As a girl growing up in the ’80’s, I was taught I could do it all. Not only was I taught that I could manage being a wife, mom and business woman, I was taught it should be easy for me. I was taught that perfection was not only doable, but expected. The advertising, the TV shows (I’m looking at you, Clair Huxtable, Angela Bower and Maggie Seaver ), the articles in the mainstream media–heck, even the guidance counselors at school–everyone at that time led us to believe that our generation was the one who had ‘made it’. We were all told the struggles of our women forebears had finally borne fruit, and we were the ones to benefit. Women around us were graduating from West Point for the first time, making strides in politics (remember Geraldine Ferraro? or Margaret Thatcher?) and racing across all platforms with great success. For years of my adulthood, I bought into this vision of successful invincibility, and kept waiting for it all to happen for me, too. And then, somehow, the other night, I found myself crying about coffee creamer and black socks.
You see…my life has turned out in ways that I didn’t expect, and ‘The Dream’ I was shown never really came into fruition. This is partly because of my life choices and personal decisions, and partly because of the world, and it’s reality. Most importantly though, it’s because the message we were given was skewed in the first place.
In this shared cultural vision from the ’80’s, we Super Women were supposed to carry briefcases, manage people, and be involved with big corporate decisions. Using both our shoulder pads and our Aqua Net, we were going to destroy that glass ceiling. We were destined to change things in the world, and be looked up to as mentors. At the same time, we were supposed to lead our daughter’s Girl Scout troop, never a miss performance at our child’s school, have dinner each night on the table, have clean laundry for the family and maintain a spotless house. Oh–and be sexy! That, too! Remember all those Maidenform bra ads, where women were running around everywhere in their fur coats or business suits and underwear?…Sure you do. They showed up every month in the old Seventeen magazine. You know...the one that taught you how to decorate your locker...not how to avoid an STD, like it does now.
Back in those days, we women had big dreams. And–to be fair–many of those dreams have come true for some of us. But for many others in my generation…they haven’t. Some of us can even say all of this has triggered a midlife crisis.
For many of us, we manage our lives as best as we can. We don’t have help, live-in or otherwise. We don’t have an office, corner or otherwise. We don’t have multiple degrees, fancy cars or fancy houses. We have things that are beautiful, loved and hard-earned.
And that, my Friend–is the key.
They are hard-earned.
None of what we have done has been easy.
No matter our path, no matter our choices, no matter our outcome–none of it has been as easy for us as they said it would be.
I find that terribly sad, because we now have a generation of ’80’s women who feel badly about themselves. Like they’ve failed. Like they’ve settled. Like they’ve somehow missed their boat.
Ya know what, Kiddo?
Here’s the truth:
Wherever you are, whomever you are, and whatever you are: You’re okay. As a matter of fact–you’re beautiful.
The truth, my Friend, is that the world, and it’s expectations, are harsh. We were given a template back then that was unrealistic in many ways, and unkind in others. So take a deep breath, because you are fine just as you are.
As we age, the rise of social media has made all of this worse for us, because people can now know so much about how we’ve turned out. We intentionally filter what others know about us, and only show things we want to be seen. So our double chins and lost jobs are hidden out of shame. Our drop-out kids, menial jobs, broken marriages–we try not to talk about those things, do we? We only want to talk about our successful parties, our job promotions and the accomplishments of our children, because their successes somehow refer back to us as parents.
Screw that, Beloved.
By perpetuating these online myths, you’re buying right back into those tired old templates of expected perfection.
Which is sad, isn’t it? It’s almost like the bastards won….
Please don’t let them.
The other night, I was preparing to go to a job that is extremely demanding of me in many ways. Part of the demands are physical, and part of the demands are both emotional and psychological. I work with a group of people who are significantly younger than I, and many times–it’s a genuine delight. Other times though, it requires a great deal of re-calibration on my part, and I’m not sure they’re aware of how carefully I interact with them, in order to be a successful part of the team.
My husband, my beloved, exhausted and wonderful husband, was sitting in the chair beside me. His feet were up, the dog was in his lap, and he was winding down from his very demanding job. A job he must keep, by the way, because as a cancer patient, I need consistent health insurance. He, my love, provides it, without complaint.
“Groceries?” he asked wearily.
And in that moment…I crumbled.
Because I hadn’t gotten them. And I suddenly panicked, remembering that I hadn’t folded the laundry, either. And so my weary, precious, ever suffering husband had neither coffee creamer, nor clean socks for work the next day, as I headed out for the night shift.
And it killed me.
Because I had failed.
I had failed him.
I had failed me.
I had failed ‘The Vision’.
I won’t lie.
It took me a little while to pull myself out of this abyss of guilt and self-remorse. Because all of those bad lessons about doing it all and managing it all rattled around like marbles in my weary head, punishing me in a way no one else could hear.
To get myself out, I had to examine, really examine, these petty sins of mine. I had to decide if they were really failures on my part, or failures on the part of our greater society, which taught me that managing everything with both ease and complete perfection was just part of the deal in order to be considered a successful woman.
I had to examine, intently, our promises to one another as husband and wife. In the end, I recognized that our relationship is built on teamwork and mutual support, and the distress about all of this was most heavily felt by me. My husband regularly does housework, grocery shopping–whatever needs to be done, just like I do. The coffee creamer and laundry weren’t expectations, necessarily–they were gifts, which I hadn’t given.
Then I had to stare deep into the fact that I don’t earn as much as I used to, which hurts. Not just because of my gender, but because of my age. I can’t change either thing, and despite the BS I was told as a teenager–these things do matter in our greater world. The fact that I can’t contribute the way that I used to hurts, my Friend.
It hurts a lot.
So I quietly wept, all triggered by coffee creamer and black socks. Such simple, tiny things that I wanted to offer my partner suddenly came to represent my capability, my love and my nurturing. And for that moment–I was unable to supply them.
I fully recognize you may not understand my angst over all of this, and that’s fine. You may come from a different generation, and don’t fully understand the strength of the expectations that were put upon us back then. Sadly, many of them still carry over with us today.
These moments of painful reflection and introspection are my gifts to you, Beautiful Reader. Please let me share some things I realized, once I was willing to stare all of this down:
YOU–right now–this very moment–no matter what, have great merit.
Whether you dreamed of being an executive and are now someone’s over worked secretary…or whether you dreamed of being a CEO and are now cleaning his office at night after he’s left…or whether you are one of the ones who made it to the top, and represent Us well….
There is beauty in your journey, My Friend, whatever that journey has turned out to be.
There is dignity in your being and merit in your path, no matter where you have come from or where you are headed.
No. It’s not fair.
No. We don’t get a do-over.
This is it.
So here’s a tip: put a boot up your backside, and make the time you have left matter, more than it ever has before.
Stuff away all of those bad lessons, and create new guidelines about your definition for success in our beautiful, broken world.
Accept that gravity, beloved gravity, is nothing but a bitch who wants to be your frenemy. Stop looking at your outside, because things are only going to get worse from here on out, and start looking at your inside.
Because inside?…There is glory, and passion, and joy, and purpose, and delight, and happiness, and a mission–a greater mission! It’s a mission that you alone can fulfill. It’s shaped by those unique parts of your soul that have been trapped underneath years of burdens, and that mission is desperate to be let out.
Find it, okay?
Please find it. And then make that mission happen. No matter what. Some of those lessons were wrong. But a lot of them were right. We are strong, we are smart and we are capable.
And if, gentle reader, you are the husband, or the child, of such a woman….
Because you have no idea of the magical, powerful, incredibly special woman who shares her life with you. You may be unaware of the fullness of her beauty, the joy of her creativity and the dreams in her heart that are going unfulfilled.
Thank you, from me, for letting this magnificent woman emerge into our dark world. Thank you, from me, for trying to understand her mindset, her burdens and her power. Because the world right now is very broken, and we need her.
Here is a link to a song that the women of my generation grew up on, and I promise– you may think it’s kind of cheesy–but please listen, okay? I still sometimes hear these words in my head.
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**Chanler Jeffers is a woman who has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent, was a single parent for many years, has survived cancer and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.
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