In my life as a freelance journalist, I have had the fortunate experience of interviewing some of today’s most interesting, inspiring and influential women, ranging from Gloria Steinem, to Maya Angelou, to Madeleine Albright and yes, to Maria Shriver.
We often hold our celebrities up to some God-like ideal, envying their lives, assuming that they have figured out some magic formula to eternal happiness and success that is somehow out of our reach.
What I found from interviewing and, in many cases, becoming friendly with many of these women is how we are all the same. We are all struggling with so many of the same challenges, whether it is with self esteem, navigating through difficult times, dealing with life changes and failures, and weaving our own personal tapestry of what life means and who we are.
When I began going through my interviews to put together a book inspired by some of these conversations, I decided to title it “Daring to Be Ourselves” because that was the one theme that just kept re-emerging -– this idea of being ourselves.
It sounds so obvious, like something that should be a given and come to us naturally and there should be no effort to do this, and yet, as women, feeling free to be ourselves can be a daunting challenge.
From girlhood on we are bombarded by so many pressures and influences, whether it is from the media, society or others around us, messages that we should be something other than who we are, that who we are isn’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, likable enough.
We often internalize these messages, shaping ourselves to outside expectations so deftly that we may not even realize that this shift outside of ourselves has happened. We may have silenced our true voice and instincts so well that we don’t even realize we have done so.
Yet that seed of self is never extinguished, it is there like a dull spark inside us, waiting to be rediscovered.
One of the interviews that had the most powerful effect on me was my interview with Jane Fonda. In that interview (and in her inspiring autobiography My Life So Far) she talked about her struggles with eating disorders, low self-esteem and failed marriages. She shared that it took her until she was 60, following her divorce with Ted Turner, to truly come back into her authentic voice and power.
In that conversation, I had the epiphany that it had probably taken me until my early thirties to make that same rediscovery. I felt a mix of happiness to have re-claimed that connection to my true inner compass and regret that it had taken us both so long.
Why do we as women have to lose touch with ourselves in the first place? And what about all the women who may never have that epiphany, who may live their lives without ever truly knowing themselves or able to live their lives or express themselves in the way they would most want to?
So that is why I decided to call my book Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice. It does take daring and courage in today’s society to be ourselves, boldly, bravely, unapologetically.
As women we must do this, not just for own happiness and wellbeing, but as part of our responsibility as members of the human family and potential world changers.
The world needs women to become empowered, to trust and honor our instincts and inner wisdom, to use our voices and discover our true calling, so that we can lend our valuable and desperately needed ideas, talents and skills, to both enrich the world and also help address the serious problems that currently face humanity.
While there are obviously still so many societal obstacles and glass ceilings that may stand in the way of woman advancing, women must first learn to get out of our own way.
As feminism has earned us a wider range of choices, it is even more important that we know who we are, what brings us true happiness and fulfillment, where we feel the most called, in order to make the right choices for ourselves and for our lives.
This means becoming familiar with our own internal landscape and looking within and learning to silence out the messages that often hold us down.
When I look back at my tumultuous teenage years, at all the energy and fixation that went into my appearance, hours spent straightening my naturally curly brown hair and dying it blonde, my obsession with weight and dieting, all the effort that went into trying to be popular and fit in, I wish I could get those hours and years back.
All I can do now is make those experiences part of my fuel to live my remaining years even more fiercely and fully as well as try to help my two daughters avoid some of those same pitfalls – and I am so heartened to see that they are both so much stronger, centered and in touch with themselves than I ever was at their age.
And I hope that my book, featuring candid reflections and life lessons from a variety of well known women on topics that range from body image, to facing adversity, to aging, finding balance and more – will offer inspiration and reinforce these positive messages.
Here are just a few of my favorite quotes:
You are more powerful than you know; you are beautiful just as you are.
— Melissa Etheridge
We need to help girls really internalize the message that good enough is good enough. We don’t need to be perfect. We’re not supposed to be perfect; we’re supposed to be complete. And you can’t be complete if you’re trying to be perfect.
– Jane Fonda
Give voice to what you know to be true, and do not be afraid of being disliked or exiled. I think that’s the hard work of standing up for what you see.
It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.
We’re changing ourselves to fit the world instead of changing the world to fit women.
Just be what it is that you are, and that is just fine. You don’t have to be what you’re not in any way. Live that and live that fully, and that is where you discover ecstasy. You can’t really have ecstasy as something other than yourself.