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

What Children’s Literature Heroines Can Teach You About Singlehood

I know, I know. Where have I been? Life’s been pretty crazy, as I’ve finished my internship, moved back home and am leaving for France in TWO DAYS. But this is a topic I’ve been wanting to blog about for a long time, and I didn’t want to leave the country without sharing it with you.

This summer, I was on a “Pride and Prejudice” binge. I finally watched the critically acclaimed BBC adaptation, listened to the audiobook on repeat, and stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish reading “The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet” (based on the AWESOME web series.)

Then, all of a sudden, I got sick of it.

Yeah, I know, you’d think I would after the second go-through of a 10-hour audiobook. But it wasn’t the story or the characters or the writing that turned me off. It was Elizabeth Bennet: the strong, intelligent, and active female protagonist that all other strong, intelligent, and active female protagonists are measured against. She’s a fantastic character, but in the end, we all just want to see her and Darcy finally get together. I started wondering how Elizabeth might be different if Darcy wasn’t in the picture.

Then I thought of all of my other favorite strong, intelligent, and active female protagonists. No matter how independent they are, most of their journeys are ultimately defined by their romantic relationships. Emma Woodhouse. Hazel Grace Lancaster. Jane Eyre (my personal favorite). Even Katniss Everdeen, arguably one of the most kick-butt female protagonists of our time, is overshadowed by Peeta vs. Gale arguments. Why couldn’t any of these awesome ladies stand on their own? I thought about my favorite books from childhood: many of them had female protagonists, and almost none of them had a consistent love interest! You might think, “That’s cheating! They’re kids! They’re too young to be thinking about romance!” Precisely.

Remember that point in your life when it didn’t matter who liked whom, when you could just focus on being yourself? Guess what? You can and should still focus on you and your relationships with God, family, friends and the greater world.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 female protagonists who don’t need no man:

1. Sara Crewe from “A Little Princess” (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Lesson: You have the dignity and worth of royalty, regardless of your past or your present situation. 

The whole ‘princess’ image has gotten a lot of flack in the past few decades. But Burnett nailed the idea of a feminist princess way before Disney could mess it up. Sure, Sara Crewe is rich, pampered, and elegant at the beginning of the story, and when her clothes and possessions aren’t enough to win affection, she has her intelligence, kindness and knack for storytelling to speak for her. She’s likable enough. But what makes this novel so fascinating and well-loved is Sara’s inner transformation after her father’s death leaves her penniless. When her outward beauty and wealth is gone, Sara develops her inner wealth — the grace, compassion, and composure found in real royal figures like the Duchess of Cambridge. These qualities become her more than any pink silk dress ever could.

“‘Whatever comes,’ she said, ‘cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.'”

2. Mary Lennox from “The Secret Garden” (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Lesson: Friendship is healing, even if your friends are boys!

Mary Lennox is the antithesis of Sara Crewe at the beginning of her story. She is selfish, bitter, and angry, and shuns all affection. But as Mary spends more time reviving her late aunt’s garden, her cold, broken heart begins to heal. Her friendships with Dickon, a boy who lives on the moor, and Colin, her invalid cousin, are also instrumental in her healing process. There is never anything romantic about her relationships with them; she loves them as people. And their friendship — especially between Mary and Colin — is symbiotic. They help each other to heal and grow and change as they watch how Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary’s garden grows.

“And they both began to laugh over nothing as children will when they are happy together. And they laughed so that in the end they were making as much noise as if they had been two ordinary healthy natural ten-year-old creatures — instead of a hard, little, unloving girl and a sickly boy who believed that he was going to die.”

3. Matilda Wormwood from “Matilda” (Roald Dahl)

Lesson: Never settle. If something isn’t right, stand up for yourself and get out.

Brilliant, sensitive, and the best partner-in-crime on April Fool’s Day, Matilda deserved better than the horrible family she grew up inThen again, no child deserves parents as awful as the Wormwoods, but we felt that our beloved Matilda especially didn’t deserve them. And we rejoiced when she finally realized that she deserved the best, stood up to her parents and Miss Trunchbull, and found a loving mother in Miss Honey. Like Matilda, if we don’t have the courage to get out of disastrous or “just OK” relationships, we may miss out on what we’ve been looking for all along.

“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen. If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.”

4. Anne Shirley from “Anne of Green Gables” (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Lesson: Life doesn’t begin when you get married. It’s happening right now, so drink it all in and savor it.

OK, I’m kind of cheating on this one because *spoiler alert* Anne marries Gilbert Blythe later in the series. However, we fall in love with Anne and follow her story because of her imagination, her zest for life, her intelligence, and her penchant for getting into trouble — not because we’re waiting around worrying about her love life. Anne doesn’t think about romantic love at all for most of the series. In fact, if you look at the first book on its own, you’ll see that her and Gilbert’s story arc is more about forgiveness than flirtation. Anne is a happy, whole, peaceful, and distinctive person throughout the series. While her childhood schoolmates are worrying about love and marriage, Anne becomes the first girl from Avonlea to get her B.A. If she had stayed single throughout the books, that would have been fine with us. As it is, Gilbert does not define her nor complete her; he complements her.

“Dear old world’, she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

5. Molly from “Molly’s Pilgrim” (Barbara Cohen)

Lesson: Never underestimate the power of your testimony.

Molly is a Russian Jewish immigrant, and she faces ridicule and prejudice at her new American school. She often tries to hide her heritage in order to fit in. But in the end, with the help of her teacher, Miss Stickley, she owns her identity and takes pride in it. Even if you don’t have a Miss Stickley, God sees your worth and dignity and wants to use your testimony for the glory of His Kingdom and to draw others closer to Him.

“It takes all kinds of pilgrims to make a Thanksgiving.”

6. Annemarie Johansen from “Number the Stars” (Lois Lowry)

Lesson: The world is a scary place, but you CAN learn how to navigate and thrive in it.

Imagine being 10 years old and having your best friend’s life in your hands. And not just her life, but her family’s, your family’s, your own life, and those of several strangers! Annemarie is a Lutheran girl from Denmark who becomes involved in a plan to help her Jewish best friend, Ellen, escape the Nazis. Annemarie never says she isn’t afraid; in fact, she readily admits that she’s scared to death. But she does what she has to do to save Ellen and her family. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A woman is like a tea bag; you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

“I think you are like your mama, and like your papa, and like me. Frightened, but determined, and if the time came to be brave, I am quite sure you would be very, very brave.”

7. Margaret “Meg” Murry from “A Wrinkle in Time” (Madeleine L’Engle)

Lesson: You have to be independent, but you are never alone.

Though Meg is intelligent, she constantly looks to others in times of trouble: her brother Charles Wallace; her long-absent father; her intergalactic friends; and even popular athlete Calvin. Meg thinks that she’s too stupid, too ugly, and too ill-tempered to solve her own problems. Though it’s easy to roll your eyes at her, how many of us have felt worthless or doubted our own abilities? When Meg learns that she is the only one who can save Charles Wallace from the powers of IT, she’s terrified. But with the love of her family and friends behind her, Meg summons her strength and finds her self-worth. Yes, I know Calvin kisses her and it’s cute, but THAT’S NOT THE POINT OF THE STORY. Meg’s internal conflict isn’t resolved when she and Calvin get together (They never really do; it’s just inferred that they like each other.) Her story arc only comes to a close when she accepts the very adult responsibility of her brother’s life and her own, and emerges victorious. WOOHOO!

“‘Father saved me then. There’s nobody here to save me now. I have to do it myself. I have to resist IT by myself.'”

8. Luna Lovegood from the “Harry Potter” series (J.K. Rowling)

Lesson: Embrace your uniqueness, and you will attract the right kind of people for you.

I know what you’re thinking — no Hermione? Let me put it this way: The Potter fandom wasn’t in an uproar because Rowling second-guessed Luna’s love life. I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t respect Luna. Yeah, she was weird, but she was a talented, intuitive, and compassionate ally in the fight against Voldemort. She never changed for anyone, and everyone grew to love her for it.

“‘People expect you to have cooler friends than us,’ said Luna, once again displaying her knack for embarrassing honesty. ‘You are cool,’ said Harry shortly. ‘None of them was at the Ministry. They didn’t fight with me.” – “Half-Blood Prince”

9. Jean Louise “Scout” Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Harper Lee)

Lesson: Spend time with people who are different than you. Don’t try to change them, but learn from them.

This book is just chock full of life lessons, but many of them point to the themes of empathy and of judging people based on what they are, rather than what you hear about them. At the beginning of the novel, Scout Finch, like many children, accepts any opinion that comes her way: the Cunninghams are stubbornly poor, Mrs. Dubose is a grouchy old witch, Aunt Alexandra is a nosy busybody, and Boo Radley has no good reason to stay in his house forever. But through her interactions with these and many other characters in Maycomb, she begins to understand that each person is complex, with flaws and virtues alike. Her final interaction with Boo is so moving because she has learned to love — not the same love she feels for Atticus and Jem, but an active choice to love another human being.

“’I think there’s just one kind of folks, Jem. Folks.’”

10. Margaret Ann Simon from “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (Judy Blume)

Lesson: Find your well of living water — where you are nourished spiritually.

Margaret is the 12-year-old daughter of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. Religious identity is a prominent theme in the novel, as Margaret faces pressure from her grandparents, friends and classmates to pick a side. In John’s gospel, in the story of the woman at the well, Jesus talks about the “living water” which becomes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” in those who believe (John 4: 10-14). Without realizing it, Margaret develops a profound prayer life that sustains and feeds her spirit. The best part of it is that she doesn’t choose a religion at the end of the story; she realizes that her walk of faith, like ours, is a lifelong journey. So, in your singlehood, find your “well of living water,” whether it’s daily Mass, bible study, the Rosary, long solitary walks, or being in community with other people of faith. And don’t be afraid to try other forms of prayer and worship.

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. I want you to know I’m giving a lot of thought to Christmas and Hanukkah this year. I’m trying to decide if one might be special for me. I’m really thinking hard, God. But so far, I haven’t come up with any answers.”

FRANCE IN TWO DAYS! Stay tuned for more adventures in the coming months.

Question of the Week: Who would you add to this list and why? Please tell me in the comments! I’ll have to add them to my reading list.