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Scheme of Things

Lessons from a Handbag
By Nan S. Russell
Feb 13, 2013 - 4:58:21 PM

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Shopping alone, I spied the handbag on a sale table. My closet was already packed with suitable options, so I didn't need a handbag. And I certainly didn't need a red one. At the time, the only handbag color I'd ever carried was black. But like a person possessed, I felt my spirit soar as I placed the soft leather strap over my shoulder and looked in the mirror. I was smiling. Not a big-grin-everyone-can-see smile, but an inner-knowing private kind.

Bringing it home, the handbag sat on my office floor wrapped in store packaging for days while I gathered my resolve. Finally when I unwrapped it, an inner-voice challenged my purchasing sanity with, "Why did you buy that thing? You'll never have courage to use it."

Happily, that voice was wrong. And while buying a handbag isn't usually a personal awakening or life awareness-lesson, this one turned out to be. You see, that red handbag represented my bag of courage. My willingness to be seen.

Most of my life, I'd been comfortable in supporting roles, an in-the-shadows person achieving from the sidelines, or using others' voices as my own. Being introverted, I never wanted to stand out, be in the spotlight or draw attention to myself. Well, maybe a few times. But generally, I thought of myself as an individual who made things happen without fanfare. Of course, that meant I would never, ever, carry a red handbag.

But a few years ago, around the time I purchased that bag, I decided to change all that. I realized I'd spent too much of my life wanting to fit in, wanting to please, wanting to be loved, wanting to be accepted, wanting to be what others wanted me to be, or what I thought they wanted me to be. Like a stranger living in my skin, I'd tried on different selves through the years, waiting for some accomplishment or some person to give me permission to be me.

Finally, I realized I was waiting for permission from the wrong person. It was my permission I needed; my courage to let my light shine; my confidence to conquer fear that the "real me" wouldn't be enough. But with each passing year, I began to realize I could miss my chance. And I didn't want to be at the end of life, looking back and realizing this was my life and regretting that, "I could have been me."

In the scheme of things, it's not a regret I'm willing to have. It seems to me, being yourself is your life's responsibility and your biggest contributions come by being who you are. Dag Hammarskjöld said, "What you must dare is to be yourself." I know now that red handbag wasn't just a handbag; it was a symbol of a new path I'd chosen to be on. Of course, I also needed some red shoes to help me along the way.

(c) 2013 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved.

Nan S. Russell is the award-winning author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Her third book, "The Titleless Leader," was published May 2012. More about Nan and her work can be found at  Sign up to receive Nan's free monthly eColumn at:

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