This entry will probably be too long for anyone to read straight through, but it’s okay. My writing is for myself, just made public. :)
Last Saturday, I attended the 1st Annual Women’s Empowerment Summit with Michelle. The schedule consisted of motivational speaker after motivational speaker, with a brief intermission for lunch – we were treated to some messy Dallas BBQ. I wonder if the organizers ordered that to make us feel more “empowered” – my hefty (and very succulent) servings of cornbread, chicken, coleslaw, fries, corn-on-the-cob, and a baked potato – sure as hell made me feel that way. (Side note: when I list what I eat, I can’t help but wonder how I was able to consume the amount of food that could sustain a small town. Not to toot my own horn, but it leaves me in a constant state of awe with myself.)
I sat through about 5 hours of speeches given by women who were as young as 20 to women as young as 65 – Broadway producers, media personalities, NY Times writers, divorce attorneys, fashion bloggers… a truly wonderful mix of women. I generally get pretty ADD at conferences, but they all spoke with such vivaciousness and passion that it was impossible to zone out if I tried.
One of the many memorable moments was when one of the speakers told us to let go over everything negative that has ever happened to us – who would we be if nothing happened to us? Let go of “I had cancer,” “I got a divorce,” “my mother died when I was 8,” “I was raped at 16,” “I used to be an alcoholic,” – let go of all the skeletons in your closet. Who would you be? How would you live life? What would be different?
It really made me think. What was I was ashamed of, what were the events that have impacted me negatively in the past? What would I consider to be my “skeleton”? The first things that came to mind were my parents. Just to clarify – I’m not ashamed of them, and they haven’t hurt me. Long story short, they immigrated to America in hopes of finding a better life, but failed. My dad had to work odd jobs cooking for random Chinese take-out restaurants scattered across the country; I hardly ever saw him. My mom works for Domino’s Pizza as a delivery woman, and has held this position for the past 13 or so years. Growing up, we moved from apartment to apartment a few times. It was McDonald’s or Burger King for dinner every night, since she hardly had time to cook between juggling two jobs. She’d drive me to school in the mornings and I wouldn’t see her until 2 in the morning, after closing for the night at Domino’s. When I was little, she never had time to read me bed time stories, and when I was older, she never had time to attend my field hockey games with the rest of the parents who cheered at the side lines.
So what if none of that was the case? What if I was daddy’s little girl, and my parents were regular, middle-class American citizens who didn’t need to financially struggle as much as they did?
For one, I guess I wouldn’t have had a sob story to write about for my Cornell essay to weaken the hearts of my application readers. And if I had gotten accepted with a different essay? Well then I suppose I’d just be like the majority of hotelies who lived decently comfortable lives at home. I wouldn’t have had to pretend I wasn’t a Domino’s Pizza delivery woman’s daughter – not many people would’ve believed it anyway. I wouldn’t have had to start working – as a waitress, an ice cream scooper, a telemarketer, a pharmaceutical researcher (random, I know) – at 16 to support myself as much as I could. As a kid, I would have had my mommy and daddy buy me all the Barbies I wanted, and as a teen, I’d have them buy me all the clothes and shoes I wanted.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t be myself without my “skeleton.” My financially unsuccessful parents, who have tried their hardest at making it work, make me a better person. They give me more drive. They give me the extra few hours I put in at work. They give me the “there’s something more to her” dimension that I used to hide because I was once ashamed.
I was never spoiled by my parents – I never had a Santa Clause who showered me with presents, never had a tooth fairy to put a dollar under my pillow, never had care packages sent to me in college, there were a lot of things that I didn’t have that most people I knew did. As I grew older (and wiser), I realized that I didn’t need to be spoiled to know the extent of how much they love me. I’ve come to discover that self-sufficiency and the ability to spoil yourself… it’s better than having anyone else buy anything for you.
I’m thankful to have turned out okay given the circumstances I grew up in, although there are misfortunes that are significantly worse than struggling financially. I could’ve easily mixed in with the wrong crowd, been a total self-loathing bitch who wore black lipstick and listened to melancholic rock music, and delved into the world of drugs and spiraled out of controlled. But seriously, me? In black lipstick? Please. Not even in another life. Maybe on Halloween.
My favorite speaker was Gala Darling, a blogger/internet personality who instantly captivated the room with her bright blonde hair, Finnish accent, quirkiness, and genuinely bubbly personality. She was a bit whimsical – similar to Luna Lovegood – but with a mouth like a sailor’s and a notch more hyperactive. All the other speakers recounted stories of their hardships, how they never gave up, what they’ve learned, etc., but Gala was the first and only to boast the importance of self-love – which is key to everything you do in life. As an obstinate enthusiast for self-love, she encouraged three easy to do’s:
- Make a list of everything you come across that brightens your day. Do this on a weekly basis as a reminder to appreciate the little things and to count your blessings – you’ve got more than you think you have.
- Write down every compliment you ever receive in a notebook from here on out. It will serve as your “I’m an awesome person list” – aka a tangible reminder to never underestimate how remarkable you are
- Go on dates with yourself – eat at a nice restaurant, watch a new flick at the local movie theatre, go on a picnic, go to the beach, etc. Doing anything on your own that’s typically enjoyed with multiple people doesn’t mean you’re a loser with no friends. You’re just comfortable with yourself and confident enough to do it on your own.
She was so real and so positive that you would have never guessed she used to be a punk cynic who held the most sardonic views of life and herself. But once upon a time, Gala Darling met a boy who she fell in love with. Unfortunately, he was so turned off by her pessimistic outlook and threatened to leave her if she didn’t become happier. Ironically, at the Women’s Empowerment Conference, we heard a story about a girl who changed for a guy. A bit anomalous from the other feminist-I-don’t-need-no-man stories, but hey! It was for the best! Gala’s now a better person, who’s in love with herself in the best way possible, thanks to the man that she’s now engaged to.
A few other pieces of advice I took away from the Summit that I’d like to share:
- Always be prepared for anything and everything life throws at you.
- Don’t get too comfortable at anything, or else that’s where you’re going to stay. Challenge yourself. If you’re not sore after running 5 miles, run 10 miles. If work is getting to easy, take initiative to experiment with something new.
- Surround yourself with positive people who can inspire you to be better.
- Don’t do anything you’ll be ashamed about later.
- A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.
- If you’re unsure of how to proceed with whatever you’re asked to do, say “yes” and figure it out yourself.
- Be fearless, but not reckless.
- Bring your life to work, but don’t make work your life.
- Trust your own judgement and intuition, but listen to others.
And there’s your First Annual Women’s Empowerment Summit “condensed” into one post!