How to Find the Strength to Choose Yourself
By Evamarie Joubert
One film I’ve been able to watch over and over again is The Devil Wears Prada. Seeing Meryl Streep commanding attention and calling the shots as Miranda Priestly spoke to me. I wanted to be that woman (albeit more kind to the people I worked with) but I wanted to be a woman who spoke with conviction. I wanted to be a woman who asked for what she wanted and accepted nothing less in return.
There is a moment towards the end the film, when Miranda tells Andrea that she was able to get ahead because she had the ability to choose herself, to look beyond what others wanted or needed and simply make the decisions that were right for her. This moment, largely because of Miranda’s character, is depicted as something that is wrong or cruel. As the audience we are encouraged to accept this notion that it’s somehow devious or “selfish” to make decisions that advance your position in life especially when those around you disagree. At the time, I accepted this idea as well.
However 13 years later, when confiding to my mother that I was struggling with the decision to either stay in Italy for another year or end my time in la bella paese (the beautiful country), I realized that I shouldn’t have so readily accepted that notion. In an attempt to break through my confusion and anxiety over what was right, she simply said, “you need to find the strength to choose for yourself.” She explained that I needed to look past what she or my father wanted, what my boyfriend wanted, and any concerns over how they would respond to my final decision. Instead, she challenged me to make the choice that would push me in the direction of the woman I wanted to become, without fear of what that meant for the other people in my life.
When we finished our conversation, I couldn’t help but think of how many women have needed to hear this message. How often do we need to understand that it’s OK to choose for ourselves and make decisions that honor our true desires and goals, instead of the feared repercussions of what others will think or how they will react?
The trouble is how do we find that strength? How do we cultivate the courage that allows us to stand alone and choose without interference? The most common advice given in this scenario is to just push past your fear and stop caring what other people think about you but it’s always far more difficult than that.
What I’ve come to understand, the ultimate message my mother was trying to convey, is that first you need to believe that you deserve to have what you want. You need to accept that you are worthy of making a choice for yourself, no matter how selfish, outrageous, or crazy it is perceived to be on the outside. Finally, you have to find the daring to stand in that choice with full conviction even if there’s a chance you will fail.
In my case, I decided to stay in Italy. Despite the financial burden, the headache of immigration and bureaucracy, and the disappointment of my parents – who really wanted me to come home – I knew my time in the country wasn’t over. I made the decision to trust in myself and to believe that I could make my life in Italy exactly how I desired even though from the outside it might have seemed like a terrible decision. In that time, I chose for the only person who truly counted - myself.
The strength to choose for yourself comes from recognizing the only choice matters. It’s the choice that your well-being must always be a priority over anyone else, and that does not make you selfish or cruel but a woman who understands that putting yourself first is not only healthy for you but for the people around you.
Women have always been groomed to give, and to give endlessly all of our love, support and energy to those around us. We are expected to give so much and to make choices that benefit others while expecting nothing in return. This is especially true for women who are mothers, but this selfless giving and concern for others’ opinions is the easiest way to find yourself in a trap of bitterness and resentment.
No one can be truly generous when they’ve never treated themselves to their greatest desires. No one can be truly free when they’ve made every decision based on what others expect from them. When we decide to give to ourselves and to follow what we know is the right choice for our lives, it makes us stronger. It gives us the courage to fully step into our light and to give those around us the permission to do the same without condemnation or shame but with grace and acceptance.