For six and a half years, I have had an article in my wallet. I can’t say exactly why, other than it resonated with me. The following piece has nothing to do with politics. It has nothing to do with the ideology of Republicans or Democrats. It has nothing to do with working women or stay-at-home moms. It has more to do with the drive that separates the women from the girls, so to speak.
In March 2006, I vaguely recall tearing a one page article out of a magazine after it inspired me to think. I have no idea from what publication it came, as the only identifying mark, which shows through a yellowing fold on the thin glossy paper reflects that it came from page 214 of the March 2006 edition. There is a sizable photo of Hillary Clinton surrounded by her own words chronicling the day a young high school basketball star threw her for a loop and gave her the final nudge to run for office. The article talks about the fact that there had been much speculation about an impending New York Senate run for Mrs. Clinton. Turns out, though, that everyone except the soon to be candidate was convinced that she had the chops to take on an opponent as something other than a supportive wife. The day was organized to celebrate a documentary that was being released about Title IX and young women in sports. In attendance was the great Billie Jean King, as well as many young women, who had participated in high school or college sports. Mrs. Clinton stood under a banner that read “DARE TO COMPETE”, which was the name of the documentary, while a young basketball star by the name of Sofia Totti introduced her. I cannot imagine being a young teenage woman with the task to introduce the former first lady and find the confidence to do what she did next. As Mrs. Clinton approached her following the introduction, Sofia grabbed her hand and whispered into her ear: “Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton, Dare to compete”… Every time I read this line I can’t help but well up. It’s because I am struck by the fact that a girl, who had not yet embarked on adulthood, had single handedly been the voice that finally convinced Hillary Clinton to find her inner strength and courage to forge ahead in the political arena. A short time later Mrs. Clinton threw her proverbial hat into the race and the rest is history. I have often wondered about Sofia Totti and where she is today. She strikes me as someone who might be an old soul who early on discovered her why in life. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that Ms. Totti has probably continued to influence others along her path.
The whole issue of the why came to me recently while my husband and I spent a sunny but wickedly cold Sunday walking on our favorite walking path near our home. I said to my husband,” I feel like I am supposed to do something but I don’t know what.” My husband said, “It’s not about the what, Jules. It’s about the why. So, what’s your why?” Confused, I said, “What do you mean by why?”
Basically, he went on to reiterate the premise of a book that he had recently read by Simon Sinek called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. He said that he found it to be very beneficial as he simultaneously focused on his own position at his company while also seeking ways to positively influence others in his daily life.
I immediately downloaded the book onto my Kindle, but started by watching a short video on Ted.com where Simon Sinek gave a snippet of his philosophy. Basically, he said that the majority of people and companies focus on what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. But the most successful people start by figuring out why they are going to do whatever it is that they are going to do. It boils down to this, the part of the brain that makes us want to buy something or remain loyal to someone gravitates to the emotional connection that seduces our feeling for whatever a person or company is selling us. Take Apple, for instance, they were not the most advanced when it came to computers or technology. But they had a leader who had a vision to challenge the status quo and create products that were beautiful, simple, and also served a purpose technologically. We could have, as a society, purchased less expensive and possibly more technically advanced phones, tablets, and music devices. But Steve Jobs discovered his why early on and now you would be hard pressed to find a household in America without one Apple product. (Side note: I will be curious to see, after the passing of Jobs, if the “why” continues to be as strong a force at Apple as it was during his reign. After all, he was known for his hard core and incredibly authoritarian approach. It was not uncommon for him to reject everything that did not include the trifecta of perfection. It had to include function, simplicity, and still be aesthetically pleasing. That’s what he demanded and, as a result, we came to expect it with each new product that hit the shelves).
I gave my husband’s question quite a bit of thought. I generally knew what my passion was so I boiled my why down to the fact that I wanted to do something that supported and empowered women and girls to strive to be authentic. He said, “Okay..Looks like you have your why.” But now what, I thought.
The next evening I was cleaning up the kitchen and preparing the family for another week of school and work and I heard that familiar ping that announces, “You have mail.” When I checked, I was surprised to learn that an article that I had written months earlier and submitted to More Magazine was going to be published on the More.com website. It was an article that chronicled my decision to go grey and embrace a pro-age philosophy. Don’t get me wrong-I did not write the document out of some overwhelmingly superior perspective relating to the joy of wrinkles, roller coaster hormones, and the grand descent of my breasts. I wrote the cathartic article after an unfortunate day when my daughter’s new pediatrician asked me if I was “grandma.” My experience turned into a quirky recount of my middle age journey, but it also went on to question why our media continues to have a double standard with regard to men and women. Naturally, I was pleased and incredibly flattered the day that I received the email from More Magazine. After all, to have anything published is a wonderful accomplishment. My husband said, “You should put the link on your Facebook page. Your friends and family would love to read it.” And then it happened. My story that started out a way to navigate through life was quickly being read and reposted on pages and sites that were further and further away from where it began. I started receiving notes and emails from friends and strangers thanking me for putting to words the same frustration they had been feeling for a long time.
I remember saying to my husband that I thought it was ironic that after articulating my why just a few days before, I was actually fulfilling exactly what I set out to do. Influencing women and girls to be their authentic self. Coincidence? You be the judge.
As the notes flooded in from friends and people all over the country, as well as those who only knew me as a More.com contributor, I started thinking about the strong women in our history who probably discovered their why before blazing ahead and making names for themselves. So I did what every American woman of today does when she wants to organize her thoughts, I added a new board on my Pinterest page! I wanted to see pictures of women I decided to call “Women to Emulate.” (Side note: Pinterest is a website that allows you to make bulletin boards adorned with virtual pictures, notes, quotes, recipes, etc. It’s difficult to explain but very easy to figure out if you play around with it for a few minutes) I spent only a few minutes pulling the pictures of 17 women off the internet and onto my new board. I was surprised at the women I chose because they were a diverse group, but all have made profound contributions in their own way. I laughed because if a stranger saw the list, they would never be able to guess my age, ethnicity, or political affiliation.
Among them are Oprah (Of course-we all know her and have followed her why for years), Marlo Thomas (A second generation fundraiser and activist with an overwhelming why that has changed the lives of children and families living with cancer), Condoleezza Rice (A why that is not glaringly obvious. Ms. Rice, a quiet and somewhat introverted leader, speaks volumes with her actions. Not to mention the fact that she commanded the respect of world leaders while Secretary of State), Sharon Osborne (A zany and perplexing character, but her why is true and with purpose. She has always been a fighter for the underdog, plain and simple), Jennifer Siebel Newsom (The Stanford grad turned actress turned voracious supporter of women and girls in America with regard to the media. Her documentary and website cleverly called Miss Representation delve into the constant subtext of images that we see every day that ultimately form the opinions and expectations of our society with regard to women), and the adorable Meghan McCain (Ms. McCain, the strong willed blogging daughter of Senator John McCain is also a tireless advocate of women and girls. She uses her position to give a voice to those seeking guidance and strength in a society that desperately wants to put young women in a neat little box of singular thinking). This is just six of the many women I posted to my “Women to Emulate” virtual bulletin board. They have little to nothing to do with each other but all have discovered in their own ways the why in their lives that propelled them to the forefront of the American stage.
Days later I could not stop thinking about the article that I had carried around in my wallet and the journey that Senator Clinton had taken during the incredibly contentious 2008 primary against our now President. While she was clearly qualified, many thought she had too much of an edge to her that made her unlikable and prickly. That was until January 7, 2008 when, in a small coffee shop in New Hampshire, we collectively heard Senator Clinton’s why. She was being peppered with questions and for a brief moment, her voice cracked, a glimmer of a tear was visible in her eyes, and she said with total sincerity, “I’ve had so many opportunities from this country. I just don’t want to see us fall backwards.” Her resounding why was palpable, and on January 8, 2008 she won New Hampshire. I believe she won because those who were unsure felt her commitment and connected with her emotionally. The Democrats did not often see that “vulnerable candidate” who surfaced that night. Had she tapped into January 7th Hillary during the remaining days of her campaign, who knows if history would be different today. After all, I think we can all agree that Barack Obama’s why seeps from his pores with little effort. You don’t have to agree with his politics to see that he is a gregarious speaker with a sincere belief in hope for the future. His policies might be widely disputed, but his motives and intentions are pure. And that is the reason he has twice been elected as our President. It’s because he firmly knows and intrinsically lives his why, and his what and how were subsequently developed along the way.
Once again, there is chatter relating to Hillary Clinton’s future. After a successful stint as Secretary of State during a time that has been fueled with international discourse, she is stepping down from her post. All eyes are on her, once again. Will she run in 2016 or will she fade away and collect millions of dollars in exchange for speaking engagements while reflecting on a lifetime of controversial yet impressive accomplishments. (Side note: I can’t help but envision a President Hillary Clinton momentarily gazing onto the south lawn outside the Oval Office as Bill toils away in Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden) Whatever she decides to do, she will certainly be in the category of strong influential women who made their mark on this world.
For now, I will continue to pursue my own why and look to the women around me who have forged ahead and created a path so that I have the privilege to discover my place in this world. I still can’t say for certain why it is that I have carried a now tattered article in my handbag for the better part of a decade. As I dig deep, though, I am inclined to think that my untapped why, which has remained under the surface for so long, finally found a place to shine. A soapbox to proudly stand on, if you will. I firmly believe we owe it to the emerging youth of today to cultivate our own why and, as painful and intimidating as it may be, forge a path of our own. Just maybe we might be considered an influential person on their Pinterest Board as someone who gives them pause for thought or the courage to compete.