If you could only use one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
There was a time when I used the word enthusiastic. It still applies, but not in the same way. I used to use it in cover letters and interviews to counter my lack of experience. Now I bring energy and experience to the table, so the last time I was asked the question above, I replied “renaissance.” In one sense, that’s my way of saying I can’t be boiled down into one word (deep, huh?). But it’s also a great descriptor for my life over the last year or so – a period of intense growth and learning – my own personal renaissance.
It’s no shocker to say I enjoy words. Although I balk at being limited to one or even a handful of words when describing myself, I do appreciate the exercise. Years ago, I read a book about how to write a personal mission statement and will never forget the litmus test for your final draft: your statement should be short enough and memorable enough that you can say it with a gun pointed to your head. Not my favorite image, but the point is well made.
As a freelancer, I’m often asked to provide a brief bio – one or two sentences – to include at the end of something I’ve written or in a bulletin or program for some place I’m speaking. The bio is often more difficult to write than whatever I’ve been hired to create, because it’s different for every audience and each situation. Sure, I could send the same one every time, but I want people to have context for what I’m sharing.
For example, it’s one thing to say I’m a mother. It’s another if I tell you I’m the mother of two boys, ages 9 and 12. And it’s another still if I tell you our oldest son is on the Autism spectrum. Or what if you’re about to hear me give a keynote and read that I’m an ordained Presbyterian minister. That sets you up with one set of expectations. But what if you read that I got my undergraduate degree in theatre and worked in radio during and after college? Perhaps now you’re slightly more interested in hearing me speak (or at least you no longer fear I’ll put you to sleep).
Out of all the descriptors I use, you know what’s the most difficult for me? Wife. It’s important to me that I include it, because it’s almost 18 years of my life and provides context for so many of the other ways I describe myself. I’m not just a mother, but a co-parent, and my husband was the stay-at-home parent for the first 11 years. I’m not just a minister, but a female minister with a male spouse, something that’s much more prevalent than when I was growing up, but still not commonplace. However, two-line bios rarely have room for all of that, so I’m always on the look-out to find the one word that conveys it all.
And I’ve found it. I’m a shieldmaiden.
Yes, we’ve been watching Vikings on The History Channel and in this gory, testosterone-riddled, historical drama, with only a handful of female characters, I have found a way to convey the multi-layered, context-reliant relationship I’ve created with my spouse. I’m am a shieldmaiden. This means that I’m more than married, I’m in a partnership, our roles and responsibilities are equal, and our battles are fought together. Alas, I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity (or the chutzpah) to use this. But if I did, this is what I’d say:
Leah Ellison Bradley is a freelance writer, shieldmaiden, and mother of two boys, neither of whom is typical. She got her undergraduate degree in theatre, so she’ll never bore you, and has held so many different jobs, it’s guaranteed you’ll find something in common.