When Will Turns to Won't: Three Ways Women Sabotage Our Dreams
#3 We Shame Our Game by Sheila Gallien
In my last trimester of pregnancy, every Saturday I drove two and a half hours across the island of Hawaii, up over the barren saddle between the tallest volcanoes in the world, down into the lush rainforest of Hilo, to visit the father of my unborn child in jail.
I stood behind the makeshift barrier with a dozen other women and multiple children, all waiting, hope in our eyes, to see husband, boyfriend, daddy. The jail was Hawaiian style, situated on grassy lands, with wide open fields and gardens. I was the only haole in the crowd, my blonde hair blinding against deep brown waves.The local women iced me out at first, but ultimately softened towards my growing belly, and brought me into the sisterhood.
“The guard comes and lets us know when we can go,” one said, “unless they have lock down, then no visiting hours.” “Then what?” I asked. “Then we come back next week.” Tears welled in my eyes. I saw knowing glances and nods. Most of these men were in jail for drug violations, or crimes that came from addiction. We loved them. We missed them. We longed for them. We saw the best in them. They could get better. We cheered for them.
I looked across the field to a smaller building, off to the side. “What is that?” I asked. “Oh, that’s the women’s jail.” I looked around. No men in the crowd. “Do they have the same visiting hours?” “Oh yeah,” the woman said. I figured, as the guard arrived and moved the barrier, that some of the crowd would splinter off toward the women’s quarters. None did. Not a soul. Not one.
It hit me in my gut, a daughter in my womb. Here was a parade of women, believers, all with letters in their drawers full of prison promises, willing to love and support and believe in their men, that they could change, that they were worthy, that they were loved. But who was there for the women? Where were their men, to love and believe?
Maybe men are more practical. Less patient. Less delusional. No one has written that book about men who love too much while waiting for their women to change. But even if the men didn’t come, I could not help but wonder about the sisters and girlfriends and mothers? Where were the women? Why were we not showing up for each other?
Who was there to cheer for the women?
Growing up, I was the classic little sister to a classic big brother. My brother played sports, very well, and like so many other little sisters back then, my parents dressed me in a cute uniform, and every weekend, we cheered for the boys. I didn’t know any girls in sports, though I learned later a few had been.
Girls are in sports much more often now, but even if their brothers are cheering in the crowd, they are NOT wearing uniforms and making it official. Little sisters are not putting on uniforms for their sisters either.
I keep wondering, why not?
I know part of it’s biology. I was also a cheerleader in my senior year of high school. There was a reason we wanted to cheer for the water polo team, even though our scheduled cheering was only for football and basketball. They were really nice. And grateful. And gorgeous, oh my God. So there is *that*, the oldest force in the world, that drives our desire to cheer, cheering our men for the hunt, celebrating them after, earning our share, more than our share. Our short skirts blowing up on those high kicks. The promise.
But I also know that when we engage in the act of cheering for women, at the Olympics, at Wimbledon, at my niece’s basketball game, my daughter’s gymnastics meet, we are passionate, engaged, and connected. We just don’t THINK to do it. It doesn’t draw us back in the same way, and I don’t know if that is primal or conditioned, but I do know that it affects the GAME women play, and how deeply we get to play it.
So maybe we need to ask not just for whom we are cheering, but for what?
I believe we watch, and cheer, to see limits broken, to push the human experience. It might be, then, that we believe a woman’s game is not enough. We won’t break the records men set. We won’t be better than men, so why watch the second string? But if that were really the case, why would we watch any team but the best? The famous losers of all time?
I think we watch to witness even a glimpse of the extraordinary, of greatness, transcendence. When one of our brothers, or sisters, does the seemingly impossible, perfect, indefinable, we feel in our own souls a connection to perfection. To divinity. And for a moment, we breathe with God. It feels like alignment, and transfers to all of us, welling up in a great burst of excitement, a communal alignment. We all breathe with God, together.
If I go beyond sports, to music, bring myself to a concert where the music literally soared from the heavens, wasn’t I there too?
So when we do not watch our sisters, our friends, our daughters, are we accidentally telling ourselves, each other, that we are not worthy, are not capable, of creating and sharing this transcendence? Even, that we are not divine?
I want to go back, for a moment, to the women in jail, because it’s one thing to not believe women can break the record in long jump, or even play the illest guitar solo ever, it’s another to believe they cannot recover, rebound, then soar.
Bear with me, it’s a little prickly, because it’s almost like talking about two different things. On the one hand, there is cheering for women to reach beyond their limits, to transcend, and to experience that communally. On the other, it’s about supporting women in crisis, alone, in jail.
But the jail piece is not about support.
I have beautiful women friends, the best, soul sisters, and they have been there through many crises. I had a friend I am sure could get me out of a Turkish prison. Another who flew across the country after my divorce to get me to eat. I have been loved and supported. Women rally in a crisis. We love each other.
So we are good at that part. We know how to “support,” but supporting is not the same as cheering. It is nurturing, but reactive. It is not the same as stepping into the vision together. Of creating with, co-creating, the Big Game.
What we don’t know how to do, is to support each other to dream bigger, to do the impossible, to hold each other to the most powerful version of ourselves--and if we do, not for very long. We hold these men, even imprisoned men, with a vision of their highest potential. We see them as limitless. Visitors return every week to remind them. But we do not know how, perhaps are just not wired, to hold each other in that way. We might show up for each other at first, but we won’t feel drawn to stay there, to come back every week.
So when women step out into a very big dream, very quickly, we feel innately alone. We don’t hear voices on the sidelines, after a fumble, or a failed field goal, or a turnover, “That’s alright, that’s okay, we’re gonna beat ‘em anyway!” Or this, after a success, “First and ten, do it again, we like it, we like it!” It is mostly quiet. In that quiet, even success can make us feel alienated, and our failures feel personal, make us feel unworthy.
We get tired. We get brittle. We withdraw. We get cancer.
I imagine back in the cave, we cheered the men into the hunt, encouraged them to be limitless, because we needed them to keep doing it, even if they might die. Afterward, around the fire, roasting the beast, they might have dreamt of new tools, techniques, new mountains to scale from which to burst upon the prey.
Our cave women selves would have dreamt with them. More food! Longer living mates! Then we would get back to feeding children and foraging for food. Maybe we even had our own big ideas while digging up roots and berries, but we probably did not have time to start a new art movement or build the rock launcher. Our hands were full.
We also had to beat out those other bitches for the best man, the best food, the warmest blankets, and the rest. We would help a sister out when she’s down and out, because we are wired for that kind of community, to help raise children, for the day to day support, but if she became real competition for what we needed, we would plot against her. We sure would not be sharing our DREAMS with her.
Biology, dammit! What’s a modern girl to do? We are our biology, and we are so much more. We are conscious, expansive, creative, love-generating dream making generators of All That Is. In our heart of hearts, we do see each other as limitless. We do want our sisters to rise, to blossom, especially if we can blossom ourselves. So how do we get from here to there?
We can start, ironically, with our inner cave woman. She’s a badass. She’s the one that gets us through childbirth and tornadoes and brings us wild hungry sex. I think she might even be funny. We need her.
In fact, we need those deep instincts, that connection to our senses and emotions, to hone in on what we really love, and want. Our ancient self may not have thought to write a masterpiece, but she knew what felt good. In these textured, image-driven, goal-driven times, we have piled layers upon layers of disguises, often lost touch of what makes us feel alive, of pure, connected, joy. Our inner cave woman can help us run along a moonlit beach, plunge into a jungle pool, take her fiery club and light our way.
So first, we feel. Connect. Find what is ours. Some call it purpose, or, destiny, and, it ultimately is, but that implies vocation, and searching for the ideal vocation will get us all tangled up in the head. I know we all want to DO something that matters to us, which really means doing something that makes us happy. The first thing we need to do, is remember, discover, uncover, what makes us happy. And I don’t mean a new pair of shoes, I mean HAPPY. Joyful. Alive.
Once we recognize the feeling, we make a commitment to nurture it, cultivate it. We do more of those things that make us feel so good, spend more time with those people that make us feel alive. And as we do, we begin to feel a fountain bubbling up from a secret source. We get IDEAS. Crazy ideas. Fun ideas. Ideas we may have had before and forgotten, or new ideas.
They’ll feel so good, that we believe, in those moments, that everything is possible, that we are limitless, that this is good. Could we, should we, really...do this?
And this is when we could really use that cheerleading squad...
Because as soon as we decide to follow that inspiration, that same cave woman who helped us feel so good tries to drag us back to picking berries because she is certain we will die if we don’t, and she is strong. But we are crafty. We can buy her boxes of blackberries and chocolate and put her in front of Project Runway, and get back to the inspiration.
The next piece is to simply admit to ourselves that we want this, no matter how crazy it is. To write a book, a song, open a dance school, win a triathlon. Or maybe it is not that clear yet, but we our drawn to bakeries, or the water. We just keep opening. Keep practicing.
Allowing, enticing, inviting, we find a vision. Once we can see it, we have entered a whole new dimension. We have evolved, at least in that moment, integrated, transformed.
And now, we practice.
What does all this have to do with cheerleading? Remember, we are cheering for transcendence, for divinity, exhilaration. The two things that keep us most stuck are: the unworthiness that comes from comparing ourselves to other women if we do not have the best man and the most meat; not understanding how to plug into a power source when we have a big dream, so we end up feeling depleted, isolated, and overwhelmed.
The antidote to both of these things is inspired action.
This is why the first two steps are to feel, and connect, to recognize inspiration, to let it flow through us, even in tiny moments. Then to believe, allow, clarify, a vision, so it is always calling us back to its source.
The quality of our action becomes called, not driven. Action that comes from “drive” is pinched off, competitive, coming from a place of not enough-ness. There’s only so much room at the top. But our journey is not about getting to the top. It is about inhabiting places that have never been inhabited before. My place. Your place. No one else can get there, because no one else is you.
Minute by minute, hour by hour, the key to staying out of competition and rising above overwhelm is committing to inspired action. If we are truly walking towards our deep desire, we will consistently plug into our limitlessness, and be amazed by the genuine excitement for those who are doing the same. Not all the time. Not every second. But if we stay in action, if we keep towards it, we train ourselves to return again and again.
To be clear, if you are working towards something you love, it will not always feel good. It will often not feel good. But you will have that deep well to dip into, that feels like divine flow, that IS divine flow. The more you practice, the more you will have tiny transcendent moments reminding you that you are walking toward the light. Soon those moments will come more often, until they string together like luminous pearls in your day.
And now is when cheerleaders will change the game. Because in between those luminous pearls will come all the voices, the cave women, childhood monsters, all the shadows, to stop you. And even after a high, you will sustain it so much longer with support. So where do we find the cheerleaders?
Friends, maybe. If you have great girlfriends, you can change the conversation, focus on your vision, ask for their support, and they will step up. But, in my experience, it will not be enough. The momentum of the relationship, the things they will need to talk about, the other parts of you that need support, will shift the conversation away from that bigger focus. And that is also good, because in the jagged spaces between your dreams, you will need your girlfriends to just love you.
What I’ve found is that women are AMAZING cheerleaders, but we are best in a group that is focused on the same kinds of goals. We are really good at supporting each other, vocally, energetically, in that context, maybe because when we come to this place we are not multitasking, not wearing a hundred hats. We are taking inspired action. We may still feel the feelings of competition, unworthiness, but we know others are feeling them too, and they pass as we get refocused on our work.
The kind of support you find will depend on what you are trying to do, and how far you have gone already. I have honestly found most of my support online, through programs I have taken with Facebook groups or forums. If you are trying to just tune into yourself, pick anything that inspires you. Join a Meetup. Take a lesson. Find where people of your ilk flock. Engage with them. Offer your support. If you start to see your vision and find a program that interests you, invest in it. And when you do, become an active member and reach out to others in the group. They are all exactly where you are, and will be thrilled to hear from you, to have their first cheerleader.
My mother always told me that to have a friend you have to be a friend. The part she never quite explained was how to do that. To have a cheerleader, you need to be a cheerleader. And part of being a cheerleader is holding YOUR cheering squad to a higher vision, seeing them as limitless, and asking them to see you as the same.
Now, I have finally finished this blog, which has taken me 8 weeks, 45-60 minutes at a time, at 6AM, before my mad day begins, getting my daughter, fed, ready, gathered, packed, and off to school, then myself off to work. It was a hard one. I will be posting it in my Mastermind group, filled with women (and wonderful men) who will send up a cheer, which will help me finish the next one.
If you need a little cheering, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear what you’re up to, and up against.