The other day, I ran across a really wonderful quote from Andy Warhol, where he talks about how our approach to thinking about things changes our experience of them. He says:
Warhol has said that this realization came to him on a trip to Bali, when he went for a walk one day and saw people celebrating the death of a loved one instead of mourning them. What he saw was the difference between a funeral and wake.
Whichever one chooses, there’s no arguing that death and loss are difficult and involve mourning. I don’t know what Warhol’s beliefs about the afterlife and the the nature of the soul were, but his experience illustrates the point that we can have the perspective that it’s a sad thing, because it’s an end and a loss or we can have the perspective that we’re celebrating the life of someone we loved and going to a cosmic bon voyage party sending them on to the next leg of their soul’s journey. In reality, it may end up being a combination of both, but the point is that we get to choose.
It’s not really about funerals and death, but about the idea that we get to decide what we focus on and what we give importance and energy to. We can’t always choose what happens to us or outside of us or what people are going to say and do, but we can choose how we react. We can choose what we’re going to give space and importance. And we can also choose what we are going to allow to make us miserable (or happy for that matter). Most importantly, we can choose the story we are going to tell ourselves about it. And that works for personal history like “My mom didn’t hug me enough” as well as situations like whether we see a job loss as the end of our world or an opportunity, as well as other people and how much import we’re going to give their opinion of us and how we choose to live our lives.
And that’s why so much of the work I do with women focuses on finding, building, and trusting in our own voices. Girls too often are raised to be overly concerned about what others think and to let others tell and shape the story for us. We get messages telling us to “be nice,” don’t make waves, and rhetoric that tells us that we should be soft and accepting lest we be seen as “too aggressive” or “bitchy” or “unfeminine.”
I remember back in my corporate days, I had two direct female bosses who had this expression they’d use -- BGTD, bitches get things done. And they did get things done. They were both really good at their jobs and pretty no nonsense. And yet, I wonder how many men in their positions are spending time worrying that they will be see as “unpleasant” for making a decision or having a bold opinion or pushing to make something happen.
And I doubt that they’re spending a lot of time afterwards acknowledging that they’re probably going to be seen as “bitchy” for doing so. They don’t have to. It’s something unique to women leaders and something we do, because we’ve gotten this message that if we take an actual position and if we’re not soft and yielding, the world will see us as “nasty women,” who aren’t “nice.”
And while I actually am a big believer that we can get things done and lead with a feminine energy that it is softer and more communal and circular than the patriarchal nature of ladders and hierarchy of traditional business, giving women and girls the message that we have to yield to everything a dangerous message for a psyche, because it makes us question our own autonomy and whether we deserve a place at the table and whether we deserve to be the arbiter of our own self-image and authority.
It’s one of the reasons why I have a soft spot for the fairy tale “Cinderella,” despite a lot of it being encoded with a kind of misogynistic “Someday my prince will come and save me” kind of undercurrent, which by the way, we also have to look at as the product of its time and of the Judaeo-Christian culture of the 18th and 19th century in which those who collected and recorded the story lived, but that’s a whole different topic for another day.
The thing I love about Cinderella is that no matter how poorly she’s treated, no matter how often she is told that she doesn’t belong in polite society and that she’s not worth any more than the ash and cinders she cleans from the fireplace, she doesn’t let those messages, those opinions of her affect her own goals or how she shows up in the world, and she doesn’t let it affect her perception of how much she deserves to be at the ball or anywhere else.
She is able to take the input around her, respond with “So what,” and decide her own truth and go to the ball anyway. And she can do it, because she is clear on who she is and has decided to let that and not her experiences with her crappy step-family define what she does or how she feels.
And the lesson here is that it’s worth the time for us to take a look at the things that are dragging us down or making us unhappy and to ask ourselves, “Why do I care so much? Is this even valid? Is it real?”
Never forget that at the end of the day, you get to decide.