Last weekend, I was asked to speak to over 100 young girls ages on self-esteem, overcoming obstacles and living authentically at a women's youth empowerment day.
I was told the group would range between the ages of 8 - 12, which - I was surprised to notice - caused me to feel slightly anxious. You see, I have never really interacted with girls at this age before. I don't have any nieces or nephews and I don't know many people (that I see on a regular basis) that have children that age. I had no context of how best to keep them interested, inspired or engaged.
I did some research, asked around and spoke to people who interact with this age group on a regular basis. I received a fairly consistent message - "They're smart, Sarah. And they understand a lot more than we think. Just speak to them as if you were speaking to one of your own friends." Seemed easy enough.
So that's what I did. I opened up, I shared stories of my past pain, embarrassment and regret. Stories that I was ashamed of, but that allowed me to grow into the person I am today. I shared stories my most authentic self and my most inauthentic self, and how it felt to step out of alignment with my values and beliefs to try to fit the mould of someone I was not. I reminded them of the inner perfection and potential that already exists inside of them, in that specific moment. I cautioned them of people, experiences or situations in their future that might cause them to sway out of alignment with their brave, confident and courageous nature, and the regret in the faces of many people that I have met that go their entire lives without being the person they most wanted to be, doing the things they most wanted to do and as a result live a suffocating life of inauthenticity.
I informed them that their only responsibility in life is not to be like the woman in the movies, in the music videos, on the cover of the magazines or in the flawlessly edited images on their social media channels, but rather, their only responsibility in life is to be the best version of themselves and that the only person they should compare themselves to is the person they used to be.
I went into my talk expecting to teach and share with them all of my profound, transformational and life-altering lessons I had learned thus far in life. I wanted to discourage them from listening to anyone that would ever tell them that their dreams were impossible or unrealistic. What I hadn't anticipated however, was that they would be teaching me so much more.
I asked the group what they wanted to be when they grew up and among the inspiring answers I heard were "an astrophysicist", "a lawyer with a Zumba business on the side", and "an engineer for charities - to be specific: the Heart & Stroke Foundation!" They all responded with such fierce confidence that there wasn't any doubt in my mind that they would indeed grow up to work in their fields of choice (even the fields of choice that don't yet exist).
Their role models included empowering and influential women such as Michelle Obama and Emma Watson, unlike the flawlessly edited women on social media channels that so many women in today's society look up to.
And perhaps my favourite interaction of the day included an 8 year old girl named Avery who, after I concluded my speech, approached me with a pad of paper and a pencil in her tiny hand. She had taken notes, jotted down her own takeaways and lessons that she learned, and wrote a couple of quotes that she wanted to share. She had long brown hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, a slight figure and bore an honest and earnest expression on her face. She pulled my hand down so I was at eye level with her and speaking softly yet with all the conviction in the world she shared, "Sarah, about those women that you know, the ones that went their entire lives without doing the things that wanted to do - you should tell them, "life is short, they should go live it."
Simple, yet profound wisdom that most of us forget as we grow up.
After the event, I shared with a friend my experience and some of their answers to my questions to which she commented, "ahh, they haven't reached the age where reality has set in quite yet." To which I replied, "no, they haven't reached the age where they start to doubt what they are actually capable of".
As we grow up, a lot of us tend to lose that confidence and fearlessness that allows us to live fully. We stop pursuing the ideas, careers or businesses that were once important. We stop believing we are worthy or deserving of prioritizing our own needs, wants and desires. We don't allow ourselves to fully open up and love in relationships, we hold ourselves back from doing the things that excite us most out of fear of failure, fear of uncertainty or fear of judgment from others. We cave to excuses that we don't have the time, energy, money or resources to do what we've always wanted to do.
In the words of my new role model, Avery: "Life is short, go live it".
And should you ever find yourself doubting what you are truly capable of accomplishing, just seek out a fearless, confident and limitless 8 year old to remind you on the days when you forget it.