Girl, Stop Apologizing

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“I believe we can change the world. But first, we’ve got to stop living in fear of being judged for who we are.”

Rachel Hollis has seen it too often: women not living into their full potential. They feel a tugging on their hearts for something more, but they’re afraid of embarrassment, of falling short of perfection, of not being enough.

In Girl, Stop Apologizing, #1 New York Times bestselling author and founder of a multimillion-dollar media company, Rachel Hollis sounds a wake-up call. She knows that many women have been taught to define themselves in light of other people—whether as wife, mother, daughter, or employee—instead of learning how to own who they are and what they want. With a challenge to women everywhere to stop talking themselves out of their dreams, Hollis identifies the excuses to let go of, the behaviors to adopt, and the skills to acquire on the path to growth, confidence, and believing in yourself. 

 


INTRODUCTION

 

 

When I originally started writing this book I fully planned on calling it Sorry, Not Sorry. And, yes, I was basing that title on a Demi Lovato song. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the song was the impetus for this entire book. Imagine, if you will, the late summer of 2017 when I first heard this jam. It was a sunny Monday morning. I know it was Monday morning because my entire staff was dancing around our conference table, pumping themselves up for our weekly kickoff meeting.

 

And I know it was sunny because it was summertime in Los Angeles—the exorbitant property taxes ensure that the climate will never fall below a balmy seventy-three degrees. We always dance it out before big meetings because it brings up our energy and gets us in the right headspace. Each week (to keep things fair) we rotate the role of house DJ, the person on our team who gets to pick our pump-up music. That summer, the entire staff (besides me) was under twenty-eight, so it was a millennial box of chocolates—you never knew what you were going to get. On that particular Monday I heard the song for the first time. It was love at first listen. If you’ve never rocked out to this particular piece, you should add it to your workout playlist immediately.

 

It’s upbeat and fun and irreverent to the point of challenge—the exact kind of inspiration you want before an intense cardio session or a first run in the local mayoral election. Demi lets us know that she’s looking great and feeling great and living her life on her own terms. And she’s sorry, but she’s not sorry. I live for this kind of jam. It’s poppy and catchy and easily fits in the arsenal of music I use to give myself energy or alter my mood. After that first experience, I quickly developed a song crush. I listened to it in the shower, at the gym, in the car—I even went so far as to play the Kidz Bop version when my children were around so I could keep it in rotation. I mean, that’s commitment, you guys! Anyone who has ever suffered through Kidz Bop can attest that it’s the seventh circle of parenting hell, but that’s how much I loved this song. I listened to it all the time, and eventually a question popped into my head: What am I not sorry about?

See, Demi, she’s not sorry about living life on her terms. She’s not sorry for looking good or feeling good or making her ex-boyfriend jealous or taking a bubble bath in a Jacuzzi in the living room—if her music video is anything to go by. But what about me? What were the areas in my life that I absolutely refused to apologize for? I wish I could tell you that every part of my life is a long list of not giving a tinker’s damn what anyone else thinks, but that wouldn’t be truthful no matter how much I want to set an example for you now. As a sidenote, I spent much of my last Christmas holiday in bed sick with a horrible chest cold. I used that time to read many historical romance novels set in the Regency era with brooding dukes who were always saying things like, “Evangeline, I don’t give a tinker’s damn what society thinks!” just before kissing the heroine with the passion of ten thousand suns or whatever. My New Year’s resolution was to start using the term tinker’s damn in everyday speech. I’ve already accomplished my dreams, and it’s only January 2. Huzzah! But, truly, like many other women, I’m still in the process of overcoming a lifetime of people-pleasing.

I constantly strive to move through every part of my life unconcerned with the opinions of others, but truthfully, I don’t always achieve it. Yes, even me, the professional advice-giver, even I sometimes get trapped inside the crippling weight of other people’s expectations and have to talk myself down from the ledge. But you better believe there are areas where I have mastered it. There are whole segments of my life where I’ve worked hard to keep my eyes on my own values and not worry what other people might think of them.

The biggest example of this? Big, audacious dreaming. Massive, obnoxious goal setting. Being a proud working mother instead of buying into the special brand of oppression found inside mommy guilt. Daring to believe that I can change the world by helping women like you feel brave and proud and strong. I may occasionally get tied up in the trappings of some stranger being mean on the internet about my hair or my clothes or my writing style—but I no longer spend a single second of my life worrying about what others think of me for having dreams for myself.

Embracing the idea that you can want things for yourself even if nobody else understands the whys behind them is the most freeing and powerful feeling in the world. You want to be a third-grade teacher? Wonderful! Open a dog-grooming studio where you specialize in dyeing poodles pink? Great! You want to save up to go on a lavish vacation where you ask everyone to refer to you as Bianca when your actual name is Pam? Fantastic! Whatever the dream, it’s yours, not mine. You don’t have to give any justification, because as long you’re not asking anyone to give you approval, then you don’t need anyone to give you permission.

In fact, when you understand that you don’t have to justify your dreams to anyone else for any reason, that’s the day you truly begin to step into who you’re meant to be. I don’t mean that you go around middle fingers up, like a Beyoncé song. I don’t mean that you turn bitter and rude and shove your goals into other people’s faces to prove a point. I mean that you focus in on the dream you have, you do the work, you put in the hours, and you stop feeling guilty about it! Sadly, most people will go through their entire lives never experiencing that at all.

Women especially are so brutal on themselves, and they often talk themselves out of their own dreams before they even attempt them. This is a travesty. There is so much untapped potential inside people who are too afraid to give themselves a chance. Right now there are women reading these lines who have ideas for nonprofits that would change the world . . . if only they had the courage to pursue their dreams. There are women reading these lines who have the potential to build a company that would alter their families’ lives—and the lives of others who’d be positively affected by the business they created—if only they had the audacity to believe it would work. Right now there are women reading these lines who would invent the next great app, design the next great fashion line, write the next great bestselling book, or create the beauty products we’d all be obsessed with, if only they believed in themselves. A dream always starts with a question, and the question is always some form of What if . . . What if I went back to school? What if I tried to build that? What if I pushed myself to run 26.2 miles? What if I moved to a new city? What if I’m the one who could change the system?

What if God put this on my heart for a reason? What if I could add some income to our bank account? What if I could write a book that would help people? That what if? That’s your potential knocking on the door of your heart and begging it to find the courage to override all the fear in your head. That what if is there for a reason. That what if is your guidepost. That what if tells you where to focus next. If every woman who heard that what if in her heart allowed it to feed the flame in her belly to pursue who she might be, not only would she shock herself with what she’s capable of, but she’d astound everyone else as well. I’m convinced that if she—if we—just lived life in pursuit of answering that question, the effect on the world around us would be atomic.

Most of us only consciously use a small percentage of our brain power. But have you ever seen one of those movies where the protagonist suddenly has access to all of it? They take a pill or get trained by a secret government agency, and all of a sudden they can bend metal with their minds and solve the world’s poverty crisis in just a few hours because they’re using their full potential. I’m convinced that many women in this world of ours are like Peter Parker, pre-radioactive spider bite—they’re operating at a fraction of their potential because they haven’t encountered a catalyst strong enough to unlock it. Only a small part of our population is encouraged to believe in themselves and their potential from childhood on. People raised with advantages tend to see more possibilities.

People who were taught self-worth from a young age are more likely to believe in their capabilities as adults. People with more resources usually perceive a goal as more easily achieved than those who have less. But what if you weren’t raised to believe in yourself? What if you didn’t have advantages or many resources? How likely would you be to believe you’re capable of so much more? How likely would you be to stick with your goal when you get knocked off course? But what if you did stick with it? What if you did believe? And not only you, but what if all sorts of women all over the world made the decision to replace other people’s expectations with their own imaginations of who they might be? Can you imagine if 25 percent more of the world, or 15 percent more or even just 5 percent more women decided to embrace their what if? Can you imagine if they stopped allowing the guilt or shame that comes from not being a certain way or a certain type of woman to squash their potential?

 

Can you imagine the exponential growth we’d see in everything from art to science to technology to literature? Can you imagine how much more joyful and fulfilled those women would be? Can you imagine how their families would be affected? How about the community? How about other women who see their success and are inspired and emboldened by it and use it as a catalyst to spark change in their own lives? If that sort of revolution were to occur—a revolution of what if—we would change the world. In fact, I believe we can change the world.

But first, we’ve got to stop living in fear of being judged for who we are. I’ve been sitting here for the last twelve minutes trying to figure out exactly how to ease us into this discussion topic, but you know what? We’re all grown-up women; we can handle it. We can handle real conversation. We can handle someone holding a mirror up to our lives, and we can admit some hard truths when it comes to what’s holding us back. So here it is: women are afraid of themselves. No, it’s true. If we weren’t afraid of ourselves we wouldn’t spend so much time apologizing constantly for who we are, what we want out of life, and the time required for us to pursue both. For the average woman, the story goes something like this. When you came into the world you were totally and utterly yourself. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be exactly who you were; it was instinct. Were you loud? Were you quiet? Did you crave cuddles? Were you fine on your own? Your needs were simple, your focus was crystal clear, and you didn’t ever think about being any certain way—you just were. Then something changed. Something big happened, something that would shape the rest of your life, even if you couldn’t have been aware of it at the time.

You learned about expectation. There you were, being your adorable baby self, and suddenly that didn’t cut it anymore. You were expected to do things: stop throwing your sippy cup on the floor, stop screaming when you don’t get your way, start using the restroom like an actual person, stop biting your brother just because you feel like it. Two really critical things happened during the period when we switched from being totally accepted as is to having to live up to some expectation. The first is that we learned to live within societal norms.

 

This is a good thing because, sister, if you were still using a diaper at thirty-two because nobody helped you figure out a toilet, that would not be cute. The second thing that happened is that we learned how to get attention, and to a child attention equals love. In fact, if you never learn any better, you’ll go through your entire life believing that to have someone’s notice means you are loved. See: social media as a whole. Listen up, because I’m about to tell you something that may help you understand literally every person you know and possibly yourself as well. When you were a newborn you needed constant care and notice to stay alive, but at some point you stopped getting that undivided attention because you didn’t need it anymore.

 

But you still liked other people’s regard (you were a baby after all), and so your clever mind started to test out ways to get notice on demand. Some toddlers get attention by being affectionate, so they learn to be dependent upon it. Some toddlers get attention by doing something that makes their parents laugh, so they learn to entertain. Some toddlers learn to get attention by doing something good that everybody praises; they become an achiever. Some toddlers notice that when they fall down and hurt themselves or when they’re sick, Mommy gives them extra time and care; a hypochondriac is born. Some toddlers can’t get any attention no matter what they do, so they kick and scream and throw a fit. Being angry is better than being ignored. These toddler tendencies can turn into childhood habits. Childhood habits that go unaltered turn into our unconscious ways of being. I know it sounds like one big sweeping generalization, but seriously, ask yourself if this sounds like any adults you know. Do you have anyone in your life who always has problems? No matter what day of the week it is, the sky is always falling? That’s because their problems give them the attention they crave from others.

Do you know anyone in your life who’s an overachiever? A workaholic? Always pushing themselves? That’s likely because they—like me—got attention through achievement as a child, and the habit is hard to break. Do you know any women who seem utterly helpless? They constantly need someone else to help them, fix the problem, or counsel them through every decision? I’d bet my bottom dollar it’s because they were raised in a home that fed them those lies or controlled every decision for so long that they have no confidence in their own capabilities. My point is, we learn at a very early age that there are things we can do to hold on to attention, and even if the specifics of how we do it morph and change over time, the overarching way we’re taught to gain notice as a child—from being entertaining to being an achiever, chronically sick, overly angry, or always in crisis—often remains the same and affects the way we seek attention as adults.

 


 

 

Author Rachel Hollis
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