By Carrie Perrien Smith
I’m the oldest of Generation X.
We’re the first generation to know what it is like to enter the workforce and not encounter barriers just because we’re female. We didn’t have to claw our way to the top, burn our bras, or march in front of the White House to compete a fair share of opportunity.
Generations of women before me made that possible. I don’t always say thanks or even stop to think what life would be like without the privilege of equality.
Is it their ideas holding us back or ours?
Sure, there are some goofballs out there with old attitudes, some of them younger than me. But there are far too many of us who are willing to listen to them and allow their roadblocks to stop us from doing what we think we’re big enough to do. We set low goals because we are afraid to take risks. It’s really a slap in the face to the woman who paved the path for us. We owe it to them to take the path and forge new paths for the women who follow us.
I sing in a band. You should know that I’m not in a band because I’m a great singer. I’m great at a lot of things but singing is NOT one of them. I’m average — at best. I wish I was just saying that because I’m humble.
But I own my place on stage and give it everything I’ve got. I schlep the same equipment in and out that my band mates do, practice as much or more, and handle a good portion of the band’s marketing.
I started with no experience as a singer and worked hard for two-and-a-half years learning the craft. I can’t wait to see how much better I’ll be in another year or two or even five.
Our band is a 60s and 70s rock band. The list of female rock singers from that era is short. Women didn’t start changing the rules until nearly the 1980s. I’m in a band with some pretty talented musicians who aren’t afraid to remind me that they dwarf me in experience. Sometimes the guys in the band remind me that I am female and pitifully average and suggest that I shouldn’t attempt some of the songs I am working to master.
It isn’t really about us
After some tough feedback and some failure, yes, I lick my wounds and think about quitting. That would be safe. But then I remember something important — women need to see me take a risk like this. There are tons of women way more talented than I am who don’t believe they could ever sing in a band. I am living proof that they can.
But wait, singing isn’t my only average performance. I lost my first race for city council too. Dead last of four. Believe me, no one was more shocked than me. I licked my wounds and thought about giving up my hope to make a difference in our city as an alderwoman. It took about forty-eight hours to rationalize that I learned far too much (mostly about what I should have done with my campaign strategy) to waste it. And I am a much-needed voice for small businesses on the city council. I realized that if I shy away from the risk of losing another election that I couldn’t set an example for other women. So here I go again this summer.
Our band plays in bars a couple times a month. Most nights when we play out, I make an effort to mingle with bar patrons on break, particularly the women. The feedback I get from them confirms that it is important for them to see other women taking a risk and stepping out in front, shoulder to shoulder with men.
Despite what other people tell them about the way the world works, I prove it is possible — even if I am average. I’m living proof that you don’t have to be extraordinary to spread love, encouragement, and hope.
And you don’t have to be very far along to reach back and bring someone along the path with you.
Cheer them on
Probably the most important lesson is how much the smallest encouragement helps keep me going on those days when I am frustrated with my averageness or licking my wounds.
After the last gig, a sweet girl I didn’t know named Samantha posted on our band’s Facebook post “Carrie is so cool!!!” I commented back that she made my week. It had been a tough, humbling week for me, and it really was the highlight. It reminded me how important it was to tell others how cool they are too. I vowed to do that more often. People just don’t hear that often enough.
We owe it to the women before us and the women after us
My example matters. Your example matters. What is your rock band or campaign? Let’s get out there and be fearless together. Surely we won’t be inexperienced or average forever. If our girls see us attack life fearlessly, they may attempt something and discover they are extraordinary. And that will definitely be worth the risk.
Photo above: Performing with Paper Jam at the Rogers Lions Club car show at Kent Rylee Automotive Solutions in April 2014.
Carrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Jazmin, Midgieboy, and Chloe — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, community activist, singer in a party band called Paper Jam, and home improvement junkie. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.