Where did you learn Heroine lessons?
Was it from your Mother, your Grandmother, other women that you admired that you knew or knew of: where you picked up valuable lessons for your path ahead — or simply from life happening?
I’m talking about those things you saw in the lives of these women that gave you a glimpse — both for how a woman could step out and be her real self, and also where she could fall short.
Do you remember those moments when you watched, listened, evaluated — even judged — and came up with new notions that then shaped your life?
My life was shaped by my Mother. I watched her intently through my youth and adolescence and adult life.
Here’s the curious part about it all — we didn’t even like each other all that well or have much to say to each other. Yet, the messages I got from her rang out so loudly for me and my travels through life.
For this Blog I’m adapting this Story of my Mother from an article that I previously wrote for a book that I co-authored with the inspirational Lisa Nichols: “Living Proof, Celebrating the Gifts That Came Wrapped in Sandpaper.”
This Story starts like this: There I was sitting in the shoe department of Saks Fifth Ave. with my Mother next to me. I was about fourteen at the time. And, I was watching her experience fun femininity as the salesman brought her pair after pair of gorgeous spiky heels to try on. She was treating herself to something that made her feel glamorous, womanly and happy.
And wow, I was struck by how those heels revealed that stunning long-leg look! She bought three pairs of to-die-for designer shoes that day — with her own cash. I felt happiness. She’d grown up in New Yorker and shown me that fashion is fun.
As we walked along the streets of St. Louis — the ‘big city’ as we called it — I watched her gaily swinging her SAKs bags. The message that I got from her in this zone was freedom: freedom to choose, freedom to go for what you wanted, freedom to love being a woman. This vividly colorful image of her remains with me, and I hold it dearly.
This was the day that I decided I’d be a girl with cash, too, just like her. She had it going on. And, true to form several decades later, I wrote my first book entitled “A Girl Needs Cash.”
My Mother showed me something different. It was quite unusual for her — in the late 1960s — to stand out as a woman with cash, her own cash that is. She’d started and successfully built her own businesses in the travel industry. It gave me great pride when I drove down Main Street in my hometown of Decatur, Illinois and saw the big banner that read “Perry Travel.”
I got it that in her business she stepped into who she really was: a smart, accomplished, talented, creative and inspired woman — who had been willing to take a risk and stake her claim with fortitude to prosperity.
And yet, there was the dark side, the secrets behind the outward image of success in my Mother’s life, and also the source of my deep pain. There was a cruel ritual that was played out at home each night, as my Father mocked and insulted my Mother; because she was vulnerable, alone and aspiring in her business life.
Although my Father was also very accomplished, he let his cultural dominance rage, and accompanied his jealousy with glasses of wine. The emotions ran through me like searing knives as the mockery played out. And what really hurt is that he would draw me into his tirade as his ally and make me laugh with him to ridicule my Mother.
He’d say things like “You can’t even balance your own checkbook, so you can’t run a business. “Who do you think you are?” “What makes you think that you know what you are talking about?”
For so long, I just silently wished that he would say something good about my Mother. I watched her self-worth crumble and her voice languish as she withered under this banishment.
Much later in adulthood, I apologized to her for having taken part in the brutality that was heaped her way. She graciously said to me: “You were just a child, it was not your fault.” I still felt so terrible about it all as I remembered the vivid experience of the pain depicted on her face.
She was tested, and she showed me her courage and strength as she carried on through it all. It was these glimpses of her happiness and the depths of her misery that taught me about being a woman in these times of striving for sovereignty — how to tolerate the unthinkable abuse and terror, while presenting “perfection” to the outside world.
I would later learn of stories of other women, who were my Mother’s friends, who had hidden stories of shame too.
I finished college and then chose to go off to Business School, radical at the time. There were just three women in my Vanderbilt B-School class. Why? Somewhere deep down inside of me I knew that it was my way out. Business was what I saw light my Mother up, where she went for independence. Suppression was what I saw at home.
Getting my MBA meant a journey to becoming a “girl with cash” to me. Maybe, by being that girl, I could avoid the horrible agony my Mother endured as I was growing up, and escape the secrets that both created my own pain and carved my own path.
I did glean from her that she was striving for something very worth-while: happiness, sovereignty and prosperity. This quest was a legacy of vision that she created for me. These were Heroine lessons.
My career took me to working on Wall Street in the early 1980s: and it was a particularly unsavory path for any woman to tackle at that time. The men that were my counterparts would say things to me like: “Sit up on that desk and spread your legs” — and the higher ups would say things like: “You’re not going to give me what I want? — I’ll see that you don’t have a job tomorrow.” I faced what I had seen my Mother face — and I found myself going it alone and hiding my fear, just as she had done.
The tricks and shenanigans of Wall Street ran deeper than this Midwestern girl had ever imagined. But I worked hard on being skilled — a solid, quick and clever negotiator — because my Mother had taught me that living my vision was more important than the talk of the day.
I had to put blinders on, ignore the putdowns, the berating comments and the sexual insults to go forward. I heard the men say, “Women can’t take risks” — where courage and strength were required. But my Mother had shown me differently. I had developed the stamina inside of me to forge ahead.
There were always those moments when it got hard, that I could have backed down, accepted less, seen myself as unworthy or just not capable. That was there — but, for me — that was potentially a bigger possibility of pain. That would have been the pain of choosing to be the victim and giving up on my dreams and living the life I mapped out.
That would not have been a Heroine move. I watched those times that my Mother could have given up, and determined that if she had, she would have sunk really deeply further into pain. Nope, she was made of stronger stuff, she showed me.
Have you seen, right before you, women that demonstrated for you how to carry on? Those women that believed in all the good stuff: Love, Prosperity, Joy, Happiness, Sovereignty, and who persistently moved toward this as they crafted their lives?
Many Heroines had the hard stuff, stood up to it — and came out better on the other side.
When I wrote my first book: “A Girl Needs Cash” — a pinnacle of my outward success — I was holding onto a secret, just like my Mother had. I wanted all of the good stuff, but I had too well learned to tolerate brutality that wreaked havoc on the inside of me. This polarity was key to what I saw my Mother lose. In the brutality that I witnessed, I saw her lose her self-worth and her voice. This was the bridge that she had not gotten me across.
And, I met the same failure.
I had married an abusive husband. And, I was living in daily terror and regularly holding my breathe. One afternoon, I was on a telephone interview with a radio station promoting my book. He stormed into my office in a rage shouting that I had a “huge ego” and how could I be thinking that I could be proclaiming myself as an expert?
His rage shut me down just as fast as I had seen my Father shut my Mother down. I’d been witness to this, and knew it all too well. I stopped the session immediately, and felt the searing knives dagger through me.
I was never comfortable anywhere I went to speak about my book again. Because, I feared my husband’s abuse. I dropped out. Then and there I stopped sharing my talents; I stopped the pursuit of my success dead in its tracks.
Here I was, right back in the hurt that I had tried so hard to escape, and this time I was the focus. I withered and went quiet.
My Heroine seemed dead, I searched my memories for the break-through that I’d been intently, blatantly begging for my Mother to make so that I had her modeling for relief in this crappy moment — she’d gotten me this far, what now?
Not long after, my husband took his new girlfriend to the Bahamas (where I had taken him for our anniversary only months before). I was down trodden, sickened and beaten. Upon his return, he announced that he could do anything that he wanted to — even though the irony was that he was still married to me.
I recalled that I had put his name on my house to appease the marriage, and my life was shattering before me. As I gasped for air, and sobbed in humiliation and anguish, I flashed on my childhood.
And, then the divorce lawyers descended. But, what none of them counted on was that I had in me the tenacity of the woman who had come before me: my Mother who had taught me to be a woman who’s bold and convicted in her approach, resourced with cash and assets and imbued with spirit. I fought diligently for what was mine, and I won.
Breaking free of the oppression of an abusive husband and taking back everything that was rightfully mine — including my self-worth — and the power and impact of my voice — instantly announced the Heroine was awake in me!
I had weathered abuse for being a strong and prosperous woman, but no more — I was finally done paying my dues. I was no longer apologizing for living my dream and my vision purposefully.
I had made the Heroine break-through.
As I walked out of the courtroom that sunny day, I felt my spirit soar. I thought of my Mother happily dancing her way down the street in her jaunty spiked heels. Even if she had taught me to suffer in silence, she also had taught me to fully live my life. And even if she had never escaped my Father’s tyranny, she had shown me what it meant to be free — to believe that what I wanted was possible.
She’s gone now. But, she’s alive in me, as the woman who gave me lessons about being the Heroine of my life.
The Heroine lessons of my life taught me the big importance of firmly claiming my self worth and my voice.
Where have you gotten your Heroine lessons? Who showed you a path ahead? Are you grateful for women who got you through? And, are you in a community of women who will support and encourage you going forward?
So, where are you getting Heroine lessons?
It takes this — you’ll thrive when you’re uplifted by Heroines!
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It’s a Free copy of the ’The 4 Biggest Mistakes Women Make’ eBook — and it’s available here!
And, you’ll get on your way!