'Brash' as a Badge of Honor and Way of Living
Brash (adj.) 1. Hasty and reckless 2. Offensively bold, pushing presumptuous, impudent 3. Tastelessly or offensively loud showy or bold 4. Impudent 5. Me (also see: bossy, smart, funny)
When my (soon to be) ex-husband was hired as editor at the Alexander City, Ala. Outlook, where I worked, the publisher pulled him aside and cautioned him, “Pam is … well… brash.” Eventually, after we started dating, he told me about this warning, and through the years it became an inside joke. “Well, you know, I am brash,” I self-depreciatingly joked after I stuck my foot in my mouth, yet again, saying something inappropriate.
While it seemed funny, deep down, I was appalled. As a born and raised Midwesterner trying to fit in in the Deep South, the last thing I wanted was to be singled out for being different. I was still at an age—23—where I wanted to belong and fit in (this age lasted almost 30 years). My brashness did not serve me well at the Southern newspapers where I worked, or with my ex husband’s Southern Baptist family. There were countless occasions I simply couldn’t repress it, and my husband was left to explain or translate my meaning and intent, or I was given the message by others: “That’s not the way we do things.”
It’s not just a Southern thing, of course. Brash wasn’t necessarily the word used to describe me growing up. It was more often “bossy” — the word rarely used to describe boys, but often to define girls who want to lead neighborhood games. I learned to be quieter and to keep my mouth shut more often than not. I had a hard time fitting in because I didn’t know how to communicate without relying on my go-to style. When I talked to my mom in middle school about my loneliness she gave me a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie, which emphasizes listening, not to complain and “smile.” It only made things worse. The message I got was “don’t talk about yourself. No one cares about you,” a message my mother verbally reinforced. This message stuck with me for years, shaping my career choice as a journalist where I could talk to people without having to talk about myself.
This lack of vulnerability with people, I think, painted me as cold and awkward.
Years later, when I worked as a journalist in Washington D.C., I realized brash is a valuable asset for a journalist. You must be brash to walk up to Sen. Lisa Murkowski and ask her about a bill pending before her energy committee. You have to be brash to ask Sen. John McCain to take a picture with you and your daughter. My editors, women, thought I was great and saw potential I didn’t realize I had. We returned to New Orleans, however, before I could fulfill that potential. I was already 45.
I continued trying (not so successfully) to be solicitous, quiet, non confrontational—but on the inside I was half dead. Years of repressing my true nature had made me angry and bitter. While I didn’t recognize how badly I had lost myself, my then-husband and others did. A friend and former coworker recently told me that I was known as “the angry one” at the newspaper where we worked.
At 51, a few things in my life shifted, and over one wine-fueled evening I shared some secrets with a female acquaintance. Shockingly, she shared back. I did the same over the next week with three other women with the same result. Realizing the need for women to connect and share, I started a Facebook group for my friends, who invited their friends, and we eventually created a private space for 300+ women in midlife where we could share and be vulnerable.
Maybe it’s the phase of life that we are all in, but no one has run away because I *gasp* talked about myself.
It’s finally sunk in that it is OK— appealing even— to be vulnerable and to share.
My brashness has become my superpower.
I believe now that my mission is to be brash and bold and brave and share and help other women (and even men!) realize it’s OK to do whatever the hell it is they want to do, be who they want to be and live how they want to live.
No more meekness. No more repressing and contorting ourselves to fit into the life that we and others think we should live.
Join me. Be brash. Live an unapologetic life.