Over the July 4th week, I was thinking a lot about independence, and what that quality can mean to a creative and wholesome life.
Especially for women.
That definition has changed before my eyes. My older sister, only 3 years older than I, was pushed to go to secretarial school before college so she would be certain to be able to support herself. That was a well-trodden path then. But when I graduated from high school just three years later no one would have thought to mention it. That year, 1969, Gloria Steinem published an article entitled, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” in New York Magazine, credited as bringing her to national prominence as a feminist leader and kicking off search and discovery for my generation of women looking to define ourselves.
I was sure we would be progressing as a society in the direction of equality and justice for all, including women. And yet. During my lifetime, like many women, I’ve experienced abuse, disdain, dismissal, disrespect, and disregard because of my gender. I’ve also experienced success. Not because I am a woman, but because I am strong, creative, and clear.
My secret: Never ask for permission to do good work, to do it with love, to do it the best you can, with originality, skill and hope. Be the best you you can be, in whatever you do.
My high school motto was Inveniam viam aut faciam, I will find a way or make one. I turned around at one point and realized that I’ve lived my life by that motto, and it’s given me both permission and courage, when needed, to seize opportunities, meet and overcome challenges, and do some good in the world.
Step up, step in, be the leader who makes helpful things happen.
In the nonprofit where I worked for a decade we were under constant pressure to perform, to produce the next program, to get the next grant, to keep the ship afloat. The organization did good work, but the staff suffered so much stress. I voiced my concern about this to our financial director, and she said, Jo… nobody’s stopping you from making things better. A BFO! (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). I ran with it. I created a new team way of working in my department that allowed my colleagues to collaborate, that inspired creative thinking and rewarded initiative with respect and appreciation. Whoever came up with the best plan, whether a program manager or the IT guy, we went with it.
We began holding quarterly staff days, when we closed our shutters and doors to the world and looked inward, nourishing ourselves. We began the day with early morning meditation and yoga, and continued with visioning exercises and an exceptionally delicious, family-style lunch cooked by several staff members for everyone when we would just laugh and relax together. Afternoons focused on small but high impact projects that could produce efficiencies in future, things you never have time for but can help so much, from physical to digital sorting and archiving. These days refreshed our spirits and productivity.
I just made this stuff up. But I think it worked because it was based on love and respect. If I had asked permission, it never would have happened.
My father always said that I could do anything I wanted to, as long as I didn’t hurt anyone. This stuck with me despite the burdensome, negative cultural messages that, I’m sorry to say, prevail. Don’t listen to them. Nurture the goodness in your own heart, be good to others, believe in kindness. Take risks. Reach out when you see someone suffering. Listen. It’s a great way to connect. It’s something women do especially well. Be bold.
At the end of a conference I was running some years ago, a physician who had attended came up to me and said, “This is the best program I’ve attended in 45 years of medical education.” I spontaneously responded, “There’s no law against doing it with love.” That was the secret sauce, and I knew it, and she felt it.
That’s stayed with me, and I want to share this thought with you. There’s no law against doing it with love.