THE ONLY PERSON HOLDING YOU BACK, IS YOU!
This is my story of change, deep desires, inner empowerment, and true womanhood.
Or how happiness is in the pursuit.
As a girl, I was very lucky. I had a lot going for me. At school, I was the one with the straight 'A's and the right answer to every question. I was smart, organised and responsible, the ‘good girl’ way. Clearly, everyone agreed, I would do well and be successful in life.
But there was more to me than meets the eye. What people didn’t know, is that I had a special force inside of me, something that had always felt like an unstoppable, genuine instinct. It was wild and unruly, full of desire, and abundant with joy and inspiration. I was driven by the senses, passionate about music and dancing, and fascinated by colours, textures, and shapes. I loved to escape into my mind and imagine a universe of exquisite beauty, femininity, and sensuality.
My creative inspiration was so strong and diverse, that it kept me awake at night. As a young girl, I didn’t quite know what to do with that. It felt all over the place, directionless, and overwhelming. It was too untamed, too feminine, and too forceful. How would I ever be able to control something of this magnitude? How could this ever fit with the ‘good girl’ image? How could any of this ever be valid? So, I kept it inside. It felt safer there. And anyway, I was university-material. The road to success was laid out right in front of me. All I had to do, was walk it.
So I did. I studied hard at college, worked countless student jobs, got two master degrees, and became a successful EU civil servant. In the process, I also married a handsome Italian husband, learnt 5 languages, spent 8 years abroad in Jamaica and Nicaragua, and had 2 adorable kids. I thrived as a mother, wife, and professional, and accomplished more than I had ever dared to dream of.
That could have been my happily-ever-after, but I guess you can sense it wasn’t.
Once I had everything perfectly under control, something changed. It happened when both my children had moved beyond the all-hands-on-deck diaper years and subsequent terrible twos (…and threes, and fours, and fives 😊). It was after I had succeeded to fully renovate our new house (the way Belgians like to fully renovate houses), and when I finally felt on top of my game at the European Parliament.
It started mostly as a physical sensation. Something started pushing against my skin from the inside, like a hidden desire bubbling up inside of me, looking for a way out, creeping out through the nooks and crannies. It was something strong, joyful, and full of life.
I welcomed it. Perhaps this was what female bodies do when they come back out on the other side of the tunnel, after childbirth and mothering. It felt like a little gift of life, a reward for the hard work and determination, a celebration of womanhood in all its glory. And by all means, I was game. My body became my guide. I started getting out of my box, surprising myself, pushing my boundaries, testing new grounds, and challenging certainties. I took on more adventurous projects at work, went on city trips all by myself, started dancing again, went to music festivals, introduced new fitness routines, took sailing lessons, made new friends, … Life felt like one big exploration process. How alive and happy I was!
And then I cried… One fine day at work, I attended a workshop on happiness. Leo Bormans, world-famous author of the remarkable ‘World Book of Happiness’, gave a speech that moved me to tears. There wasn’t really anything ground-breaking about what he said, but something about the way he said it, struck a chord with me. He summed up several factors that determine how happy we are. It is about trust, optimism, the quality of our relationships, health, work, income, structure, and freedom. But it is also about being true to your inner self. Everyone has that one thing that makes them tick, one thing that drives them, one special talent. ‘At some point, you need to find it and let it out’, he said.
I sat there and cried. Suddenly I knew that what had been pushing against my skin, was my one special talent that I had safely tucked away deep inside of me. I was letting it go to waste. All the parties, explorations, and pleasures in the world could never make up for that. They could soothe me, distract me, keep me content. But in the end, I was still letting the most unique part of me go to waste.
Now, you would think that after this unmistakable revelation about my life’s purpose, I would just throw myself in a new direction, and go for my deepest, strongest passion.
But I didn’t.
Most people don’t, actually. Change is a funny thing. We resist it. We reason against it. Indeed, I found a million reasons why I was just fine right where I was: ‘I have a great job and I’m good at it’; ‘I love my colleagues’; ‘Perhaps evening classes on design will do the trick’. And other people were great at helping me find excuses: ‘Don’t forget how lucky you are’; ‘It’s a midlife crisis, you’ll get over it’; ‘It’s a jungle out there, trust me!’.
So, instead of throwing myself into something radically different, the Leo-Bormans-episode was only the beginning of a slow process of baby steps. The revelation was sudden, but acting upon it, turned out to be a gradual build-up simmering under the surface for years.
I needed time for my internal selves to settle the score. On the one hand, I felt adventurous, daring, and playful. But on the other hand, there was also a good deal of fear of failure, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Letting out the inner force that I had so diligently kept at guard from the world, was one of the scariest feelings. Who knew what would come out of me if I’d set it free? What would people say? And what if my talent was nothing special at all?
Eventually what it took for me to finally take the leap, was to start telling people about my concrete plan of action, deadlines included. I realised that if I started telling people, I would have to go through with it. I needed that extra push in the back.
The first time I really said it out loud as a concrete plan, was to my husband. It was in the middle of a skiing slope on the Italian Dolomites. Skiing just suddenly felt like the last thing I needed to be doing. I wanted to stop wasting time and get on with it already. So, I stopped skiing right there and then. For an extra touch of drama (I’m quite good at that😊), I even took off my skis. I said to my husband ‘Enough! I should not be skiing right now. I’ve got better things to do. It’s now or never!’. My husband, gentle and kind (and patient 😊) as he is, immediately agreed. ‘Honey, the only person holding you back, is you’, he said. ‘I know you are capable of great things once you put your mind to it, so I’ve got your back’. And then in his usual cool way, he added ‘but honey, you might want to put your skis back on. It’ll be easier than walking down the slope.’😊
That was it. That was the beginning of peaches and pink. From there on, it was just a matter of fine-tuning and carrying through with my plans. The decision had been taken. The word was out. I had finally dared to cut through the protective fence around the most inner part of me.
And when I did, something amazing happened. Setting free all that unruly creativity, that female intuition, that forceful desire for beauty and sensuality, made me feel like the strongest woman alive.
I realised that the female force I carry inside, has been my strongest asset all along.
Womanhood has many phases. At different times in our lives, we are young girls, students, professionals, wives, mothers, lovers (in any possible order, and often simultaneously), and every phase makes us stronger along the way.
But the true culmination of womanhood is when we finally dare to pull down the fence that we’ve put up around our inner drive since we were a little girl. We might have put it there for any number of reasons. However, for most women, even successful and accomplished ones, it has to do with fear of getting hurt, of being inadequate, of being too much or too little of something, of not being strong enough, of not being up to the job… Somehow, we always seem to put ourselves down.
Our struggle is real, but a lot of it is within ourselves. It’s time for us to reverse the self-limiting beliefs we have internalized for centuries. It’s time to empower ourselves from within. Our inner female drive is what makes us unique, and I mean every single bit of it: its abundance, its forcefulness, its vulnerability, its delicateness, its desire, its imagination, its empathy, its sensuality, and its cyclical power. Never a dull moment with us...
Girls, take down your fences and share this with anyone who needs it!