In 2005 I bought my first home, 4132. She has two bedrooms, one bathroom and one garage stall. At first glance, she was the most starter of all the starter homes. She had one thing that was unique about her, she had a custom wood built-in that stretches the length of the living room. In the sea of cookie cutter townhomes, that one thing made her stand out. When you walk in, the custom built-ins and electric fireplace create an unexpected warmth. As a 24 year old, recently out of college, I was in a sea of cookie cutter young professionals. I was aware of how much I didn’t stand out. I was desperate to find what was unique about me. It was the first time in my life that I realized I wasn’t quite as special as my parents said I was.
Looking back, that townhome was a companion to me when I had no companion. I didn’t go from my parent’s house to my husband’s house like ‘they’ used to say. 4132 gave me an opportunity to live alone as well as having roommates. It was during those alone stretches where I really got to know myself and make decisions as a young woman based on my own preferences. I know that doesn’t sound so profound anymore but I needed that time to be alone with myself. I needed to really get know myself. I needed to find the things that made me Elena. How did I stand out? Not in a prideful or narcissistic way – I needed to learn what unique gifts and abilities I was gifted in. I wanted to use those gifts to serve others. Also, I wanted to understand those gifts to not just serve others, to love myself. I needed to figure out how the artist created me as her custom piece.
Fast forward twelve years, I’ve decided to sell my 4132. Here’s the problem, since I moved out, I’ve rented her to strangers – strangers that didn’t see her as the gem in the sea of cookie-cutter homes. They didn’t see her as a companion. They didn’t grow up with her. She was a means to their end. And as a result, they didn’t treat her like I would have treated her. Over time, as she’s been lived in and worn down. As new renters have come and gone, they’ve taken their toll on her. Over the last month, I’ve spent more time with her than I have over the last decade. It takes time and money, but when I slow down to think about how I feel, I realize it’s been my personal pleasure to clean her and restore her back to life. She’s getting new paint, new flooring, new appliances, and new lighting. She’ll still have her one custom piece that makes her stand out from the rest. I will personally make sure she’s ready to take in the next young professional ready to learn who they are and step fully into exactly who they were created to be.
One afternoon a few weeks ago, I was ferociously cleaning the bathroom (I will spare you the details). I was disgusted with the way the last renters treated her. In a moment of being physically exhausted and totally grossed out, I started crying – not just because of my townhouse was treated. I cried because the townhouse was a metaphor for how I felt as a woman. I’m no longer the young, tight, shiny young woman I was when I moved into 4132. Our culture puts an exclamation mark on young, tight, photoshopped beauty – beauty that is fake and unattainable long term. When wrinkles set in, when our hair is graying, when the kids move out, when things are saggy, when youth has passed, women are no longer valued in the same way. Just like 4132, when women are no longer valued, they are treated with less value.
Here’s the crazy thing, it’s taken dang near twenty years to figure out who I am beyond the physical representation that the world values. It’s taken me this long to truly see what makes me unique. The world told me as a young person what would be valued. What would be valued was my body, my beauty and the results I produced. While I love my body and my beauty (which I do not define as the world does), and while I’m proud of my results, I’m so much more than those things. I will never sparkle again like I did in my youth but I have a clarity about me that only time and wisdom bring. I know now who I am – and I love the woman I have become and frankly who I’ve always been. It was just hard at first to remember her because the messaging I was getting from the world was so much louder than then my internal voice. I needed to get quiet and look inward and upward to remember how the artist created me.
On this international women’s day, I want to celebrate women. I want to encourage you to look inward and upward to remember exactly who you are. The things that make you uniquely you are the things that are meant to be shared and celebrated. Brené Brown’s work teaches us that true belonging can only happen when we share our authentic and imperfect self to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance and self-love. You maybe feel awkward and alone, I want to encourage you to find and share what makes you uniquely you. You are maybe young and beautiful, share what makes you uniquely you. You are maybe middle-aged like me, share what makes you uniquely you. You are maybe an “old” woman by the world’s standards, share what makes you uniquely you. When you share, you give permission to another woman to do the same. I may not be as sparkly as I was in my youth, but I have a clarity about me that only time and wisdom brings. I wish it didn’t take me years to find her. Today, I celebrate every woman, every authentic and imperfectly perfect woman.
I see you. I love you. I’m cheering you on!