On Being a Badass

Someone asked me recently what it means to be a badass.

I’d scrawled that phrase in the cold and dark of January, declaring it to be my 2014 goal. Be totally badass, to be precise.

But what does that mean? Can a 40-something-year-old woman, no longer hip to the kids, but with a child of her own be a badass? Is it all James Dean and Jimmy Cagney, leather jackets, sun glasses, and the lingering smoke twisting from a cigarette?

It’s more than Marlon Brando and Sylvester Stallone.

As a quick response to the question, I’d written this definition: Being tough enough/confident enough to do the things I want to do and be the things I want to be regardless of what society says I should do or be. That’s what makes you a badass.

That was my gut reaction, but I find it somewhat lacking. What does it mean to be tough? To be confident? What if the things you want to do are the things society wants you to do? Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

I’ve described select academics as badass. Seriously, there are some real badass researchers out there. How do they fit in?

I don’t know.

As it turns out, I don’t have a tight definition in my pocket ready to go. I don’t know what makes a badass, but I do know this: it’s not about being popular, or being cool. It’s not a rebel without a cause or a public enemy. It’s not all tough guy talk and bad boy walk.

Sometimes its a miracle I can face the day –

We are all of us battered and all of us broken. We each bear our scars from the whips and chains of outrageous fortune. We have each seen dark places and glanced upon our own private hells. We have each our own intimate relation with despair.

Being a badass is going on when you can’t bring yourself to go on. It is standing resolute when all you want to do is crumble. It’s gathering the pieces when all you see is destruction.

There’s nothing that says a badass can’t find themselves sobbing uncontrollably on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night. But a badass stands back up. A badass goes on.

Badass is a state of mind. It’s not a permanent achievement you unlock with a greaser jacket and slicked back hair. It’s a way of living – a way of fighting – for every moment, every breath, every accomplishment.

Sometimes it is social norms that make you feel like you can’t succeed. Sometimes it’s a colicy baby and years of sleep deprivation. Sometimes its a series of missteps, or a terrible tragedy, or something else in your life that opens the wound of despair. Sometimes, you don’t even know –

But being a badass is fighting through those moments. It is taking a deep breath and gathering the will to carry on. And it’s reminding yourself that whatever happens, you can get through this. There may not be exploding buildings or bloody combat or sultry romance, but you can get through this.

Of course you can. You’re a total badass.

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