When I was visiting home earlier this year, I was getting ready for bed when I noticed my old high school scrapbooks — shout out to my mom for compiling those masterpieces — sitting up on my closet shelf. I hadn’t looked through them in a couple of years, so I thought I’d peruse one while winding down for the night. After flipping through page after page where I mentally berated myself for my hairstyle choices and my inability to sound intelligent when being interviewed for local newspaper articles, I came across a photo that caught my eye.
In it, I’m an 18 year-old high school senior, beaming in my cap and gown while holding up a green and gold blanket. Each year, that blanket was presented to the winner of the Mary Kay Ruhe award, an honor given to the outstanding female athlete in the senior class. You know how Leo probably felt after finally winning his Oscar this year? Well, that’s how I felt winning that award.
While other girls in my school dreamed of being homecoming or prom queen as a young girl, I dreamt of being the top female athlete. Don’t get me wrong, a crown is always nice. I mean, it sparkles. However, earning something I’ve put countless hours, blood, sweat, and tears into? Well, that’s a sense of accomplishment no beauty contest could ever replicate. And coming across that picture reminded me of something I read last winter and had put on the back burner to write about. Until now.
This past February after I binge-watched Parks and Recreation on Netflix, I thought I’d check out Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please. Since she was absolutely hilarious on the show (seriously, settle in for a marathon session), I figured she would be just the same in her writing. And she was. But her book was also surprisingly insightful, and she said something that really resonated with me, a quote I was reminded of while staring at my 18 year-old self in all her athletic glory:
Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.
In the book, Amy explains how she knew she was never going to be the most beautiful woman in the room, so she made her currency something else: humor. And guess what? That currency has not only made her extremely successful, but it also made her extremely sexy in the process. She’s magnetic, and it’s because she made a choice to be more than just a pretty girl. I mean, how is that for empowerment? In a society where we are judged by our looks, she took control and made the world see her for something more. And I admire and respect her so much more for it. That is someone I should be looking up to. That is someone I should be emulating.
It was then that I put down the book and really had to take a step back and look at what personal currency I was trying to build up at that point in my life. And I realized that somewhere in the 10+ years since graduating high school, I had started to chase the crown rather than the accomplishment, and it wasn’t what I wanted.
When I looked at the girls I admired on Instagram, it was always the ones with the perfectly contoured faces, the beautiful hair, the well-styled outfits. I’d follow them based on their beauty alone, just so that maybe at some point I would glean how to have it, too. And if I want to be really honest here, at the same time I would also be judging others based on their shell –- what clothes they wore, how they styled their hair, why they didn’t tame their godforsaken eyebrows. It sounds like such a mean girl thing to do, and it is, but I don’t feel like I’m alone in that. Because while I was judging others, I was also judging myself.
I would stand in the mirror and think how much more proportional my figure would be if I just had bigger boobs. Or I’d see a picture of myself and cringe at how thin my hair looked. Or wonder why I’d ever wear such an unflattering outfit. If you’re a girl reading this, then I’m sure you’ve done the same thing. And it sucks.
After reading Amy’s book, the quintessential light bulb went off. I knew that there was nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful, but I also knew that it can be a dangerous hill to tumble down. It was always going to be, for me, a quality that I needed others to validate, and I realized I didn’t want to give others that power. I wanted to have the power to validate myself all on my own.
So I went back to that same mirror I used to judge myself and decided that while I may not be the most beautiful person to ever grace this earth, I did have a lot to offer it. My intelligence, my kindness, my ability to dance in high heels (or at least the confidence to try) –- those are the things that mattered more than how well my parents’ genes meshed. Those are the things I wanted to be known for.
I have to remind myself and the world that we I am more than just my face. There is nothing wrong with being beautiful, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful. But I also needed to recognize I, and other women, have more than just that to offer. We are starting businesses and raising children and making a difference in our world. We are supporting ourselves and challenging the status quo. We are so much more than what our outer appearances will ever say about us. Sometimes I lose that when confronted with what social media wants me to be. But this is who I really am. This is what matters.
So I challenge you to take a moment to find your currency. Discover what gives you self-fulfillment, whether someone else praises it or not. Be funny, be smart, be adventurous, be successful -– because if you don’t, you will always rely on someone else to validate your self-worth, and you don’t need anyone else to do that. It’s not what I wanted for myself, and it’s not what I want for anyone else.
I look back at myself as a high school senior, and I still see the same ambition in my eyes that I know flamed in hers. And while that manifested through school and sports back then, I’m doing the same with my career now. And I can’t begin to tell you how fulfilled writing my own blog has left me, but it constantly helps me validate myself. Helping others on the path to financial security and inspiring them to succeed gives me a purpose, and I wouldn’t trade it for bigger boobs or fuller hair any day.
Brittney is a CPA in Indianapolis who loves any & all carbs and in her spare time runs the blog Britt & the Benjamins, which is focused on helping people, especially women, achieve financial independence and kill it in their careers.
Image via Unsplash