When I was an English teacher, I used to get students to tell a story about their name at the beginning of a course to help us all remember. I’d tell mine about how the original pronunciation meant that my primary school classmates ended up with the closest English approximation and I was annointed ‘Sealion’ for the next 6 years.
I enjoyed this story but it also hid the secret struggle that I had with my identity, the painful disconnection I felt whenever I was asked those 2 simple, apparently harmless questions: what’s your name? and where are you from?
I’d tense up because I didn’t feel like I was being asked anything about who I was. I was being asked to match the features on my face with a nationality, the countries where one or other of my parents were born (grandparents if I didn’t get the answer right first time), why my accent didn’t match my eyes, why English appeared to be my first language when the way I looked said otherwise.
It was a long time before I realised that the pain I felt during these interactions was not indignation at sometimes having to ‘explain’ myself. It was the fear that struck right at my heart: that I didn’t belong, that my face, name, the country of a parent’s birth excluded me from being accepted as more than a curiosity.
Why couldn’t I just be the Jason Bourne/Elizabeth Bennet/Miss Piggy ass kicking combo I was in my head?!!
One day last year, I decided to reclaim my identity. I realised that we all make enormous assumptions about each other and ourselves and that some of these are generous, opening up the possibility for connection, while others cause pain and disconnection. I also realised that generosity and pain aren’t the end of the story. They’re the beginning.
They’re tools to help us on the journey of deciding for ourselves who we are, what we stand for and what we want to do with the gifts we’ve been given.
Part of my journey has been to discover that I was actually given a pretty cool name and that I don’t want to hide from it.
My name is Shâo-Lan and it means Little Orchid.
I believe miracles happen when you love someone for who they are. And that includes loving yourself because of your name, your beautiful face (I promise you it’s beautiful), your weird ways and questionable choices.
That doesn’t mean you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t outgrow or change these things. It just means that you can be who you are with love, change who you are with love and become someone new with love.
No need to hide.
No need to judge.
No need to be ashamed.
If you know a powerhouse who would enjoy this message, please invite them to join our journey