The Huffington Post recently published a fascinating blog by my friend Nicola Albini entitled “The Empowerment Shift.” Nicola shows the connection between women coming into their own with the whole world getting better. He quoted the Dalai Lama, who said, “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”
This got me to thinking about the gifts of wisdom I’ve received from women over the years—gifts that would make my life better, even if I didn’t realize they would or want to hear it at the time.
Dr. Argentine Saunders Craig was my dissertation chair. I had chosen her because (1) she was brilliant, (2) nobody messed with her and (3) she was a self-made African-American woman who somehow balanced being demanding and kind. I knew no one of any color like her. Her gift to me: pushing the importance of limits and boundaries. She made it clear that I had to make my dissertation deadline, even with a full-time job and two young sons. The subtext: Don’t make excuses; barrel through whatever is tough.
Dr. Margaret Singer, the late, legendary psychologist at UC Berkeley (and a mentor of mine), reinforced that advice. She threw her arm around my shoulders and said, “About your dissertation, dear. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be completed.” What a relief that was. A perfect dissertation I couldn’t produce but a completed, really good one I could. Getting hung up on perfection gets many of us stuck; you have to know when less than perfect is still better than required, in graduate school and in life.
When I was a VP at the Bank of America, a senior executive named Jennifer Renzel said this in the midst of complimenting me on a project I’d just completed: “You’re not very corporate, you know.” In less than a heartbeat I knew I would be leaving the bank sooner than later because I didn’t want to be the kind of corporate she referred to. Years later I called her at Stanford, where she was then working, and thanked her for the gift I’m not sure she knew she gave me.
When I was 39 my mother’s sister in Seattle looked me in the eye and said, “There isn’t anything here for you. Go somewhere and begin at new life with your boys.” At the time I was a newly divorced single parent, my mother had recently died, and my grandmother had advanced Alzheimer’s. Instead of wasting my time feeling rootless, I saw this turning point as an amazing opportunity to craft a new life [where].
The other influential women in my life have offered important gifts, too. My mother, horrified that I planned to raise my two sons on my own, made it clear she didn’t think I could manage. (“Who will wash their clothes and cook for them?” was one of her first arguments against single fatherhood.) Her gift was motivating me to prove I could do it, and do it well. My grandmother, my beloved G-G, helped me understand even as a teenager that I had the power to make my own decisions. And my wife of 17 years, whose sage counsel is immeasurable, began our courtship and marriage with the gift of candor, the gift that keeps on giving.
I have received gifts of wisdom from many men, of course. Yet Nicola’s piece resonated especially deeply, partly because there is something ineffably compelling about a wise woman speaking, and mostly because I have seen the world get better as a result.
Read Nicola’s post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicola-albini/the-empowerment-shift_b_8085266.html