When we try to fit in or be the way that we think we should be, we tend to hold our stories back. But our stories are the very thing that makes us memorable and creates connection.
I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls, and seriously, I should let myself read fiction more often. I savored this book like a beautiful meal, enjoying and lingering over sentences and turns of phrase and most importantly, learning from her uncommon character Vivian Morris, a woman who grew up in the 40s and 50s in the New York City theater world after having been kicked out of Vassar.
What I love about Vivian is her (very) fallible journey to find herself and live life on her terms despite the rules of her time and the way she should be. This is somewhat timely because just in my last article to you, I shared a similar (but far less interesting and dramatic) personal story about my own need to fit in and find the language to understand it’s OK not to. If you’re new here or missed it, you can find it here but it’s unnecessary because here is a recap of Vivian’s journey but you should get the book. (And if you do, the following includes spoilers! Skip this if you plan to read it!)
The excerpts are from an elderly Vivian, with the advantage of wisdom and hindsight.
On finding her way:
“I didn’t understand what I was doing at college, aside from fulfilling a destiny whose purpose nobody had bothered explaining to me. From earlier childhood, I’d been told that I would attend Vassar, but nobody had told me why.”
Someone (her parents) told Vivian how life should be. And she went along with it because she was young and didn’t know any other way or any better way.
But there is another layer here:
Are you a leader asking your people to do things and not helping them understand “why?”
Or, are you in Vivian’s shoes and are following “rules” that don’t make sense to you, don’t fit with who you are, and want to be but haven’t been able to put words to it?
When Vivian’s parents lost hope in their daughter, they shipped her off to New York City to live with her aunt, who owned a theater, and where Vivian was introduced to a life she could align with, one that at the time was considered scandalous because it simply wasn’t how women should behave.
Vivian never married, started her own business and “gasp” slept with men as she pleased.
“… if you’re wondering whether I ever had crises of conscience about my promiscuity, I can honestly tell you: no. I did believe that my behaviors made me unusual – because it didn’t seem to match the behavior of other women – but I didn’t believe that it made me bad. (I used to think that I was bad, mind you. but by the time the war ended, I was finished with all that. The war had invested me with an understanding that life is both dangerous and fleeting, and thus there is no point in denying yourself pleasure or adventure while you are here.
…At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”
I don’t know, maybe you have to read the book to feel the full weight of all this, It’s a message I can’t hear or share enough, and it’s about the shame of not living up to the way we think things should be.
Her friend Frank declares this:
“The world ain’t straight. You grow up thinking things are a certain way. You think there are rules. You think there’s a way that things have to be. You try to live straight. But the world doesn’t care about your rules, or what you believe. The world ain’t straight, Vivian. … Our rules, they don’t mean a thing. The world just happens to you sometimes, is what I think. And people just gotta keep moving through it, best they can.”
If we adhere too strongly to the “rules” and what “should” be, we hold back on our stories, the very stories that allow us to stand out, be memorable and change the world.
Take care out there.
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