7 awesome reasons to kill your inner ‘nice girl’ (or maybe just send her to Cleveland*)




“Killing the angel in the house was part of the occupation of the woman writer.” — Virginia Woolf

I give you seven awesome reasons to kill your inner nice girl.

(Or maybe just send her to Cleveland or something.)

You get to be kind.

As my friend Scott Hoffman told me, “Nice is not the same as kind.” (He’s a literary agent, so he should know.)

It’s not the same as civility either. We are polite out of consideration for others. It is an act that we perform. Two people who despise each other can still make the decision to be civil to each other, while knowing full well that each holds the other in unqualified contempt.

Niceness also isn’t a trait – nobody gets described as ‘nice-hearted’ – so much as a superficial layer of behavior. But unlike civility or politeness, niceness pretends to have some depth to it, masquerading as the person’s actual thoughts, feelings, or character. It often hides a self-serving agenda (like kissing up to your boss in order to keep your job; or wanting to please everybody in order to feel loved, accepted and safe; or trying to charm someone into random meaningless sex**.)

‘Nice’ can be a symptom of feeling powerless; people can’t say what they truly mean or ask for what they really want, so they maneuver and manipulate to get it. Which is probably why we sometimes associate ‘nice’ with ‘spineless’. (Also with ‘resentful’ and ‘passive-aggressive’.)

Kindness, on the other hand, can require great courage.

You get to be authentic.

We all learn how to perform ourselves – online or offline – but the people we admire are the people who feel ‘real’ to us. Their persona is an honest expression of their personality (instead of a distortion or a disguise).

As Eckhart Tolle puts it:

“[They] function from the deeper core of their being – those who do not attempt to appear more than they are, but as simply themselves, stand out as remarkable, and are the only ones who truly make a difference in the world…Their mere presence, simple, natural and unassuming, has a transformational effect on whomever they come into contact with.”

You get to stand for something.

You can’t have your own strong point-of-view when you’re too busy accommodating every other point-of-view out there, or when you’re afraid of offending people or rocking a boat (any boat).

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are. Your point of view is who you truly are. (It’s also how you differentiate yourself.) To deny people that is to deny them – yourself – the chance to get to know you – as well as robbing yourself of the chance to get known.

Standing for something means that you will piss some people off. They won’t like you. That’s okay. (That helps to bond together the people who do like you.) It’s much more liberating to live your life according to your values. Not to mention that when you do that, you attract people who stand for the same things that you do. They might even be inspired by you. And that is super cool.

You get to live off your ragged edge.

The ragged edge is the edge of your comfort zone. It’s the jumping-off point on your way to mastery. It’s where real growth begins.

Growth is a messy process, filled with events that some people label ‘mistakes and failures’ and others regard simply as ‘data’. (It’s the latter types that tend to be more successful.)

People who are overly invested in the opinions of others can be perfectionists. They don’t want to risk falling on their face (or ass). They think appearing perfect = being loved.

(The ironic thing is, people as a general rule tend not to like ‘perfect’ individuals. We’re quick to sense that that kind of perfection is bullshit.)

But if you don’t let yourself rise to your level of incompetence, you’ll never get the chance to explore, discover …and move on to something greater.

You get to love up your inner voice.

Your inner voice is who you are at core. It knows what you need – even if what you need isn’t necessarily what you want – and points the way to your ultimate well-being and self-actualization.

If, that is, it hasn’t been drowned out by all the voices of all the individuals you’re so busy trying to please.

(And if it has, don’t worry. That voice isn’t going anywhere. You just need to get yourself to a still and quiet place so you can tune back into it.

Also, a beer might be helpful.)

You get to be the hero of your own freaking life.

The whole point and purpose of a ‘nice’ girl is to support somebody else — usually male — in his life quest for accomplishment, purpose and epic meaning. As Carolyn Heilbrun observes in WRITING A WOMAN’S LIFE, throughout history women have been expected to live out ‘marriage plots’ while men live out ‘quest plots’. Although obviously this is changing – and has been changing for decades – there’s still an expectation embedded in the culture, often unspoken and barely registered, that at some point the woman will put her dreams and ambitions in check and follow her man to wherever his quest takes them. The woman’s own quest ended with marriage and children – the rest is details.

Clearly, for those of us who are maybe not such domestic goddesses, who may want marriage and children and/or something else, it doesn’t have to be this way. But to take full control of your destiny and assert the importance of your own needs is to risk being called ‘selfish’, and a nice girl doesn’t do that sort of thing.

You get to have a voice.

And when you tell your truth, you give other people permission to tell their truth. In the end, we’re never as alone as we think.

* I have absolutely nothing against Cleveland.

** which might not be a bad thing, depending.

Dec 12, 2011

31 comments · Add Yours

Applies just as much to “nice boys”. Great piece.


Absolutely! And thanks.


Justine, as usual .. your words are spun gold. You are fucking AMAZING.


Some of the kindest people I know are also the most blunt and aggressive. The way I see it, if no one is mad at you, then there is something wrong, and you’d better figure it out.

Epic most!


“But if you don’t let yourself rise to your level of incompetence, you’ll never get the chance to explore, discover …and move on to something greater.” Great stuff, reminds me of something C.S. Lewis once said.

Great quote from Tolle, too.


I especially like what you say about being authentic and living off your ragged edge.


@edenland Hey, I was at your blog this morning — tried to sponsor two little girls through your World Vision Australia badge, but my (American) credit card company suspected fraud and wouldn’t let it go through! (At least not until I reassured them that the charge was indeed mine, and not some shady Aussie person “trying to buy sunglasses”.)

@Aurooba Ahmed Nice to see you back. I agree — blunt + honest can be a gift. Annoying, sometimes, but a gift. It’s hard to go back to indirect forms of communication when you’ve gotten used to straight-up truth.

@Adam Casalino Love that Tolle quote. Have it on my desktop. Took it from a book on visionary personalities.

@Jess Corra You, my dear, were one of the people who crossed my mind when I was writing this. Glad you stopped by….The ragged edge can be intimidating but strangely addictive…


Thanks, Justine. These posts are helping to give me the courage I need to keep pushing forward, not being worried about mistakes as much as living fully and powerfully–and I love what you said about referring to mistakes as data, rather than failures. Oh, to live like that! I’m embrace it.

The dangers of niceness must be in the air. I read this article earlier: http://www.opheliaswebb.com/2011/12/nice-vs-jerk


Great piece! Especially love knowing there will be people that don’t like me and letting go of that allows for the cool new peeps to show:) Thanks.


The difference between nice and kind, to me, is confidence. If someone is nice, they’re usually trying to appease or manipulate someone else because they don’t think they can get whatever it is without being “nice.” When someone is kind, they’re doing it because that’s just how they treat people.

A person who only holds the door open for their boss is being nice, a person who holds the door open for whoever is walking behind them is being kind.


The part about being a hero of your own life & marriage plots versus quest plots struck a nerve with me.

I’ve spent a long time looking at happy couples and unhappy couples and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the cultural expectation that women can be happily married WHILE pursuing a quest plot that is at odds with our genetic heritage.

Now of course, there are always exceptions, but in the main, the only way for a couple to thrive over the long term is if they are both on the same quest. It’s best if two people who are on the same quest find each other and quest together, but that is very, very rare. Failing that, the only way for the couple to be on a quest together is for one person to be supporting the other person’s quest. It can work for it to be the man living the marriage plot and supporting the woman’s quest, but as rare as it is to find a man willing to do that, it is rarer still to find a woman who is deeply satisfied by that arrangement. Something about our biology makes that arrangement feel wrong to both men and women, despite the fact that culture warriors have worked for decades (and with great success) to push women out of marriage plots and into their own hero’s journey.

For me the most convincing piece was hearing over and over from the women themselves, successful, heroic women, about their disappointment with the men in their lives. If they had a man on his own quest, then he was either distant or disconnected or they felt too much pressure to give up on their own dreams to support his. If they had a man who was very supportive, they felt he lacked ambition or was simply not worthy of them. This last part is the tragic but undeniable fatal flaw, and I am convinced it comes from our biology, not our culture.


I tried kicking my nice girl’s ass all the way to Cleveland, but that didn’t work. She’s like a cat. Keeps coming back, through the ether, back to where our mutual paths intersect.

The only trick that’s really worked for me is to SEE her and understand her, and then we can make deals. Why is she there in the first place? What has she done for me (gratitude for getting me through childhood)? How we can we move forward with a win-win between her need to be loved/get approval, and my need to be gloriously, ravishingly selfishly creative?

It’s meaningful work. Thank you for


@Sandy Great, great comment, thanks. I agree — I think women are biologically primed to go for the man with the biggest…resources. It’s almost always the male of the species who hunts for a mate by putting his wealth on display, whether it’s a vibrant spray of peacock feathers or a Lamborghini. It’s just as natural for women to be attracted to power and dominance as it is for a man to be drawn to a lovely hardbodied perky-breasted twentysomething. But then you have to deal with the trade-offs…..and *other* things might start looking a lot more attractive. The woman discovers that maybe she doesn’t like being dominated; maybe it’s the man who is attentive and nurturing who suddenly turns her on. Or the man discovers that maybe there’s something deeply sexy about emotional and intellectual maturity, stimulating conversation, worldly confidence. But you can’t have everything. You have to decide what you want — and the price that you’re willing to pay for it…..Having said that, I go back to what you said about knowing where you’re going — and then finding someone who is going in the same direction. I’m not sure that’s really so rare. But it requires a strong sense of self, of identity, as well as clarity and ambition. I don’t really think that girls, as a general rule, are brought up to cultivate and value these things in themselves. No one comes right out and tells us (most of us), “Choose your direction, the kind of life you want, and *then* choose a man who fits your vision.” (The culture tells us, “Go for the alpha male” and “You can have a career OR a family, but you can’t have both, because then you’ll be too stressed and unhappy”.) We tend to get into relationships first and *then* figure out who we are — or we define ourselves through our relationships until we hit a breaking point and it just doesn’t work anymore. In other words: you can’t know where you’re going until you know who you are. So if you choose a partner before you know who you are (and where you’re going), you might have a problem. But I think that’s what so many of us do.


Great discussion here. And Justine, I read all your posts even if I don’t comment. ;)

I think it’s easier to go with the flow than not. That is – we know what’s expected of us, most of us never question the general direction of our lives because that’s just how it’s “supposed” to be. We don’t realize it could be any different. That takes a certain level of self-awareness that I don’t think most people are comfortable with. I don’t say that as a slight, but certain personalities are more introspective than others, etc. And Sandy, I’ve definitely seen/experienced the dichotomy you’re talking about. For me it ends up being about whether or not I can respect him. A man who supports a woman’s quest can still have a strong identity, self-awareness, and his own pursuits; someone who is just directionless or lacking ambition isn’t the same thing, and the latter is of course the turn-off.

It’s interesting to me how support and nurture has become a cover-up for losing one’s self or not needing to clarify one’s identity. Why is that, do you think? How is it they have become mutually exclusive (being a nurturer versus owning yourself)? Kind of how Dave distinguishes between nice and kind.

I still love how you put it – you can’t know where you’re going until you know who you are. Sums it up so very well.


I don’t comment here very much, but I just wanted to let you know that when I am seeking a little inspiration I come to your blog to get it. For what it’s worth. Also, Sandy’s comments (and your reply) really resonated with me. This is something I think about quite a lot, knowing as I do that every relationship I’ve been in thus far has made me less of the person I wanted to be…and wondering if there is a person out there who can possibly allow me (and I say allow, not make, here) to be the best I can be….bla bla bla…but what it comes down to, as you say, is being that person FIRST. And then finding a man who fits that, instead of vice versa. Or not finding a man, I suppose, though that’s not my nature – I think there is a sweet, perfect spot between being who we are on our own and being who we can be with someone else, but that’s where it’s obvious I’m a woman, right? Anyway, thanks for the great commentary on life, love and creativity.


@Jess, I think you missed some of my point with regard to a man supporting a woman’s quest. My main argument is that a couple pursuing two separate quests (his and hers) is a couple already under great stress and unlikely to succeed in either quest as well as if the couple were pursuing one quest as a united team. A team also generally works better when there is one leader and one or more followers, if for no other reasons than it reduces the energy spent arguing over the inevitable disagreements and provides a consistency over the long term so that the team does not flail about.

Ideologically it should not matter who is the leader or who feels most like it is “their” quest the team is pursuing. It’s just that biologically, much more often than not men and women feel more sexually attracted to each other, more romantically bonded, and more comfortable having children together when it is the man who is the leader and the man’s quest the couple is pursuing. This does not mean a woman cannot have her own identity, her own interests or even passions, her own friends, etc. but it does mean that if a woman sees herself on the hero’s quest and identifies her self-worth as the impact she is directly having on the world at large, she is likely to suffer romantically for it. And that can be a fine decision to make, but it should be a decision made with eyes wide open as to the consequences, and not under some pretense that there is no trade-off.

What I really object to is the pressure I feel from this article that if I’m not on the hero’s journey then I’m not a liberated woman, that I’m bad/wrong/weak/nice/timid for wanting my man to be the hero of my life. This article said to me that choosing a marriage plot is giving into cultural expectations instead of leading my own true life. Yes, I expect my man to support my growth and lead me in directions I want to go, and if he cannot do that then he is not the one for me. That does not mean I need to present my identity to the world as some occupation or achievement separate from his.


@Sandy I’m really glad you took the time to express your perspective and I appreciate your presence here. We do disagree on a lot. Your view strikes me as Christian and traditional, and I am neither of these things largely because they demand this kind of belief — that the man has the biological right to define reality and the woman the biological urge to follow. If this was true, feminism never would have happened; the whole phenom of ‘the feminine mystique’ never would have happened; those white middle-class housewives of the 50’s who had everything a woman was supposed to want would have been joyful, content; or going further back, when society divided into public and private spheres in the Industrial Age, and puzzled over The Woman Question, women themselves would never have challenged, fought or argued against their assignation to the private and almost total exclusion from the public (including the right to vote).

“That does not mean I need to present my identity to the world as some occupation or achievement separate from his.”

Identity is not an occupation. Identity is essential to a person’s well-being. In any healthy relationship it is separate from the partner’s, bounded by healthy boundaries.

And in this day and age I think it is dangerous and a real disservice to young women to encourage them or think it’s okay to subsume their identity or their life quest to their partner. It leaves them way too financially vulnerable, for one. Marriage is not a stable institution. Too many women end up divorced, widowed, broke and unprepared to face a world that is not as kind to an older woman as it sometimes is to a younger woman. Too many women keep themselves in a financial fog, taken advantage of by the very man they deemed their ‘hero’. Too many women invest too many years enhancing the man’s career, supporting and nurturing and enabling it, only to discover that, in the end, it is still the man’s career and all the rewards belong to him, her own contributions have no value.

Too many elderly women live below the poverty line because they didn’t believe they needed to present an identity to the world apart from their husband’s. So when the husband died or left them, their identity died as well (at least where the world was concerned).

My man cooked me dinner last night. When I’m upset he gives me foot rubs, he brings me tea. He’s my best friend. He’s hot. He’s awesome. He’s genuinely nurturing and supportive. He makes me feel genuinely accepted for who I am and want to be. This is the kind of man I need and I recognize that about myself. I’m happy. I’m in a genuinely collaborative relationship — we both work together to achieve my goals and his goals, which become our goals. This seems pretty natural and ‘biologically’ proper to me.


@Justine, I think perhaps you doth protest too much. :-)

I’m not arguing that your life is not proper or that women do not need their own identities or that we should be excluded from public life. Nothing is right for everyone. Some women are born with penises. Some women want to couple with other women. Some want to live in polyamorous blobs. It’s all OK with me.

What seems to NOT be OK with you is women living “the marriage plot.” I say just as I believe people are born transgendered (meaning that I believe that it comes from biology). not culturally oppressed into it, I believe the “marriage plot” is a normal biological pattern for women. I’d rather be married to the president of the United States than be the president. I do NOT believe the/a man has a biological “right” to define reality, but I do feel I have a biological urge to follow rather than to lead the father of my children. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy having a career, but the men who were willing to follow me when I was living my “quest plot” never turned me on that much.

I believe we all have masculine and feminine energy within us and express it to varying degrees. After getting to know hundreds of gay couples in San Francisco, I believe even more strongly that the happiest couples are ones where one person carries much more masculine energy and one carries much more feminine energy. It is the dynamic of the opposing energy that promotes growth, creates synergy, and makes a couple much stronger than the individuals in it. And I believe the “quest plot” is primarily masculine energy and the “marriage plot” is primarily feminine energy.

Justine, you cite a lot of reasons why it is important for women to carry a lot of masculine energy, for it is indeed necessary if one is to survive “on one’s own” in the world (though none of us, male or female, are truly surviving on our own, as the world is too populous and resources too scarce for anyone to survive without the help of others). But you confuse being able to earn a living with being the source of the “quest.”

I look at Corazon Aquino as a much better example. It was not her quest to become president of the Philippines. It was her husband’s quest. No doubt she fell in love with him because she found his quest as worthy of her love and devotion as she found the man himself, so when he died, she was able to pick up where he left off. I think it would have been a disservice to say to her, “don’t drop out of law school to raise your kids and support your husband’s career, you need to finish that law degree and maintain your own career because only that way will you be happy and secure.” Which is more or less what I hear you saying.

Justine, your relationship may be perfect for you. I’m not asking you to change. What I’m reacting to is this “marriage plot” versus “quest plot” reminds me of the old saying “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” I think they both do a disservice to women who want to be the feminine half of a masculine-feminine dynamic rather than a female-bodied androgynous energy coupled with a male-bodied androgynous energy.

My relationship is collaborative, too. It’s just that my goals are about our family and his goals are about his career and changing the world and there’s just less strife over that then when I felt an obligation to achieve career success and tried to balance two sets of career goals. The latter was a no-win situation: if my guy sacrificed his career for mine I couldn’t help but feel less attracted to him for not caring enough about his goals and not having enough drive to fight for them.

It has just worked out better for me to find a great guy (and really there are plenty of them) whose quest is one I can wholeheartedly support (which is the bigger challenge). I would have saved a lot of time if I hadn’t felt so much pressure against accepting this.

My call out to biology is that I believe my biological drive in this respect is more dominant than LGBT biologies and more dominant than those of women whose biologies truly support them being the leader of or even equal partner to their male life partners. That doesn’t mean I think I’m more deserving of support for my choices, but it does mean that I very much believe I’m deserving of equal support.


Sandy, you’ve read some things in my post that simply aren’t there. I never said and I certainly don’t feel that there’s something ‘wrong’ with women who choose the marriage plot. What I wrote was about those of us who want marriage and children and/or something else. You know. Options. You might have just felt excluded from the piece because you’re not my ideal reader. I feel like I’m caught in some weird 70’s time warp, where you’re accusing me of being some shrill unnatural manly feminist. We can agree to disagree.


Justine, we can agree to disagree. OK. But I don’t think I was reading into it. You said in your comments “And in this day and age I think it is dangerous and a real disservice to young women to encourage them or think it’s okay to subsume their identity or their life quest to their partner.” I think it is a disservice to tell young women that it is NOT OK to subsume their life quest to their partner. There is is a life-altering difference between OK to NOT “whatever” and NOT OK to “whatever”.


@Sandy I don’t think it’s ok — at all — but that is my particular point of view and as you yourself said, people think differently. People have the right to live their own lives and make their own decisions. What I think you’re reading into my post is some kind of massive sweeping finger-shaking “this is how you should live!” thing that made you — dare I say — defensive. And that was never my intent. My *intent* is to do what I can to make sure that women who think like I do and need the things that I need (which very much includes a place in the world as well as at home, a sense of mastery and accomplishment, creation, recognition) can find the way to do that — because that ‘way’ still goes against the grain of culture and history, at least once marriage and children are involved. (Just the way we frame the conversation — assuming that women must ‘choose’ between work and family — speaks to that.) You don’t want to be boxed in to any sense of how you should live your life, or what it means to be a ‘real’ woman; same here. Both of us can agree on that. Again, I appreciate your presence here and I appreciate this discussion. Best to you.


you said, “And when you tell your truth, you give other people permission to tell their truth.” yes…love. i stumbled upon your blog today…the timing is impeccable. there is awesomeness here.


I’m hopping up and down in my mind because I LOVE this post! I also chafe at the notion that I must sacrifice my dreams and desires to accommodate the public and fit into the stereotype of what a “nice” girl does. I believe in living true to your spirit and being in tune with your soul, things you really can’t do if you’re worried about what other people would think. Thank you, Justine. :)


I adore this. Thank you for posting, Justine!


-A former “nice” girl


PS. Anyone ever tell you you look like Kate Moss? Cos’ you do.

Love and light ~


“Too many women invest too many years enhancing the man’s career, supporting and nurturing and enabling it, only to discover that, in the end, it is still the man’s career and all the rewards belong to him, her own contributions have no value.”

Um… no? In a divorce remember, the woman takes half. He could not have accomplished the same without her efforts. To say otherwise, to assume that her contributions aren’t worth anything is frankly insulting.

“Just the way we frame the conversation — assuming that women must ‘choose’ between work and family — speaks to that.”

Right, but have you considered the choice that society expects from a man? Guess what, it’s either work, or work. Staying home with a family? That’s not considered a “real” man.

Both sexes have their cages. It’s up to each individual to break out of them if they are unhappy.


To say the woman automatically and always “takes half” is a little naive, quite frankly. Trust me on this.

Of course each sex has their cage. I am, however, talking about one particular kind. Up to each individual? The personal is political, and vice versa. It’s not just an individual’s problem. If a man wants to be free of his cage, it would help him to help the woman get free of hers. (And vice versa.)


Great post on an important topic. Thank you, and greetings from Melbourne, Australia.


this is so amazing to read Justine! i was sent this by a student on the ecourse i am sharing – i have had a battle with my inner nice girl most of my 46 years (first year or so she was being born all down hill after that) and after reading Women who run with the wolves i saw the archetype of the Too good mother was ruling my life (same vision as the nice girl only dressed in the clothing of nurturing me – insidious and murderous all at once) the course i am doing is called seeing off the Too good mother (i wanted to say killing off but i didn’t want to scare off the very women who need to explore this the most – killing off something even if it is killing you is just not nice right?) This is such an amazing exploration of this i will be sharing it far and wide… fucking awesome work thank you !!!


Holy buckets! This is amazing!!


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