I lost my job today. Well, I got fired to be exact, but I had an “End of Employment ” letter that said it was going to end on Sunday anyhow. I had planned on serving my remaining time in a professional way to help the incoming owner of the business who I like very much. He was already struggling with the sale of the business and did not know that the current (soon to be former) owners had terminated the employment of who was intended eventually to be his manager. By the time I realized he didn’t have a hand in it, I’d already taken a new job. One I will LOVE.
As I said, I’d been planning on staying until the bitter (as in bitter flavored) end. And then the current owner began treating the incoming owner exactly as I had been treated in my tenure as an employee: unprofessionally, without a shred of respect and as if his wallet was all that mattered. Where I had not stood up for myself, I could not stand by watching another get abused in the same way. So I spoke up.
And now I am laying in the sun writing.
So what made me finally speak my mind?
An opportunity I had in early May that was recently written about in Huffington Post.
My kids’ step-mom forwarded me an email seeking women who’d had breast cancer to take part in photo-project-to-be-book called Beauty After Breast Cancer. The intention of the project is show women facing breast cancer what real women’s bodies and lives were like after cancer. The very tasteful, topless photos were to depict us as we look now, accompanied by individual essays about how we felt about our bodies before and after cancer.
It was an amazing opportunity.
The essay I wrote was about how I came to get my dragon tattoo (you have to wait until the book comes out to read it, but you can read what I wrote about it two years ago here and here). When I showed up for the shoot at a gorgeous old Seattle home, by some strange magical coincidence, there was an enormous fireplace flanked by two dragons in the sitting room! I had, at the last-minute, stuffed a flame colored silk skirt into my bag to go with my red cowboy boots. It was all perfection.
But what was really amazing was something that occurred during the shoot. The letter I wrote afterwards to Katelyn, the project’s creator, said it all:
“I cannot thank you enough for the photo shoot today. The flames and dragons and Joseph telling me to roll my shoulders back and stand proud reminded me how small I’d let myself become over the past few months.A toxic reaction to an antibiotic and an equally toxic workplace have left me exhausted and in much pain for the past year and a half. I am, just this month, in the process of leaving the job and tending to my health. I don’t believe in coincidence and I always think about why certain things appear when they do. I couldn’t figure out why the “breast cancer thing” was up for me just now…I had other health issues that were far more pressing and my free time and energy is very limited. And yet, this was something I had to do. Aside from the very real desire to [show] other women facing this terrible disease [a face of] sisterhood, I realize I was there to stand in front of the camera, in front of people — a MAN!– and be seen. To really be SEEN.There was a moment when I met Joseph’s eyes and I realized he KNEW who I was, that the photos would show it, and that I had needed to be reminded.So thank you for this project that will help so many women make difficult choices feeling surrounded in love and strength. Thank you for the opportunity to be reminded of my own power. And please say thank you to Joseph for his grace, compassion and mirror.”
Personal power isn’t something we give up all at once. It is chipped away at, little by little, by circumstances and people and illness and a whole slew of other things until one day we realize what has happened. Or don’t — plenty of people never, ever realize they’ve given up their power at all.
Even knowing you handed over the keys to your happiness, self-worth and strength doesn’t make it any easier to fix, and fixing the issue doesn’t seem to be permanent either. I swore a long time ago I would never give up my power again. Until I did it again under the disguise of necessity and “integrity” for my job.
When I stood in front of that camera and Joseph smiled at me and told me to roll my shoulders back, I suddenly realized how bent out of shape I was. Literally and figuratively. He didn’t know about any of the things I had compromised personally or professionally or why. He only knew the bare bones of my story. But he recognized me as a powerful, beautiful and strong woman. He saw the courage it takes to face down cancer and then deal with the difficulties of figuring out who I was afterwards. He totally got the dragon, the flames, the reason I chose her (or she chose me?) and how that resonates in my life now. It didn’t matter to him that I had forgotten (again). He simply reminded me – by me telling me to stand up. And so I did — in front of the camera and a month later at work.
The project itself was a perfectly timed opportunity to see myself reflected in the mirror of another. Sometimes we need that.
All of the women represented in this book hope that women facing difficult choices about their post cancer lives will see their own strength and beauty reflected back to them through our stories and photos. It is my greatest hope that my participation in the project, and my writing here on my blog, shows how much more there is to life when we claim our power. Again and again.