Tag Archives: women

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.

The Confidence Quotient

While I’m not exactly sure why I stopped writing, I am certainly worse for it – and I do not mean my Klout score.

I’d like to claim that line from the movie Contagion where the dad-from-Six Feet Under called blogs “graffiti with punctuation” chastened me or that sitting ten feet from the bureau chief of Chicago’s NYT editorial team has intimidated me.

The truth, however, is that I’m just in a confidence crisis.  My slightly-neurotic analysis has yielded something like this:

When I was smart, I just wanted to be pretty.
When I was pretty, I just wanted to be loved.
I know now that I am neither smart nor pretty, but am miraculously and unquestionably loved.

My simple mind isn’t processing this well.

Further, what’s love got to do with it?

I’m talking about SELF-confidence.  Belief in oneself apparently has nothing to do with how other people view you.  But lack of it sure makes you vulnerable to the worst opinions others may or may not have.  (You would not believe how far I can take this.)

Shouldn’t truly having self-confidence make you a bit impervious to outside forces?  Is it not your own invisibility cloak when the ghost of crappy economy haunts you?  Or the shield against the morally bankrupt thugs who would rob you of your vehicle to success and kick you as they drive away?

I am reminded again of that haunting statement by an interviewer that his dream candidates are single women because they have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.  It made me furious then, but merely more self-conscious now.

Writing, like any art, is about sharing your impression of the life that surrounds you.  And since we are all the hero of our own drama, everyone’s impression is unique to their storyline.

What has risen up as a monumental roadblock is the nagging disbelief that my storyline matters.

I think self-confidence is the elephant in every woman’s mental room of her own.
And my elephant has taken to sitting on top of me and crushing the life out.

This isn’t to say that men don’t suffer from a crisis in confidence.  I’m sure they do.  But overwhelmingly, I have noticed that women (including me) get derailed by circumstances beyond their control and then struggle to compartmentalize a sucky situation so they can get back to being awesome.

I had a fantastic conversation this week with someone who wanted ME as a mentor.  [If that doesn’t boost confidence, what on earth will?]  Listening to her story and her self-doubt felt very raw.  In the beginning of the conversation, my nag was reciting “blind leading the blind” over and over… but when I stopped thinking about poor me and what an unimpressive loser I’ve turned out to be, I felt my indignation rise on her behalf.

She didn’t embezzle a million dollars, or have an affair with a married supervisor, or punch a client in the face.  [For the record, neither have I – I was just trying to think of things that would, in fact, warrant feeling a little self-loathing.]  Yet she was behaving as if she deserved to be sitting in ashes wearing burlap.

I was a relative stranger and a brand new connection but even I could see that she had something sparkly inside.  And I told her so.

I’ve been inspired by this woman to seek out connections with people who won’t pump me up, who don’t have anything to gain by injecting my ego with steroids.  I’m on a mission to read and subscribe to confidence and positivity bloggers.  I have pulled out my child psych books to learn what I can about building confidence and what plays a role in one’s “confidence quotient.”

So much is determined by it.

Sometimes the mirror your friends and loved ones hold up to you is like a funhouse mirror.  Their investment in your happiness and obvious love throws waves into the truthiness of their feedback.  In my experience, at least, it is rare that someone close can give you raw truth.  Most people shroud feedback in fluffy nonsense rendering any kernel of actionable insight unrecognizable.

I had a high school ‘phriend’ who, while she wouldn’t be seen with me in public thereby reinforcing my leperous sense of self, would write me ridiculous notes about why I shouldn’t think poorly of myself.  These little gems had very little to do with weighty issues but still gave some perspective to the tragic sensibilities of a teenager – things like “You have all your teeth.” and “You do not smell bad.”

While funny in a Dax Shepherd sort of way, this has given me an idea.  I’m thinking about a little project over the next few weeks.   I’m going to emphasize positive things in my life that I can claim credit for as a way of focusing on good and praising my accomplishments as a valuable human, no matter how small.

If Gretchen Rubin can have a Happiness Project, I get to have a confidence one.

I’ll call it The Confidence Quotient – Small Wins or #CQsmallwins.

Who wants to play?

Growing girl

Recently, the hub and I found out that baby #2 is a girl.  Up until then, we’d been saying we win either way – a girl meant we don’t have anything to buy, that we know the plot, that baby #1 will have a fun shadow to teach/torture/tease and a boy meant we could be done with the whole pregnancy thing.

Now that I know, that statement was actually incongruous with how I feel. 

Getting another girl isn’t a consolation prize for me.  This is quite possibly what I was meant to do with my life – raise daughters.

I can remember when I was young, I would opine that I’d want five boys because girls were just too much trouble.  Back then, that was my experience.  Girls WERE trouble.  Girls made my life miserable.  Boys were often dimwits, horndogs or annoyances.  Girls?  Girls were dangerous.

Girls spread rumors and played psychological games.  Girls wielded friendship like Uzies.  Girls were catty and fickle and passive aggressive.  A few standout exceptions aside, it was a world removed from the homogeneous, isolationist Middle where I found a different kind of woman.  I finally understood that not all women need you to be low so they can be high. 

Most of these lessons were hard-learned.

In middle school, it wasn’t my many awards or the intense, shortlived friendships that made me swell with pride – it was my leadership in a successful coup against the top mean girl. 

In high school, my besties were fringe girls – the kind my parents were hesitant about – who listened to the Cure or Al B. Sure.  No matter in what sport or art I dabbled, I was never ever included by popular girls. 

In University, I deigned to pledge a sorority.  Parties?  Sports?  Elected leadership?  I couldn’t sign up fast enough.  But the night before I went active, despite my rank as the pledge with highest points, I was very ceremonially dismissed.  I can only point to my tenuously composed diatribe of curses to the sanctimonious president and her wholly unconvincing panel of henchwomen before I exited that house and entered my life as both legend and outcast as a positive takeaway.

I’ve read several of the pop psych ‘biggies’ on this topic, from Reviving Ophelia and Please Stop Laughing At Me to Mean Girls Grown Up.  The stories were so familiar to me that it helped to contextualize my experience as common and not the wholly unusual, even abnormal, one my own family believed it to be. 

Through several decades of harsh introspection and the odd evening of alcohol consumption even Hemmingway would envy, I learned to stop accepting and start liking myself.  Someday I will write a book about spiritual inheritance and the wastefulness of shame, the value of self-esteem, and the most important gifts a woman can bequeath another – her offspring or otherwise.

Whether by chance or Karmic justice, I have now a collection of women who are sisters in everything but DNA.  These women are proof enough to me that there is divinity inside us and that friendship isn’t a gauntlet to be run.

I unwittingly participated in much of my own suffering for fear of exclusion, unfortunate prioritization, or simply not having confidence in my own person, my own voice.

My daughters will suffer that same fate over my dead body.

I have no doubt that each will encounter situations I can’t foresee or forestall.  I have no doubt that each will wield a personality wholly unique to mine and values completely foreign to me.  I can only hope to prepare them to defend themselves and their ground with wit, charm, and defiance. 

Even against me.

No, I’ve no need to “keep trying for a boy.”  I have everything I need – a hub (in whom feminism thrives), a daughter (with a fiery Leo mane and spirit to match), and a mystery making its way to me as we speak.

If I do nothing else in my life, I will honor my daughters with honesty, empower them with tools to navigate their own path, and respect their gifts whether I understand them or not.

Throughout my time with them, I hope to show them how to pursue and embrace happiness. 

The Buddha says that all life is suffering.  I think many of us in America, especially those raised Christian, have a flawed sense of injustice if our life includes suffering.  Suffering isn’t punishment.  It isn’t unique to any of us.  It is a universal truth of humanity – a thing that binds us as sisters and brothers. 

The quality of your life is defined by how you roll with the punches.  You can lay yourself out if you aren’t bobbing and weaving in time.  I’ve never met a soul who wasn’t sucker punched once.

So I’ll teach my girls how to get back up, how to dust themselves off, how to get back after it.

And I’ll teach them to love being a woman.

And I’ll teach them to be women who love.

And I’ll learn from them my legacy.

This One’s for the Girls

I once had an interviewer tell me that his favorite hires were single women.  Why?  Because they had to support themselves (necessity is the mother of invention) and they were hell-bent on proving themselves (ambition, competition, workaholism).  I wanted to be offended but couldn’t be.  In my case, he was absolutely, bang-on right. 

It’s hard to argue with the truth.

My career was one manifestation of “Fake it until you make it” after another.  I own this; I don’t even hide the fact anymore because I actually did ‘make it’ in some sense. I’m also reasonably sure that 92% of people are full of crap so what’s the use of impressing them?   I know that I have a particular set of qualities and experiences that might be interpreted as skills to some.  I also know that those skills are pretty damn valuable. 

So when I was recently offered a consulting role in addition to my full-time position with Technorati, I had no problem turning down the opportunity because it didn’t pay enough. 

What is ‘enough’?  That’s highly subjective but my calculation went as follows: 

What is my hourly wage for my full-time job?  Easy enough:  Salary + Commission / 50  weeks / 40 hours.  But consulting would be in addition to those 40 hours.  It would be subtracting from time spent with my daughter and  husband.  They’re worth every bit as much as I am so the answer is 3x(hourly wage) = HIRED. 

Do I need three times my hourly wage? No. 
Would I do work for less than that?  Probably. 
Do I deserve to be paid that much?  You bet your @ss.  And so do you. 

Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge your value before discussing your bargain rate doesn’t KNOW your value. 
Why work for anyone who doesn’t know your value?

But what absolutely bewilders me is that women who are wildly accomplished in their field still feel that tape-worm of doubt gnawing away at their moxie.

Last night I enjoyed a social media event here in St. Louis that was well-attended by some such women.  These women have marked achievements in marketing, journalism, social media and the like.  They are successful writers, speakers, strategists, and entrepreneurs. And every single one of them said some version of the following:

“I don’t know what I’m worth.”

WHAT. THE. BLEEP.

There’s no easy way to say this:  If you don’t know your value, don’t expect anyone else to know it.

Now that I’m back in the comfy embrace of my media world, the reciprocity switch has been firmly locked in the upright position.  Peers, colleagues, strangers, clients, and headhunters have all materialized with ideas, projects, jobs, searches, requests, and business. 
The universe has affirmed my decision with a dance in the end-zone.

When connecting some industry friends to one particular job opening, I heard it again – the hushed tone that ordinarily uninhibited women use when admitting some perceived shortcoming.  This time, that shortcoming was social media knowledge.  This branch of marketing is so nuanced with tentacles in search, design, writing, word-of-mouth, reputation management, and CRM that nearly everyone I have ever met in my entire life has some kind of knowledge to contribute. 

Yet, these women were essentially counting themselves out because they hadn’t written the book, or any book, on the topic.  This is just crazy talk.  Everyone can’t be Chris Brogan, and even the man with the plan makes mistakes.

Me thinks there be a branding opportunity here:  The Dove Self-Esteem Project  for business women? 
No?  Ok, well we’ve gotta do something because y’all are too damn talented to keep underselling yourselves. 

Next time you forget that, call me.

I’ll tell ya.

The Devil Wears Pixels

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 Andi and Miranda are in a town car in Paris. Andi 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.

The thing is, 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 ok 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.

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 drunk at weddings 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 have felt privileged to work with a lot of women here, here, and here. 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.

In the movie, Andi goes to Paris instead of Emily. She says she had no choice – it was to preserve her future. Miranda scoffs at Andi’s repugnance with the comment “Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us.”

I

think

not.

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

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.

Here’s to good women-
May we know them,
may we be them,
may we raise them.

(Reposted from Facebook, 8.31.09)