I was raised to get married and have babies. Being female, that was to be the sum of my life accomplishments. They were the typical expectations of women for the time and place I was born, and it was tough going for me when I rebelled against them.
I had to defy my parents in order to go to college, I became a pariah when I got my first divorce, I got worried looks when, married again, I held off having a child until I was over thirty, and the worry turned to judgement when I chose to have only one.
My mother was annoyed, not proud, when I earned a teaching degree. My husband was annoyed, not proud when, after he relocated us to Greece, I quit a life-sucking job he wanted me to keep, and started my own business there—a book shop/teacher education service.
College graduate. Teacher. Business owner. Single mother. Ordinary, even boring labels for women today, but for me, each one earned was a battle of tears and blood against my upbringing.
It all sounds so bold and courageous written out like that. But the reality is, of the 9,125 days of my existence between the ages of twenty and forty-five, I spent most of them feeling lonely, riddled with guilt and self-doubt, and battling stomach pain.
Along the path of those nine thousand days, I met women who fought the same battles as I. Some sprinted ahead and never looked back, some laid down arms. Those who gave up, who decided it was impossible to climb out of the pit their belief system held them to, coped with that decision by trying to pull those of us who’d clawed our way out back down with them. They feigned sympathy for our setbacks while secretly taking pleasure from them. They made sneaky little comments carefully designed to make us doubt what we were trying to do, while only revealing their fury at themselves and us upon closer scrutiny. They fought with their daughters. Or, they drank far too much. Or maybe, they just sat numbly in that pit and watched TV.
I was fifty before I’d mustered the real courage—the courage to do what I’d wanted to do since I was twelve. I wrote a book. That first book wasn’t my best, but I wrote it from my heart, with painful honesty. Somehow, it developed a persistent cult following, a soft siren call to other women who’d been brought up as I had. I knew it accomplished what I’d hoped it would when I got the first email from a woman I didn’t know, who wrote, “‘No is a perfectly acceptable answer.’ Thank you for putting that sentence in your book.”
Now, here we are, another 7,300 days later, and, thanks to the things I dared do, my circle has grown much wider, and includes some incredible, amazing, powerhouse women. Former students who’ve grown up to head companies of their own, other published authors, one who puts oncology appointments on her calendar with the same resolve and fortitude she summons for her executive producer meetings. There’s another who traveled across the Atlantic on a ship seventy-five years ago, leaving behind the place of her birth, and another who is an activist changing the way the world sees the LGBTQA community. No less remarkable are the stay-at-home mothers, teachers, journalists, veterans, accountants, who are quietly and persistently moving mountains in the background behind their flashier sisters.
These women rise to their challenges while raising each other up. I wouldn’t have met them if I hadn’t persevered despite my naysayers, my failures, and my queasy stomach.
This year, I’m trying for my biggest accomplishment yet. I’m meeting with investors, running online campaigns, all to raise money to produce a film. I’m doing it because I believe in it, I’m doing it despite my anxieties and what the date on my birth certificate says. There is no guarantee whatsoever, that it’s going to be a success. In fact, there’s a high probability it could fail.
But if it does, damn if it won’t be my most spectacular fail yet.
That’s my advice to my sisters on International Women’s Day: Drudge up the audacity to pull yourself out of whatever pit your own self-doubt has confined you, and go out there to fail spectacularly. Fail with failures so huge, they validate your detractors and censors, thrill your opponents and enemies, and worry your friends and family.
Because, when you fail like that, I can tell you from personal experience, it is so much more invigorating, so much more life-affirming than succeeding at what society has consigned us to achieve.