My colleague, Jackie, shared her life story recently. As is true for so many of us, it is a journey punctuated in equal measure by happy surprises and huge disappointments, false starts and clear sailing, personal setbacks and awesome achievements. Time and again, she was able to reinvent herself, to grow as a result of adversity.
I consider Jackie hot stuff, someone to look up to. She is a bad-ass — self-made, working to make the world a better place, and seemingly tough as nails — and so it struck me that at several pivotal points in telling her story, she stopped to say, “It was the hardest thing I ever did.”
Ever since we talked, I’ve been thinking about the hardest things I’ve done. In each case below, I was fortunate to have the encouragement of a sort of “angel investor,” someone who saw things in me I (still) can’t seem to, or else was able to give me a desperately needed hop in the ass (sometimes both):
- Supporting myself through college with two jobs
- Having a child (a job that’s not much easier 22 years later, by the way)
- Being a working mother
- Re-inventing my professional self after being laid off
- Standing up for myself at a toxic job
- Figuring out this new phase of my career where I am the boss (eep!)
None of these compare, though, to the single hardest thing I’ve done — work to actively find my voice. For a great part of my life, I’ve been a cliche among adoptees: The mouse who wouldn’t roar — quiet, too-eager to please and quick to swallow an opinion rather than risk upsetting the status quo.
Gathering the nerve to step outside the lines drawn for me, to question aloud the stereotype of who I am supposed to be as an adopted person and work to change society’s view of me and other adoptees, has redefined my identity in ways that nothing else could.
Here, too, I had help: Support from family and friends as well as a wonderful group of adoptees I’ve come to know. Connecting with other people like me, who get what it’s like to always be “other” in this world was everything.
I was lucky to stumble on these folks through my blogging and search for biological relatives, but if you’re not putting yourself out there online, how can you find a community like this?
It’s getting easier all the time. Many adoptees are working to foster a sense of community among adopted people, to give them a place to talk about what it’s like to be adopted, how to cope with the many conflicting feelings we share, to vent about the challenges and setbacks we endure as we try to find our authentic selves.
Among the movers and shakers in this regard is Pamela Karanova, an adoptee and adoptee advocate from Kentucky whose Adoptees Connect organization has spawned 17 chapters across the country in just nine months. Adoptees Connect is intended to be a safe place for adult adoptees to share their stories and find support.
If you’re adopted and trying to find your voice, check them out. The full list of chapters is here.