Recently, I completed a psychiatric evaluation for a professional certification I am pursuing. The day consisted of three exams including multiple choice and fill in the blank questions. The rumor prior to entering the test was that if you weren't insane before starting you would be before you finished! It was a long and tiring test day. After completing over 500 bubble in questions with a #2 pencil, I felt a bit drained but continued to the written questions with only a short break. One of the questions was to name three famous people (no religious leaders allowed) and then list what qualities you admire and desire about each person. In that moment, I began to think of famous people as the question asked. But, I could not think of a single famous woman who was not a religious leader. Mother Teresa was the only famous woman that would come to mind (and I'm pretty sure she counts as a religious leader). Being the independent and equality focused woman that I am, I was really frustrated with myself and refused to list all of my answers as men. So, I sat there and stared at my paper. I instantly thought of many men of varying degrees of fame including Abraham Lincoln, Louis Zamperini, Martin Luther King Jr., and Shane Claiborne. Of course, there is Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Cosby, Beethoven, George Lucas, and Steve Jobs. There were many famous men floating through my mind in that split second.
As a woman, I really wanted to include at least one woman in my list of influential famous people. But, why could I not think of any women? I am not certain what my frustration or dis-satisfaction with an all male answer would say of my psychiatric exam results (although I’m sure the reviewing psychiatrist can explain). However, I know that once I sat back, took a deep breath and paused for a few moments, the women came rushing into memory. Women (also of varying degrees of fame) like Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty White, Taylor Swift, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Jen Hatmaker, Lucille Ball, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, and Amelia Earhart. These women have all gained their fame for some reason or another. Like the men who came to mind, the reasons they are famous are all different. Like the men, these women have many other roles than the role the public puts on them. They are not solely known for their fame as authors, artists, musicians, comedians or leaders. They are known to others as daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Women today and throughout history have often worn so many hats that fame is simply one more for these women to keep up with. There are many attributes about each of these women that I admire and desire. I narrowed my list and moved on to the remainder of my test. This thought stuck with me, how could anyone, man or woman, handle the added pressures of fame today? Who would ever want to be famous?
After discussing a famous athlete recently in the news, I told a friend at worship on Sunday night that I have no desire to be famous because of the scrutiny that surrounds fame. I told him that fame must surely be hard to manage and to live into. Fame allows the world to feel like they know you and give you every piece of advice imaginable (from your hair color and your baby's name to your philanthropic efforts and devotional routine). Fame pushes you to be a leader and example setter. After all, once famous, people look to you and the choices you make, right? They watch your actions, listen to your words and take note of your priorities. They favorite your tweets and share your status updates. Fame, permissible or not, adds another perceived layer of accountability to one’s actions. Fame seems to require a lot more responsibility!
After my statement about not wanting to be famous, my friend looked at me and informed me that he thought I was already famous. I quickly replied no (with a chuckle) and asked him why he thought I would be considered famous. With true genuineness, he reminded me that to my 8 year-old son and to my niece and nephews and to the kids in our mission congregation, I’m definitely famous. My choices, my style, my language, and how I spend my time and money may not be broadcast on social media or on television. However, as a mom, aunt, spiritual care giver, and a teacher in our mission congregation, I’m famous. And, no matter your title or role, you are famous too.
This thought has stuck with me since listing those famous men and women. It has stuck with me because although we live in a world where it is easy to find fault with others, we also live in a world where it is easy to set a good example, make a difference, give back, create charity, spread good ideas, build community, live passionately, embrace the small things and live fully into the persons God called each of us to be (in my case, a woman!).
I hope you feel famous today. Not for the pressure it may insinuate but for the possibilities it holds. It may be another hat to wear, but how you live your life indeed impacts others.
Whitney R. Simpson
• on a journey of #ExploringPeace
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