Sometimes I imagine I am one of those Russian nesting dolls, a doll within dolls. Each doll grows smaller and smaller until there is only a tiny, voiceless replica left of the girl that I once was. Each of these dolls has been through a lot in life, in work, in relationships. But, why must we hide inside ourselves, only showing on the outside who we have become? It seems so hard to go through all those incarnations before unearthing the real, authentic version we are today. But does that outside doll still hold onto the small ones inside…her ‘old stories’? Does it hurt us to remember those or does it help us to grow?
We all have stories to tell. Stories of ups and downs in our lives, in our work. Stories of pain…stories of hope…stories of goals set and achieved…stories of goals set and lost.
It doesn’t matter what our ages are, where we have come from, what color our faces are. We have been through a lot, and we have our stories that we remember, that we share, that we try to learn from. I have heard it said that “In order to know where you are going, you need to know where you have been.”
And with each step we take in our lives, how can we grow bigger instead of smaller, like those Russian dolls?
Let me share some stories with you, and along the way, share some ways where you can make those old stories be the rungs in the ladder you are climbing today to reach your goals. Yes, we do slip and fall down a rung or two when we are climbing, but it is all a part of who we are, where we have been and where we are going. Sometimes you need to slip once in a while, collect ourselves, and take that next step…up.
I’ve been through a lot of rungs in my ladder. Some of them actually broke, and I had to rebuild a rung or two, in order to pick myself back up and climb again. Have I learned from those slips? Mostly, yes. Sometimes I needed to do the same darned thing again in order for it to stick in my head and then learn from it in order to change my direction before I could climb again.
Today, things are so different for us as women…in our lives, in our families, in our work. And we have so much more control, power and freedom to find out who we are, what we want to do, what our passions are, and where we want to go. We can build our own ladder, and we can climb it when we want to, and reach any goals we want to set.
It wasn’t always that way. Back in the 70’s, we were house bound wives and mothers, wanting to break out and be independent. Back then, and it wasn’t really that long ago, we couldn’t have our own credit cards, we couldn’t even get a business loan without our husbands or fathers co-signing. We had a lot of rules that got in our way. A lot of women back then were so frustrated, bored and depressed as research shows our stay-at-home mothers were before us. Many women found solace in pills and alcohol back then. I didn’t do that, I chose to change my life and leave my then husband and fight for my children, and fight to work and build a career.
It takes guts to question the old rules and stories we had lived by and embrace (as my friend Karen Sands calls us) the “Inner Visionary Wise Woman” into the outer world. So, I did break away, I risked suffering great losses and faced many challenges, my children along with me. My family was temporarily broken apart by this 70’s old, destructive story.
My initiation into the outer world cost me my marriage and I had to battle bitterly over custody of my children. In those days, the story was I was one of those women who “went astray” by making choices that were against the role of a woman’s place. We were punished and stripped down for trying to empower ourselves, instead empowering others such as our husbands. I was no longer going to play second fiddle to my husband, and so I stepped out of the status quo.
I wasn’t alone in doing this. There have been many others before me. You have read about them, as they were labeled as the “second wave feminist movement of the 70’s”. My name wasn’t in the papers, at least then. I was fighting pretty much by myself. I had an attorney who was a man, and I found out he was better at representing my husband than me. So, I ended up with very little support financially and because my mother adored my then husband, she turned her back on me too…so no emotional support either. But, I was out to prove to my children and myself that I could overcome the old rules, my old stories, and show that no one could keep me down and apart.
And I did prove it! I started out with working back in radio, which is where I had started when I was 12 (you read about that in Chapter 5). From there, I slowly built my advertising agency, which is where I had started out after my college education. I returned to my working knowledge place, what I knew, what I loved, and where I could help people…and it helped me. Returning to my roots if you will. And I succeeded at it, witnessing where every year I saw my business grow and my children’s respect for me grow.
But I am human. And humans make mistakes. I broke a rung in my ladder. I trusted another man. It was the early 80’s and I had successfully built my business and it was flourishing. He wormed his way into my life, both personally and professionally. And when his true abusive colors showed, I kicked him out. After all, he was bad news. But it was too late. He emptied out all the bank accounts, made off with the money, disappeared, and my business and life were shattered. Did I feel a lot of pain then? You bet. And it is hard to forget pain. And as they say, it is even harder to remember sweetness, for it leaves no scars. I was still building scars with this painful experience. I carry a lot of scars inside, with a lot of old stories that hurt.
When I was 12, I had two careers. One was doing a teen talk show out of NYC, and the other was modeling on the world stage. I made a lot of money. And that particular scar came when I had reached the age of 16 and was thinking of college. When I approached my parents for college financing and that I was finished being a model, they told me I couldn’t do that. The money was gone, and it would be good for the family if I continued modeling, as the money was so good. From that moment on, I had to grow thick skin, bear my scars, and attack the world on my own. I went to college, I started my business, I succeeded…on my own.
My woman’s story is a teaching story for all of us, no matter what our ages are, or wherever we are in our life cycles. And we are going to use these stories, both mine and yours, to raise your consciousness. The question is…”what use should we make of these ‘victim’ stories and life experiences now?” The best part of this teaching story is that we get to learn from it, and from your stories, to rise and reach for our new stories.
For us, we need to keep climbing as women…doing our work around our wounds and let ourselves be healed. We have to let our old stories go so that our newer, truer today stories can be shared about who we are…stronger and happier. We want to not only be survivors of our ‘old stories’, but thrivers in our ‘new stories’.
What if we lived in a world without survivors or thrivers? What if people decided to claim their trauma as an experience instead of taking it on as an identity? Because we really don’t want to be stuck on those bad rungs, identifying ourselves as we were…those ‘old stories’. Step up to a new rung and climb above it all, stop being trapped by our wounds (and hiding in a Russian doll) and start defining ourselves by who we can become.
Look at your stories. Look at your solutions and results achieved or expected. Look up your ladder and see where you are going. And reach for it. Take your future…it is just waiting there for you to climb higher.
Thank you for reading another true story from my life. For more information, see my About Me Page.