I was a tomboy with sparkly shoes. Since I was a little girl, I never really fit in anywhere. I loved nail polish and climbing trees. When I was about 9 years old I pushed my cousin out of a tree. He broke his arm and cried like a baby. I didn’t feel sorry for him. I just thought he should toughen up and stop crying.
But I digress.
As I girl I played with boys more than girls, but my best friend was another little girl named April. I bit my nails and curled my hair. “Bossy” was one of the most used descriptors of me. And I spoke my mind. A lot. I asked more questions than adults were comfortable with. My teachers loved me, but they also didn’t entirely know what to do with my big, direct, intense personality. When I was a middle schooler, my mom lamented that she’d practically memorized the 80s Christian bestseller, The Strong-Willed Child, but in the end, it didn’t work on me.
I grew up in a house of conservative faith where I was told at home and at church – with words and reading the environment – what a girl was supposed to be and do in this world when she grew up. I was supposed to become a wife and a mother, to care for the needs of my family and home. That was the entire vision.But that just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I felt tension around that purpose. I wanted to abolish those limiting expectations.
Chances are you didn’t grow up exactly like me, but I bet at some point you’ve been told who you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do. Actually, you’ve probably been told more of what you can’t be and what you shouldn’t do. And fitting into those limiting expectations probably didn’t make sense to you either.
Somehow I grew up and became a pastor who lead and taught in large churches with staff and budgets and all the things. But in the 17 years I was a local church pastor, I was always the gender minority even though my churches believed in women in leadership.
I’ll never forget the day my boss told me in an evaluation meeting, “You need better soft skills.”A better woman than me probably would’ve kindly thanked him for the feedback and asked for specific examples of how I could grow my soft skills. Me? I was enraged. How dare he try to make me be someone I wasn’t! What right did he have to tell me that I was too much, too strong, too hard as a leader? Be softer. That’s what women are supposed to be.
Jo Saxton said on “The Road Back to You” podcast that Christian, female Enneagram 8s are the most misunderstood type on the Enneagram. I don’t disagree. Women are told a lot of what we’re supposed to be: nice, subservient, quiet, respectful, sweet, responsive, serving, and second to man. Enneagram 8s don’t fit that profile. We are challengers, direct, aggressive, angry at times, intense, ambitious, and warriors for justice. You may not even be an 8, but those descriptors create tension within you, too.
And yet, I actually see aspects of Jesus in both lists of descriptors. But you and I do not exist for prescribed personalities and ways of being a woman. There is no one way to be a woman. You may have excellent soft skills, but I have different skills.
It’s time for us to stop judging each other for how God made us and celebrate each other for the softness and strength of us all. No man (or woman for that matter) needs to put you in a box or tell you to be someone you’re not. Yes, let’s learn and grow and be the healthiest versions of ourselves, but that’s not by becoming a different kind of human. It means that as an 8 I can be better about using language like, “help me understand”, instead of “that’s not right”. When in a conflict, it means that I practice saying “I may say this more strongly than I mean or maybe I’ll say this wrong, but can I tell you how I’m feeling.” I can assert my strength by knowing my audience – who can handle a little ass kicking and who will receive my strength better by wrapping it in gentleness?
In it all, my sole responsibility is to be the healthiest and most whole woman I can be, not to fit in someone’s mold. So the next time I’m told, “you need better soft skills”, I can respond by saying, “Can you tell me more about that?”
ABOUT APRIL: April pastored in the local church for nearly 20 years at two of the most influential churches in the country. Now she’s a speaker, author, and coach for leaders all over the country. Secretly, she’s a mix of a total girly girl and a tomboy, and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent 3 fabulous kiddos. Find her at aprildiaz.com.