I have a friend from college, more of an acquaintance really, who is a film-maker, a writer and director. Super cool, right? You, like me, might wonder how she became these things and when her career started. Let me tell you how it all went down: she said she was a film-maker.
As simple as that. She has proclaimed she is those things and that’s been her career for the last seven years. And she does it- she writes skits and short films, one documentary, scenes for other writer friends and has been on her local news stations a number of times and even was asked to partner with TLC on a project.
She did not go to school for film-making. She does not have training in directing or editing- she is self and experience taught.
Now, when this woman started talking publicly about how she was a film-maker and director, I had the weirdest reaction. I literally read her posts and thought said who?
Who said you’re a film-maker?
Who gave you permission to be a producer?
Anytime I would see her stuff, a very large part of me would snicker and roll my eyes. Sure, I thought. You went to college for who knows what and you have a YouTube channel, yeah, you’re a film maker like I’m a writer.
I noticed this happening most of the time when people, particularly women, declared things. Be it starting a business, taking a risk in their career, doing something new, whatever it was- my general reaction was judgement, pride and being aghast. Who said you could do this stuff?
Where is your degree? What is your experience? Are there people above you, with authority, bestowing this on you?
Who gave you permission?
I didn’t have words for these reactions and feelings until relatively recently. I saw someone post something on Facebook and later that day, with a girl friend, I proceeded to mock this other person and even go so far and predict failure over this new and brave thing she was doing. Failure, I said, because she doesn’t know what she’s doing and no one gave her authority to make this choice.
I woke up the next morning and felt ill. I, like most people who are extra critical, doubting and judgmental, was unhappy with my own life and feeling super stuck. I wasn’t doing a single thing I wanted and wondered how I could ever get to a place where I was passionate about what I was doing.
I started to see this play out in other, less direct ways. For example, I have this beautiful friend who has, no joke, like zero shame and baggage. She is a unicorn. The odd thing is, she doesn’t have a ton of friends. People, women in particular, don’t seem to like her. And if I’m honest, she rubbed me the wrong way at first.
I would hear her talk and feel myself bristle at what she was saying. She has this certain, unapologetic way about her. She knows exactly who she is and stays totally in her lane.
Simply put- she doesn’t take on anything that doesn’t fit with who she knows she is.
She left the staff of a couple churches because her bosses kept telling her things about herself, her abilities, her skill set, that just weren’t true. This wasn’t someone being delusional or irrational, it was all very pure. She wasn’t going to play small or shrink or fall into a certain role because that’s what everyone else did and that was expected. The cultural rules and norms of these churches were that certain people’s opinions automatically held more weight and value than others- no matter.
She, very plainly, said no to that.
And at first I laughed. She’s never going to get a job, I thought. Who does she think she is? This isn’t how this is done.
As I got to know her more and spent time in the same circles as her, I became increasingly convicted of something massive: I believe what other people say about me more than what I say about myself. I believe what other people have told me about myself more than what I know to be true about who I am.
This brave person was showing me, simply through her gracious and firm life, that you get to decide what you take on. Just because someone, doesn’t matter who it is, says something about you, it does not mean it’s true.
She taught me this radical notion that you get to decide what you take on and put into yourself.
No one needs to give you permission to define yourself.
No one needs to give you permission to be anything.
My closest friend is one of the fiercest people I know. She’s strong and smart and brave and the best kind of bold. Around year two of her marriage, she and I were talking about the whole concept of spiritual leadership in marriage. She and her husband were feeling frustrated and stuck because things weren’t looking or working out the way they thought they would or the way they were told they should. He wasn’t the “spiritual authority” the way we thought a man was supposed to be.
Her whole life in church she’d been a helper, and a man was the pastor. Women could do soft things, like children’s ministry and set up and tear down, but the men always held the final position. We were taught the same was true for marriage.
The problem was her husband wasn’t the buck-stops-here kind of man. Most times, if they were going to study the Bible together or watch a sermon or read a spiritual book, she initiated it.
And guess what? She, and he, felt shame about that.
What? How insane is that? Her whole life, she took on and played into the roles other people molded and casted for her, and she made herself fit inside of them. But in her marriage, where she was experiencing real freedom, those molds and casts crumbled under the weight of love.
She wasn’t a helper, she was a leader. And the second she started calling herself that and owning that as a piece of herself, everything in their marriage shifted for the better.
Who gave her permission to call herself a leader? She did. (And God.)
I think about my friend who doesn’t have spiritual baggage and what the differences are between us. The most stark difference is that, even from a super young age, she was given the agency to declare who she was. It was as simple and practical as if someone suggested she play soccer as an extracurricular and she wanted to be in band instead, she got to be in band. She wasn’t indulged or spoiled, she was considered.
She grew up knowing she could voice her feelings, her opinions, her thoughts, and they would be welcomed- not shushed, or pushed aside or explained away.
What a radical and life changing notion this was for me– I am not who other people say I am, and I don’t have to be! I can decide, I can declare who I am and how I work.
I started to think about all the places in life I had pain, all the things that felt like nails on a chalkboard. All the pieces I was trying to fit together because I was told I needed to or that was just how it’s done or it’s who I am.
And slowly, I started challenging them and removing myself from those ill-fitting holes. And I felt scared, and I was questioned and cautioned and warned, that won’t work, you’re going to fail, who told you could sang the chorus of well meaning “friends”.
Much like everything I thought and said about my film-maker friend.
I realized how much I judged women like her simply because they bucked the system. I was trying to play my role, play by the rules, and so should they. Why do they get to chase their dreams and make decisions that are radically independent of anyone’s opinion?
When you’re trapped, watching other people walk in freedom looks an awful lot like a threat.
I have noticed, since giving myself permission to be who I am and only taking on the things I actually agree with and believe wholeheartedly, that my reaction to people doing new and brave and radical things, things that buck and challenge the system, is something like hell yes. You’re a film-maker? Hell yes you are. You’re going to start an online writing class? Hell yes you are. You’re going to homeschool your kids on a farm? Hell yes you are. You’re going back to school? Hell yes you are.
The permission I have given myself I extend now to everyone around me.
And it is my deepest desire for my kids. How radical would it be to raise them in the space of providing structure and guard rails for safety while allowing them to explore and show us who they are? How liberating would it be if we didn’t spread fed-to-us messages that men are leaders because they’re men and women are children’s volunteers and small group leaders because they’re women?
What if we gave people permission to tell us who they are?
And more, what if we gave ourselves permission to be who we believe we are?
All I know is I want to be a champion for anyone in my life is who is doing what is right. And I want Haven to be a hell yes woman, too- not scared, not locked in, not bristling at other’s freedom, but instead sharing her own and celebrating it whenever she sees it.
No one needs to give you permission. Give yourself a hell yes and get to work.