Remember the movie Waiting to Exhale with Angela Basset and Whitney Houston? It was about a group of women who in the midst of life’s challenges–divorce, infidelity, teenagers, dating, money troubles, loneliness and more–come together as friends and support each other. It’s sisterhood at its very best.
I’m blessed to have friends/sisters like these throughout my life (it’s not an accident, I’ve sought it out–you should too).
I want to share some of the wisdom that came from what we’ve entitled our Waiting to Exhale Weekend with you. Every year, a group of friends fly to from across America to a new destination, rent a gorgeous house, visit a spa everyday, and spend time together.
It’s fascinating because, at first, we talk about travel, hairstyles, clothes, family, etc., but about a day or so into the trip everything changes. We become vulnerable and open. We lose our need to be perceived in a certain way and the walls we maintain to protect ourselves as we navigate the world come down. That’s when extraordinary growth, healing, breakthroughs, and bonding occurs.
Our group is diverse, some words to describe one, many, or all of us include: mother, wife, two-time-breast-cancer-survivor, lawyer, dreamer, daughter, pessimist, author, high-achiever, fiancé, lesbian, sister, caregiver, celibate, office manager, struggling, salesperson, worrier, heterosexual, singer, entrepreneur, divorcee, and Emmy winner.
We spent each evening sitting at a glass round table over-looking the desert. Amid chandelier-shaking laughter, respectful differences of opinion, and trembling tears, deep insights and timeless truths emerged.
I was reminded of how alike women, as a whole, are. So often we feel divided and isolate ourselves into clicks based on our class, race, age, stage, culture, or education, but in our hearts we feel the same feelings and long for the same sense of connection.
I left the weekend wanting to strengthen sisterhood in the world, to let all women know that divided we are fragmented bits of light–random and small–but united we create the prism through which creativity, love, beauty, and dreams are projected onto the world. We need each other and the entire planet benefits when we feel safe, supported, and empowered.
Some wisdom from the round-table to get us started:
—Love, not judge.
Here’s a scenario – A woman marries and as is common in our culture, she takes a vow of for better or worse. Then something unacceptable, for her, arises and well-meaning girlfriends remind her of her commitment to remain through better and worse and encourage her to stick it through because it’s the “right thing” to do.
While this may feel like loving and we may think we’re helping, we aren’t because only the woman living the experience can know what is right for her. When we project our judgment and direct her a certain way, we are not helping. Instead we often contribute to her feelings of guilt, shame and an inward sense of failure.
Moreover, not one of us can tell this woman that she should stay for better or worse without our argument breaking down at some point. In over a decade of women’s empowerment work, I have never met a woman who didn’t have a breaking point for their interpretation of worse. We all have a life circumstance, behavior, or trigger that would end our willingness to stay through the worst. It is subjective and everyone is different. We must honor this.
At our table the definition of untenable worse varied widely. Some would leave for cheating or lying, while others would stick it through, but they would leave for extreme financial irresponsibility, violence, addiction, or over-indulging a parent.
The bottom line is that the breaking point for worse is personal and subjective and no one else can know what it is or means for the person living it. If you want to help a woman who’s grappling with a painful choice, don’t judge her or steer her toward your perception of righteousness. Instead, be a trustworthy confidant and support her as she reasons out her own life. If she’s in danger, get her help. If she’s safe and struggling to find her right path, be a sister and love her through it.
—Rich is a state of mind.
One of the ladies grew up in a Bronx housing project. When she was eight-years-old, her father said he was leaving and never coming back. That’s just what he did. She grew up in real poverty, but her mother never let her know it.
In the summer when it was 100 plus degrees and humid outside, with no A/C inside, they would get up in the morning and spend from 10am to 10pm in the shopping malls in New Jersey where it was cool. Often, they couldn’t afford to buy anything at all, but her mother would tell her to find the things she liked and then wait and watch until they go on clearance. Every few months her mom would have enough for something that was greatly reduced in price and she’d buy it.
My friend learned that no only meant not now and she never felt poor, she felt smart. These two foundations helped her grow up and create the life she wanted. Today she’s financially sound, and in times of financial strain, she doesn’t panic or worry the way that others do because she knows that no only means not now, or not yet and she believes in her ability to make smart choices. We must teach our children this and learn it for ourselves, too. Rich is a state of mind.
—Being true to yourself requires courage and accepting other’s disapproval.
This is the most important lesson of my life. We grow up conditioned to behave and get approval. It’s natural and there’s no way around it. Good baby = happy mom. Good student = happy teacher. Good person = happy God. We are liked when we are good.
The problem is that along the way “good” becomes synonymous with compliant, not ruffling any feathers, conforming, and we don’t have any input or independent thought about what’s actually good to us.
The inevitable reality is that being true to yourself won’t fit someone’s view of “good.” It can’t; you can’t please everyone. Your version of embodied truth may have some things in common with another’s view of good, or it may not. It doesn’t matter.
If you want to live the life you were hardwired to live–the life you’ve got inside of you in your dreams, desires, passions and incessant yearnings–you’re going to have to surrender the need for approval.
The irony is that when you do, approving people will come out of the woodwork to support you. Make them your friends.
In my next article, I’ll continue with more lessons learned from my Waiting to Exhale Weekend.
Have a beautiful week!