The Confidence Project

Bonne année, mes amis!

It’s that time of year again to make lofty resolutions for the year ahead, fantasize about  your brand-spankin’ new self ringing in the new year 12 months later, and then scrap your plans by the first week in February. Or maybe that’s just me.

As I thought about my resolutions for 2018, I realized that many of them were goals I had made in the past but never accomplished or even attempted. What was holding me back from being the person I wanted to be? The answer was simple: confidence.

For most of my life, I’ve had an aversion to the idea of being a confident person. I believed the word “confident” was synonymous with words like “selfish,” “aggressive,” “overbearing,” and “conceited.” These were the traits the popular kids in high school displayed, and surely they were confident, right? And more recently, I have found that in the theater world and the working world, the louder, more competitive, and more obnoxious you are, the more confident you seem. As a result of these experiences, I associated being confident with being narcissistic, entitled, and all-around insufferable.

Now, I know, and probably all of you know deep down, that this is not authentic confidence. However, I couldn’t even give you a non-cliché definition of authentic confidence here, at least not yet. This is where The Confidence Project comes in.

This project and its title are inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s 2009 book The Happiness Project. One of my best friends lent it to me in December, and even though I’m only halfway through it, I’m hooked. For those of you who haven’t read it, Rubin describes the year she spent studying how to be happier. For each of the twelve months, she focused on a specific area of her life in which she wanted to be happier (marriage, career, parenting, etc.), and set three to five resolutions for the month aimed at increasing happiness in that area.

My nerdy, scatterbrained self thought this strategy was both brilliant and manageable. Instead of trying to become more confident in all areas of my life overnight, I could focus on one area at a time.

So, in short, that’s what I’m doing this year. I’m dedicating each month to a different area of my life in which I want to grow in confidence. I’m not going to make any big promises about how I’m going to document this journey on this blog, only that I will try to do so.

In the spirit of this challenge, I’d love to know: What makes you feel authentically confident? Let me know in the comments below.

New year, new start. Let’s do this.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

 

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You Too: A Rallying Cry for All Men

Disclaimer: This post is not in any way saying that women are not capable of standing up for themselves, or that women do not also need to support other women and men who have experienced sexual harassment or assault. 

This post is specifically for any man who thinks that sexual violence doesn’t affect him.

In the aftermath of the media firestorm as person after person came forward accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and/or assault over the past few decades, I was horrified that such heinous acts could be hushed up for so long. My heart and prayers go out to the victims, those who have spoken out and those who choose to remain silent because they are not ready to or willing to relive their trauma, and my anger rises up at the realization that we as a society are not doing nearly enough to break the cycle of violence against women.

I was one of the hundreds of women and men who posted “Me too,” across social media to demonstrate the widespread problem of sexual harassment and assault. Many of my dear friends, relatives, coworkers, and classmates shared that they had been victims of sexual violence, and it was devastating to see post after post denoting another person with a story (or multiple) of assault or harassment.

With so many people bravely coming forward to share their experiences, it can be easy to despair. However, I would like to share a personal story with you, and I pray it gives you hope.

In seventh grade, when it was too cold to go out for recess in the winter, we would all go to the auditorium, where we were expected to “find something to do” and be quiet. Most kids totally disregarded this rule, but nerd that I was, I took the opportunity to catch up on my homework.

At some point during these long indoor weeks, one of the boys in my class thought it was funny to sit next to me, say “Hey baby,” and stroke my arm while purring. Just thinking about it now makes me sick. I was 12 years old. No one had ever approached me like a sexual object before, and I had no idea what to do. I was too disgusted and scared to do anything except cringe and turn away until he got bored and left me alone.

One day, a male friend of mine (let’s call him Brian) was sitting on one side of me. When that boy came over to harass me as usual, Brian turned to him and said something like, “Hey! What’s your problem? Leave her alone!” My harasser made a face and left.

Brian then turned to me and said, “Vicky, he shouldn’t be treating you like that. You should tell someone.” But I brushed it off.

I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to make that boy stop. But deep down, I was terrified. What if the teachers didn’t believe me? What if my harasser ignored any reprimand and kept at it? What if he told the whole school I was a liar and a tattletale? What if I got punished instead of him? Or even worse, what if it was my fault all along?

This is why so many victims don’t speak up. It’s disgusting that I have to explain this in 2017, when we’ve seen this situation time and time again. Abuse or harassment is never OK. Period. Abuse or harassment is never the victim’s fault. Period. We’ve heard this a million times at this point and yet we still don’t get it, so it needs to be said over and over again.

After a few more weeks of me consistently declining to tell someone, Brian couldn’t stand by any longer. One day, I was called down to the guidance office. Brian was sitting there when I walked in, and in the presence of him and the guidance counselor, I finally admitted what was going on. The counselor was very understanding. She told me explicitly that it was not my fault, that anyone who touched me in such a way or said something that made me uncomfortable was out of line and their behavior would not be tolerated. I don’t remember what disciplinary actions were taken against my harasser, but he didn’t speak to me again all the way up to graduation, and I’ve never seen him since.

Over the past few days, my heart has been full of gratitude for Brian. We lost contact after high school, but if he is reading this, I hope he knows how grateful I am that he had the courage and wisdom beyond his years to stand up for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself. Unfortunately, many people who experience sexual harassment and/or assault don’t have a Brian. Their cries for help are silenced or ignored. Blame often falls on the victims and not on the perpetrators. And sometimes these perpetrators are promoted or simply moved out of the situation, but their predatory behavior continues.

Men, and all people who believe in the dignity of every human being, this is a rallying cry for you.

I’d like to speak specifically to any man who thinks that sexual violence is not his problem. I know it’s scary to speak up because so often the perpetrators of these actions are your relatives, your friends, your teammates, and your coaches. You’re afraid of being considered “less manly” if you defend the dignity of sexual violence victims. You think that you’d be overreacting because after all, it’s just “locker room talk.”

Let me tell you something. The world doesn’t need any more Harvey Weinsteins or Bill Cosbys or Donald Trumps. The world doesn’t need any more men who stay silent when others are being abused. Simply not engaging in harassment or abuse is no longer good enough. Men, we need you to take a stand. We, as survivors of sexual harassment or abuse, cannot win this war without all of humanity on our side. If you are not actively fighting for us, you are part of the problem.

Here are a few simple ways you can help. Pay attention to your surroundings at a bar or party, in the classroom, the locker room, and the office. If you see something that looks or sounds like harassment or assault, it probably is. Don’t just ignore it; shut it down. If someone you know comes to you saying they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, listen to them. Ask how you can help. But above all, believe them, believe them, believe them, and tell them you believe them again and again and again.

The world will try to tell you you’re an uncivilized animal with no self-control. I know you’re better than that, and you know you’re better than that.

Please understand that I’m not telling you this out of condemnation or malice, but out of love for you, my brothers, and out of my belief in your individual and collective ability to build a safer, more respectful world for all people. In a world of Weinsteins, be a Brian.

Survivors of sexual violence: I love you. I hear you. I believe you.

Men and all other bystanders: We love you. We believe in you. We’re counting on you.

À bientôt

– Vicky

I’m Not That Girl, and That’s OK

Today, I was trying to decide which picture I should share on Instagram in honor of International Day of the Girl. I remembered a photo a friend had taken of me this past summer in Fatima, Portugal during the nightly Candlelight Rosary procession. I’m juggling a lit candle, my Rosary beads, and my notebook of prayer intentions that I collected before I left (a huge thank you to all who contributed prayer requests!) I thought, “Perfect! What better photo could I share on the Day of the Girl than me praying to the greatest girl that ever lived, Mama Mary?”

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But I felt like just sharing that image would be ignoring part of the story. If anyone saw that picture, they might assume I’m a perfect little Catholic girl who prays her Rosary every day.

The truth is, I’m not.

Even after going to the place where our Blessed Mother appeared multiple times to three peasant children telling them to pray the Rosay daily, my relationship with the Rosary is complicated. Yes, I have prayed multiple 54-day novenas over the past two years, but it never came easy to me, and there were often days or weeks when I would skip it entirely. I’ve always had a great love for and fascination with Mary, but sometimes praying the Rosary feels like doing the dishes; I don’t like it, but I do it because my (heavenly) mom asked me to.

I’m not proud of this. I envy people who have a deep devotion to the Rosary and can pray it daily as easily as breathing. I want to be that girl that thrives on praying the Rosary daily, but sometimes I think, “Wait, I have to pray how many Hail Marys?! Forget it. This is too hard.” And then I feel ashamed, feeling like I missed another mark on the “Perfect Catholic Girl” list.

You may not be Catholic, but I know you’ve got your own “Perfect Girl” list. I also know how infuriating it can be when you don’t live up to it. “I was doing so good not eating sugar. Why did I have to have that cookie?” “Why don’t I have my master’s degree yet?” “Why am I the only one of my friends who’s still single?” “Everyone else seems to have their life in order. Why can’t I get it right?”

Chasing perfection is a dangerous and destructive journey; believe me, I’ve been at it for 25 years. And everyone, I mean everyone, considers themselves “not good enough” in some capacity. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be learning and growing every day, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up because we fall short of some impossible standard we created in our own heads. We’ve heard it a million times, but we all need to be reminded of it, including me, because I’m pretty terrible at following my own advice.

So on today, the International Day of the Girl, let’s put down the burden of living up to everyone’s expectations of what we should be. Let’s stop trying to be that girl and instead focus on being ourselves. 

You, my sister, are enough. Not you smarter, not you richer, not you 10 pounds lighter, not you plus a significant other, not you with all life’s questions figured out. You, right now, are enough.

A quote that has been shared multiple times today is from the philosopher and saint Edith Stein: “The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are.” The world doesn’t need your resume, or your body, or your Instagram likes. The world needs you. 

It needs you creating in the best way you know how. It needs you giving in the best way you know how. It needs you fighting for justice in the best way you know how. It needs you leading in the best way you know how. It needs you persevering in the best way you know how. It needs you loving in the best way you know how. Most importantly, it needs you being YOU in the best way you know how.

Happy International Day of the Girl to all the amazing girls and women in my life and reading this blog. You are loved. You are enough.

À bientôt! 

– Vicky

For the Days You Feel Like a Louis

 

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I think we’re talking about the guy in the turtleneck, right? (Source: TV Tropes)

To be honest, I know very little about the artists formerly known as One Direction. I knew a few of their songs and knew my cousin had a crush on the one who dated Taylor Swift, but that was about it. I was a sophomore in college by the time their first album came out, so I was not their target audience. (No shade to any college-age Directioners out there!)

When I saw this past week that the Guardian had interviewed former 1D member Louis Tomlinson, I almost scrolled past. But the headline stopped me: “Niall is lovely, Zayn has the voice, Harry is cool, Liam gets the crowd going … then there’s me.”

Then there’s me.

Tomlinson and his fellow boy-banders were on top of the world for a good few years. They churned out one hit song after another, sold out stadiums worldwide, and were hounded by millions of screaming preteen and teenage fans.

And yet, Tomlinson did not feel valuable. In the Guardian interview, he says, “You know I didn’t sing a single solo on the X Factor [the show by which 1D was formed] … But when you actually think about how that feels, standing on stage every single week, thinking: ‘What have I really done to contribute here? Sing a lower harmony that you can’t really hear in the mix?’”

I never thought I’d say this, but I can totally relate to this multimillionaire/former boy band member. How often have we looked around at our friends and coworkers and classmates and felt insignificant or overlooked? “Why did he get that promotion and I didn’t?” “She gets all the guys and I haven’t had a date in two years.” “Why bother trying? No one ever notices me anyway.”

When I did high school theatre, I used to joke that I always played “the crazy old lady who dies at the end,” i.e. not the ingenue. While I really enjoyed playing the crazy character parts, I had a desperate desire to be the young, pretty lead. Like any high school girl, I wanted other people to tell me I was beautiful, talented and worthy of singing power ballads in a flowy white dress. And since I never got the lead, no matter how hard I worked, I thought I must not be beautiful enough or skinny enough or talented enough for people to want to spend a whole evening looking at me. I must not matter.

I carried that resentment into my community theatre career as an adult. One night, I was talking with a few of my castmates about our high school theatre days. As usual, I joked about always playing the crazy old lady, but the lead actress in the show could sense the bitterness behind my laugh. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You know why you always got those parts? Because you had talent. You look around at all the girls who played the young, pretty ingenue in high school. They’re not getting cast now, and you still are.”

She was right. The majority of the kids who got the lead roles in my high school are not performing anymore. You know who still is? The ensemble, the supporting cast, the kids who lurked behind the shiny lead actors, honing their craft and learning from every single role, even if they only had one line. Many of them have gone on to play lead roles, or their own dream roles, after high school. If they had given up in high school, they would have missed so many opportunities to shine.

Similarly, while band members Harry Styles and Zayn Malik got most of the media attention, Tomlinson used his time out of the direct spotlight wisely. According to the interview, he learned how to negotiate with managers and label executives backstage, which led him to start his own record label. He also became a father, the first member of the band to do so. On top of all this, he just released his debut solo single and is working on new music.

It’s difficult to say where Tomlinson’s career goes from here. Perhaps he will “make it” as a solo artist, maybe not. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years, he’s the “it” record producer that everyone in the music industry is dying to work with. In any case, 1D was not Tomlinson’s time to shine, but that doesn’t mean his future is dim.

If you’re feeling like a Louis in your own life, don’t despair. Nothing is permanent in this life, even boy bands. Find that one thing that fills you up, and become an expert at it. Learn about the behind-the-scenes processes. Take every opportunity as a chance to grow. Be humble. Ask questions. Make mistakes. Remember that the current situation you’re in is not your end point.

My favorite quote attributed to St. Catherine of Siena is, “Become who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” This, in essence, is what truly makes you beautiful.

À bientôt !

– Vicky  

 

Please March for ALL Life

NOTE: This post is an expression of my opinions and experiences. If you would like to continue this debate in the comments, please do so with respect.

On Sunday, I spent a wonderful day in Paris with two of my French friends. We saw an exhibition on Studio Ghibli at the Musée Art Ludique. I love Hayao Miyazaki’s films, so there was a lot of fangirling involved. We then had a Japanese lunch of sushi and an American dessert of Häagen-Dazs on the Champs-Elysées.

We headed home on the early train, and it was there that the tone of my day changed.

The train was pretty empty. The only other people in the car besides us were a young girl and an older man. They were talking. At first, I was able to pick out snippets of their conversation as I talked to my friends. But as their conversation continued, I sat in silence with bated breath, listening. My two friends also stopped talking to listen, and later, they filled in the gaps of my comprehension.

The girl was 19 years old, with no job and living in a residence hall. She was pregnant. The baby’s father had left.

The man was a nurse. Apparently they had just met. He sat there calmly giving the girl advice as her eyes filled with tears.

I am not describing the situation like this to romanticize it. This is reality. For the first time in my life, I was facing it.

Talking about abortion has often made me sick to my stomach. It’s one of those issues that is so tangled up in emotion that it’s hard to have an objective debate on it.

As a Catholic, I believe all life is sacred and a gift. That being said, I have a huge problem with some sectors of the “pro-life” movement and some politicians who insist on women carrying out the pregnancy at any cost to their physical and mental health. These same people often blame the mother, especially if she is young and unmarried, calling her horrible names and saying hurtful things like, “Well, she asked for it. Maybe if she didn’t sleep around so much, this wouldn’t have happened.”

This. Is. Wrong.

Being pro-life is not the same thing as being anti-abortion. If your only concern is the fetus in the womb, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re doing it wrong. Being pro-life means being pro-birth parents, pro-adoption, pro-immigration, anti-death penalty, anti-euthanasia, pro-sex education, pro-motherhood, pro-fatherhood, pro-woman.

Mary is often used as a poster child for the anti-abortion movement, saying, “Mary was an unwed mother. What if she had gotten an abortion?” This is a poignant example, but many people seem to forget that Mary didn’t have to go through her pregnancy alone. When Joseph, her fiancé, found out she was pregnant, he was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and instead “took his wife into his home.” (Matthew 1:19, 24 NAB)

Pregnant women don’t just need the support of their baby’s father or their families, because unfortunately, many of them don’t have it. Therefore, it’s our collective responsibility to tell them that they are good, beautiful, strong, loved and valuable. That young woman on the train thought she was worthless, diseased, a piece of trash. If society, politicians and the Church are telling her, “We don’t care about you, but you can’t abort your baby,” someone please tell me where she can find the courage to choose life.

Going back to the Mary example, one of the first people who knew about Mary’s pregnancy was her cousin Elizabeth: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41-42) Imagine how many women would choose life if someone told them, “You are beautiful. You are enough. You are valuable. I’m here for you. You can do this.”

For many years now, I’ve felt a call to adoption. A friend from summer camp, whose brother was adopted, said, “There are so many children in this world who don’t have a home. Why don’t we take care of those children first?” Her words have stuck with me, and the young woman on the train further convicted me in this calling. As I listened to her talk to the man, I found myself thinking, “God, if only someone could adopt her baby so that he or she could have a chance!” If I get married, I pray that my husband and I can adopt our children so that these babies and their mothers can have a second chance at life.

Today, thousands are gathered in Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life. As they march, I pray that they lift up not only the millions of children aborted since Roe v. Wade, but also the mothers and their families.

Abortion is not a political talking point; it’s about real women who need to make real decisions, and no matter what their choice, they need our support.

À bientôt,

Vicky

For another great piece on abortion, please head to Relevant Magazine.