By: Sheila Moeschen, IATG Senior Editor
We went for a hike in a beautiful nature preserve about 40 minutes from my friend, Julie’s, hometown of Union City, California, which is about an hour outside of San Francisco. It was only my second time to northern California and the first time I had the chance to get out of the city and explore the outlying areas.
Our hike looped through gently sloped hills dotted with short, spiney trees and tangled, dusty-looking bushes. Wiry scrub plants tucked themselves against rocks in stubborn knots. A large pond was set into the heart of the preserve, its cool, damp sanctuary offsetting the parched landscape.
The path spit us out at the ranger’s station, home to a small information center. While Julie used the rest room I wandered around the center looking at the different posters about water conservation and the wildlife that called the preservation home. A large panel on the wall caught my eye. The figure of a mountain lion was sketched underneath the header “What To Do if You Encounter A Mountain Lion.” Was this a joke? Then I remembered that this was not Disney World; there were no animatronic creatures, no chirpy cast members ready to bail you out of the ride if a problem occurred. We could have easily stumbled upon a big cat during our hike.
“What To Do if You Encounter A Mountain Lion,” it sounded so casual like the title of that book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, as if anything could truly prepare you for launching a tiny human from your body or for snuggling up to a mountain lion. And shouldn’t this be the first piece of somewhat important information to have at the start of your walk instead of at the end, when you might be dragging yourself into the ranger station having just been “hugged” really, really hard by a wild feline? Ok, smarty info graphic, I thought, I’m game, what’s the answer? “Make yourself bigger than it,” stated the first line below the mountain lion drawing, his deadly serious muzzle turned toward the reader. I repeated the phrase in my head. I imagined drawing myself up on my tippy-toes and spreading my arms out as far as they could go, turning my face into a snarl like the bully character Scott Farkis in A Christmas Story. Would it really work? I wondered. Crazily enough, it kind of felt like it might.
I can tick off more situations than I care to actually cop to where “making myself bigger than it” would have made the difference between a feeling of success and accomplishment and one punctuated by dismay. Trying my hand at improv comedy when I lived in Chicago, an improv mecca, comes to mind as one instance where I met the lion on the path and instead of taking a risk, putting myself in a vulnerable situation, I dove into the bushes, curled myself into an unthreatening lump. Telling that person I crushed on my true feelings, sending my writing to “reach” publications, or even refusing to back down from an argument are other moments in a sea of experiences that come to mind where I might have made myself bigger despite my anxieties and stood my ground, took a chance. Life’s path winds through much terrain, the lions are many and varied. When you “make yourself bigger than it” you take back the power that fear and insecurity holds over you. You turn the tables on the beast blocking your way; he’s the one with a reason to worry, with a reason to run.
Historically, women have been socially conditioned to make themselves small. Cinderella’s dainty feet fit the shoes, the tyranny of “skinny” fashion reigns, and science labs and boardrooms are fraught with unseen partitions that pen women in. Though this is changing every day as more and more girls and women refuse arbitrary boundaries, the impulse to diminish, to shrink back and shield yourself from disappointment, hurt, or failure is strong and is certainly one way to go through life. But doing so means you will never know what it feels like to defeat that mountain lion, you will never get to experience the kind of confidence that grows when you know what you’re capable of, and you will never get to find out just how big you really can be.
Sheila is IATG's Senior Editor. She is a Boston-based writer and amateur photographer enthusiast! Sheila is also a comedy junky and pretty sure that if Amy Poehler and Tina Fey would just return her calls, they would all be super besties.
Featured image via tryingisgood.com