Here are the boxes I want you to break for my birthday

To: Younger People

From: Lauren Brill

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To younger people,

Today is my birthday. It’s hard to believe, but I am 35 years old. While much has changed through the years, one constant I want to share with you is that people have tried to put me in a box my whole life.

In high school, I wrote a poem called, “Why do people have eyes if they can’t see?”

Twenty years later, I could still ask the same question, but I don’t bother.

Growing up, I was always faster and stronger than most kids, male or female. I played sports seven days a week. Whether it was traveling soccer, school lacrosse, rollerblading, or kickball in my neighborhood, I never backed down from a little competition.

In my generation, being feminine and “girly” didn’t coincide with being strong and athletic.

So, people called me a tomboy. For a long time, I wore that moniker proudly.

I remember playing a soccer game in high school and a ref said to me, “Wow, that was an impressive play, young lady.”

I chirped back, “There are no ladies out here – just athletes.”

I chirped back, “There are no ladies out here – just athletes.”

However, around that same time, I started dating boys. I still wanted to be a pit bull on the field, but now I wanted to also be a princess once I got to the parking lot.

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Desperate to shed that tomboy image, I started buying pink accessories to go with my new wardrobe of dresses and skirts.

It was challenging to balance what the world told me were dueling identities – athlete vs feminine woman.

Lauren as a teenager

As a result, I was afraid to lift weights because I thought it might bulk up my body even more. Terrified of becoming too muscular or too big, I limited my training. And unfortunately, I don’t believe I ever reached my full potential as an athlete.

However, life went on.

Ironically, after college, my femininity dominated people’s perception of me. The length of my skirt, for some, measured the depth of my intellect. And the number of dresses in my closet somehow corresponded with the number of guys that people presumed came through my bedroom.

These unfair assumptions spilled over into the workplace.  Some bosses and peers told me my appearance and gender made me less credible, less valuable, or my favorite, less worthy of an opinion. Regularly, I felt a need to prove my intelligence, which led to me unnecessarily mentioning my ivy-league education, frequently sprinkling SAT words in casual conversation and engaging in useless debates. It was exhausting and a waste of energy.

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As you live your life, your experiences will likely be different than mine.

However, whoever you are and whatever you do, people will try and put you in a box: the jock, the bimbo, the nerd, the thug.

That box might end up being the reason you don’t get that promotion, or you see people you’ve never met whispering about you in the corner.

Unfortunately, some people will always view you through a singular lens, leaning on stereotypes and illogical connections to paint their picture of you.

In life, very few people will take the time to see who you are and where your capabilities lie.  The boxes people put you in can hold you back, lower your expectations of yourself, serve as hurdles in your career and attack your self-confidence.

Boxes are enclosed spaces and if you live within them, you will never be able to discover your potential or express your authentic self.

That’s why it’s so crucial that you know that even if people put you in a box, you don’t have to stay there.

Today, at 35 years old, I rollerblade 20-30 miles a week and do resistance training at least three times a week. My legs are muscular and powerful. I still wear short skirts and I started my own business, which has reached people worldwide amid an unprecedented global pandemic.

I love what I do and I love all that I am.

Lauren still loves her dresses

Yet, to this day, people tell me that my dresses are too tight to be a credible entrepreneur. People assume my business will fail because my demeanor is soft. Some don’t think I have the toughness, the intelligence, or the talent to pull off the lofty goals I set for myself.

Many people think I should just find myself a good husband and call it a day.

Twenty years since I wrote that poem, people still have eyes, but they still don’t see me. However, I no longer ask why because I realize it doesn’t matter how other people see me. What matters in life is how I see myself.

After 35 trips around the sun, I am still learning who I am while embracing who I have always been. I don’t know what I will accomplish, personally or professionally, as I move forward on this wild journey. But I know I can’t stay in a box to find out, and neither can you.

So whether you are navigating your way through corporate America, going after a passion others don’t understand or simply trying to be your best you, let’s break those boxes and go after our greatness together!

With love,

who still likes her short skirts,

A smart, tough athlete, who still likes her short skirts
Lauren Brill
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