“You are fierce” she said.
The comment took me by surprise. I’ve been called a lot of things, but that is one I’d never heard. My instant reaction was “pfft, ya right”.
You see, I’ve never seen myself as strong, smart, confident or good at what I do, in fact, I’m very hard on myself. When this young student looked at me and said she was intimidated to ask me a question because I was fierce it began a reflection period for me. Who am I? What do others think about me? What value do I bring my community?
This reflection period took me into a depression. Discovering new dark pieces in my mind, I chose to keep walking through the “funk”, as I call it, into a new realization that I may be fierce. What was I going to do with that?
I work in the nonprofit sector, we’re not supposed to be fierce, we’re supposed to be compassionate and giving and caring. What started to become apparent to me was that fierce may not be a negative. Fierce may, in fact, be a positive character trait that can help me achieve new things. How do you harness ‘fierce’ so that it’s a positive force for good and not a trait that turns people away, frightens them or calls my motives into question? How can ‘fierce’ drive innovation and social change without harming anyone in the process?
For the past two decades I’ve been working in service roles where I have supported many people. I have bathed, fed, washed, dressed, nursed, loved, carried and given the heart of myself to hundreds of humans in need over the past 23 years. I have been in scary places and seen true brokenness and hurt from the street level to end of life care. I have loved my journey and it has created a compassionate heart with a truly altruistic need to help.
Aside from the work that I have done, I have also needed services for myself and my children. I’ve experienced and lived through mental health crises, poverty, abuse and trauma. Being a ‘client’ in the nonprofit system also created fierceness as I began to have to advocate for my needs and the needs of my children. The lived experience gives me an additional ‘heart’ of compassion towards the injustice I see daily in our community, country and the world.
Being fierce means speaking up, speaking out and calling on others for support. When I share stories or challenge people on their thinking it is not to hurt or harm anyone; rather, it is to help us to all slow down, think and reflect together on how we can make this world a better place for all humans.
It’s surprised me to see so many people along the way who hurt each other, lead for power and unabashedly build fortresses around their organizations or causes that inadvertantly keep people out.
On the flip side, I've seen people working hard in their field of work to solve challenging issues, who are torn down daily in different forms of media and made to feel terrible simply because they make money that is supported by taxpayer dollars.
In a sector I love so much, I have seen so much pain and intolerance of others' opinions and actions that it tears at my heart. I, and so many others who are fierce, are growing tired. I wonder who else is willing to begin stepping out and looking at how we can bring compassion and love back into our sector and approach our work in a new way. An unapologietically fierce compassion that puts our clients at the heart of our organizations, and where we park all our egos and personal belief systems at the door and listen and learn what our next steps may be.