If you are like me and have been goody two-shoes all your life, then you are probably under the false impression that you are not rebellious. You are also likely blind to the consequences of your rebellious character. Let me be honest with you…and if you are a strong, independent, bold capable and influential woman – take a breath…this will sting a little…
In fact, if you encounter my spirit and demeanor at any point, you will sense that although I am agreeable, I am not possible to manage. That means, my being agreeable is only as long as I choose to be agreeable.
Like you, I have never described myself the rebellious type. I am neither loud not temperamental. I am not easily driven to anger, I do not swear, and when angry I have a pretty good grasp of my emotions. I have never been into multi-partner dating scene, I am not into drugs, and I certainly think I’ve got my stuff together! I have held a job down since I was 19, raise my children well, go to church on Sunday. I’m smart, powerful, committed and passionate. So, if you looked at me, you would never characterise me as a rebel in the traditional sense – and that was my delusion too!
But those really close to me know that I have always lived life according to my own terms. I have never been under the impression that I can be controlled, be controllable, nor be forced to do things I do not want to do. In fact, if you encounter my spirit and demeanour at any point, you will sense that although I am agreeable, I am not possible to manage. That means, my being agreeable is only as long as I choose to be agreeable.
I listen to advice. I consider advice. But, in the end its always going to be my choice and my decision what I do next. I will also take responsibility for it too. That does not sound bad right? I spell this out because this is the character of many women that I know, who self-identify as independent, strong and bold. The way we define life, is that we are not seeking permission to be. We are simply working out what it means to co-exist with other humans while doing our own thing.
In part this attitude helps us to be fantastic leaders – bold, courageous, and resolute. It also helps us to fight against systems that seek to control us. On the other hand, it makes us a nightmare to live with, bordering on narcissistic if we have not self-educated ourselves to moderate and manage this tendency.
Let me explain by telling you a story of how this false sense of individuality played itself out in my own personal life with dire consequences.
It is well known that I have been married twice; and I have divorced twice. Out of each of my marriages I had a son – that makes me a mother of two. My first marriage happened when I was 20 years old, still at university. When I made the decision to say yes to my ex’s proposal, my parents did not even know that I was in a serious relationship to the point of considering marriage. In fact, I had completely discounted their role in making this particular life decision – not because I disrespected them or did not want them involved – but because it never occurred to me that they had a role to play in this area of my life. I had already thought clearly about what kind of man I wanted. I had met him. I was in love with him. I had it all figured out – me, myself, and I. And as far as I was concerned, that was all that was necessary for me to move forward. By the time I turned 25 I was a divorced single mom and that ‘very well thought out’ decision from my very smart brain and intuitive soul had crushed and burned!
At 30 I met my second husband. By the time I met him I had gone through a fairly thorough and deep process of healing and had ‘figured out’ what I had done wrong in my first marriage, and what I would be careful of in my second and last – so I thought. When he started talking about marriage, again, it was just me and him, and my parents had no role in it whatsoever. In fact, by the time I went to speak to my parents I was ‘informing’ them that he and his family will come and start lobola negotiations, and we will be married in a few months.
Now, this already sounds extraordinary that I would make such a massive decision without proper conversation with my own parents – especially given that I had always been close to them. But what is even more shocking is that I honestly did not know that this was an issue or any kind of problem. It never even occurred to me that the way I was going about making my decision was upside down. Hear me well – I did not feel rebellious. I did not intend to be rebellious. And I was totally blind to how rebellious I was, and how uncultured my attitudes and spirit was. And because I had always thought well about things, I was under the false impression that to be well-considered was enough – and had never considered that I was being unaccountable and acting like an island.
This is possibly the greatest deception strong women are facing today. We are bombarded with a discourse that supposedly supports us and our strength by teaching us and encouraging us to stand as unaccountable islands that depend solely on ourselves for survival. Because we are able, and capable, and smart, and driven – the world would have us believe that we need no one. Often times we conclude that because we make intuitive decisions from conviction, making the right decision is enough even if it is untested. And yet, the more capable you are, the smarter you are, the greater level of responsibility you have is the more you need people around you – people you are accountable to and people who hold you accountable. Because ladies, none of us are infallible – and our mistakes can have a devastating effect on us and those we lead.
This principle applies to all of life – not just personal decisions.
I have watched brilliant women who become monsters as leaders because they are under the impression that they are a voice to themselves and whatever they think should go. This is a problem not only because it is arrogance to believe that you are infallible; but it is dangerous to lead without the buy-in of the people around you. And the only way to mobilise buy-in is to engage the collective wisdom of people around you, not as window dressing, but in real and meaningful ways.
The light-bulb moment of my rebellious character when it comes to my personal life occurred to me only a few months ago and I was shocked. And as I processed this new information, I realised that I had decided to be rebellious about my love life when I was a teenager already. When I was a teenager, growing up in the church I was surrounded by marriages and relationships I did not like. Back then, men would tell women that “God told me to marry you”. I felt these relationships were cold and clinical. And never got the sense that the women in them were happy. Since my parents were part of this system, I concluded that if I was going to find a better marriage, I could not rely on their system – I had to find the man I loved and who loved me. And that very decision was the foundation of a ‘know-it-all’ attitude; and an ‘I-don’t-need-anyone’ decision making style. I was wrong, and the consequences have been dire for both me, the people I agreed to marry, and my kids.
Now I know better. I know that there is no decision about which I am an island. So, I consult, I listen, I change my mind, I trust myself, I trust the tribe a little more, and I trust God even more, and I self-correct when necessary. I am accountable, even for things in my life I thought were just my decisions to make – like a new job, moving to a new city, making a decision at work – I am accountable even to people that traditionally are not seen to be people I should account to, like my team of employees or my children.
Here is a summary of what I want you to learn about our rebellious spirits…
· A rebellious spirit does not always look like a rebellious spirit. Every woman I have encountered has one, especially successful independent ones – it comes with the territory and she will most likely not have tattoos and a pierced nose. Rebellion is wearing a fancy suite, gorgeous heels and she is smart as hell.
· The person with a rebellious spirit does not always know that they have it. It took me two decades to realise that I am prone to rebellion by virtue of who I am, how my mind works and the gifts and power I have been given. It is my job to be aware of this, and to manage it for my own good.
· Rebellion comes with a lack of, or refusal to be accountable for an aspect of your life. The way to tame a rebellious spirit is to force yourself to be accountable even when you know you don’t have to be.
· You never feel the need to be accountable. Strong women don’t feel the need to express fear or uncertainty. We process it, deal with it, and get on with things. So, the need to share, the need talk, the need to report is not natural for us – not even in marriage. It is a discipline and practice you teach yourself, because you understand that it is your protection against bad judgement, and it is a way of remaining connected to those you love.
· ‘I know what I need’; ‘I know what’s best for me’; ‘I got this’ are all false statements. They will lead you to the valley of death. You really don’t got it. You, plus your tribe, plus God – the three of you got it – not you alone. Get in line, learn some humility, and treat them with the reverence they deserve.
As always, my intention is not to accuse you or point fingers. It is rather to support you as you learn to let go of things that don’t help in your journey towards becoming an effective leader. May it be so!