Earlier this month, Caitlyn Jenner took to her website to ask the transgendered community what she described as the "biggest question" on her mind: am I doing it right?
Caitlyn has spent an estimated $4 million on surgeries for her transition, orchestrated and starred in a nationally televised interview with Diane Sawyer as well as a brand new docuseries, and suffered untold public scrutiny on the road to becoming her true self, and even with that level of investment and commitment, she's still not sure that she's doing it right.
I point this out without an ounce of judgment in my heart. Rather, her question brings me comfort. Truly, it almost makes me chuckle a little bit, in a head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging kind of a way. I feel you, Caitlyn.
I wonder all the time if I'm doing it right, whatever "it" may be. At work, in my marriage, raising my kids, how I spend my free time, what I eat, what I share on social media — there is always another opinion out there that second-guesses my own, that makes me question if I might, in fact, be doing it all wrong.
Caitlyn's question about her transition to womanhood not only speaks to how common these feelings of self-doubt are, but it also begs a broader question: is there a "right" way to be a woman?
Inherent in the wondering if we're getting it right is an assertion that there is, in fact, a right. But where did we get this idea? Who told us that there was a right way? Or let us believe that there was a wrong way, for that matter? Did our mothers get it right? Did we get this idea from religious rhetoric? The women we did book reports about in elementary school (I'm looking at you, Amelia Earhart and Corrie Ten Boom)? The sitcom heroines of the 90's (confession: I still wish I was as cool as Aunt Becky from Full House), or the Real Housewives that we love to hate and hate to love? Are any of these women "doing it right"?
In so many very important ways, there has never been a better time to be a woman in America. We can vote! We can own property and marry whomever we choose! Or travel the world and not marry anyone at all! We can be doctors if we want to, or stay at home mothers, or entrepreneurs, or vagabonds if that's our thing. We can aspire to be the subject of a book report, a sitcom, a reality show, or none of the above, thankyouverymuch. We can wear pants, both literally and figuratively, and there have never been more styles to choose from. It's a good time to be an American woman.
With all those options, though, comes a lifetime of choices. And if you're anything like me, choices can often come with a side of self-doubt. With nearly unlimited options available for our career, our relationships, our geography, our reproductive health, and what restaurant to choose for dinner this weekend, it can be nearly impossible to feel totally confident in every choice we make. How do we know what's best? How do we make peace with letting go of the options that we don't choose? How do we strike a balance between following our passions while also serving our families and communities? How can any of us know if we're doing it right?
Well, we can't. Caitlyn doesn't know, and I think her uncertainty is indicative of the impossibility of guaranteed assurance. There is no manual, no rulebook, no sticker chart by which to gauge our rightness. Even though the available options for carving out one's identity are more plentiful for women today than ever before, the simplicity of the fact that we are all unique individuals — not meant to be 2.0 versions of our book report or TV show idols — remains the same. If there is a "right way," surely it's a bit different for each of us. The hard part is giving ourselves permission to believe that, to dismiss that strangely ingrained idea that there is one right way and that all other ways are wrong. The easy part, I hope, is finding a way that feels right for you. The beauty of all those options, once you've given yourself permission to choose and you've sworn off the side order of self-doubt, is that surely one of those options has your name all over it. Even if you're a woman whose name is Bruce, there's an option for you. And the only one who can know if it's right is you.