What Are the Chances
Another Week of Questions: Monday

Museum of Me: On the Cusp of Adolescence

Last month I "opened" the Museum of Me. 


And this month I'm back with another exhibit. . .  Growing Up: On the Cusp of Adolescence.

From the early 1990s until 2007, I worked as the Executive Director of a private women's foundation in Grand Rapids. (Best job EVER.) (The foundation has since "spent down" its assets and is no longer an active foundation.) Anyway, early in my tenure at the foundation, Harvard researcher Carol Gilligan had just published a groundbreaking piece on the developement of adolescent girls. Gilligan found that girls at age 11 were on top of the world. They were confident, sure, outspoken. They knew who they were. But. By age 16, those same girls were . . . not. Gilligan found that as they went through adolescence, girls quickly got the societal/cultural message that they should keep quiet and say nothing.

Back in 1991 - as a personal "survivor" of that very phenomenon AND as the mother of a 2-year-old daughter - I was deeply disturbed by Gilligan's findings. I made it my mission at the foundation to do whatever I could to change things for the girls of the 1990s. (Of course, recent research finds that not much has changed for girls in the past 30 years. It's hard to move the needle when it comes to social and cultural norms. But that's for another day.)

I used to keep this photo of myself in my office at the foundation.


It's me. Age 11. 

I've always loved this picture of myself as a young girl. There aren't many photos of me at this age/stage of my life, so it feels . . . precious. It was taken in the summer of 1970 when I had just returned home from two weeks at my first-ever sleep-away camp experience. Although I had a great time at camp, I had also been terribly homesick, and I was thrilled to get back home to my family and my house and my own room . . . which had been totally transformed while I was away! So I'm posing here, fresh from camp (wearing my trusty camp sweatshirt) in my newly-painted and decked out room at home.

But there's more to this photo than just a welcome-home-from-camp memory. Because in this photo, I am on the cusp of adolescence. And I can see it.

I was an 11-year-old with Big Ideas! I knew what I liked, and I was pretty vocal about what I didn't. I was a ballet dancer and a swimmer. I was learning to play the flute. I loved to read and was proud to have been the school spelling bee champ for 3 years running. I liked to draw and make things. I liked to play games and had a big imagination. I bossed people around a lot. I had a crush on Donny Osmond. And David Cassidy. But I was also a Motown fan and loved listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. I dreamed about being an astronaut. Or an artist. Or a fashion designer . . . even though I wasn't worried about the clothes I wore. If you asked me then, I'd have told you I was was smart and fast and strong. 

Just like Carol Gilligan said . . . the "me" in that photo, age 11 . . . was confident, sure, and outspoken.

Scan 1

A few weeks later  . . . I started middle school. And then several months after that, I moved half way across the country and started a whole new life in a new state in a new (and bigger) junior high school. A lot of my 11-year-old confidence and sure-footedness . . . evaporated. Some of it was puberty. Some of it was family turmoil. Some of it was moving and losing familiar people and childhood friends at a pivotal age. Most of it was just that mine field that is . . . adolescence. A lot it was the pervasive cultural and societal messages about who was "pretty" and how girls "ought" be. Those messages? They did me in. 

For a while.

Eventually, I found my footing again. I practiced things I was good at. I stopped feeling bad about being smart and "bookish" and an introvert. I started keeping a diary. I shed toxic relationships and dropped friends-who-weren't-really-friends. I went to college. Met Tom. I stopped trying to be someone I wasn't.

And gradually, I . . . found myself.

In the end, I "met up" with my 11-year-old self again . . . and became more like her.
(Turns out . . . we have a lot in common.)
And these two photos of me in my new purple bedroom - on the cusp of adolescence - are a perfect reminder to me. . .  of just that!


Now that I've officially created The Museum of Me, you can watch for new exhibits . . . maybe once or twice a month. And if you're a blogger and you'd like to create a Museum of Me along with me on your own blog, let me know. I'll send you my "exhibit schedule" (a list of my prompts) and we can talk about ourselves together. (It might be fun?)



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OK, I missed your first post when you posted it, so just read that and this together! What a fun idea, I'm definitely in on this project!

I love the photo of you in your new, fancy bedroom, which I hope was a good surprise at the time (though you don't look particularly upset in the photo). I have to say, I was always secretly glad my parents could never think of affording sleep-away camp, as deep in my heart I never really wanted to go, even though so many of the other kids did on an annual basis.


This is all so very true (at least for me). These are great photos, and I think they're important to showcase. I was confident at 11, and then it all took a huge nose dive when I entered junior high. My parents encouraged my be-a-nice-girl, rule-following, perfectionist tendencies (that's what most parents and society wanted in the 60s), and it's only been in the past decade that I've begun to feel a bit more confident. It finally dawned on me that I'd seen so many examples where a lack of competence didn't have negative consequences, and I could see that confidence really mattered. Thanks so much for an enlightening visit to the Museum of You!


What a great exhibit Kym and one I (and probably all of us) can relate to easily. this has brought back a lot of memories and feelings. I am so happy to be done with adolescence!!!


I love this essay - and pictures. I have a theory that we're finally grown up when we get back to being the person we were at seven - but maybe it's eleven.


I relate to much of this and I can't even fathom having to move at that age - junior high is hard enough without being in a new location, too. I have a coworker with an 11 year old daughter right now and it breaks my heart to think that Cora will change from the vibrant and confident young girl she is into someone with less of all of that.


I think I was very fortunate to have a father who gave my sister and I the very clear message - we could do anything. I remember reading Gilligan’s research when I was in graduate school and talking with other educators about how it impacted the work we were doing. But it was definitely something I kept in my head as we raised two daughters. I am excited to write my post later today. Thanks for this wonderful idea. I am happy your found that 11 year-old self again.


That study is SO spot on. I would not go back to my teen years for anything.


I love your story and pictures!
My self confidence took a nose dive between the ages of 11 & 12. I was a late bloomer and kids were just so mean to anyone who didn't fall into the norm and I was one of the younger ones in my grade, so that didn't help. I would not go back to those years for anything!


This made me swallow hard a couple of times...moving and poignant...and, I'm curious--do you remember how old were you when you, as you said, 'found your footing'? I'm watching the big dip among the girls in Linc's class (ages 13,14)...girls I knew to be so strong and not afraid of being smart in 5th grade. And now? Almost unrecognizable.

Julia in KW

My bedroom was also purple at this same time in my life. I was also terribly homesick at my first sleep away camp. I got the grin and bear it award at the end of the week! I find it amazing how easily I slip in and out of feeling in charge and on top of my world and out of it again, depending on different factors in my life. This pandemic and working from home rather than my usual milieu has made me have to reevaluate what drives my self-confidence - I can completely relate with 11 (and 12) year old you!


What a wonderful post! Like you I was very self-confident around that age but lost that when I hit junior high. It took me many years to regain what I had lost and now I am back to being the girl I once was. Thank you so much for sharing… so inspiring 😊


This is a particularly poignant post to read right now, as my daughter is 11 (almost 12) and I'm starting to see some of the changes happening. I'm strapping in for a bumpy ride the next few years, because I'm sure they're going to be rough -- I certainly remember that they were rough for me. But I know that it's just a small period in the grand scheme of life, and I'll be here to help her through it.

It's great to see the photos of you -- the face is the same!


This is a very touching post. I also read some of Gilligan's research and then along came Raising Ophelia when I was raising my daughter. I don't much remember junior high but I do know I didn't enjoy high school. Girls, including me, were not encouraged to excel in Math and Science. I didn't want to drink and I was an introvert. I spent a lot of time reading books and sewing.

gale z

This is so wonderful! I love love love the concept of circling back and meeting up with being your 11 year old self again. I think that's true for me too! So beautifully written.
Thank you for the work you've done to changethe world for better. I bet you affected more lives than you think.


As I recall (because I can SO relate), purple was Donny's favorite color. ;)

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