My six-year-old birthday "tea party."
I realized when I decided to go with the name “Finishing School for Modern Women” for empowerment classes, there might be some confusion. When most people think of finishing schools, they think etiquette classes, especially for young women. I chose to go with it anyway, to put a spin on the tradition and start a conversation about changing old-fashioned ideals about women. Don’t get me wrong. While I think good manners, poise and grace are important, I believe we need different skills today to be lead a fulfilled life, with the strength and confidence to pursue our dreams. In other words, to own our power.
I know we’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m fine with that. Our students are women who are curious and want more out of life. They enjoy coming together in the company of women to learn, empathize and realize we’re not alone. It’s a sanctuary, to share our fears and explore our dreams. I’ve seen amazing breakthroughs happen and lives change, including my own. I am so grateful for the magic we create together and am excited to see this community spread. Growing, with the understanding that we’re all in this together and can help each other blossom into our power. This is my life mission.
At our booth at the Women’s Fair over the weekend, I had lots of interesting conversations and made some meaningful connections. I love and value when people who have seen me on social media or speak somewhere, introduce themselves in real life. I realize the nerve it takes to come up to someone you don’t know, and I respect that. The love you show in putting yourself out there to meet, means the world to me. Being Headmistress isn’t always easy, and love is restorative.
Of course, not all the conversations I had were happy ones. In fact, one of the most painful conversations has been the most impactful. Funny how that happens. A woman stopped by our booth to tell me, “Thank God you’re doing this! These young people today don’t know anything.” Unfortunately, she wasn’t talking about women’s empowerment. From the conversation I learned that she had a new 21-year-old co-worker start in her office, who didn’t know how to use a 10-key adding machine. She bragged that it had only taken her two days to get the young woman fired.
I couldn’t help myself. In the nicest possible way, I asked her, “Why would you do that?” I gently told her the young woman only knew what she’d been taught. Perhaps she’d never seen that piece of equipment before. That it is up to us, to take young women under our wing, and help them learn the things they couldn’t have possibly learned yet. That if she couldn’t do the job, it was probably a poor hiring decision, not the co-worker’s fault. She left the conversation soon after, still feeling she did the right thing. Hopefully a little of what I said sunk in.
As I’ve been thinking more about the conversation, an article popped up in my feed on Facebook about how it feels to be invisible, shunned by people because of being new, or not part of an established group. The point of the story, was the opportunity it gave the writer to teach her daughter how it feels to be snubbed, and to remember that feeling when she sees someone being excluded. To be the friendly person, that relieves that feeling for someone else. The story reminded me of how I got started looking in the corners for the people that aren’t feeling part of the party and how it changed my life.
Thanks to the National Federation of Press Women Board, I was appointed to serve the organization as the Director of Fun for six years. It was originally called the Hospitality Chair, but when my friend Gwen White told me she used to be the Chair of Fun and Frivolity, I decided the name needed to change. My job was to make sure that new people who came to the conference felt welcome, and part of us. While most people at the conference are warm and inviting to new people, we’re always excited to see each other and get caught up, which could feel exclusionary.
One of my favorite strategies at events, was to watch the corners and edges for loners. Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had, have come from this experience. I realized introverted people are usually deep thinkers, with unique perspectives that come from being observant. In getting to know them better, I discovered how to connect my new acquaintance to more friends, and introduced people who had commonalities or could help each other. I still have relationship with many of the people I met this way. It’s been fun to see some of them become more active in this organization that I love. Now I watch the corners everywhere I go, and give a smile or say hello when I can. It’s fun to see how many smiles I can get back.
These thoughts bring me back to the unfortunate young women, that was bullied out of what may have been her first “real” job. The first week at any job is scary enough. I can’t imagine what she must feel to have lost it in the first two days. That kind of experience at the beginning of a career, could be a huge confidence setback. It may impact the rest of her life. If I could talk to the young women, I’d tell her it isn’t her fault and not to let one mean, narrow-minded person diminish her power. Hopefully I’m under estimating this young woman, and she already knows this. Young people are usually smarter than we give them credit for.
More than ever, I’m starting to understand the power of strong, positive role models. It’s not only the job of people in the media, it’s up to all of us. We never know who we influence, and how, by the example we set in how we live our lives. We must be role models, and take people under our wing to help them fly. Show them how it’s done well, and teach them about the importance of community. It is amazing what we can do to help and heal others, to give back and give hope. It’s not that hard. Collaboration is the way to make things better. That takes all of us.