Don't Limit Who You Can Be: Dare to Go Beyond Expectations

 Jesse-Jane McParland, 9-year-old karate badass

Jesse-Jane McParland, 9-year-old karate badass

You can believe your life is defined by whom you marry—or you can grab destiny by the throat and blaze your own path.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

There is this old advice given to young girls, which is to marry into destiny rather than creating their own. Marry someone successful, marry a rich guy, marry someone smart. This is life advice? Imagine if we never again asked a child what they want to be when they grow up, but instead told them whom they should marry when they grow up. What would that do to a child's psyche? (What am I, chopped liver?) They would feel limited in their own abilities. Actually, asking these sorts of questions early on is also limiting, as they would feel tied to these answers. But this "whom you should marry" advice really has nothing to do with marriage, it's about success and the unconscious beliefs we hold about how we think someone can get there. And unfortunately for girls, it's often assumed how they will get there is through the right guy, not their own ability. (A bit patronizing.) After all, if you were the one with value and potential, marriage wouldn't even be a concern—suitors would be lining up for you, but you also wouldn't even need marriage for a comfortable life. Secondly, the emphasis of marriage would be different. Since you are the thing of value, the advice would change from you looking to you choosing, and being selective—you don't need someone for money and success, so choose someone who makes you happy.

And the "right guy" isn't even about the guy. He's just a proxy for the characteristics we personally admire. So here is my alternative: rather than telling people, especially girls to marry a particular type of person, why don’t we just—you know—encourage them to be that kind of person. We tell girls to marry Prince Charming because he must have qualities and values we admire—then let's cut to the chase and tell them to be more like Prince Charming (and grow some of these characteristics). There is no reason they can’t. It's not like they're helpless. And if you believe they are, encourage them. Don't take the easy route and just tell them to marry someone smart. Kids are surprisingly resilient, you can push them academically. If you act like they are helpless, they will learn helplessness. It's like admiring bilingual speakers, and rather than encouraging a child to learn another language, you tell them to marry someone bilingual. Essentially, they can never be the person you admire, at best they can marry someone you admire. (How messed up is that?) We do it with ourselves as well, defaulting to marriage (or a mate) as the solution rather than growing the traits we lack. But why marry when you can be? Being your own person. Being your own solution.

 Faceless Spirit from  Spirited Away  vs the world of Disney

Faceless Spirit from Spirited Away vs the world of Disney

It's not that we're consciously aware and limiting ourselves and others on purpose. Most days we are on autopilot. We just do whatever we think is normal, so bucking the trend doesn't occur to us. Just as it also doesn't occur to us to avoid giving unsolicited advice. (Or when it comes to strangers, minding our own business.)

The old Hollywood cliché is to sleep with the producer. But that's not the only option, you can also become a producer yourself. If you prefer the first choice, that's your prerogative. However, it is not your only choice. You have lots of options.

Many years ago (prior to the era of Ronda Rousey), while training mixed martial arts, I heard someone compliment a talented female fighter, followed by “Maybe you can marry a world champion.” Wait-a-minute, why can’t she be the world champion? And it’s not that the people who say these things believe women are incapable of accomplishing things for themselves—it's just unfamiliar. They don’t see it often enough; it’s not visceral; it’s not a truth they have experienced. It requires some suspension of disbelief. This isn't just guys belittling women. Quite the contrary, this thinking is just as likely to be perpetrated by women. (Know your role and stay in line.) The advice given about marrying a world champion was given by a woman. (It can be self-reinforcing.) It was the men in this female fighter's life that told her she could be more.

Girl power

There are plenty of well-intentioned mothers and grandmothers who have told men whom they perceive as capable, educated, and successful that they wish their daughters or granddaughters marry someone like them. I have personally been on the receiving end of this exchange on multiple occasions. I'm not complaining—it's a compliment to me, but it's not much of a compliment to how they perceive their loved one's capacity (putting the spotlight on me while leaving their loved one in the shade). I get it, it comes from a good place—the want for a better life. If you believe a girl is a shrinking violet, then it makes sense you want her protected by a tall mighty oak, as it will cast a shadow that shades her. However, that also means the violet will always be in the oak tree's shadow. (This is why in slang, "to throw shade" means subtle disrespect.) I suppose that's a way to improve things. But it’s also permissible for the daughter or granddaughter to help herself and become her own oak tree. This is also an option.

 (San from  Princess Mononoke )

(San from Princess Mononoke)

The young girls in our lives are not Rapunzel locked away in a tower (or any other helpless princess trope). And even if they were, we can teach them to tie their hair to the window, climb down, then cut their hair to free themselves. (It'll grow back, and if it doesn't, it becomes a badge of freedom.) Why hold out for someone to save you when you can save yourself? Don't wait for a hero, step up and be the hero. (You can do badass all by yourself.)

Just as we shouldn't put limits on what it means to be a boy, whether showing emotions, self-expression, and even crying if they want—the same should be said of girls. Let them know they can walk through an inferno. Let them roar, play with sticks, and breathe fire if they choose. They don't have to be a princess, or even a knight, they can be a mother effin' dragon. They can be a scientist or a politician. They can be a sports star or a billionaire. They can be an astronaut, they can be a cop. Yes, they can marry, but they can also be. Let girls be girls. If they want to play with dolls—fine. If they want to learn to assert their strength and be more than a type of attractiveness—let them. Let them set boundaries and teach them to defend them. Who are we to pigeonhole what it means to be a girl. Let them be rad if they want.

 Helen Maroulis is a gold medalist at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada and a gold medalist at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she became the first ever American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. That year, Maroulis was joined by Claressa Shields in boxing, and Kayla Harrison in judo.

Helen Maroulis is a gold medalist at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada and a gold medalist at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she became the first ever American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. That year, Maroulis was joined by Claressa Shields in boxing, and Kayla Harrison in judo.

Not only whom to marry or who to be, but deciding to marry at all is also a choice. We believe these predetermined life paths are self-evident when they are not. They are all up for debate and are all up for choosing.

This is fairly obvious stuff. But like things left off the menu, we don't know it's an option until we are told. Part of this is because we don't have constant reminders in the media to reinforce what we should already know.

 During WWII, this was what typical job advertising looked like for women; then we went backwards for several decades.

During WWII, this was what typical job advertising looked like for women; then we went backwards for several decades.

In Los Angeles (where I live), people sometimes forget there is a beach. So they don't go. Likewise with the Hollywood sign, they forget it's there and go their whole lives without ever having visited it. And worst of all, Angelenos forget Southern California is known for its weather and end up only playing at night. There’s no plot to keep people away from the beach or the Hollywood sign (or having daytime fun). The thought doesn't always occur to people. Sadly, we only remember what we're constantly reminded of. But imagine both your hands are full and then remembering you can hold stuff under your armpits, too! Sounds like common sense, but it's not always. And when you realize this, you're stoked. So useful—how did you go your whole life without ever using your armpits to hold stuff? When actual newspapers were a thing, that's where people held them. Or how about this, you can use your smartphone camera as a mirror. You can also hold a pen behind your ear. Holy smokes! And if I need something, I can go get it myself? New options!

Even with the obvious, we need reminders of our options. (“I can get that with fries and a drink? I forgot that was an option. Do you guys still super-size? Oh, you never stopped? Well, I want that, too.”)

It's not just those who give unsolicited advice. Options don't always occur to the receivers of advice as well. Like robots, we can fall into set patterns, automatic scripts, and low expectations. We get hypnotized into forgetting whatever is uncommon. (Like forgetting what weird little kids we all were.) But what would a conversation look like if we broke out of our programming and began to think for ourselves? (We fight over freedom of speech but constantly lose our freedom to think. So free speech becomes old ideas constantly made worse, and nothing new is ever said. But what if?)

 Little Batman in a sea of princesses

Little Batman in a sea of princesses

Hey, you should marry a doctor.
You know I can be a doctor, too, right?
Oh yeah, that’s right. You CAN be a doctor also! Yeah, why don’t you become a doctor?
Why don’t I just do what I want?
Oh yeah, that’s an option, too, huh?

The fog of daily life will try to lull you back to sleep. Get you to forget who you are and what you can become. Resist becoming Sleeping Beauty. Reject learned helplessness and the tyranny of low expectations. Take the red pill or stay woke (or whatever metaphor works best). The idea is the same. You can believe your life is defined by whom you marry—or you can grab destiny by the throat and blaze your own path. Regardless of what others might say, the choice is yours.

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