Today I remembered my 4th grade class elections in the Talented and Gifted program I attended, taking a school bus all the way across my city to a different public school, where I spent the whole school day in a gifted class of 4th and 5th graders, reading interesting books and getting excited about science projects.
I was a naturally exceptional student who loved to learn, and a shy child, but I also loved to speak up in class, to share an answer or an insight. I was more nervous socializing or interacting with my peers, but I was courageous when it came to my passions. I did brave things like perform as a ballerina, write poems and read them aloud, and raise my hand to answer math and science questions, even as boys talked over me or thought they were smarter. I sort of just naturally knew that wasn't true. At that time, before adolescence and the trauma of becoming a sexual object in the eyes of the world, I believed I could do anything.
The idea rose up inside of me: "You could be class president." I heard and felt it clearly. Moments later, someone nominated me. I felt nervous and giddy about the risk of running, and the possibility of winning.
When it came time to vote, all thirty students in the room were given index cards, and asked to write our choice of candidate for President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer. I carefully wrote my choices for the other positions, and was about to write my own name for President (since it seemed obvious that I should vote for myself, given the choice, if President was what I wanted to be). Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and my teacher leaned over me and said, "Just be sure not to vote for yourself." She continued by saying that it would be selfish to do that. My face flushed. I felt ashamed of even having thought to vote for myself. What did that say about me, I wondered? I quickly scribbled the name of one the two boys running against me, not feeling good about my choice, and not feeling that he would be a good class president. But what else could I do, I thought?
When the results were tallied, I had lost. By one vote. My own vote had sunk me, because had I voted for myself, we would have tied and then had a runoff. I would have had another chance to win, when the top two candidates were presented for the second vote.
It turned out that the boy who won, well, he had voted for himself. He heard what the teacher said to me, but he didn't think it necessarily applied to him. Honestly, I don't think that it did. She walked over to me, specifically, to say it. The obvious sexism -- of course it makes me angry. So many times in my life it was emphasized that absolutely nothing was more important than being a "good girl". We all know the places that can lead. They are dark, and spoiler alert: there is no actual reward for being a "good girl," especially if we have to sell our souls to do it.
There are more times in my life than I could ever say or remember that I have held back that vote for myself, out of shyness, fear, shame, or a sense that I am being selfish. I have stayed quiet and swallowed something that I knew was right, or a chance to shine that should have been mine, because I was afraid of looking greedy. Because someone else seemed scared of my power and I wanted to make them feel safe. As if to say, "Don't worry, I'm small. See? Everything is OK. You don't need to be scared of me because I am small and quiet."
Here's what I know today:
I am here to raise my hand and I am here to vote for myself. I am not here to ask permission. I am here to speak my truth and help others and raise my hand up high and say, "I am here and I welcome the chance to be more and do more."
I am not small, and I am not here to be small. That spark of intuition that screams, "Do it! Do the thing!" well, that voice starts to feel defeated when I ignore her. That voice starts to have better shit to do and she may be reading a magazine or going for an ocean swim and think, "Well what's the point of telling Emily to do that thing? She doesn't listen. She's too scared."
Well, spark of intuition, I am here to tell you that I am listening. I am saying yes. I am here to say yes, over and over and over again, and ride the current of where that leads me. I have no goal of where I want to end up, other than the courageous territory of "yes". Today, I vote for myself.