Whether you knew the late actress and singer who died last week at age 89 or have no idea who she is, I can’t help but think we all might do well to adopt a bit of her attitude.
To quote the grand dame herself, “I pray that I live expectedly… looking forward to what the next day will bring. In the meantime, I fucking enjoy it.”
Granted, it may not be the perfectly pleasant or always achievable answer, but it sure beats the constant participation in some race with an invisible finish line.
One need not look far to realize the world is becoming more absorbed in its incessant evaluation of women – from PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi’s recent comments that "Women Can't Have it All," to Esquire magazine’s July piece, “In Praise of 42-Year-Old Women,” to the nearly 700 bills introduced across the country meant to regulate some part of a woman’s life. It seems our careers, our families, our bodies, our choices and our decisions have become everyone’s business.
But what’s really dangerous here is what that’s doing to ourselves. By participating in the public obsession, and evaluation, we stoke our own fires of judgment and self-worth. Our defenses naturally go up. The problem with that is we won’t ever win, if we only play defense.
I was reminded of this on a recent trip to the United States. Several long-time girlfriends were “hydroplaning on the mid-life curve,” as I’ve come to refer to it.
I listened as the first of my friends, a truly beautiful woman inside and out, smart, funny, sexy and one of the kindest people I know, relayed to me a bit about what she had been going through.
As tears slid down her face, she told me she felt as if she had lost her purpose. Her life had become some numb, downward spiral, and she thought she lost her courage to change anything. How, I wondered, could this absolutely amazing creature feel so badly about herself and her current place in life? Didn’t she know how amazing she is? What a gift she is? Apparently, she didn’t.
Another friend, who had recently gone through a divorce – a decision she didn’t regret, but was incredibly painful none-the-less, told me: “I know it was the right thing, but I just can’t seem to give up the idea of the fucking white picket fence.”
A third, one of the most insightful women I know, said, “I think I just need to write a letter to myself that says, ‘Dear Self, Sorry that things didn’t work out exactly the way you might have planned. You’ll be OK. Maybe if you trust me, it will be better than you had expected. Love, Self.’ “
What these amazingly beautiful, smart women all had in common? Their anger, sadness, sense of feeling lost, regret, confused and judged had nothing to do with themselves and everything to do with what they thought their lives – from physical to emotional to family to career – should have looked like. Pictures not actually drawn by them.
I’m not really one to give life advice and certainly not one to give driving advice (I am hands down the world’s worst driver). However, on this occasion, I remembered something my driver’s ed teacher said to me: “If you hydroplane, turn into it. As counter-intuitive as that may sound, it’s the only way to get out of the skid.”
And there was no doubt about it: My friends were hydroplaning. And what I did know was this: You can’t self evaluate accurately and certainly not subject yourself to societal evaluation, right in the middle of the skid.
“Turn into it,” I offered. Then I poured more wine.
Channeling my inner Elaine Stritch.
Because the truth is, another debate, over analysis or well-intentioned offering of advice wasn’t going to be helpful. How they should or shouldn’t be. What they should or shouldn’t do. How they could improve their marriages, children, bodies, better manage a work-life balance, re-start a career, or a life. The hell if I knew.
The truth was, they’ve heard enough of that anyway. We’ve all heard enough of that. Maybe this was the time to say, “You know what? I don’t have any idea what you should do. But I got your back, your front, and anything else that needs gettin’. Because you’re extraordinary.”
The Harvard Grant study, conducted over a 75-year period, is arguably one of the most famous and advanced studies on the subject of happiness. Unfortunately, the study didn’t include women. After 75-years of painstaking research, tracking and metrics, the study’s main conclusions were: Happiness is found with yourself, based on how you feel about yourself, and on loving, supportive relationships.
I point to this study not as some guru of happiness, but because it seems pretty clear to me that women need each other. What’s more, we need to bring each other up, instead of constantly beating up ourselves and others based on some irrelevant, societal picture, opinion and evaluation. What we do doesn’t matter as much to our happiness, as how we do it -- and with whom.
That’s why we need women like Elaine Stritch -- a self-proclaimed “do-it-yourself broad,” known for her impatience and unwillingness to suffer fools and foolishness. I’m sure she had her own insecurities. Despite those, she pranced her 70-something self out on the stage in nothing but a man’s oxford shirt and tights for one of her last shows “Elaine Stritch: At Liberty,” where she unabashedly re-counted her own career of love, laughs, loss and even alcoholism. Stritch said the show helped her process her own life, and she hoped it helped others go through the same kind of thing.
“I can change the subject of my life with humor,” Stritch said. “When it’s down … I can change it, like that.” All part of her living expectedly.
That’s power. To live looking forward to the next moment. Free from judgment -- particularly from yourself. Bring each other up. It’s only then that we win. And in the meantime….
I’ve always loved Elaine Stritch.
Patty McDonough Kennedy is a writer, speaker, trainer and entrepreneur. She has lived and worked in a number of countries, and mostly writes about life, motherhood, business, sisterhood and the fabulous mess that can all be. When she has other thoughts and observations - she'll throw those in there too. In addition to her own writing, ((Laugh Lines)) also features guest posts written by men to bring different perspectives. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org