'.  It's feeling like a fraud, like sooner or later people are going to 'find out' that you don't really belong in your job or graduate program or skill set. That you're only pretending to be competent, smart, or successful.

About the Impostor Phenomenon

It was first described in the 1970's by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD. In the original paper, published in Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice Volume 15, #3, Fall 1978, they write:

The term impostor phenomenon is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.* Certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the impostor phenomenon. Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. [my emphasis]

This phenomenon plagues successful/high achieving women, and is particularly rampant among women of color (WoC). Even Maya Angelou said "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'"

I have felt this in my professional adult life at an alarming rate. At work, when I get promotions or raises and here on A Road of Your Own. Even writing this own post I've questioned myself. Who am I to speak authoritatively on this? All my readers will recognize I'm a fraud. I literally gasped aloud when I read the following in an article published in the American Psychological Association publication "GradPSYCH Magazine" in 2013:

The impostor phenomenon and perfectionism often go hand in hand. So-called impostors think every task they tackle has to be done perfectly, and they rarely ask for help ... An impostor may procrastinate, putting off an assignment out of fear that he or she won't be able to complete it to the necessary high standards.

Whoa there inner thoughts. What are you doing standing on that page, shouting your truth?! That's one of our secrets! You climb off that webpage and sit back in my brain where you belong, right now! 

Except, it can't be a secret. Because as author Kristen Weir continues in the GradPSYCH article:

Though the impostor phenomenon isn't an official diagnosis listed in the DSM, psychologists and others acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Impostor feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression.

By definition, most people with impostor feelings suffer in silence, says Imes, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Georgia. "Most people don't talk about it. Part of the experience is that they're afraid they're going to be found out," she says. Yet the experience is not uncommon, she adds.

We need to raise our hands, and say "I feel like this. A lot." Because I'm sure a very large proportion of my readers do feel like this. Because silence only hurts us, and makes us believe that it's 'just me'. Because I feel like this. A lot.

My anxious face

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time there was a young woman who had a very important project. She was going to fix the town clock. It had so many different moving pieces and everyone used it. She had found the perfect clock makers to help, and everyone in the town was very impressed, and they gave the woman a very heavy purse of gold. But, it hadn't been very hard to find the clock makers - it felt like luck instead of work. The young woman knew how important this job was, so she scheduled the clock makers first set of visits. They came, saw the clock, talked to everyone who used the clock, and came back with a long list of what needed to change and be fixed. "Hooray!" thought the young woman, "A plan! I will prove that I deserve my gold by fixing the clock!"

But the young woman looked at the list and became afraid. "There's so much on here. How can I get all of this done? I won't be able to do this like the company needs - I won't be able to do this perfectly." She had been told over and over again that she was great. That was who she was. What if she wasn't great fixing the clock? She began to avoid the list. "I can't make this just right today. I'll try tomorrow." she would say. The days moved on, the clock was still broken, and the plan became more and more frightening. The young woman would berate herself "Everyone will find out that I haven't fixed the clock! I MUST fix the clock now!", but it did no good. She would ignore the list, pushing it further and further down her daily schedule. "I just can't make it perfect right now. Maybe tomorrow."

One day, the mayor of the town spoke to her "Young Woman! The clock is still broken! We trust you and need this clock to work. You must make the clock makers focus and help us!". She tried to pressure the clock makers, but the young woman was ashamed that the mayor thought the problem was with them and not her. "She will find out it's me, and everyone will know that I don't know how to fix clocks by myself". More days went by the and clock was a little better, but wasn't fixed all the way. There were still so many moving pieces, it was such a puzzle! The young woman still looked at the list with dread, and tried to focus on other, simpler tasks.

Finally, the mayor returned and said "Young Woman. I have realized what is happening." The young woman trembled with fear. "She will tell me that she knows I am a failure and a fraud." thought the young woman. But instead, the mayor exclaimed "I have realized that you have no help! You have tried to fix this very complicated clock all by yourself - and NO ONE could fix it all on their own! Young Woman, you have put too much pressure on yourself, let us help you." "I don't have to do this alone?" thought the young woman. "But I am In Charge of the clock! Doesn't that mean I have to do the work?" As soon as she asked herself that question, she realized the answer was no. She didn't have to fix the clock all on her own. It was ok, in fact it was expected, that other people help. So she agreed, and the mayor introduced the young woman to three helpers. They talked, shared the list, and after a few months of hard, but communal, work the clock was fixed, and the town was happy.

The end.

Obviously, this is about me. Sub the clock for the complex property management database software my company uses, and there's the situation I was in at the beginning of this year. My impostor beliefs had shackled me into thinking I was solely responsible for our system overhaul and the results, and the ensuing procrastination had slowly eroded my credibility at work. Sharing the load and letting others in helped enormously.

Much happier!

Implications/Sources

A lot of the impostor syndrome comes from family and education dynamics in the woman's childhood. As written in an article on the CalTech Counseling Center website

"Families can give their child full support to the point where the family and girl believe that she is superior or perfect.  As the girl grows up and encounters challenging tasks, she may begin to doubt her parent's perceptions and may also need to hide her difficulties in order not to disturb the family image of her.  As a result of these normal difficulties, this girl may come to believe that she is only average and even below average."

I'd also throw in Gifted & Talented programs in the mix too. Not to say that if you feel these impostor feelings, you need to go shake your finger at your folks while shouting "You ruined me!" Because another contributing factor? That nobody really knows "how to be a good adult". We're all pretty much just winging it as we go along. And the high achievers in the world are winging it even more. Which is scary as hell.

But I believe there's a more hidden reason too. It's particularly telling that women, and especially WoC, are exponentially vulnerable to the impostor phenomenon. That makes my inner alarms ring the 'Patriarchy BS is Afoot' alert like crazy. (It sounds like this fyi). Because if you live in a culture where your professional success is subtly (and not so subtly) devalued, you're going to subconsciously believe/fear that you're a fraud. That everything you've achieved is luck, instead of your own hard work. The culture that tells young girls that they are special beautiful princess snowflakes, watches them smack up against difficulties, and pats them on the head and says "Aw sweetheart, well at least you tried. There there."

Dealing with Impostor Feelings

The CalTech article has amazing suggestions on how to deal with your own impostor phenomenon.

  • Support and sharing - TALK ABOUT THESE FEELINGS. I'm not alone, and you're not alone.
  • Identify - Know when you're feeling the feelings. Point it out and say "I SEE YOU FEELINGS"
  • Be aware of and respond to your automatic thoughts - This is EXACTLY what my free self care worksheet is about. It's a spreadsheet I adapted from Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns. In the book, he calls the document a "Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thought". I talked about my first time using the approach here. Since then, I've updated the spreadsheet and used it whenever I started to feel 'off'.

Do you want that worksheet? Click below if you don't already have it!

I Want that button

Good luck out there my dears, remember - you are worth your success. It's not your charm, it's not your family, it's you (and sometimes privilege). Remember that even if something is easy, it doesn't mean it's luck. And even if something is hard, it doesn't mean you can't conquer it.

much love,

ktk

*since then, additional research has shown that men feel this too, but not at the same high rates