Category Archives: Competition

The Devil Wears Pixels

(Originally a Facebook Note, posted August 2009 – but I have been thinking about it recently.)

I watched a deliciously girly movie tonight on FX – and amid the pomp and circumstance of the fashion and fuss, I was reminded of some amazing lessons I’ve learned in my career.

I’m not one of those people who is overly critical of movies. I consider films great if I laugh or cry and absolutely phenomenal if I get to do both. Beneath the gilded tapestry of lines in the Devil Wears Prada are some wholly un-materialistic value messages.

There’s a scene where Andy and Miranda are in a town car in Paris. Andy says “I could never do what you did” and Miranda retorts “You already did.”

If you’ve seen this scene you know exactly how cutting this exchange is. If not, it is like your mother holding a mirror up to your face the morning after an all-nighter.

You feel shame and disgust and guilt even if you didn’t do anything.

I am so fascinated by the way women treat each other in life and in business. One of my favorite sayings is that ‘only ugly girls are catty’. If one looks okay on the outside and is still obsessed with cutting and undermining, well… that ugliness lives somewhere.

I remember in my teens and early twenties, I proudly pitched myself as a guys’ girl. I simply didn’t have anything in common with other women. They were idiots or bimbos or superficial or prissy or backstabbing or bobbleheads. And then I realized I was simply hanging out with the wrong women.

In addition to a few, key teammates and some artistic types, I credit my friend Martina with helping me embrace my universal sisterhood. As a transplanted woman, she focused exclusively on cultivating friendships with strong, smart, fun women. Since we’re still friends, I’m going to assert that she was wildly successful in her venture.

It took me a long time to figure out how to navigate the treacherous and often treasonous world of female friendships. Admittedly, I sometimes still get it wrong. But for all of the mistakes I’ve made (too often when I felt my most awful and insecure), I have done some things right.

  • I believe in giving women compliments. I give them all the time. I give them to people I know and to total strangers. I don’t care if anyone knows or hears except for the recipient. Women don’t know enough good things about themselves. Women NEVER hear enough good things about themselves. There is nothing like a spontaneous compliment to plug the leak in the self-esteem drain.
  • I also believe in honesty. False support/friendship is a weakness and should be banished from our gender’s repertoire.
  • I promote the idea that two wrongs do not make a right. And a shallow, caustic comment should not inspire an equally biting retort.

This goes for work environments as well.

In advertising, I was privileged to work with a lot of women. I mean that. Privileged.

That doesn’t mean that I liked or respected all of them. And that doesn’t mean that my first impression was right all the time.

But here’s the thing…

It is a mistake to stab people in the back, or the front.

Anytime.

No matter what.

(SIDE NOTE: Have you seen the great speech Robyn Williams delivers to Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Patch Adams” about being a dick?  He says that it is a mistake of youth to think that one has to be a dick to get ahead in life and naiveté to think that it is a new concept. It is a brilliant statement to me. Simply brilliant. Because for all of our striving and struggling and studying and suffering… what, in effect, will our legacy be?)

In the movie, Andy goes to Paris instead of Emily. She says she had no choice – it was to preserve her future.

pumpsMiranda scoffs at Andy’s repugnance with the comment “Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us.”

I

think

not.

For me, I am laying down once and for all any feelings of betrayal or indignation or rage. People make choices that we cannot understand or explain or accept. But that is really, in the end, only their problem. It becomes ours when we hold onto it.

As for me, I plan to love and be loved. I plan to teach and to learn. I plan to hope and to laugh.

And to wear fabulous shoes.

Numbers Game

In one week, I celebrate my 38th birthday.  Well, ‘celebrate’ might be too strong a term. 

Not to say that I’m fretting over this number or birthdays in general.  I’ve already lived longer than I expected to and known more joy than I ever allowed myself to hope for.  So why am I feeling ambivalent about this year’s marker of my birth? 

Ordinarily the entire month of February is a cacophony of self-congratulation.  I’m a firm believer in asking for what you want and I ALWAYS ask for people to celebrate with me.  Most people (in the North) think of February with dread and lethargy.  I think of Valentines Day and Mardi Gras and a three-day weekend I like to call “Christine’s Birthday Gift from the Government.”  (I was President once, you know.) 

Plus, it’s a mini-month.  It’s over before you know it. 

I’ve felt 38 since my hub’s birthday in September so there won’t be anything to remembering my new age.  I’ve been saying it for months by accident.  And this year is undoubtedly going to be my best since my 35th.  I know this truth in my soul and am manifesting it all over the place.

When I was 35, I became a mom.  The rollercoaster joy of motherhood is something I never expected to experience.  It is a largely unacclaimed role but undoubtedly the most substantial one I’ll ever earn, undiminished by the volume of peers in the field.  Whatever my professional aspirations, this windfall of importance and comedy and humility has made me richer than I ever thought possible.

Yet, I thought, in my hubris youth, that I’d have more to show by this point, that I’d have accomplished something tangible and laudable.  I expected my achievements to be showy, enviable, and unmatched.  And like any self-respecting-perfectionist-first-born, NOT having ‘reached my potential’ makes me want to wad up the sketch of my life and toss it in the bin.

Just when I get to that point of self-loathing agony, mourning for my lost chances and unruddered choices, my wise old-soul of a husband discusses starting points.

I feel like I often write about life and love ‘not being a competition.’ And maybe I need the reminder as much as I need to share my belief.  Life, for sure, cannot be competitive because no one shares the same starting line.  We aren’t given the same legs to run on.  We aren’t given the same course to navigate.  Looking at friends (or foes) with more or less of anything we desire and feeling failure is tragically flawed logic.

A surprising source of perspective came from a former manager, who while we worked together almost drove me to homicide, but since has become less a tyrannical figure and more of a sympathetic one.  Indeed, she observed my impolitic professional life with dispassion saying that I still had time to make the ascent to real leadership and influence.  It was one of the most hopeful things I had ever heard and from such a pragmatist, I couldn’t justly dismiss it.

In fact, at 38, I am not quite middle-aged.  The lifetimes I packed into the last two decades were, in fact, only warm-up acts.  Nancy Pelosi won her first elected seat to the House at 47 and became the first female Speaker at 66.  Arianna Huffington launched her magnum opus, Huffington Post, at fifty-five.  The youngest female CEO in the Fortune 500 is 47.

I’ve still got time.

And right now, I’ve got a birthday to plan.