A few times over the last few years I’ve been asked for a favorite quote or expression that is important to me. Once was for a female small business owner who was building her own blow dry bar. She wanted a wall of famous women’s quotes to act as a backdrop for women who’d just had their hair done. A few months later I stood before it while celebrating the opening of Blowout Dollhouse with a proud new business owner.
Last week I was asked again for quotes for an event where I’ll be speaking this week. I took a few days, mulling over all the gifs and pretty sayings that decorate my phone and my office. I again found myself drawn to the same one and I always smile to myself when I share it.
The back story is a good one, if I do say so myself.
It was roughly four years ago. I’d flown in from one city to realize that while changing out dry cleaning to fly to another, divorce was on the horizon. I wiped tears as I headed to West Palm Beach. I sank into the Florida humidity upon arriving, feeling as if my home state was going to help soften the blow. I had to get it together and fast. I was going to spend a weekend with the most successful women in financial services. They wore Laboutins and sparkling things, all brains and verve. I was intimidated in my state.
I prepped for my mission: looking like them. I would seem poised and polished while my insides were caving in upon themselves. Yes, definitely. They wouldn’t notice that I didn’t belong.
Then a funny thing happened.
They were honest about all the things on my mind. There were maybe twenty men to the thousand women and my God, how women speak differently when we are around our sisters. Yes, there were talks about economies and global trends, but there were also talks about how you have to take time for yourself, how it is hard to juggle career, marriage and children, solidarity sister.
One woman shared that while she had gotten kids to school, ran meetings, thawed dinner, made soccer and took a red eye out of New York, all she wanted to do was fill her brain with mindless drivel. She tucked herself into an InStyle magazine. Her seat mate, however, had her laptop out and was making notes while flipping through graphs and reports. After realizing they were heading to the very same conference, she told the very focused woman, “Wow, I feel incredibly lazy.” The woman laughed and I will never forget what she said, “No, you don’t understand. I’m the keynote speaker tomorrow. I just had a baby and she’s sick. My husband has been sending me updates every few minutes. This is the only time I’ve had to prepare.”
She was the Chief Economist for a large firm.
They then talked babies and balance.
She nailed her keynote.
Every woman at the conference was her most beautiful, natural, smart and nurturing self. These women were so enlightened and encouraged by the way a male-dominated industry feels when the men aren’t in the room. When women come together to inspire one another, to make you feel less alone, less anomaly, its a beautiful thing.
We talked about the guilt, my God, the guilt. We talked about marriage and personal relationships, messy and glorious, I try so hard to be present. We talked about the children we were raising, I try so hard to be present. We talked about who we become when the men are in the room, the layers we put on, the children we forget for a lunch meeting, because you can’t be a mom. We talked about the health concerns we don’t share with our male colleagues and clients, because then you are a woman. We talked about how you are scared to take maternity leave, because then they look at you with the wondering, soft eyes.
The weekend ended with a final keynote by Diane von Furstenberg. She had a Power Point presentation with pictures of herself as a child, as a Princess, as a mom and finally, the pinnacle photo of the wrap dress that turned her into a design house. She talked about her regrets as a mother, her role as a grandmother, her career frustrations and failures.
When asked what she lived by, what drove her to continue, she said as self-confidently as you can imagine a former princess to espouse, “Insecurity is a waste of time.”
Isn’t it just?
Can you imagine if every woman in that room confidently owned each relationship she had and all the hats she wears, no insecurities? I think through conversations I’ve had, meetings I’ve walked into, moments I’ve silenced myself and worried that I was too… something. Too soft, too hard, too feminine, too masculine, too talkative, too expressive, too… all the things that make me who I am.
There sometimes comes a time in your life and in your career that you find your value. And, most will tell you even when you find it, life has a funny way of saying, “Are you sure?” and offering you missteps and ego to dig through so that you finally find your footing and say, “Yes, I’m sure. This is who I am and what I do well. And you know what? Here are the things I don’t do well. I’m going to own them too.”
Ms. DVF herself, in her very poignant, clipped comments, asked us to learn who we were, all our iterations, and own them. Own who you are today, find your why, your reason, your gifts.
Then stand up and introduce yourself.
No apologies allowed.