A few months back, I went out on an introverted limb and injected myself into a Women in Leadership event in West Hollywood.
The all-day event required me to wake up extra early on a Saturday, drive the 60+ miles north, and interact with strangers for eight whole hours. But, I did it. I went and—spoiler alert—it was incredible.
For context, internal dialogue before I got into the car went something like this:
“Should I even go?”
“I could use the extra sleep and time to decompress.”
“What, like every other weekend? You slept plenty and this is important!”
“No one would even know that I didn’t go.”
“Yeah, but you would know.”
Resigned not to let myself down, I forced my lagging body into the car and decided that I’d just risk a little and be open. Open to the other people. Open to the lectures and seminars. Open to the small talk, the introductions, and the awkwardness. I had no idea what this day would look like except that I’d made it my goal to smile and sweetly greet those in front of me with a set of pleasantries beginning with a cheerful “Good morning!”. The bar was set high.
Lord, help me.
The day brought powerful seminars led by women dominating their STEM professions, or using their directorial skills to produce work demanding to be noticed, or opening doors for more women in the state legislature. I hung on every word, inspired and absurdly eager to join each of them in their pursuits. Like the proverbial dreams of running away with the circus.
One woman had been to outer space and planned to return with Richard Branson’s outfit, or maybe it was Elon Musk’s. Another headed the environmental agency working to ensure that Los Angeles doesn’t become the end of a Counting Crows chorus. They paved paradise…
My mind reeled and my thoughts bounced around with all of the possibilities and potential. I was ready to help everyone everywhere with everything. And as zealous as I was then, I can tell that as I write now, my thoughts haven’t stopped bouncing and my desire to help hasn’t gone away even months and months later.
But, what stands out most to me from that day were the small interactions with the other attendees. Maybe it was because of how acutely aware I am of my interactions with strangers—no joke, I still coach myself through introductions: smile, nod, shake hand, remember name, keep smiling—but, meeting such successful, intelligent movers and shakers who just happened to be females forced me to lean in and claim my place at the table with them.
What began as an introduction like this: Hi, I’m Amanda. I’m in marketing. I’m a copywriter. No, not like copyrights, think of any writing for the web. I heard about this online and was curious.
Hardly a true conversation starter among the glass-ceiling-shatterers. It felt passive, insecure, and didn’t fit in this place I so clearly belonged in, particularly the reason for my attendance fresh off my rappel.
So I changed my narrative and led with a different word:
Hi, I’m Amanda. I’m a copywriter and a mental health advocate, especially for those in the addiction and recovery communities. I work to end the stigma and to shed light on the epidemic because that’s the first step to long-lasting success. I hope to show people…
Ahhh that’s more like it. This adjusted introduction felt active, committed, and asserting my place among the other movers and shakers. And, they wanted to hear more!
Moreover, the word advocate felt true of me beyond my profession (how French!), as if by stepping into this word, I felt more fully communicated. This wasn’t just a part of my life, a piece of clothing worn for certain occasions and then removed.
Like daughter, sister, Christ follower, friend, and someday hopefully, wife and mother, this was something that I could never remove or put down, and best of all, it was about more than just me.
An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy; a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf; a pleader in a court of law; a lawyer.”
To me, an advocate goes where others cannot or most don’t want to and she speaks on behalf of those who aren’t able. They’re interceders in prayer and practice. Sometimes they’re defenders; sometimes they’re shoulders for tears. Sometimes they’re teachers and managers; sometimes they’re listeners and servants. They defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17), have regard for the weak (Psalm 41:1), carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and administer true justice and show mercy and compassion to one another (Zechariah 7:9).
Separate of that, I have NO IDEA what this will tangibly look like moving forward for me. But I’m grateful for the word, the personal clarity and curiosity that comes with it, and that I’ve got quite the example:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin and if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:1-2
Is there a word that identifies you? A marker to stake deep into the soil of your life or one that’s simply bouncing around your head?