Too-Much-Input-CartoonNot letting others opinions take away your true light.

Sometime around the age of 8 or 9, we start receiving a lot of “input”. I am sure it’s all well-intentioned or at least some of it, but what this input does is begin to narrow the definition of who we are and what we are capable of being. It’s as if we start out as this huge room full of infinite potential, and then over time, the input starts closing the walls on us to make us what society or our parents or others think or want us to be. This narrowing of the walls is what leads to us slowly losing or hiding our light. Some of the input I remember – and I’m sure there’s a lot I didn’t even realize was being delivered to me.
  • Don’t play with boys
  • Act like a lady
  • Stop singing all the time
  • You aren’t going to be a famous actress
  • Why are you so tall?
  • Why are you so skinny?
  • Why don’t you play with dolls?
  • Why don’t you act more like . . .
  • Stop talking so much
  • Why are you wearing “that”?
I remember really fighting this input. I didn’t like wearing girls clothes because they didn’t fit my tall lanky body. Boys levis did. Also, I didn’t like pink. And it just always seemed like boys got to do more fun things than girls, and I liked playing basketball and other sports, and reading mythology, and solving hard problems. I loved race tracks and muscle cars. Society made it clear that this was not appropriate for a girl. I also remember at around 8 or 9 years old starting to feel very insecure and jealous of other girls, especially the ones that seemed to be so naturally cute and pretty. I didn’t get the “princess” roles in musicals because I was too tall or too loud or didn’t have that perfect blond flowing hair and big blue eyes. I loved the roles I did get, like Ado Annie in Oklahoma or Annie in Annie Get Your Gun. These were more tomboys or girls that didn’t fit int. Just like me. But I’d be lying if I said that a part of me didn’t, just once, want to be seen as the beautiful princess. Even if that meant I had to wear pink. This was also about the time I started needing validation from the outside, and not being able to validate myself as being beautiful or good enough. In addition to being a tomboy, I was smart. This was an attribute that teachers and society seemed to encourage, up to a point. I did not realize at the time that my pursuit to be pretty and popular was at direct odds with my desire to learn and stretch my brain. In 7th grade, I absolutely loved Algebra. The logic just made sense to me. Figuring out the story problems was exciting. I just assumed, therefore, I would go on to Algebra II, geometry, calculus, etc. But as I moved through middle school and high school, and also was moving to different cities and schools, I was told multiple times something like, “you won’t need the hard math, why don’t you take this other class.” And over time I believed the input. I must not be good at math. My mother also, from the earliest I can remember, declared fairly often that everyone in our family was not good at Science. So once I finished biology, I didn’t even try to take the harder sciences. It was clear I was genetically incompetent to do science. For many girls, this is another common result of input. It leads to less girls going into science and technology-related fields. The numbers prove this. In elementary school and through even middle school, girls are at par with boys in every STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subject. In fact, some reports showgirls scoring higher than boys at the same grade level in STEM testing. But the funnel continues to decline as girls move through middle school, high school and college. We have made huge gains over the last few years, but we are still seeing an incredibly small pipeline of women into STEM related careers, even if they studied those subjects in college. The one exception is probably nursing, where women have always been “allowed” to succeed. It’s not just girls that suffer from input. For boys, it is just as strong and just as damaging. They are told not to cry or be emotional. They are pushed away from more “creative” endeavors. They are teased mercifully if they are not a “real boy”, because we all know that “boys will be boys”.  Having raised sons, I can tell you the input is merciless, and sometimes not even subliminal. Our youngest son was a natural actor. When he was a toddler, he would dress up all the time and take on the character completely. His favorite costumes and roles were animals, and he would wear a dog or lion costume for days or even weeks and rarely step out of character. This led to quite a bit of “input” wherever we went, where complete strangers would tell me it’s not healthy for him to be a “dog” in the grocery story. Not only did he get input, but so did I, as so many people associated me letting him just do what felt right and wonderful to him made me an incompetent mother because I had lost control. For a few years, he tried many activities that were not his passion, and finally when he was around eleven, he took a musical theatre summer camp class. And that was that. It was so amazing and beautiful to watch this boy just shine on stage. Even when he wasn’t that good at the singing or dancing, he worked hard to get better. He just loved it and it showed. In high school, he then decided to be a male cheerleader. He used his theatre chops and strong arms to help the female cheerleaders get the student crowd excited. I went to some games. He was really good. As you can imagine, this also led to input to my son, to his older brother who went to the same high school at the time, and again, to me.  Everyone assumed my son was gay, and were always apologetic or patronizing to me. The input always implied that somehow I had failed my son and the world. When I first received this input, I would quickly put the inputter at ease by telling them that, in fact, my son was straight. And then I realized how incredibly horrible and stupid that was. Who cared what he was. He was an amazing human, and I loved my son no matter what he was. So when I realized I was not staying true to my core values around this, I started answering in a different way, saying “thank you” and “you’re right, he is amazing.” I took control of the input and removed the power from the inputter. Think about the input you have received over your life. Are you still giving too much power to those people and the input? What input are you giving your daughters, sons, colleagues, or complete strangers? Are you unintentionally narrowing the walls around that person’s open, light-filled room? I have found a very simple way to address input like this. It’s just to say, “thank you for the input.” Always with a smile. The inputter thinks they have “won”, and you know that you are going to take that input for what it is. It’s just input, and it does not define you or change what you will do with your light. And think twice before you find yourself giving someone else input that might cause their light to dim or flicker.