Some parts of society still think that marginalized identities are not normal. Introverts or people who are neurodivergent are usually seen as atypical. It’s always a challenge to fit in if you fall into one of those many categories of being neurodivergent. People should know that it is okay not to be normal. And people who are introverted or neurodivergent should not be ashamed of who they are. They should allow themselves to show up in the world as their normal selves and be comfortable with that.
Join Whitney Lauritsen as she talks to Chrysta Bairre about the intersectional layers of marginalized identities. Chrysta is a career coach, speaker, author, and founder of She Leads. She helps people live their best by balancing their work-life. Discover her story and why she classifies herself as neurodivergent. Learn about self-acceptance, breaking the stigma, social hierarchies, and more. Start finding your way in this confusing world today.
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Intersectional Layers Of Marginalized Identities With Chrysta Bairre
Building The Framework For More Acceptance
Something that often happens before I record with guests is a little get-to-know-you conversation. Chrysta, my guest, and I started to get into some deep discussions that felt rich and excited me. I feel lit up right now, Chrysta, to learn more about you, your perspective, and your knowledge. One thing that you mentioned that I felt could be a good starting point is hidden or invisible identities. This is something that only scratches the surface of most when it comes to being neurodivergent, which is what I’m using to describe myself. Although even with that, sometimes I wonder if I haven’t received a full evaluation, can I call myself neurodivergent?
It’s a place that I’d like to start because neurodivergence tends to be invisible. There are some people that you might be able to identify certain qualities or traits of autism or ADHD, but there are also a lot of assumptions and misunderstandings that go into those neurodivergences. I’m curious about your journey. Did you receive an evaluation for them or a diagnosis? When did that happen? What has led you to your current understanding of your brain?
Thank you for this question. I love this because it’s relevant for me and for so many of us. When we were talking earlier, we were talking about trans people and how there is more space for conversation around that, which is great. There is more space around neurodivergence as well. I didn’t know that I was neurodivergent most of my life.
Here in 2022, I’m 47 years old. I did not know that I was neurodivergent. I have always felt I’m different, and I have known the ways that I’m different. I have been aware of that and identified strongly with being an introvert. That was one of the differences I felt cognizant of a lot of the time. It’s a big part of the reason why I started an introvert-focused women’s community in Northern Colorado.
I started this community focused on being introvert-friendly and taking into account introverted preferences because so much of the world is designed thinking about what extroverted preferences are and what will make extroverts comfortable and happy in this space. As an introvert, I have to adapt and do extra work and extra efforting to engage in a semi-normal way.
I started this women’s community several years ago that was introvert-focused and introvert-friendly. Over several years, I started to realize that we were also attracting a lot of neurodivergence in addition to introversion, and there is a higher rate of introversion among neurodivergence. As we were attracting more people who identified as neurodivergent, I was like, “This is interesting. I’m curious about this.” I started to be curious about what that looks like and what that means.
In my curiosity, I started doing some research, and I found some articles that were talking about neurodivergent. The most commonly included diagnoses that I have seen are things like autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. I have seen some references. It can also include PTSD or complex PTSD, which is a diagnosis that I have had since I was about eight years old. Because of the complex PTSD, my brain does function differently than other people.
More than that, as I have been on this journey of self-discovery, I saw this TEDx Talk about sensory processing disorder. It was the director of this nonprofit. She used three different case studies in her talk. In every single one of the case studies that she talked about, I felt like I could relate too. I thought, “How interesting is this?” I relate to all three of these case studies.
That led me to find out more about sensory processing disorder, which led me to get diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and recognize that this is another layer of how my brain processes sensory information differently. Sensory processing disorder is not recognized in the DSM as its own diagnosis. It is believed to be under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder.
My understanding of what I have been learning about this is that there is a movement to say sensory processing disorder can be its own diagnosis separate from autism. It has opened the door for me to question, “Could I be on the spectrum joining different communities and learning about this for myself?” There’s so much I can relate to what other people talk about autism outside of or beyond the sensory issues.
I have not received an official evaluation for that yet. I’m in the process of trying to get that. It’s quite difficult. What I understand from other individuals whom I have interacted with is that the process of getting evaluated for autism spectrum disorder as a female and as an adult is complex because it’s not often recognized. There aren’t good diagnostic tools to understand how it shows up in females as well as how it shows up in adults.
It’s a process to even consider, but I have been feeling pretty comfortable claiming the title of being neurodivergent between having my official diagnosis of complex PTSD plus the sensory processing disorder. Now it makes sense. I have some way to define and articulate some of those differences that I have always felt and what is different about me.
It’s not something that other people can see, certainly not if they are looking at a picture of me and even interacting with me. I’m good at masking and most people don’t necessarily notice that I don’t fit in if they have met me, but my experience of meeting new people is that I am uncomfortable in those moments. What’s also interesting to me is that people wouldn’t suspect just meeting me the more time people spend with me.
There have been many experiences in my life where I have not belonged to certain groups or been ostracized from certain groups. There are a lot of reasons for that. While I have invisible, marginalized identities, it’s amazing to me how often people will pick up on but you don’t quite fit even if they can’t point their finger at what it is. I have experienced that as someone who grew up in severe poverty as well as someone who grew up and didn’t even know I was neurodivergent, as well as some other things too.
It’s interesting for me personally because there are a number of things you mentioned that I could relate to. One of the big things that you are touching upon is fitting in, and that speaks to so much when we’re talking about marginalized communities, misunderstood people, intersectional identities, and privilege. Something we were talking about before we started recording is how much we are taught to try to fit into one particular way of being.
As I got older, part of my journey was noticing how I didn’t feel like I fit in, mostly in the way that I think. I felt like I “fit in” from where I was living. There were mostly White people in my town. I’m White. I am cisgender. I am heterosexual. All of these things about me “seemed normal” to the majority of people. There was that, but there were under the surface a lot of things in which I didn’t feel like I fit in, which could be considered invisible.
You can feel those things and hide them because if they can’t be visually seen by the color of your skin or your appearance and how people associate that with gender and whom you’re attracted to, all these other factors that people think as being a huge part of who you are. Our brains and how we are thinking is invisible.
There could be so much going on there that we might not even notice. I noticed it in subtle ways, but I put it aside and maybe wondered, “This is normal. Maybe everybody has these thoughts.” When you read someone’s research, or you watch these videos, suddenly you are going, “Are you telling me that this stuff isn’t normal?” Even the word normal starts to feel interesting to me.
As I have gone down the journey of neurodivergence, I see many people talking about these things now that it has started to feel normal. I wonder, “When it comes to evaluating and diagnosing someone, maybe that’s part of what makes it complex because it is such a spectrum.” Some people say, “Maybe we are all on the spectrum.”
That starts to feel confusing to me because if we are all on the spectrum, how do you pinpoint? What buckets do you put people in? Do they even need to go into buckets? All of this starts to your point that being evaluated becomes incredibly complex. I start to wonder, “Do I want to be shoved into some box? Is that helpful to me? Would a diagnosis or evaluation benefit me or would it feel like a hindrance?”
I’m curious for you going down this journey as well as an adult, Chrysta. I have felt simultaneous feelings of like, let’s say, if I get some evaluation or I can continue to self-diagnose myself as I have. Sometimes I wonder, “Would that have been beneficial to do as a child and go most of my life knowing something about myself? Is it a benefit to have not come to that realization until adulthood?” How do you feel about that?
I feel like for me personally, on this journey that I have been on, there has been a lot of healing, grace, and resourcing that has come from being evaluated for the sensory processing disorder and questioning, “Does autism spectrum disorder also apply to me and self-diagnosing?” It has opened up a lot of doors. I would have been better off having been diagnosed at a younger age. I want to speak for myself and not for everyone.
There is this feeling that I have that I grew up feeling wrong. There was a lot of shame when I would be in situations where how I was different became apparent to a room full of people because I have been socially rejected for that in certain situations. I have been rejected by teachers, mentors, school officials, and other people. There was a lot of shame that I felt about being what was different about me.
I agree with what you said about using the word normal. That’s not a word that I like to use. I like to use the word typical. That has less negative connotations than normal because you’re normal or not normal. That’s not a good thing to be not normal but to be atypical, maybe that doesn’t quite have the same negative associations.Intersectional Layers Of Marginalized Identities With Chrysta Bairre Click To Tweet
I had this shame around being atypical around, not belonging, and feeling there was something different about me. I’m amazing at masking, but when other people caught a glimpse of that, there was much of this experience from the other person. If I don’t understand you, I can’t put you in a box, and I’m uncomfortable with you, and I’m not going to trust you because I don’t trust how you think and a lot of things about you.
To be able to have some context for that would have made certain things in my life easier. I wouldn’t have worked hard to appear typical because working hard to appear typical or what we call masking is incredibly exhausting. It can be damaging at times. It leads to burnout and a whole host of other challenges.Working hard to appear typical is exhausting. Click To Tweet
There is a lot of research that shows that people that are on the spectrum experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and similar struggles. That is because of the lack of awareness and acceptance. If I had been able to be diagnosed earlier, I would have had this information and understood a little bit better the ways in which I was atypical, what that looks like for me and how I can own that and claim it in an empowered way.
Already, I started to give myself more permission to ask for accommodation. I’m an entrepreneur. I work for myself. I don’t have to ask my boss for accommodations, but part of the reason I am an entrepreneur may be because I’m neurodivergent. In a traditional employment situation, I can be successful and have been successful, but it’s a lot of hard work for me.
Not knowing why or how that was hard for me, I decided to go into business for myself. Even as a business owner, there still are places that I have allowed myself to ask for accommodations, receive accommodations, or make a boundary with clients or potential clients and say, “This is how I interact with people.” I do that all the time. In my work, I tell people, “These are the best ways to communicate with me. If you communicate with me in these ways, I am unlikely to respond.”
I can set those boundaries for myself and make my own accommodations for myself and say, “This is how you get the best of me. When you get the best of me, you’re going to be blown away. I’m going to work so hard for you and get amazing results for you.” If I’m trying to fit myself into functioning as if I’m typical, I can still do amazing work, but it’s not going to have the same impact. I can create those boundaries for myself, feel good about it, and understand what that looks like.
That is so well-articulated. I appreciate the way you have expressed that. I’m relating so much. It feels relieving to hear someone like you share that. I wonder how many readers have been waiting for someone to express it in that way. That’s helpful for me, too, because I think about these experiences I had before I started working for myself. I pointed out how common it is for people who are neurodivergent to become entrepreneurs because of the need for specific accommodations and working styles.
It makes absolute sense. I remember when I left my last full-time job. I continued to work part-time for a couple of years, but the first day that I left that full-time job, I felt a combination of relief and confusion because I had to train myself for the first time about what life would be like working on my own terms. When you talk about masking, it’s hard to take off the mask if you have spent most of your life covering them up and hiding.
It took several years for me to even stumble upon neurodivergence. I didn’t even know what that term meant until an episode of this show with my former cohost. He brought up that term. I had never heard it before. I didn’t even identify with it until I started to learn what it meant to be neurodivergence. This open dialogue of people now coming out and talking about it openly is helpful but can also be confusing because it almost feels like it’s becoming a bit trendy. I’m curious if you feel this way, too, and that makes me nervous.
As a personality trait, I’m grateful for trends. Another example was when I stopped eating gluten. It was because people were starting to talk about gluten sensitivities and allergies. It became trendy, and I started to question, “Am I sensitive to gluten, or is it because it’s trendy?” I felt almost like I’m going through that now, where I see many people talking about ADHD, autism, other forms of neurodivergence, and other atypical ways of operating or the way that your brain works.
Sometimes I wonder how much of that is a desire to be different. Even the introversion thing is something I wanted to talk with you about, Chrysta. When I learned about introversion, and there were all these personality tests you could take, that started to become trendy. I wonder, “Am I introverted, or am I neurodivergent? Is it both? Are introversion and extroversion labels that became trendy, people wanted to put themselves in boxes to feel they could better articulate who they are, or are they limiting with your focus on introversion and neurodivergence?” How do you feel about personality tests, and how do you feel about when things like that become trendy?
It depends on the circles that we’re in, and we talked a little bit about this at the beginning and how most of us tend to prefer it. There are lots of research around this. Most of us tend to prefer and feel most comfortable with people who are like us. The more like us they are, the more we’re naturally comfortable with them. Our unconscious biases can come into play in many situations.
As we’re talking about, is neurodivergence trendy right now? My experience is no. It’s not trendy. It may be that once we become aware of our own neurodivergence, we seek out naturally and are attracted to people who are neurodivergent because there’s this familiarity and comfort. All of a sudden, we notice those people around us because we’re attracted to them. We were like, “These are the communities and my people.” This is where I want to belong to. They get me. I don’t feel weird, and I don’t have to mask.
On an individual level, becoming more aware of neurodivergence, we start to seek out and consume more content that’s neurodivergent or associate with people or want to spend time with people who are neurodivergent. All of a sudden, we’re opening the doors to this whole new level of learning, self-understanding, self-acceptance, and acceptance of others.
As a community leader that regularly speaks about introversion and neurodivergence, I come across people that have no idea what neurodivergence is. My perspective is that it’s not trendy in the greater communities that I interact with in my city and state because I talk to many people who say, “What is that?” There are other spaces, particularly online spaces, TikTok, podcasts, and stuff like that, where it is being discussed more, but I don’t think it’s being discussed more across the board.
There are certain pockets where these topics are more relevant, where people are talking about them more and where more neurodivergent people are coming together and connecting in the community. If you are connecting with people in those spaces, it seems like, “There are many people like this. Is this trendy?” It’s like, “I don’t necessarily think so.”
Some articles that I read, and I might not be repeating all of this accurately, but something along the lines of when being lefthanded used to be seen as a negative thing. It didn’t seem there were that many people that were lefthanded because it was people who could not fake being right-handed. If you could fake it at all that you were right-handed, if you were at least a little bit ambidextrous to avoid being shunned or shamed, you learned to write with your right hand even if it was difficult for you.
When that idea started to shift that being lefthanded was somehow incorrect, the rate of people who were lefthanded shot way up. The social acceptance of that when it became no longer wrong or bad thing, all of a sudden all of these people are like, “I’m lefthanded.” I don’t think it’s because it was trendy. It’s because the stigma was starting to be uncovered, and maybe we’re lessening this stigma around this. Now it’s okay to show up in this way.
People who have been masking or pretending in whatever way, whether it’s a lefthanded, right-handed introvert, extrovert, neurodivergent, or neurotypical, when we start to remove the stigma, you find not that it is trendy, but there are all these people that are like, “I can be me. I don’t have to pretend anymore.”
I’m grateful for your insight because you’re doing this work and close to it. These topics are curiosities of mine. I’m mostly on a personal level but not on a professional level. I love to hear more about what you are learning about people through these communities that you join and create through the book that you have written. Where do you think we’re headed as a society? It’s a big question.
Something else that we touched upon before recording was the evolution of acceptance that you’re mentioning now. When you have that awareness, how much it opens up doors so you are able to learn more about yourself and others? That curiosity is a big passion of mine. Not about who I am but who other people are. What is something that comes up for you when you are thinking about where we’re headed as a society in terms of becoming more accepting of people who are atypical?
We are seeing a lot of social progress and more acceptance of all different kinds of diversity. When we think about the term diversity, most people, first thing they are going to say is race. It’s going to be those obvious, visual things, and things that you can tell. It’s going to be race, gender, and something I can see by looking at you.
There are many different levels of what diversity is, what it can look like, and how it can show up. We’re making progress in this area, and it’s a good thing. There are tons of studies and research that show that diverse organizations are more successful and stronger than homogenous organizations. We are going to see that as a human race. The more we embrace diversity, the more we celebrate it. We’re going to see that we are a lot stronger as a society, as a people in all of our different types of communities.
It makes sense to me that certain typical identities were favored in times when life was much harder, there was less access to resources, communities were farther away from each other, and the life span was shorter. It makes sense for me from an evolutionary standpoint that, as harmful as they are to people, those social hierarchies, and those privileged hierarchies, but it makes sense that may have helped the human race continue. We’re moving beyond that, or we’re starting to. We have a long way to go.
I had a conversation with a friend about the work that I’m doing, the work that she’s doing, and the work that we do as people to pursue social justice and a better understanding of the humanity of ourselves, others, and all of those things. She said something that I thought was wise that she learned from one of her mentors. There’s a point of acceptance that needs to happen when you’re working on these types of issues that we probably won’t see the resolution of these issues or even maybe significant progress in our lifetime.
The progress that we are seeing now is not necessarily because of social justice work that was done in the last several years. It goes back much farther. Society takes all this time to catch up to that progress. The work that I try to do, we will see some progress and benefit from it in my lifetime. Realistically, I do this believing and trusting this might not break open in my lifetime. Maybe it could, and I will be surprised, but it probably will break open in future generations.
I may not be around to see it, but know that we are building the framework for more acceptance for a better understanding of ourselves, more embracing of diversity, and how this can make us all stronger and all the better as individuals, as communities, and as a race of humans on this earth. That’s what I hope for and how I try to think of it because it can be discouraging at times to be speaking up about things even though it may seem like talking about neurodivergence is trendy.
There is still going to be a lot of resistance. It’s going to take a long time for people’s minds to change about certain things. Even as the conversation is becoming more common, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are comfortable with the conversation or accepting of the conversation that is relevant.
I did want to touch on something else because you did mention my book. I do have a book. It’s called Beautiful Badass: How to Believe In Yourself Against the Odds. I didn’t know I was neurodivergent when I wrote that book, but I did know I had other intersectional identities. I’m queer, for example, and I grew up in pretty extreme poverty and with mental illness. I’m someone who didn’t ever feel like I quite fit in in many different rooms and situations.
My experience was often that people would give this advice like, “Here is what you need to do to be successful in life. To have a fulfilling, happy, healthy life, you need to do these things.” Much of the time, that advice fell short. You and I talked about this a little bit before we started that when I was growing up with a single parent who was often not home as a teenager, taking care of my younger sibling alone by myself and dealing with all these challenges, living in poverty, all of these things.
Much of the time, school officials or other individuals would say, “Here are all these resources available to you.” There was a lack of understanding or acknowledgment that it was difficult for me to even access those resources. I did not go to college for a variety of reasons, but one of those was the whole process of applying for college. Technically, that was accessible to me. I was also in a situation where we got evicted when I was sixteen. We had to move and leave most of our things behind.
My home was unstable. My mom was in and out of the psychiatric hospital. There would be periods of time when there was no adult at home. It was just my little sister and me. If we needed groceries, I had to walk a mile to the grocery store to get groceries. I would first make sure my little sister was fed, and she got off to school. I would make sure that I was fed, got off to school, and tried to do my homework. Getting through day to day at times was challenging.
This whole process of filling out applications, financial aid applications, and college applications, doing all this research, wasn’t accessible to me. In theory, it was. Some days, I was doing great to get my own homework done on top of all the other things that I had to take care of and having no responsible adult at home. Even when my mom was not in the psychiatric hospital and she was home, she wasn’t always present because of her disability and mental illness. It’s one of those things we often overlook when we think about what does it take to be happy, healthy, successful, and well in life?
I was inspired to write the book that I wrote, Beautiful Badass, because I wanted to acknowledge that gap that exists, and I wanted to acknowledge that for anyone who is different for any reason, there are situational barriers. Mindset work and hard work, those things matter. If we’re not acknowledging hardship, situational barriers, what might be difficult for us, where are we lacking access, and where are we lacking resourcing, we’re not helping people get access to healthy, happy, fulfilled, successful lives.If we're not acknowledging hardship and situational barriers, then we're not really helping people get access to happy, healthy, fulfilled lives. Click To Tweet
I wanted to write about that experience. If some of these things are hard for you, it’s not because you’re a bad person or a wrong person. It’s not necessarily because you are not trying hard enough or because you need to have a better attitude. Sometimes the reason is harder for you is because it’s literally harder for you. You may not be able to do the same things that other people can do because you have different resourcing. Don’t make yourself wrong for it but find what you can do, the resourcing that you do need, and ask for support where you need it.
I wanted to acknowledge that gap because I feel like that is important. Before I started writing Beautiful Badass, I had read a study on motivation that was done with these inner city kids. What they found in this study surprised them. They thought that if they gave these students all these motivational messages like, “You can do anything you set your mind to. You just have to work hard and want it enough,” that would improve these students’ performances across the board.
What they found is that when they went through this whole motivational program, and that was the message that these students heard, the students with less privilege started all of a sudden doing worse in school, engaging in risky behavior, and missing classes. When they followed up on the study to find out more about that, what they found was that those less privileged students had a much harder time achieving the things that their more privileged peers were able to achieve. The reason this is harder for me is that I have less privilege. They internalized their inability and started to believe there was something wrong with them.
If this is all it takes, if it just takes a good attitude and hard work, and I’m struggling to do this, I must be broken. There is something wrong with me. I am not good enough. I am not capable, and that’s f**** b*****. We are all capable, good enough, and deserve good things. If we’re struggling to achieve something that seems easy for someone else or even if we know that the other person has worked hard for it, we work hard for it, and we can’t achieve that same thing, it is not because we are not capable. It is not because you are broken, wrong, or bad.
A lot of the time, I believe it is because we all have different abilities and resourcing available to us. If you are neurodivergent, introverted, LGBTQ+, not White, grew up in poverty, or disabled in any way, all of these different factors can come into play that it’s going to be your path is going to look different. You might not be able to achieve the exact same things as someone else, but you can still do something amazing.
You may need support and help around it. You may need additional resourcing, or you may need to adjust expectations and say, “That path is not accessible to me, but what path is it? Where is the road that I can take that is accessible to me?” Let’s stop shaming and blaming ourselves and each other. Acknowledge that sometimes there are barriers to success in life and work. It’s not an individual failing that those barriers exist.
I’m feeling grateful because these are the things that I think a lot about but struggle to express. I feel in awe of your ability to articulate it in the way that you did. It’s interesting because I had to acknowledge my participation in that system, especially interesting now that I see how much I was struggling and how much shame I was carrying around. It’s ironic that I fell into that role of saying some of these things like, “If you work hard enough.” I was hearing that stuff. It was almost as if I was trying to convince myself that was true.
I have “failed at things” that seemed easy for other people. I still don’t fully understand why, but when I hear these things, I think, “I have a lot of privilege.” Imagine somebody trying to do these things I’m trying to do and “failing at” who doesn’t have those privileges. What are they experiencing? That is what comes up so much in my head.
For instance, in the field of content creation that I have been in for so long, which is now often called influencer marketing, there were countless examples of people making so much money and getting big followings. I would sit there and go, “I feel like I’m trying hard. Why don’t I have those levels of followers? Why am I not making the money that they are saying? Why don’t I have access to what those people have access to? I feel like I’m doing everything right. I’m following their advice.”
Those are the people that would typically say, “Work hard. Do things the way that I do.” I would buy courses from these people and entrepreneurs that have the perfect formula. They would talk about how much money they were making, and other elements of success were there. I would try to follow their exact steps and still feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere close. That got me wondering, “What is going on here?”
When you talk about these hierarchies, it’s like this society encourages us to strive to be in that small percentage of people. A lot of times, we don’t even recognize how big that gap is and how hard it is to cross the gap, but also all of the things that may be naturally “working against you” because you might not have the privileges that those people have, even if you identify as a privileged person in being a certain race. If you don’t fall into any marginalized category, you have some privilege, but even those privileges might not be enough to cross that gap. It’s like a punch in the gut because why are the people that are on the other side of the gap trying to make it seem easy?
The Kardashians, for example. Kim Kardashian’s famous quote from earlier in 2022, she said, “People don’t want to work hard these days.” The Kardashians are infamous for trying to make it seem easy to look like them and have their wealth. When you look at the amount of money and access that they have as a family, it is deeply offensive that they would say those things to other people who can even come close to that type of access and privilege.
I relate to what you’re saying, that feeling of like, “I’m doing the work. I’m doing all these things, and why am I not succeeding at this thing?” It reminds me of when I was in high school. There was this story that became pretty well-known about this girl who grew up in extreme poverty. She ended up working hard in getting a scholarship and going to Harvard. They might have even made a TV movie about it or a lifetime movie or something.
I remember people using her story as an example to me and saying, “Look at what this girl did. She grew up in poverty too. She got this scholarship, and she went to Harvard. You can do that. You are intelligent, and you’re articulate and all these things.” On some level, deep down, I knew that wasn’t true for me. You felt this internal shame, blame, and all of these intense feelings because I couldn’t put my finger on at the time like, “Why and how wasn’t that true for me?”
It’s amazing that this girl did this, and I feel like I have done some pretty amazing things also, but it looks different and has been in a different way. That is one of the ways where I feel like my own awareness of my neurodivergence, queerness, and the intersectional layers of marginalized identities where I’m like, “I don’t know the exact reason that I wasn’t able to do what she did, but I can tell you that I suspect that my neurodivergence was part of that. I suspect that the mental illness that I live with is part of that.”
These stacked challenges were part of the reason why it was like, “I can do incredible things, but I can’t necessarily do what she did. I can’t necessarily do that specific thing.” I think about that story all the time and how people try to use that to motivate me. It was like, “Do what she did.” You brought up the Kardashians, and you mentioned their wealth and the access to resources that they had. This was a story of a girl who didn’t have a lot of access to resources, but she was able to do this amazing thing.
There comes the point where we have to stop comparing ourselves to other people’s stories and other people’s paths. People love to do something and say, “If I did it, you can too. You have to do what I did.” First of all, in general, I believe that’s not necessarily true because it fails to take into account all the different ways in which an individual might be resourced, skilled or talented.There comes a point where we have to stop comparing ourselves to other people's stories. Click To Tweet
Just because you were able to do it doesn’t mean that anyone can do it that way or that it’s the same path. Someone doesn’t even have to necessarily be incredibly privileged. That story comparing can be damaging, like the story of this girl who grew up in poverty that got a scholarship to go to Harvard. I knew on some level that was not accessible to me personally.
I did end up getting into college, but they had misplaced my financial aid application and had already allocated all their financial aid for the year. They said, “We invite you to defer your enrollment for a year, and we’ll reprocess your financial aid next year.” I ended up not deferring enrollment because, first of all, it cost $100, and I didn’t have $100 to defer the enrollment. Also, the school that I had gotten into was in California, and I lived in Colorado.
I had this moment of awareness. I had no way to get from Colorado to California. I didn’t know how to drive. At that time, I never had a responsible adult in the house who taught me to drive. I got a Sears credit card when I was nineteen. I bought driving lessons through Sears Driving School with my Sears credit card. That was how I learned how to drive. I didn’t even have a car or access to a car until I was 25. How was I even going to get to California? Let’s say I could have found a way to get there. I would have had no way to get home. I would have had no resources to come back to Colorado.
I tended to do well academically through high school. I knew, on some level, that was hard for me and maybe harder than it was for other people. It took a real toll on me to try to participate in traditional schooling environments. To succeed in traditional schooling environments, on paper going to college and getting a degree sounds like a good thing. It wasn’t the right path for me, the best way that I could take care of myself and secure my future success. All said and done.
I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’m the only one of my siblings who even graduated high school, and to this day, my siblings are all adults. I’m the only one of my siblings that even has a driver’s license. I don’t say that to compare myself to my siblings or to say I’m better. I say that to acknowledge how hard our situation was and how many barriers there were in place that none of my siblings other than me were able to be successful at completing high school, even getting a driver’s license or all these things. It’s not because they were lazy, stupid, lacked motivation, or didn’t want to work hard, but because that’s how hard our situation was.
It takes bravery to talk about hardship because our society seems to impose so much shame, judgment, and assumptions too. I don’t know if we have addressed assumptions enough in this discussion, but something that came up also in our brief but rich conversation before we started recording and acknowledging this one size fits all approach that we tend to have.
I think about that too of like, “Why is so much set up for some median human being when there are many people struggling, and yet, we have been conditioned as a society to continuously apply the same rules and guidance to everybody?” It’s hard to not only talk about what you’re struggling with but ask for accommodations because sometimes you don’t even know what you need.
That’s something I’m brand new to with my learning style. I have gone most of my life struggling to learn, and now I’m thinking, “Maybe the neurodivergence explains it.” I didn’t even realize how much I was struggling to learn. It comes up in these memories, similar to what we have been discussing here. I would be given resources at school, and I would see other people do completely different things with the resources.
I would have teachers that would write in my school reports. I find this back to when I was little, like kindergarten and first grade. A lot of the reports would say, “Whitney is not applying herself.” I would see that over and over again. There is a shame that I would feel, “I’m not trying hard enough.” I would see the other students doing it, and it seemed to be easy for them.
Something wasn’t working and carrying around all that shame. I was burying it so much. I forgot that that was even there. I had teachers and/or my parents who have been more aware of what accommodations they could have provided. As an adult, thinking to myself, “I can’t change the past, but I can now identify what accommodations would help.”
I had an experience of that now. I’m in a training program for well-being coaching. I had asked if they could provide a few things to help me learn better. I went into the platform that we used to go through the training, and they provided it to me. I felt this level of relief. I didn’t even know that I needed it until I received it. I felt acknowledged, seen, and heard. These people listen to me, whereas I’ve experienced a lot in my life where I would ask for accommodation or try to articulate it. People would say, “We can’t do that. That’s too hard for us. We’re not set up for that. We don’t have the money to do stuff like that.” You would constantly be disregarded.
I’m curious if you have experienced this, too, Chrysta. You’re trying to ask for what you need, not knowing how to ask for it, and somebody saying, “No, sorry.” It’s like the story that you’re sharing about school. My heart feels sore hearing that story of not only did they ask you to defer, but they wanted you to pay $100. I feel angry. I’m like, “Why?” In my head, I’m thinking, “What if you had asked if they could waive that $100 fee?” A) We don’t even know if they could have done that, but B) Maybe it was hard to ask for it. Maybe you don’t even think to ask for it.
Part of this accessibility side of things is that some people don’t even know they are struggling. Maybe they have a hint, but they don’t know how to ask for things that they need. They are ashamed to ask for it. This is all-important, Chrysta. I’m glad that you’re discussing this because it’s lighting a fire under me, not just for myself but wondering, “How can I do things to give people more access?” I’m curious if that is part of your work. How do we ask for it but also how do we offer it to others?
I have experienced many times in my life asking for access and not being given it, not having people understand why I needed it or what I was asking for, not just from organizations or institutions but also from individuals. I clearly remember a time in high school I was in a choir. When we had performances that were in the evenings, I wasn’t able to take the bus there because the school bus didn’t take you to things like that to extracurricular activities.
My mom was not a reliable mode of transportation. She refused to take us anywhere. When I was fourteen or something, she was like, “Take the city bus or the school bus, or you’re not going.” There were no rides to friends’ houses, concerts, or anything. I relied on rides from my friends to get to performances that we had in choir and things.
I remember this one time that a friend of mine who often gave me rides said, “I can’t give you a ride this time. My mom says that I need to say no sometimes and that you’re taking advantage of the fact that I have a car.” I was like, “I have no other options for transportation. My parents didn’t buy me a car, and I don’t have parents to drive me somewhere.”
I don’t think she was being rude. It was a lack of understanding that I was not asking for rides from you because I was trying to take advantage of you. It’s because I don’t have any other means of transportation for these after-school activities. That was even on an individual level, not on an organizational, a school level, or something like that. There was a lack of understanding of sometimes what it can mean to ask for accommodations.
I have had that experience in both arenas, both from individuals who maybe didn’t understand as well as from the school itself. For example, I did meet all the requirements to graduate from high school on paper, but they would not give me my actual diploma because of some unpaid school fees. It was less than $60 in unpaid school fees.
They had a policy at the school that if you had any unpaid fees, you wouldn’t receive your actual paper diploma. It was an incentive to get people to pay all their fees before graduation. In my family’s case, there was no money to pay those fees. When I walked into my graduation ceremony from high school, I received an empty envelope because they would not give me my diploma for that reason.
I do think it is hard to know sometimes what accommodations we need and to ask for them. I feel passionate about this work, and it’s something that I talk about a lot through my work with my introvert-friendly women’s community, She Goes High, through the career coaching that I do, and through all the public speaking and the writing that I do. I’m encouraging people to be more self-aware of, “Who am I? What do I need, and how do I take up my space in the world in a bigger way, where I can show up as me, feel comfortable showing up as me and ask for what I need in the world?” I don’t think that it’s easy, but I do think that it is important.
At the same time, I want to advocate for more diversity and options for accessibility. I also believe there is always going to be an element of self-responsibility that is important in this conversation. When I advocate for myself and set boundaries because we set boundaries personally and professionally, a lot of the time, when we talk about boundaries setting, we think of personal relationships where we might set boundaries. We have to be setting them professionally as well.
We have to be showing up in the world in a way that we’re saying, “I value myself,” because the more that we show up valuing ourselves, the easier it is for other people to value us. That doesn’t happen automatically. People don’t value us just because we exist. I wish they did. We talk about that as She Goes High often. I start many meetings by saying, “Every person who showed up here now, you are inherently valuable. You are inherently worthy, and there is nothing that you need to do in the space if She Goes High to justify, explain, and validate your worthiness.”The more we show up valuing ourselves, the more we make it easy for others to value us. Click To Tweet
Your worthiness is not directly tied to your work. You don’t have to tell me how successful you are, how many followers you have, what your revenue is, and what your job title is for me to know that you’re valuable and you’re out there in the world doing amazing things, either on a large scale or a small scale. There is no need for you to explain that here. No need for you to feel like you have to tell people what that is. In this space, it is known, accepted, and celebrated. You are valuable and worthy because you exist as a human being.Your worthiness is not directly tied to your work. Click To Tweet
I feel like all these topics are important to do. Being self-aware and advocating for ourselves in many situations, we need to learn how to do that. Not at work and school, we need to learn how to advocate for ourselves in medical situations and medical gaslighting. This is a whole other topic, but this is such a thing. It all comes down to not just accessibility but self-advocating.
Being aware of ourselves, being aware of our needs, and saying this is what I need. Other people that we interact with, we can strive to be better at how we interact with each other. I hope that we will all strive to be better at how we interact with each other. We are also all human beings, having a human experience and making mistakes, even as someone who is a service provider. As a career coach, when I’m working with clients, I strive to be supportive and present to my clients and all those things.
I also acknowledge and tell my clients, “I hope you will speak up if you feel like you’re not being heard. I hope that you will tell me if something doesn’t feel right because I can try my best, and I’m also a human being who is going to get it wrong sometimes.” It’s both, and we need to advocate for ourselves more and speak up for ourselves more. We need to be open to listening and supporting people more in that.
Something I have seen happens in practice that I thought worked well is after the overturning of Roe versus Wade, I attended a women’s healing circle with the BIPOC Alliance of Larimer County. In that healing circle, a question was asked as we went around the room and introduced ourselves. It was, “What accommodations do you need in this space now?” I did want to offer that if we’re looking for ways that we can be more accommodating of others, that’s a simple and great question to ask in all kinds of relationships and ways that we might interact with other people.
I have a deep desire to support myself and others. Sometimes that can feel hard because clarity and comfort are often needed in those moments even if it’s the comfort of being un uncomfortable. Sitting through the discomfort takes a level of comfort with yourself, ironically. A simple question like that is a powerful tool because it is open-ended. That in itself shows a level of compassion and interest.
If somebody asks me that question, I would be thrilled. Part of me also feels fearful over a question like that because I’m used to not receiving accommodations or people thinking that my needs are too complex. That’s part of how I felt different mentally. I’m used to people saying I’m too much or my ideas are too big. They want me to make things simpler. How can I simplify my thoughts because they feel big and confusing to others?
It’s two-sided. Maybe you don’t need accommodations. This is important to acknowledge. Not everybody is going to feel that they need something. They might be asking somebody else the awareness of how somebody else might feel in the situation when they are asked about accommodations. That thing that comes up for me, I bet you are fairly common of wanting to ask for something but anticipating you won’t be able to receive it.
How do you manage something? I’m sure you have been through that too. Somebody asked me, but there is that fear of being disappointed or fear of the past, repeating itself of wanting something or needing something but not getting it even when you ask for it. How do you navigate that for yourself and others?
The question goes beyond accommodations and any need that we have in a relationship and any boundary that we might set personal or professional relationship boundary to acknowledge that it is important for us to ask for what we need, even if it can’t be met by that other person. Sometimes other people will be truly unable to meet our needs or accommodations. That’s okay, but there is sometimes this fear around what if they say no?
I talk a lot when I am speaking professionally in groups that I facilitate. In She Goes High, I talk a lot about saying no in business situations, and I say, “The more comfortable we get saying no to other people, the more comfortable we get hearing no.” It is a nice gift that happens when you start to say no more, and you become more comfortable hearing no. It’s okay sometimes for our needs not to be met by other people in every situation.Intersectional Layers Of Marginalized Identities With Chrysta Bairre Click To Tweet
There is no organization or person who is going to be able to meet all of our needs all the time exactly as we need them. It’s important for us to advocate for ourselves. It’s important for us to be self-sufficient enough to the best of our ability to know, “I will be okay, even if they say no. Maybe they can’t do this, but maybe there’s something else that they can do. Maybe this is a need I can get met elsewhere. If a particular organization or community can’t meet my need, is there a different one that can?”
As someone who is the founder and leader of a women’s community, I relate to both sides of this because sometimes, people do ask for things within the context of She Goes High that we are not truly equipped to do, and we don’t have the funding to do. It’s like, “I would love to be able to do all these things.” That’s not realistic and sustainable.
In order for us to do the work that we’re doing here in the world, we have to focus on what we can do well and how we can do that to the best of our ability. Sometimes that means disappointing people, letting someone down, and trusting. As the leader of the community, I have to trust that I will do my best and when I cannot meet someone’s need, number 1) They will be okay, and number 2) Maybe there is someplace else that they can go to have that need met. It doesn’t have to be from me.
That fear of being disappointed or disappointing others is huge. A quote from my book that I love to repeat often as a reminder to myself, as much as anything, is, “No matter what we do, we’re going to disappoint someone. I get to decide who that person is. Is it going to be me?” Most of the time, our fear of disappointing another person, we try hard to avoid disappointing someone else so that we’re willing to disappoint ourselves over and over again. Sometimes we are afraid of being disappointed that we are willing to even ask.
There are power, empowerment, beauty, passion, and all of this amazing juiciness that comes from having a desire, a want, and a need, whether or not someone else can meet it for us, and being able to be in the space. My whole experience as a human being is valid, even if someone else can’t meet all of my needs, and I will be okay even if all of my needs are not met all of the time. I’m resilient, and I can find ways around this. I can do what I can, starting where I am. I make the best of what I do have available to me, and I will be okay even in that situation.
I did not expect you to answer in that deep of a way. I am grateful I brought that up because it is helpful for me on a personal level and on a broader scope of viewing the world because I have a fear of disappointing others. That ties into rejection, which many of us have. I had a guest point out that sometimes we are focused on our own survival. It’s hard to help anybody else, and that happens too. This is a complex thing.
What you have pointed out is the complexity in this, but trying anyways, despite it being hard, knowing that you’re going to make mistakes. It could be messy and complicated. That’s an important thing to tackle because that one size fits all or this ideal state that we’re often told through the media of striving to get somewhere and something versus that self-awareness and self-acceptance and then expanding that beyond ourselves to more acceptance for other people and curiosity about them. Opening things up even if we might not always have the perfect answer, result, solution, or attachment to even getting something specific, but what if we can embrace each other as human beings like you’re doing in your community?
I’m grateful to have had this discussion with you. It has been rich, healing, and lovely to be part of. I hope the readers feel the same way. There will also be a video eventually on YouTube. You can witness this conversation through the visuals. For those of you who want to read her wonderful book, join the community or work with her as a coach, that is all there at Wellevatr.com. Chrysta, thank you so much for being here with me. This has been wonderful.
I want to say thank you for having me and thank you to all your readers. It’s obvious that I’m passionate about all the topics we’ve talked about now. I appreciate the opportunity to get to talk about them. They are meaningful to me personally. I believe that having these conversations can improve other people’s lives.
I’m grateful for individuals like yourself, Whitney, that have platforms where we can be spreading this knowledge and information and helping people accept themselves more, overcome shame, and start to be okay being who they are in the world and giving them the encouragement and the support to find their way through a world that is often confusing, complex, and troubled. I’m thankful to be in a position to not only speak about these topics but also have opportunities to be on a show like yours to talk about them.
- Chrysta Bairre
- Beautiful Badass: How to Believe In Yourself Against the Odds
- She Goes High
- BIPOC Alliance
- YouTube – This Might Get Uncomfortable
About Chrysta Bairre
Chrysta Bairre is a career coach, speaker and author of the book, Beautiful Badass: How To Believe In Yourself Against The Odds. Chrysta has presented to audiences of 30 – 300+ at Boulder Startup Week, Northern Colorado Women’s Small Business Conference, Aurora Chamber of Commerce Women In Business, and more than 150 other events.
Chrysta is also the founder of She Goes High, a 1,500+ member women’s leadership community for introverts in Northern Colorado.
Her book, Beautiful Badass: How to Believe in Yourself Against the Odds, shares stories and lessons from overcoming poverty and depression in this guide for women who want to take command of their destinies and no longer fall prey to the hardships and setbacks that previously defined them.
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