A year ago today I was at the Clubhouse on Highland being honored by Girls On the Run Birmingham as one of the city’s “Women Who Inspire.” I walked through the door and was greeted with handshakes, hugs, and a hot pink sash that read. “Inspirational.” I draped it across my body noting the nice contrast with my grey dress. I smiled as my proud husband took my photo for the obligatory Facebook and Instagram posts.
But I felt like a fraud.
I didn’t feel inspirational. I felt like a mess.
I’m supposedly inspirational because of See Jane Write, because I empower women to share their stories. Some people find the freelance work I do for a number of local media outlets inspirational, too, especially since I mostly write about feminism and women’s issues. I’m also an English instructor at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where, in addition to literature, I teach an elective called Women and the Media. It’s like Journalism 101 meets Women’s Studies. I teach my students (mostly girls, of course) how to write for the web but also how to intelligently examine representations of women and girls in the media.
All that sounds so inspiring, doesn’t it? But all of that was killing me. I was so busy my stress level had started to take a toll on my health.
After mingling and munching on appetizers, the honorees and attendees all gathered before a large screen to watch The Empowerment Project, a documentary that follows the journey of an all-female film crew as they drive more than 7,000 miles from Los Angeles to New York over the course of 30 days to capture the stories of 17 powerful women in a variety of fields.
While watching the film I started crying and couldn’t stop.
I’m still not sure what caused the tears. Maybe they were tears of joy because I was so inspired by the women featured in the film, women like mathematician Ami Radunskaya and Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship.
As Sarah Moshman, the lead filmmaker on the project, once told Marie Claire magazine, “Our film is like a badass career day.”
Sandra Clifford, pilot and cofounder of Women in Aviation, is also featured. In the film Clifford says that the thing that made her proudest in life had nothing to do with flying. She was proudest of inspiring other people, especially other women, to be the pilot of their own lives.
Maybe I cried because with those words I knew my purpose in life — to help women and girls be the author of their lives. Or maybe I cried because in that moment I thought there was no way I could empower women and girls to be the authors of lives because I wasn’t the author of my own. I kept thinking to myself that night I am not inspirational; I am a mess.
Fast forward to a year later and I am still struggling with stress. My plate is full, my cup runneth over and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. I’m not sleeping or exercising as much as I should and I’ve been caving in to my cravings for fast food.
Next month I’ll find myself at another awards ceremony as I’m honored by AL.com as one of the “Women Who Shape the State.” But this time I doubt there will be tears — not because I feel I have to put up a front, not because I think I have to make the world believe I never break down or fall apart. Believe me, I fall apart early and often. But this time there will be no tears of sorrow or guilt. This time I will not feel like a fraud because since that night at the Women Who Inspire event I have learned a valuable lesson: I have learned that I am a mess and I am inspirational. There is no contradiction. It is our mess that makes us relatable so that we can be inspiring in the first place. It is our mess that makes us human.
Segments of this post originally appeared at WriteousBabe.com.