And, just WHO was I supposed to be — journeying forth in my life — starting in my youth as a naive young girl and thrust onto this quest to the women I hoped I would become?
And, which path could lead me to my sovereignty, purpose and joy — I queried myself?
I was confused! Who knew? You too?
There is good reason.
I’ve been on this streak of writing about my Mother. I learned so much — not from directly talking with her because we rarely even spoke — but by my fascination with observing her life.
She was a maverick. She broke the rules for women of her time. This gave me permission.
I once told her that I didn’t want to be a woman — “because they only grow up to clean toilets”. It wasn’t so much the ‘toilet’ job. This just represented to me the risk of getting pigeoned holed in ways that defined me before I could have a say in it all.
I feared not having the freedom to become who I was supposed to become at an early age.
On the one hand — my Mother seemed to have life in tow, and on the other hand (in moments of rare insight) I saw her blatant confusion between her wants and the confines imposed upon her.
It was a really tight spot to be in — I got that.
And, yikes, the messages she gave me about growing into a woman — they were confusing because of this.
One night, she came into my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed. As she leaned in I understood that she had something profound to land on me. This was unusual. My Mother’s philosophy was that she really didn’t want to know about my life because then she would become responsible.
That was quirky.
Responsible for what? That was the mystery to me.
She didn’t attempt to ‘do’ my life, or even give much advice. But this night was different. I can remember the closeness of her breath, the way she glided directly over me and the glint of her eye.
I was tucked under the covers. I was just graduating from college. It was a fateful time for me because I was planning to go off to graduate school. Graduate School to get my MBA, which was novel at the time.
I knew that I was forging new paths; but, truly, I was being called into this journey by voices bigger than me.
I’d watched my Mother go to work some years before — and saw how this lead to some of the happiest days of her life. She found her purpose, used her gifts, inspired others and became prosperous. I liked all of that.
And these were lessons, apparent to me, which guided how I was choosing to live my life as my path began to unfold.
As she leaned in, and her words filled the air — I was floored. Yep, whisked to the place of super confusion.
This was my Mother — who I personally considered to be the first of the ‘Women’s Libbers’ for her bold actions in her life. She willingly broke the old rules women had accepted and ventured to where other mother’s feared to go.
And, now, she was telling me this? Yikes!
She narrowed in, and said: “But why are you going to business school?”….”You’ll just have babies and it will all be useless. Don’t bother.”
I was stunned, and felt the blood rush into my face. She hadn’t liked having babies, I remembered!
Was she telling me this because she thought it was her role as a Mother to direct me into the traditional path of home, husband and family? Was she listening to a cultural voice that said this is what you’re ‘supposed’ to tell your daughter to do? Was this direction intended to keep me safe?
Where was this coming from, because this was not the Mother I knew, these were not words that she would ‘freakin’ speak!
This was a big-time confusing delivery, dumped on me by her. It was out of the blue. This woman had demonstrated ‘Go for it girl!’ — and now she was heralding ‘Stop in your tracks, turn around — Don’t go for it girl’!
It got worse. I retorted back to her that I didn’t think that I would have children. I wasn’t clear on the whole of this for me yet, but it seemed honest for me in that moment.
When I said this, she went ballistic. I was surprised — she got really mad, incensed. Then, she got up, marched out of my room, and wouldn’t talk to me for months to let me know that what I had said was totally unacceptable.
She chose to be insulted. I was lost with this dialogue.
Why? She was a liberator — and when I told her I was going to choose what seemed right for me — she was hell-bound determined to tell me to accept life mapped out for me, including who to be. Wow — Shocking — Confusing — Really?
She hadn’t wanted kids. Now, she was forcefully insisting that I was wrong, when all that I’d witnessed knowing her life proved otherwise to me.
I was my Mother’s daughter, though, and bold and convicted. And, she didn’t dissuade me. Her legacy was already built well within me.
I hadn’t seen love, emotional safety or a good path from my home life — I had two type A parents that with all their smarts could not find a way to peace and understanding with each other. They enacted a silent war that never ended. The air always hung with tension, and signaled that life was agitated.
And now — when I thought that I was making my way — she was telling me that my way was not the way. What was I to make of that?
I felt bad.
Women forged new paths outside the home in my Mother’s era, but took with them guilt and shame about their desires to use their gifts, talents and capabilities to enliven their own lives.
They missed the permission to follow their own destiny. They missed ways to bolster the worth of themselves. My Father didn’t like the outward appearances that my Mother made money.
He didn’t believe in encouraging her greatness. She had to muster moving forward on her own then.
Was my Mother trying to protect me from the pains and ridicule that she knew I’d experience if I went down this new Path? Was she just flat out jealous, as she clearly was sometimes that I had new life and opportunities that she hadn’t had in her life? Was she frustrated because she didn’t know where it would lead me?
The answers hung out there.
I struggled with making sense of what my Mother was telling me.
I was the fair haired girl in my age group in my town — and expected to marry the fair haired boy who would turn into the big success. All of life could have been mapped out for me, if I would just be compliant.
There was a predictable path, but was happiness there for me, I wondered?
My Mother had thrown a wrench into the workings of me just going along as expected long before. I was compelled from within to become the version of me that wanted to emerge.
I’d gotten that gift.
I was sitting on the stairs in our two-story house one day. The carpet was soft underneath me. My Mother had caught me coming down the stairs on the fly. I was on my way out with other things on my mind — but she had stopped me in my tracks and motioned that I sit down.
It was another one of those rare times that she had something to say to me, the vibe told me.
Funny, I don’t really know what she hoped for me in my life — we never really talked about that — just her reaction to her life.
Had she concluded from her life that she had done it all wrong? That she could have intervened in the way it went? That maybe there were other options?
I knew very well that she carried scars from being prideful and purposeful, when it lingered that women should take the back seat, and be quiet.
But Heroines didn’t.
They spoke truth and new ideas into the human conversation, and thankfully they did, for us. She was anything but quiet.
The example of her life roared at me.
Now what did she want to tell me? Again she leaned in. It was coming. There was not a way to prepare for this. The space between us expanded for something radical — it was truth she couldn’t contain that uncontrollably wanted to burst from her mouth.
She didn’t stop to make sense of it — plop! — it flew out and landed between us.
Big emotions — those that had built up inside of her for years and grown bold — they were bolder than the beliefs she had adopted elsewhere that required her to stay inside the norms she had been forced into — and this big force propelled her message.
My Mother grew up in New York City. I think that she loved someone else before she married my Father. Maybe she even had a child with that someone else, and this was buried. My grandparents decided that my Father was the perfect pick for her. She went along with it.
Her guilt and shame started early.
Now she was about to tell me something about her real dreams. These blurted out every once in a while, and then most likely got mushed up with what she thought she was supposed to tell me about growing up as a ‘woman’ today. Confusing, it was.
My Father was a good Portuguese husband, which meant that he was supreme head of the household, and a real example of living the designed value-driven life to put out in public.
My Mother struggled under this control. She had not made decisions about where she wanted to live, who she wanted to be and what was important to her through the first years of marriage. She had me when she was married just over a year. My Father took her on a journey from New York City, to Chicago (where he went to grad school and began his career and connections) — and then to the town of Decatur, lost in the cornfields of central Illinois.
There wasn’t a SAKs 5th Ave. (where my Mother had her first job in New York) or the glitter of the town she’d come from — and not much to do in this farm town, from her point of view.
And, now here she was stuck with a kid. In a place she didn’t want to be in. With people that thought her New York ways were too aggressive. She had landed in a life she hadn’t imagined. The letters between my Mother and Father before they got married included this narrative: “How can we have sex and not have kids”, my Mother asked? My Mother came to this new life with my Father with pain around having children. I have a guess why, but I do not know for sure.
All that I knew was that these parts of her life hadn’t added up to ‘happiness’ — and as I watched her, it began my quest for what journey I wanted to take.
On what path could I cherish my life?
As she postured that day on the stairs, I didn’t expect that I’d get motherly advice from her. She’d given up that role long before. She’d say things, and leave me wondering — well, confused.
Answers hung out there that I reached for.
Often I pondered, what the heck?
And yet, she gave me bushel fulls of stuff to examine. This day I was in for a huge jolt summing up her wisdom.
She told me: “Don’t ever get married, just go to New York City and screw around with everyone and that’s the best way. That’s what to do.”
Yes, that was really really quirky, again! — and what the ‘flyin flippin’ do I do with that? My brain buzzed.
And yet, it depicted so much of what she wanted to tell me about life.
In this, she told me how confused she was about her own journey, the expectations for being a woman, how big choices were made for her in her life, and the pain that could be inflicted when you don’t go the usual path and instead chose what’s calling from inside. It said what she wanted, and how she was boxed in and missing what she wanted.
Who was I — this prodigy of my Mother and her experiences?
I gleaned in the awkwardness of her truth-sharing that day — her longing for a ‘happiness’ and freedom not available in the life that she’s gotten to, by happenstance. She was yearning for something greater, more passionate, more liberating, wild — breakout, change.
When I went off to college I was lucky — I dated all the good boys. The cute ones, the popular ones, the rich ones — but in me was this sense that I didn’t want any of them for the long-term.
There is a song that played so often and then incessantly in my head, haunting me. You too — songs that seem sent directly into your ears for you? The ones with a message that becomes unshakeable and stirs you up for years.
This song was for me: it’s a Carly Simon Song named — “That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be”. There’s a line in that song that forewarned me. It loomed large in my life: It goes like this… “But soon you’ll cage me on your shelf…I’ll never learn to be me first by myself…Ok, you want to marry me…”
There’s the rub. It’s the “what about me?” We know it — it’s not ignorable — even though we are asked to do so — the ‘me’ is still there. And, a Heroine feels the need to take the risk to a cherished life.
My Mother was a rebel creating her life, and was pulled by this force that just moved her to blossom herself too. As I watched, it often wasn’t pretty; got very messy, jumbled and confused — but she was in it. The momentum wasn’t letting her go.
She knew she would experience more pain by denying this — than by taking the risks of standing out, standing up and moving forward.
My Story goes on — but I want to tell you the story of two women that did marry two of the enormously successful men of my college days — and I too had dates with each that I enjoyed. Several years into both of these marriages as I kept track of their lives, I learned that both of these women had become alcoholics and both had tried to commit suicide.
My Mother got very depressed too. I was so deeply connected to her, not in words, but in the being of her life. I saw the willowing of her becoming.
Both of the women from my college days longed for more, I learned, even within the ‘lots-of-money’ lives they’d been afforded in marriage. And, just as my Mother’s life was telling me. Because, we’re birthed by nature and meant to grow — and limited space cramps us. I got this understanding that when you can only grow in the shadow of someone else, the struggle begins — you’re inevitably tasked with your life, and what to do.
I instinctively knew enough about me that I too would have hurt someone else or myself if I tried to conform and box myself in. I did get married twice, and more on that in another Blog Post.
But somehow it was clear to me that the voice, spirit and path of my life should survive being overridden by male culture and dominance.
I’d gotten the memo: It featured the truth that nature changes and prevails. It illustrated that really big tension happens, like I saw in my Mother’s life and the lives of these other women too — when the space we’ve put ourselves into in our lives is not accommodating our growth.
There is a woman’s path.
We’re perfectly crafted and designed to blossom. And, trying to escape in various ways, is futile. This communication taught me that — what I think I want in framing my life had to take into consideration what was bigger than me and already mightily at work in my life.
This, bottom line — well, it’s going with the flow.
I am hetero. I love men. I think that sex is lots of fun. I want companionship. I want what men have to say. Living together sounds like a good idea. And, a man who would have my back is the best. You bet. But, where is it noted for relationship to include being fully woman growing and becoming, in the company of two — and dodging the danger of losing yourself and encountering the pain that this causes?
My Mother’s life was teaching me about this HUGE question.
I don’t think that she had an answer for me — too, this answer was hanging out there.
Also — I have a best friend from college that married a man who she’s adored and she seems to have ridden through this storm with him in tandem. I should study her life to help you. She seems to have maintained her drive for growing into who she is and at the same time had a fruitful marriage.
So, there is hope. Now, however, of those who are of marriage-able age, there are more single people than married people. I think that this question that my Mother showed me is very much present — we’re supposed to take our own journey as women — and explore our value.
We’re called forth as Heroines and fully being.
Happiness is clearly in becoming who you are meant to be. It’s in claiming your Self-Worth and Voice. It’s in loving yourself and your days in this life.
This is SOOO Heroine!
My Mother’s struggles are my gold. I have wrestled with these vignettes that she gave me for forging for a life well-lived. She did the best that she knew, and her life was a step forward from my Grandmother’s in ways too.
From the women before us, we’ve left behind some of what we need to know that they can teach us — and we also have to invent our way to push forward for allowing the greatness of women’s lives to emerge.
Let’s get clarity on the best path for each of us — The Heroine’s Way! You are here to live your life fully, to lift up the lives of others — and to create the Stability, Authenticity, Expression and Contribution in your life that is fulfilling to you.
And, to enjoy the Journey.
My work is all about this for you — and how you can have the pieces that my Mother didn’t gather so that your voice is heard, appreciated and noted — because the world needs your input.
All around us now, there is a big pattern interrupt happening — new openings are emerging — this is calling for you to jump in and BRING IT. You’re out in the open now — you are developed from steps forward by your Mother’s teachings and what you learned and can improve upon.
My Mother was amazing and talented — we are — and she worked it. It wasn’t a good idea to go sleep around with everyone in New York City. I didn’t take that literally!
But, my Mother let her imagination hold onto her dreams — and light the way for me to do so as well.
She believed in traveling on this Journey and where it would take her — and I learned all this great wisdom from her willingness to proceed.
A Heroine takes the risk to live a life she cherishes.
Thank you so much for reading my Story! I hope that you’ll leave me a comment and say how you’ve grown.
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Journey Onward, Joan