Over the past couple of years I’ve received a lot of e-mails from women (and some men) who are not happy with their lives. People who are hurting, who regret the choices they’ve made, people who feel stuck in an unfulfilled life. This letter goes out to all of them, women and men, and to anyone else who wants to make a change, but doesn’t quite know how.
When I started seventh grade I wanted so badly to fit in. Three elementary schools fed into my new middle school, so my potential pool of friends had expanded three-fold. Within the first week of school it became very apparent who the popular kids were. I wanted to be like them, so I copied them. I wore a red bandana wrapped around my thigh because that is what everyone was doing. Only I didn’t tie it correctly, so it kept slipping down my leg. So then I turned my left foot in when I walked because that is how the thirteen year old boy I felt I was destined to marry walked, and since he didn’t know I existed I thought maybe if I walked like him he’d notice me. That didn’t work either. But then, there was the eraser ritual. It became known as a rite of passage into the “it” crowd to give oneself an eraser burn. The process involved taking an eraser and rubbing it hard and fast on the back of one’s hand, which resulted in raw skin that would scab over and then turn into a purple scar. I looked in awe at all the scabs on the popular kids’ hands. I couldn’t help but wonder that if I had a similar tribal marking on my hand, then maybe, just maybe, I’d be popular too. So one day I decided to give myself an eraser burn. I locked my bedroom door and sat on my bed with an eraser. I straightened my spine and dramatically held my left hand in front of me. After taking a deep breath, I started to rub the eraser on the thin skin on the back of my hand. I squeezed my eyes shut to try to block out the sting as I began to rub harder. I started to cry from the pain, both on my hand and in my heart. That’s when I stopped and threw the eraser against the wall. I looked at the tender red spot on my hand. Wounding myself wasn’t going to bring me happiness. I didn’t yet know what would make me happy, but I did know that this wasn’t the way. Eraser burns hurt and are stupid.
Right now your life is like an eraser burn. It hurts. And it’s a little bit stupid. That’s because you are not living your life for you. You’ve been trying to fit yourself into a box that you’ve either outgrown, or into which you were never meant to be placed. You’ve been trying to find happiness by living your life the way you think that society believes it should be lived. You’ve been giving yourself an eraser burn with the hope that if you could just fit in, then maybe you’ll finally be happy. But that’s not the way it works. There is nothing happy about a self-inflicted seeping wound on the back of one’s hand. That’s what living an inauthentic life is, it’s a self-inflicted seeping wound.
A couple years ago I hit rock bottom. I found myself in the deepest depression I’ve ever known. I had been going through the motions for years, not really feeling nor truly living my life. My life was an eraser burn. I desperately wanted to feel alive. So I went searching for that elusive something that would bring me back to life. I drove all over the United States looking for it. After five months of living on the road with my dog Yoda, I discovered that the something I was looking for was right there inside of me all along. It is the cowgirl spirit. Giving my inner-cowgirl permission to come out and play was at once the most difficult and the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Living with the cowgirl spirit has changed me. A cowgirl embraces life with adventure and trust, never compromising who she is in order to fulfill society’s mythical recipe for a “successful” life. Living this way is not always easy, and at times I’m thrown off my horse. When this happens, I remind myself that changes take time. I wipe away my tears and climb right back on that bucking bronco called life. I’m finally living with authenticity and I’ve finally come back to life.
Now it is your turn to live as the cowgirls do. Following the status quo hasn’t worked. It hasn’t brought you happiness. What will bring you happiness is by finally living your life for you. You’ve outgrown your Mary Janes, my sweet little Buckaroo. Now it’s time to put on your big girl boots. Finding the courage to do this is what living with the cowgirl spirit is all about. You don’t have to do anything as dramatic as driving around the country to get rid of your eraser burn, but you do have to make a change and learn to embrace your authenticity. Kick up your spurs and lasso in itty bitty quirky bits of individuality that are the essence of you. Then gather up those bits, strap them to your back, and gallop off in a new direction. Start small. You may decide to dye your hair a fun copper color that highlights those adorable freckles that you’ve spent years covering up with foundation, or maybe you’ll sign up for open mic night at your local coffee shop and publicly recite that kick ass poem that you wrote during a fit of insomnia last year. Whatever you do, own those unique bits of you, celebrate those bits, and give those itty bitty bits of authenticity lots of love so that they can grow. The more you do this, the easier it becomes. Soon you’ll identify more with those itty bitty bits of individuality and less with the eraser burns. And soon you will rejoice in throwing that eraser against the wall. That’s because eraser burns hurt and are stupid. But you aren’t. You are a cowgirl.
Welcome to the rodeo.
Cowgirl Kee Kee