May I?

Yesterday a dear friend of mine asked me something quite extraordinary. I won’t go into details at the moment, because what it was is not that important. She asked me whether I’d be interested in taking on a job, sometime in the future.

The word “gobsmacked” is appropriate here; as is the phrase, perhaps, “punched in the stomach”. That’s how big it felt, as if out of her mouth came not just words, but a fist that knocked me to the ground and stood me up and dusted me off again, and then retreated silently, leaving three questions in their wake.

Three questions.

The first was obvious. Could I? And, thinking honestly about my strengths and weaknesses, things I’d done in the past that compared, the answer was Yes. I could. I’ve done similar things to this before, some successfully, others…maybe less so. But I’ve done them all the same.

The second was also obvious: should I? Was this something that would be beneficial to me, move me forward to where I wanted to be in life, and would it be beneficial for the recipients that I, specifically, would be the one doing it? Yes, on both counts. This would be a very positive career move for me, and potentially a huge gift for the people I’d be doing it for, or with; a hand-in-glove scenario.

The third question was the biggest one though, the one that took me most by surprise: May I?

Here’s where I came unstuck.

Did you ever play that game as a kid? “May I”? Where the person up the front tells you to take three baby steps, or four giant steps, or whatever, and before you take them you have to ask “May I?” or you get sent to the beginning again? I was good at that game. I was always good at checking first as to whether I had permission for things. I knew better than to overstep my boundaries, and I knew better when to step out where I obviously wasn’t wanted. Sometimes though, we learn those lessons the hard way. We learn it through rejection, often unspoken, and through overheard whispers and sideways glances, the sighs that say “what’s SHE doing here again?” or worse, the direct words of “we don’t want you to play with us any more”, leaving us to make up games of May I, on our own, left to pretend that we were really having fun after all.

When I was growing up there were people in my world who had learned that the answer to “may I?” is nearly always “no”, and they acted accordingly. Their response to the world was fear, always afraid of treading on people’s toes, of doing the wrong thing, of being wrong, of being told that they weren’t in the right place after all. I learned from them, probably too well. Always check to see how you’ll be offending. There’ll always be someone more worthy than you. Ask permission from someone higher up, because the person who’s asking you to do this/play/come over probably doesn’t know “the rules” anyway. Know your place. Don’t expect. Who do you think you are, anyway? May I? NO.

If you look hard enough there WILL be someone there who’ll tell you “no”.

Do you know these words as well as I do?

It was the memory of these people and their words that came to sit at my table that minute, after that fist of words from my friend had knocked me down and then dusted me off again.

“May I?”

I’m not going to give those thoughts the time of day any more. I’m a grown-up now. I can make my own decisions as to what’s right or wrong. There’s only one answer: Yes. You may.

You too. Go on. Give yourself permission to do something extraordinary today. You may. I told you so. Believe it!