June 14, 2011

Dreaming for Women

On Saturday, my niece graduated from high school. Her school is very young, and it's meant to be small. Her graduating class was 13 people. Twelve of those people were women.

They heard a commencement address on the subject of dreams. The speaker quoted Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, spoke of the failures Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison met on their way to success, and praised the work of Mozart and Michael Jordan in mastering their crafts.

It mentioned not one woman. So I will.

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off. --Gloria Steinem

The fact of the matter is, ladies, you deserved better. You deserved a speech that recognized you have your own unique challenges to face in finding and following your dreams, and you deserved a speech that didn't make you feel you were the first of your gender to chart this path. You aren't. Many women have come before you and accomplished great things. You've just learned that, like them, your biggest challenge may be in being recognized for what you manage to do.

Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top. --Virginia Woolf

You were given some advice to put aside distractions and listen to your dreams to find out what they really are. This is excellent advice. However, the toughest distractions aren't the sort of thing that will go away when you turn off the TV. Much harder to set aside are the voices of all those people around you who think they know what you want better than you can. They mean well, some of them, but they don't know you as well as you do. And you are the person your dreams must satisfy.

If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. --Gail Sheehy

Also, it is hard for many of the people who love you to understand that you must grow up and find your own way. That doesn't mean you have to leave them behind, but it does mean they can't protect you anymore. The world can be a dangerous place in which to be a woman, and there are those who want to make it a more dangerous place for those women who dare to strive and challenge and be independent.

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try. --Beverly Sills

The problem with this is that not striving to follow your dreams doesn't make the world a significantly safer place. There are costs to living a small, frustrated life as well. Stress is bad for you in large doses, but the stresses of challenging yourself and your world are often balanced by the joys those challenges bring, both in themselves and in meeting them successfully.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. --Anais Nin

Meet people. You don't have to like them all, and they don't have to like you, but you'll never find the people who fill the odd gaps in your heart if you don't find odd people. You won't find the people who share your "odd" interests. And you won't find the people whom you can help like no one else can.

Visit places that are unlike the places you grew up. They're not as far away as you might think. Go as a visitor instead of as a tourist. Learn how and why things you don't do are done, even if you have to ask stupid questions. You don't have to move in, but every possibility you're exposed to is food for your dreams.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. --Alice Walker

Following your dreams will get you into trouble. One sort or another, you can't avoid it. When this happens, particularly when it happens simply because you are a woman pursuing your own dreams instead of someone else's idea of what you should be doing, you have resources. There are laws and rules on your side. You have rights. You will have to fight to get them, but there are also people on your side who will fight for you and with you. Accept their help. It doesn't mean that you're weak; it means that these people understand that we are stronger together.

Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use. --Ruth Gordon

Following your dreams will wear you down. It will be tiring. Sometimes it will hurt. You will have times you just don't feel you have the strength to keep going. You have more than you know. Never quit while you're tired. Cry, swear, throw things. Rest, because you've already done more than you or most of the people around you are giving you credit for, but don't quit. Once you've got your strength back, then you can decide whether it's time for a new dream, but you'll be amazed how often all you needed was the rest to make you strong again.

Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you're wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn't love you anymore. --Lady Gaga

Despite the makeup of your graduating class, I can promise you that men are not rare in the rest of the world, if it's even a man you're looking for. The good ones are worth stopping for and appreciating at least briefly, but there are more of them than you've been led to believe. Similarly, there is more love out there than you can imagine now. Not all of it comes in romantic pairings, either. If you make time in your dreams for people, and set aside the people who exist only to fill your time and get in the way of your dreams, you don't ever have to worry about being alone. Don't listen to the people who tell you you can't have it all.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. --Harriet Tubman

Now, go. Dream.


Jen said...

Love. :)

ScientistMother said...

this is awesome. its getting printed out and posted by my desk.

Silver Fox said...

Excellent, awesome, all of the above.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Aw. Thanks, all.

Greg Laden said...

"you deserved a speech that didn't make you feel you were the first of your gender to chart this path. "

Or, just as likely: 'no one has charted this path, we'll tell you about it and the guys who did it, and then you can move along ... nothing else to see here.'

Koren said...

Outstanding. Thanks for writing.

jafsica said...

I love this. It is perfect.
Thank you.