Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Lessons on Humanness; Reflecting 1 Year After the Roadtrip

It has been over a year since I traveled across America’s canvas to take down stories of “unconventional’ women.  I’ve re-read, I’ve reflected, and now it’s time to share some thoughts from my journey from its impetus to its end.

13 months ago, well before I knew how to work a GPS, I went to a cocktail party with beautiful women in form fitting couture.  They expressed their desire for perfection not through accomplishment but through means of larger ‘assets’. “Heidi, they said, “you should get boobs too.  Perhaps if we all go in together, the plastic surgeon will give us a discount.”

Instead of going into surgery, I decided to embark upon a different endeavor.  I took my beat-up car across the United States to interview women that defined themselves by a variety of means—from the flesh of strippers to the fast of race car drivers, I spoke to over 30 amazing women.

When I returned home everyone asked me what I learned.  I first found it difficult to pull together common threads from such a variety of characters.    What did a stay-at-home-mom-have in common with a stripper or a soldier?  And could a disaster relief worker share the same goals as a track star?  After months of reflection I was able to pull together some learnings.

1. Purge Peer Pressure; Know (and be) Thyself.

Perhaps I was lucky, but every woman I encountered didn’t let society tell her how to live her life.  Each woman carved her own path and as a result was incredibly happy and confident.  The stay-at-home-mom told me she was destined to be one despite friend’s urgings that she should use her brain for a ‘high power’ career.  “I’m at my best as a mom!”  The strippers were happy with the path they had chosen as well.  “Please tell people we had other options” they insisted.  “We don’t have to do this—we want to!” The soldier also had other options-as a straight A student she was accepted into every college she applied to. “But West Post was my destiny,” she said.  Despite animosity she faced in West Point as a woman, she plowed ahead and later managed a troop in Afghanistan.

2. Admit Humanness

We are all fallible, imperfect beings. This is what makes us beautiful…and relatable.  Who has any desire to connect to a plastic Miss America doll?  After I posted each interview, I received calls and emails from my audience saying, “Really? I thought it was just me who struggled with that….thank you.”  My sporty friends reveled in the story of a professional surfer who confided that her competitive nature made it really hard to date.  “I just want to be the girl for once….” she said.   Other ‘first generations’ were thankful for the story of the Mexican-American who revealed her anxiety of failure and letting down her family that had worked so hard to bring her here.  Another woman told me the struggles of marriage and her determination to combat temptation.  Not only did each admittance make the women stronger, they were able to connect to a wide online audience that shared all of the same fears and faults.  If we take this same honesty to people we actually know in every day interactions, imagine how much deeper our relationships could be.

3. Gray is the New Black; Embrace Flexible Morality.

Over the course of my trip a stripper recited beautiful love poetry in my ear, a Christian woman confided exotic love affairs, and a preacher’s wife told me how she forgave spousal abuse.  It’s easy for us to judge others without allowing ourselves to understand the complexity of human hearts and the reasons behind actions.  Our world isn’t monochrome so why should our judgments be?  Black and white doesn’t even make good fashion sense.  Plus, once we stop judging, we will have more space to listen.

Over the course of my travels I also learned something about the greatness of our country.  If you let them, American people are amazingly generous.  I was fed, housed, and taken out on the town on numerous occasions…almost all by strangers.  They key was that I allowed it.  We stay so closed most of the time refusing help and resisting vulnerability.  We are only cheating ourselves.  If I hadn’t accepted ‘stranger invitations’ and stayed my independent self, I wouldn’t know what a Nascar bar looked like, how Mormons cooked dinner for eight, or the best deli in New Orleans for Muffaletta.

I don’t know that I have another cross country journey in me, but I do aspire to learn and grow from the stories of those I surround myself with.

The only bond worth anything between human beings is their humanness.

-Jesse Owens, American Athlete, 4 time Gold Medalist in Track and Field

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