I was in tears and, at the same moment, utterly surprised at my reaction. Crying? I was watching Iron Lady, Meryl Streep‘s Academy Award victory lap in which she portrays Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979-1990. The movie caught me off guard. The twist for me came in the movie’s lens into Mrs. Thatcher’s life; the view is of her nearing dementia with life ‘highlights‘ told in retrospect. A wave to young children who were pleading with her not to go as she sped off to the Conservative Party‘s leadership. An aging person alone washing out her tea cup in the sink of a lovely, closeted London home. Adult children operating on the periphery. Why did it hit me so?
“You get to decide how you show up everyday,” I said confidently as I addressed a group of women on ““10 Observations to Living Your Best Professional Life.” at Simmons College in June 2011. To emphasize my point I told a story about a video clip I had seen of Christa McAuliffe, one of seven crew members aboard the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger. Just prior to my talk there had been many 25th year remembrances of the disaster. In the video the seven crew members walk to the shuttle. Christa beams at the cameras. Every pore of her being was thrilled to be in that moment.
Here’s what Christa and Mrs. Thatcher knew….we get to decide how we show up everyday…
Here is what Novofemina has taught me thus far about showing up during my transition:
Bucket #1: Feed your ambition. Anna Fells, author of Necessary Dreams, taught me that ambition is the combination of mastery and recognition. Each person, regardless of gender, gets to choose their topic of mastery; the arts, sciences, education, the home front. You get the picture. Despite the wrangle in the press over Ann Romney, it’s ‘our’ choice.
The recognition side of ambition, not mastery, is women’s pit. Bottomless? For some.
- A deep and pervasive cultural prejudice leads to the reflex of bestowing recognition on males and largely unconscious withholding of recognition from females in all but the sexual sphere. (Necessary Dreams, pg 99)
- Sylvia Ann Hewlett author Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success conducted primary research and found that a woman’s ambition falls precipitously as she ages; 53% described themselves as extremely or highly ambitious in the 28-40 year old age group versus only 37% for those in the 41 and higher category. (Off-ramps & On-ramps, pg 49)
After reading both Hewlett and Fells am I the only one surprised that women’s ambition falls after decades of diminishing recognition?
Bucket #2: Courage. “Coraggio,” (italian for courage), said the priest who delivered the eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral in 2000 It sounds almost melodic when spoken. My grandfather was the eldest of 7 children in a 1st generation immigrant family. His dad had a debilitating accident when he was very young. Much of the burden of the family fell to my grandfather at an early age. Courage. My transition has been visited Ebenezer Scrooge-esque by soul rattling issues: Isolation. Guilt. Fear. Failure? Blessedly none of these are persistent. Leading with gratitude and having the humility to step forward to embrace William Bridges’ definition of transition has helped.
- William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, said of transition, ”we break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves.”
Bucket #3: Leverage transition-friendly tools. I’ve drawn heavily on my capitalist, business roots to create a small cadre of transition tools..necessary for the modern women’s transition. Agenda, baseline, analogies, story telling, RISK, a ‘working’ personal elevator pitch. And not to be outdone, networking.
A triggering event got me here…no one was there to meet my daughter on an early release day at kindergarten. Did I mention she was 5? I was in London. I had spent hours creating the to-do lists for the ‘nanny’, my ‘husband’ and various ‘others’ who would create the daily reality during my absence. Thankfully I had had the good sense to tell her teacher that I would be away for the week. She was picked up within 10 minutes of the initial call to my husband. Not sure she can even remember it today. My husband has no memory of this event. Surprised? My recovery has lasted quite a bit longer.
Thanks to Novofemina I’ve learned quite a bit about transition and about who I was professionally before it began. It is on-going. I’ve begun to exercise my voice on topics of great interest to me, namely women’s development issues. I’m exploring how it can pay the rent while defining the possibilities, broadly.
Succeed daily. Establish female networks. Dream dreams. Remember, “it is the silence between notes that gives them prominence.” (The Art of Possibility, Benjamin and Rosamund Zander).
Thank you for listening as I talk out loud about these issues. I remain steadfast in my conviction to dignify the issues of women’s transition. The risk I see is that without elevating their prominence women may deny or defer or diminish their dreams. Eleanor Roosevelt, in It’s Up to the Women, said “women will shape who we become as a society.” ALL shapes are necessary, in fact, required. Despite comments to the contrary…it isn’t enough just to show up.
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