THE BLOG
08/28/2014 10:30 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2014

Why Do We Hold Ourselves Back?

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I love the irony in life. I decided to write a blog about how and why we hold ourselves back, because so often, we do. For two days, I have stared at a blank page and not written a word. When I tried to understand why, the words personal and scary arose in my mind about how I have held myself back in life.

I think for each of us, the details of our story are distinct and different, yet the result becomes the same if we don't change how we are. Since my mother passed away in April, I have spent many moments contemplating her life and choices. I don't see her ghost, but I do hear her voice in my head, telling me about the many regrets she had about what she did and didn't do with her life. The more I listen to her spirit, the more I think of Paul Arden's quote in Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite: "It's better to regret what you have done than what you haven't."

I mean honestly, isn't it? Also, it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Why in our lives does it seem like we so often have a voice in our head -- cultural, familial, perceived or real -- that tells us why we should not do something? Yes, sometimes we have a man, or a partner, or a friend that actually tells us we can't do something (run screaming as fast as you can). But what seems to be baffling me is why, when no one else tells us we cannot, do we stop ourselves from flowing forward?!

Listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk entitled "We Should All Be Feminists," this quote stood out:

But by far the worst thing we do to males, by making them feel that they have to be hard, is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The more "hard man" a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is. And then we do a much greater disservice to girls because we raise them to cater to fragile egos of men.

Chimamanda goes on to discuss how we direct women and girls to stay small. Is the voice in our head one that tells us we must cater to men's fragile egos and avoid overshadowing them with who we are? But if it is, this is a disservice to us and to men! Many of them may be less fragile than we assume (how will we know if we don't grow and try?). And it assumes that we cannot develop into a full expression of who we are, along our own life path, while also allowing our male counterparts to do the same (on their separate, personal life path). We limit ourselves for their purported "fragile egos," which limits them further because we do not allow our evolution to thrust forth our mutual growth and development. It is a downward spiral that leads to mediocrity, resentment, silenced voices and quiet dreams unrealized.

This was my mother's life! Dreams and hopes unrealized because of fear, lack of confidence, a belief that she didn't truly deserve to try and have what her inner soul desired.

Sometimes we grow and evolve and it hurts and it is scary because we do move apart from people we love -- a man, a friend, a loved one -- and sometimes distance is necessary, sometimes a breakup or divorce is the right course of action (notice I didn't say the "easy" course). But we cannot live our entire lives in fear of our growth because of what change might entail.

Sometimes we get stuck in our way of thinking and see our options in black or white. I either stay and silence myself for the sake of the man and the relationship; or I leave so that I can thrive into the full-blown flower I am meant to be. But what about the deeper, more gray alternative? To allow ourselves and our relationships to grow by spelling out what we need to make it work for us. To express our desires in a succinct and articulate manner so that men can understand what is necessary for us to truly live our lives?

I tried the new path -- the alternative. The one where I questioned what I knew to be true my entire life, and staked everything on a new course of action. By expressing my needs in a way that said, "without this, I cannot stay," everything in my life shifted to accommodate my needs.

Henry David Thoreau said that "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." How dare we silence ourselves, make ourselves smaller, hold ourselves back? Now is our time to push forward, to pursue our dreams, to express our nature and our true desires. We must sing our song while our vocal chords allow, sing the desires of our heart, and motivate both men and women to abolish lives of quiet desperation and lead lives of the deafening and ardent pursuit of our dreams.

Believe me, they are scared too, but we can lead the way -- with a skip in our step, a song in our heart and a banner that says "I will not hold myself back anymore."