A Tale of Personal and Professional Transformation In Two Driver’s License Photos
Wait, I’m pretty sure I blinked.”
I blink in 97.6% of photos so if you and I ever pose together in a group portrait, I apologize now for ruining it.
“No, no,” she said. “It’s really good!” She turned the screen to show me.
Holy shit. Sound the alarms. Ring the bells that still can ring, this is a perfect offering. My new driver’s license photo is GOOD.
This has never happened before
All my licenses have been horrific. Once, when I was 21 and vain (as opposed to 39 and really vain) I told the handsome police officer I didn’t have my license just so I didn’t have to show it to him. I got fined for speeding and failing to produce a valid driver’s license. It was worth it. It was that bad.
So yesterday morning I paid $75 – not to be cheap, but $75 for 90 seconds of service ? Really? – to renew my license and was stunned by the possibility of one wherein I do NOT look atrocious. So stunned that I toted my sleeping baby out to the car and sat there for a few minutes with my hands on the steering wheel, going nowhere, going back.
Five years ago
I was at this same office with an eight month old baby, plus:
- a flailing, failing relationship
- no job (except of course to raise spectacular little humans, but gawd, I wanted a career)
- no money
- mad loneliness because my then-partner came and went as he pleased, worked like he’d go to jail if he put in less than 16 hours a day – often leaving the house at 6 am to return at midnight – and then disappeared into barbershops and community events on the weekends
- and no clothes, because I thought nothing looked good on me.
During that time my daily go-to was a long African tunic that I’m calling a tunic because I don’t want to say it was a mumu but there you have it. That’s what it was. A mumu. That was my at-home daywear. These were the days when I needed assistance opening the blinds.
So I cut my hair.
Not as liberation from The Femininity Trap, but as a surrender to self-loathing: I’m not pretty. I’m not stylish. I’m not accomplished. Don’t look at me. Before all of this, I thought I was an independent, brilliant (if I did say so myself) free spirit on a grand mission – I knew I’d be famous, donchaknow. I went to university, I graduated with honours, I travelled around the world on my own, I lived in Taiwan, I had torrid affairs, I spouted poetry at parties, I made impassioned though often inebriated speeches, I was intoxicated with my own potential. And it wasn’t just me. I once had an interview with a Big Vancouver Mogul to be his personal assistant. Halfway though, he said to me, “What are you doing here? This job is not for you. If you want it, I’ll give it to you, because I’d be lucky to have you, but I want you to be honest with me: is this what you want to do?”
It wasn’t. Despite the fact that the rent was due (hell, overdue), I called him back the next day to admit that the job wasn’t for me. I could hear him smile. Then he offered me a job as a research consultant for three times the PA salary. He saw my potential.
And now here I was in a mumu and a bad haircut. Potential, my ass. Miserable, my life. Just another desperate hausfrau.
And I didn’t even look like a young, frazzled housewife in the picture on my driver’s license. I was thirty-four but in that picture I looked fifty-four and not the Oprah-esque “This is what fifty looks like!” kind of fifty-four. I looked like I wore comfortable shoes but both defended (I have fallen arches!) and resented them.
I’m not sure what shoes I was wearing in those days. Maybe flip flops. That would have been consistent with the mumu.
(I was going to say, “that would have worked with the mumu” but suggesting something about my sartorial choices ‘worked’ would have been overstating the level of deliberation involved).
I keep circling back to the mumu because it’s symbolic of my state of mind at that time.
And so was that driver’s license.
I’m so glad it expired. I’m so glad that life expired.
Or, more accurately, that I killed it.
And I did. I burned it down and then I built a new one. I got out, I got a good job, I found a great daycare. I decorated my new home. I arrived. I arrived safely.
And then, once I was safe, I started taking risks. I started a blog. I started reaching out, extending myself personally and professionally. I started driving towards my secret dreams. I drove to Whistler to see Danielle LaPorte speak and arrived home to an e-mail from her that said,z
“You’re hot shit and the real deal and you should be getting your ass published as widely as possible.”
If you’ve heard that story before it’s because I can never tell that story too often.
I started dating. I started internet dating and the best part of that was the initial e-mailing back and forth. Writing those e-mails got me hotter than most of the men I’d eventually meet.
And you know what else? You know what gave me confidence while I was dating, which, for me, was a confidence-assassinating endeavour?
My blog. My growing skill as a writer. My emerging audience. My…
…acclaim. Internet “fame”. (This would be an appropriate time to use air quotes.)
I started seeing RESULTS. Competence. Confidence.
I worked all day and then each night wrote for two hours. I had a full-time job and was a single mama to two kids under four and I was posting – and posting really good stuff – five days a week. And it was working. Opportunities – copywriting requests – came my way. So many that I started turning them down because I had to work.
Which led to me leaving my job and writing for a living.
And then I fell in love and I didn’t give up on him even though, as a friend summarized the situation, “he’s in a relationship but he doesn’t know it yet.”
Now he knows he’s in a relationship and he’s grateful. As he should be. I’m frickin’ amazing.
Sidenote: you know the drumbeat that goes like this:
Men can’t handle an accomplished woman, that’s why dating is so hard for strong, bright, ambitious chicks…
The stronger, more ambitious and more accomplished I was, the more desirable I was as a partner, especially as a potential marriage partner. Dual incomes, say hello! Who doesn’t want to increase their household earning capacity?
Men think about this stuff, too. And so I’ve never had a man tell me that my ability to make money or garner acclaim was a downer. Instead, wannabe suitors marveled at me. Even my then-reluctant, now wildly committed, truly smitten loverloverman.
Steve Harvey, who’s hyping that archaic, erroneous rhythm and telling women, especially black women, that their success is a dating liability, can suck it.
I digress. But it had to be said.
My Big Audacious Point is this: the photos on my two driver’s licenses, one from five years ago and one taken yesterday, are so opposite they’re polar. They represent my two lives, my two states of being. One I was wading through. The other one I’m diving in.
I look different because I AM different.
So often we’re entranced and seduced by makeovers and transformations because our lizard brain thinks that by changing our hair/our diet/our nose/our clothes we’ll change our lives.
So we buy products and services and surgeries and hope. We buy big dreams of profound, instant transformation and overnight success. We buy drama. We buy inaction.
And even if we do succeed in looking different, we probably feel like fakes. We look the look but we’re not walking the walk. The boob job was financed, the car note is late and you can’t wear those hot shoes anywhere because there’s no money for gas.
So here’s the question I keep asking myself:
Do you want to look like something – rich, successful, beautiful – or do you want to be it?
I want to be it.
And I want you to be who you want to be, too. Not just look like you are. BE it.
So if YOU, my darling, are just starting out or starting over, if you’re on a quest to rewrite your life, to merge brilliant and glorious from your cocoon, here’s what I want you to know:
- It’s all incremental. It’s the little decisions and tiny doings each day that add up to dramatic transformation.
- Putting in those incremental hours to grow your skills will grow your confidence like nothing else in the world. No compliments, no award, no reward compares to your own sense of marvel at your emerging mastery.
- Mastery in one arena = confidence in all areas.
- Accomplishment is sexy.
- The externals – new hair, polished nails, smitten mate – are merely evidence of an internal transformation. Pursue the internal transformation. Pursue mastery.
And then take a moment or ten to sit in your car outside the DMV and marvel.
Marvel that five years ago you were wearing a mumu to hide your sad flesh and last night, at age 39, after three kids and at fifty pounds “overweight” (don’t even get me started on that word) you submitted photos to a contest to be a plus size model.
- Because you’re no longer hiding.
- Because you know you’re beautiful.
- Because you also know you’re smart and accomplished and living the life of your dreams with the man of your dreams.
- Because you know that, intimately, incrementally, because you wrote your way – mastered your way – here.
Because you know this:
You can do anything…because you ARE the sexiest, strongest woman in the world.
I know it. I did it. So can you.