Difficult Names Project

A friend of mine recently reminded me of this quote: Be who you needed when you were younger. I don’t know about you, but when I was younger I didn’t have a whole lot of people to look up to. That quote really resonates with me because when I think back on Teenage Dania, I want so much more for her than what she had. I’m not saying I had a terrible adolescence. My adolescence was just what you’d expect it to be for a teenage girl in the early 2000s. I just mean I wish I could go back and tell her she had so much potential and that all those things she was afraid of doing were nothing to be afraid of after all. I wish I could tell her to stop being so self-involved and become a little more aware of the people and the world around her. I wish I could tell her the petty things she worried about back then would have no significance a few years down the road. I wish I could just hug her and tell her that everything would turn out just fine.

But I can’t go back in time, so I’m doing the next best thing: Paying it forward. I didn’t have anyone to mentor me when I was young, so I want to become a mentor to teen girls now. Enter: Difficult Names Project, or DNP for short. DNP is an organization that provides a safe space for junior high and high school aged girls to discuss ideas openly and then write about them. It also provides them with a mentor throughout their school careers. Here’s how it works:

Twice a month for two hours on a Saturday morning, DNP members will come together to discuss a single topic. The topic will range from body image to college applications to their ambitions to everything in between.The conversations will be non-judgmental, open, and real. During the first fifteen minutes, they will be given a random writing prompt to write about in their journals. This is to get their creative flow going and ignite their imaginations.For one hour following this first exercise, we will discuss a topic and let everyone have an opportunity to discuss their ideas in a safe and controlled (but uncensored) environment. At the end of the topic discussion, the girls will write down what they learned that day. That’s it! 

Each girl will be provided with a mentor they can turn to for questions and guidance on any number of subjects. The conversations will be confidential. They will be able to check-in with their mentors for the last fifteen minutes of the session, but communication via calls and texts will always remain open. 

It’s no secret that being a teenager is tough. It’s also such an important time of their lives. Their brains aren’t even fully developed and they’re stuck between feeling like a kid and an adult. On top of that, it’s when they have to make some of the most life-impacting decisions, like whether or not they want to go to college or start a family as soon as they’re old enough to vote. There’s so much pressure put on teenagers that sometimes we forget just how young they really are…how impressionable and vulnerable. I don’t think it’s fair to ask so much of them at such a young age, but, alas, I do not run society and so the next best thing I can do is help in any little way I can.

If you live in the Rio Grande Valley, please support DNP by spreading the word about the program. If you know any girls who would benefit from this initiative or if you’re interested in being a mentor, please reach out to me at difficultnamesproject@gmail.com. Our first meeting will take place at the Weslaco Public Library Meeting Room from 12-2 p.m. on February 29, 2020.

No Role Modelz

In the words of J. Cole, “No role models and I’m here right now.” Okay, I just wanted to say that to sound cool. To be frank, I only somewhat resonate with this quote because my relationships with role models is a little different than most people’s. I’ve never had a role model per se. No offense to celebrities or those who look up to them, but though there are a few I admire, there are none I can say influenced who I wanted to become.

I would define a role model as someone that you look up to. Additionally, I’ve always thought of a role model as someone who can influence you to be a better person when you don’t feel like being one – when you feel like being lazy or sloppy or want to half-ass something. A role model can lift you up out of that rut because they inspire you to be like them.

Growing up, I can honestly say I never had a role model. There wasn’t any one person out there whom I looked up to in my childhood. I simply got by with what my mother taught me, which was not to be lazy, have good manners, and be the best. Not try my best. Nope. My mother wanted me to just be the best at everything I did. I frequently disappointed her in that particular arena, but I did my best.

It was when I got into my teens that I began to subconsciously look up to certain people. This is where it gets interesting. The people I looked up to were always girls who were my age or maybe a little older, but they were doing big things with their lives. What do I mean by big things? There was one girl who was a beauty queen (by which I mean she competed in and won beauty pageants) who also graduated high school early, got into college early, danced ballet, and did every possible extra-curricular known to man – including playing the drums (um, what?!) There was another beauty queen who got into the university of my dreams and was just. so. kind. when I met her. There was a girl who was a track star and was so beautiful, you just wanted to stare at her face. There was a girl who was so gorgeous that she smiled at me once and I went and cut my hair like hers the next day. I looked up to her for years and years. She was a beauty queen, too.

Yes, I realize all these girls were beauty queens. I will admit I’ve always had a fascination with beauty pageants, although my stance on them has changed over the years. Yes, I consider all these girls to be beautiful, but they were also extraordinary in other areas and THAT is what intrigued me. They were multi-faceted. They were intelligent. They handled themselves with poise. They seemed to have it all together. They were talented. They were kind. Their hair was never out of place. They dressed cool. They were strong. Most of them were friends of mine.

I’ve always looked up to women around me because they come from the same place I do and they did more. They didn’t settle for complacency in a place where complacency is accepted. They didn’t make themselves small, but rather took up space with confidence. They were always so confident.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, this is a love letter to my role models, even though I’ve never disclosed who you are. This is a love letter to the women around me and around you that are doing their best and are killing it. I may never have said it to anyone, but I wanted to be just like you. And wanting to be like you has made me who I am today.

Today has its own role models. Today there is a woman who started her own law firm and is killing it. She’s younger than I am and she hit the ground running right after passing the bar exam. There’s a woman who is a yoga instructor and a therapist and an all around badass.  There’s a woman who founded a group of musicians and entrepreneurs. There’s countless female attorneys who have paved the way for me and are my ultimate girl crushes. There’s the same women I looked up to when I was younger.

And what I’m trying to say is to look around. It’s easy to look up to someone famous or some icon from the past. There’s nothing wrong with that – I love me some Frida Kahlo and Audrey Hepburn. But don’t forget to appreciate the girls and the women who aren’t on magazine covers or are Instagram influencers, but who are still worthwhile.

My role models have always been the ones who surround me. I know they’ll continue to make me better.