I ran 12km today. I’ve never been the type of person to run 12km. I’ve never been the type of person to run 1km, to be honest. But then, I’m not sure how much of this is what I’ve told myself I’m capable of and how much of it is what I actually know about myself.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about running.
While I’m plodding along the country lanes I like to listen to podcasts. One of my favourites is The Guilty Feminist with Deborah Frances-White. On one of the epidsodes Jessica Regan, was telling her story of auditioning for parts as an actress and finding herself cast in similar roles. Except, in one case, she’d realised she’d misread the initial email and actually typecast HERSELF into a role. She encouraged anyone listening to “break out of your casting“, explaining that so often we’re the ones who put ourselves into a box.
Now, I’m no fan of motivational quotes, but this one really got to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And the more I thought about it the more I realised I’ve definitely been guilty of casting myself into a particular role – a role that often suits other people but not always myself.
Take running, for example. I’d told myself for so long I “wasn’t a runner”. My sister was (is) the marathon runner in the family. I was too busy, too unfit, hated running too much to put on my trainers. Whenever I tried it I’d decide it wasn’t for me, not necessarily because I didn’t enjoy that euphoric feeling afterwards but because I felt I wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t good enough at it. I’d cast myself into the role of couch potato, busy mum, the mum who has no time. While it’s true I was busy it’s not true that I was a couch potato. I enjoyed exercise, I just didn’t think I was worth enough to invest any time in it.
I’m still not a runner. But now I see I don’t have to be fast, or good. I don’t care how I look when I run because I feel so great afterwards. I’m not suggesting I’m about to sign up for a marathon or start sharing Map My Run routes on Facebook, but I’ve broken out of the casting that I’d put on myself by telling myself I CAN do it, if I want to.
The same is true of other things. I’ve always been a people-pleaser, desperate to be liked. This is sometimes a good trait but so often not. People can take advantage. I can over-think situations afterwards, worrying if someone “liked” me, even if – let’s be honest – I didn’t particularly warm to them.
Recently I was wearing my new favourite jumper. I love it because it’s baggy, purple and has “WOMEN OF THE WORLD UNITE” emblazoned across the front. Anyway, I was wearing this jumper, out on a walk with the girls, when a random bloke came up to me and said, “What’s that on your jumper?”. I didn’t know him, he didn’t even say hello, just asked me in a pretty accusatory tone what was written across my top.
“Oh ha ha, very funny!” He said, when I showed him. “I guess that’s a joke then?”.
Old me, the me who was the people-pleaser, desperate to be liked, so eager to avoid a confrontation, would have laughed along with him. Chortle chortle, yes silly me, chortle chortle. It’s OK that I don’t know you but yes I’ll let you laugh at my top and assume I’m just a silly woman (even though my kids are here, watching my reaction).
I didn’t do that though. I just looked him right in the eye, shrugged, and said “No”. Then I walked off. And I felt pleased because I hadn’t been ridiculously polite in a situation that I really didn’t need to be. I hadn’t immediately put myself down just to make some stranger feel better.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older or maybe it’s because I’m just opening up my eyes to this stuff. Either way, it’s been enlightening and liberating to break out of my casting every once in a while. I’ve learned that it’s SO important to question these roles and boxes we put ourselves into. If we’re so quick to cast ourselves in a particular light then everyone else will be too, and then we’re stuck forever.
I’m not suggesting we should all start ramping up the rudeness and being aggressive. Everyone’s casts are different, and some people could probably do with going the other way. But it doesn’t hurt to take a step back every once in a while and think about the role you often find yourself cast in. Are you the “bossy mum”? The “chatty one”? The “one who doesn’t listen”? Or the “reliable one”? Whatever act you find yourself playing, try taking on a totally different role for a while and see where it leads.
You might be pleasantly surprised.
(Or sore, after running 12km. Did I mention I ran 12km?!)