From the moment I was old enough to speak, I’ve had people calling me bossy. Maybe it’s because I’m an older sister. Maybe it’s because when my dad was deployed I felt like I needed to help my mom. Or maybe I really am just bossy.

During my senior year of high school, I had a conversation with my uncle about his then 4-year-old daughter — when he picked her up from school, her teacher told him that she was bossy. She was labeled with the B-word just like I always had been.

I was in middle school when the word really started to eat away at me. In classes, I still jumped at the opportunity to be a group leader, but when I thought about it later, I’d wish I had just stayed quiet. I should’ve let someone else volunteer. No one likes a bossy girl.

This continued into high school, and I found myself consistently making excuses to not try out for a play, not speak up about anything in my friend group, and to not try anything new. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long.

When I was 16, my psychology teacher approached me with the idea to start a Z Club at my high school. I was skeptical because number one I had no clue what a Z Club was and two I had no clue how to lead one, but I said yes anyway.

It turns out, Z Club ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. The club advocates for women on a local, national, and global level. I was elected president and my best girlfriends were elected vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Together, the four of us organized events and volunteer opportunities for all the girls in the club.

During our first year as a chartered club, my school’s Z Club chapter participated in Operation Beautiful to increase self-love around our campus. We raised money for victims of rape in our area. We created a visual display in honor of every woman who died as a result of domestic violence the previous year in our state alone - there were 56 silhouettes covering the halls of our cafeteria. We volunteered at our local food bank. We participated in Sole Hope where we made the soles of shoes out of old tires and sent them to Uganda for women to complete for work, then the shoes were given to those who needed them.

During my two years as president of Z Club, I realized that I was the most empowered and the most confident that I’d ever been in my life when I was speaking and advocating for the voiceless.

That’s when it hit me. I’m not “bossy.” I’m a leader.

I learned that on a day to day basis, I don’t need anyone else’s permission to be myself, voice my opinions, or make myself heard.

I think about my strong, witty, and oh-so-loved 5-year-old cousin who already has a label that she’ll be unable to shake for years to come. I think about all of the other “bossy” little girls who just want to direct the class plays, be the line-leader, and read the story to the class. I can’t help but wonder, why are we discouraging this?

Why are we dismissing this attitude as if it’s something negative instead of teaching young girls how to redirect their skills and desires into something that is inclusive? Why aren’t we teaching our girls to be leaders?