Dayni, my strength coach, introduced me as an MMA fighter and explained what we were doing in terms of strength and conditioning. The young woman was very interested, and asked me a lot of questions that I don’t usually “have time for.” Today, I took the time though. I answered all of her questions about how long I’ve been doing “this” for, why I started, how old I was, what I did for work, what I was doing for the rest of the day, what other training I did apart from weights training…
I’m glad that I did, because now I realise that she was asking because I was something that she’d never seen before. It’s hard for me to recognise that some people see me that way, because to me what I do is so normal, so ordinary, so tedious at times, that it doesn’t warrant consideration and I find it hard to understand why people are asking me “basic” questions like what I’m doing “after this.”
As if to confirm the validity of the thoughts I’ve been having lately about putting myself out there as a way to somehow add value to the lives of others – and particularly to expand the minds of girls and young women – this young woman said:
“I love it when I see girls do things like this. It makes me believe that I can do anything.”
I don’t think that the Universe could have sent a clearer message to me that what I am doing does have value, that it is relevant, and that I have the opportunity and even the privilege and the responsibility to use my own journey (in the pursuit of what is essentially a rather selfish goal) as a vehicle to inspire other girls and women to reconsider what is possible for them.
It makes me realise that all the day-in-the-life stuff is valuable and interesting to some people, and that the most important people to me are girls and women. I want girls and women to see what I do – not necessarily the success, but the Grind. The success shows people the moments when you’re special; the Grind shows people that you’re not special, that you’re just another person working hard because anything is possible if you’re willing to persevere.
I recently came across a video about America’s first female wing commander. She started flying fighter jets in 1994, when I was 10 years old and when I still wanted to be a fighter pilot myself. I wished that I’d been exposed to her example, and other examples of women doing things that I was told specifically that I couldn’t do because I was female. I wish that I could have seen things like that so that I could have some reason to be proud of being a girl and to look forward to being a woman, rather than feeling like my body had betrayed me by being female, and by becoming markedly more female as I matured.
I did find some empowering role models as I grew up, but it was hard. Grace Jones was one of the first women that I looked at who made me want to be a woman, aesthetically. She was the first woman who modeled a powerful aesthetic to me, one that didn’t seem to revolve around conveying an impression of weakness and subservience. The fact that she was a woman of colour was significant.
Jackie Chan was a role model too. The fact that he was Asian was very important, as I grew up in a context where I was also told that to be Asian was to be “weak.” Jackie Chan’s life story and career showed me what was possible through hard work – and he made me proud of my Asian heritage too.
I never thought of myself as being in the same league as people like this. But I see now that we all have a sphere of influence, whether it’s on an international scale, or it just includes the people that we encounter in the course of our everyday lives – in the course of the Grind.
It would be nice if there wasn’t a need to think about empowering women any more. We’ve had a female prime minister, we have female fighter pilots, we have female fighters headlining UFC cards. But the conversation that I had today showed me that the work is not done, and that, no matter how ordinary we feel that our lives are, we all have the opportunity to show something of value and inspire someone else to believe that more is possible for them.