Here's How to Say What You Mean and Be Heard
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How You Could Be Seen and Say What You Mean

Tips for revealing your true story — even if it hurts.

gif of woman peeking into the spotlight
Sam Island

When she hit 50, Elaine Heroux realized she had been “slowly strangled” by other people’s expectations and rules she had mistaken as truth, such as: “You will put others before yourself. Just settle down with a nice man and be happy.”

These rules became her prison. “My soul, my authentic self, had been covered with barnacles and was barely breathing,” the Florida-based psychotherapist recalls.

She scraped off the barnacles and embarked on a spiritual journey that led her to India and inspired her, at age 74, to write her memoir, Path of Fire: A Woman’s Journey to Oneness. For Heroux, who had been a bystander in her own life, sharing her truth took courage. “I realized how crucial it is for us to tell our stories as we hit 60, 70, 80 and beyond,” Heroux says. “We’ve lived long lives, and we have knowledge and wisdom to share. It’s time to stop being quiet.”

Here are some ways you could discover — and share — your true story:

Ask: “What brings me energy?”

Is part of you screaming and begging to be seen? Do you sometimes wonder who you are? Many women define themselves by their roles, such as wife and mother. However, disappearing into roles leaves a void that’s often gaping by midlife, according to writers like Heroux and Glennon Doyle, whose 2020 memoir, Untamed, urges women to drop the disappearing act caused by the people-pleasing women often do.

“When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself,” Doyle writes. “I knew from the time I was 12 I would be a newspaper editor. I was quiet but not shy: I watched people. I paid attention. This was my talent, the ability to become a conduit for communication, to tell stories — I felt it in my bones. My work became my energy source. I also wanted to be a mother but wasn’t so enthused about the day-to-day job of marriage or child rearing. I adore my two daughters, and I was lucky to have a loving mother close by to help care for them. But I felt shackled by the expectations of my husband — who wanted a more doting, casserole-making kind of wife.

“When my marriage ended after 17 years, I heard a chorus of angels singing: ‘Free, free, free. Never again a wife I will be!’ But before I felt free, I felt crushed. I had to overcome rejection and heartbreak — and shake the idea that I was somehow less worthy without a husband. Where did that idea come from anyway? Was it a ‘rule’ derailing me from my own story?”

Fashion designer Diane Gilman, 77, who ditched tradition in the 1960s to design jeans for rock stars, advises “plugging yourself in where the juice is” — finding the energy source that renews you. She fleshes this out in the new book, of which I am coauthor, Too Young to Be Old: How to Stay Vibrant, Visible, and Forever in Blue Jeans.

Gilman lives her life by “25 rules for women who don’t like rules,” including: "Growing older is a privilege, not a punishment and don't be a spectator in your own life." How we use our most finite treasures — time and energy — is crucial to every chapter of life.

“To plug ourselves in where the juice is, we first have to crack open our hoods — in my case, the shell I’d built to protect myself — and then determine whether an energy source is positive or negative,” Gilman told me. “I’ll admit, I’ve gotten my jumper cables mixed up on more than one occasion. Explosions have occurred.”

Write your story… and start with your quirks

Expressing your spark and dropping the mask of roles requires risk — and exposure. Try this exercise: How would you describe yourself to get a suitor’s attention on a dating app? Friends often ask me to help them write their online dating profiles — because my own profile led me to two long and lovely relationships, including my current one. My advice: Start with your quirks — fun things that make it easy for potential partners to get to know you. What makes you stand out? My dating profile declared: “I can’t cook your dinner, but I could write your life story after our first date.” That’s a clever way to say, “I’m a writer who won’t be waiting on you.”

Some of my other quirks I openly share: I collect Barbies and have blond hair the shade of Malibu Barbie. I had such a mad crush on Davy Jones of the Monkees that I once chased him across four lanes of traffic. He was on a bike. I was driving a Honda Accord. Don’t judge — I ended up with backstage passes. Believe it or not, many women I interview have trouble coming up with one quirk. They’ve thrown their spark into park.

Connect the threads: Ruthless candor brings clarity

I know a smart and sensitive woman who cried when she had to write a eulogy for her mother. “I didn’t know Mom,” she said. “I don’t know anything about how she felt or why she did what she did.”

Nobody had asked her mother about the desires of her heart. Maybe she didn’t even ask herself. And now it was too late. “When you are truthful, really, really truthful, your story gets interesting,” says Liz Coursen, a Florida-based writer and editor who uses ruthless candor to help people craft their memoirs. “Is the pain worth it? Connecting the threads of your life to discover why you have a problem trusting authority, perhaps? Or why a lower-middle-class woman would be fascinated by a $10,000 alligator purse?” She’s talking about herself with that purse thing.

Coursen’s life was rocked by her parents’ divorce when she was 10. The oldest of three girls, she left home at 16, spent the last two years of high school living in boardinghouses and worked her way through college by mowing lawns. She adores pricey Lana Marks handbags and Alfa Romeo Spiders (she has owned two). Why? Connect the threads: She is still that struggling college student inside. Why do I drive a yellow convertible? I am an introvert — and I fear invisibility.

“We have so many distractions to keep ourselves comfortable. But if you want to be truthful, you have to strip those away,” says Coursen. “We are left with our stories. That’s all we’ve got. If you die with your stories untold, you’re just a pebble thrown into a pond, gone down without a ripple.”

The purses, the cars, the roles — what are they saying about you? What are they hiding? Tell your truth. Write it. Be prepared for it to hurt.

Do any of you sometimes feel invisible? Let us know in the comments below.

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