The wisdom of amazing women

barbara walters at matrix awards
barbara walters at the matrix awards

One of the awesome things about getting older, is realizing you don’t know everything. I know that to you young’uns who might have stumbled here accidentally via a wayward search for “Kei$ha pics” or “How to make a fortune going to work at 11AM and surfing Facebook all day” that this might sees counter-intuitive.

Isn’t the benefit of getting older, knowing everything?

Actually, no.

The benefits do have something to do with drinking better beer and being able to roll your eyes at any American Apparel ad, thinking pfft, neon tanks/legwarmers/MC Hammer pants. I did that the first time around when it was actually cool.

(Then, wondering whether those girls’ mothers know that they’re posing that way on that bed with that guy. But I don’t know if that’s a benefit as much as a burden.)

I have always believed that once you grow a bit and admit that there’s more to be learned, things change in your life. Things change wildly. It’s that old adage about how when the student is ready the teacher will come.

One thing I was really struck by when reading Jenny Lawson’s amazing book, Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, is her admission of never having really liked women until she got a little older, and specifically, when she discovered a community of bloggers.

And holy crap, if you don’t love Laura Mayes to pieces after reading Jenny’s account of her, we can’t be friends anymore.

As for me, I always did like women, and I value the female friendships I’ve had for decades. However like Jenny,  I certainly spent a lot of years surrounded by back-stabbers and energy-suckers, shallow idiots, fair-weather friends, adult friends who sleep with your boyfriend (that totally happened), and passive-aggressive supervisors. One particular situation always stands out in my mind as a turning point for me; a young grad student from my alma mater decided to write an article on me for the university magazine, about successful alumni. He followed me around the office for a day, and when we joined this supervisor for a meeting she asked who he was. When I explained it, in front of the ten other people in the meeting, she responded snidely, “well why is he interviewing you?”

That’s when I knew I had to make some changes.

Let’s just say I don’t have many of those people in my life any more.

photo via @tyrabanks on instagram

Last week, at the Women in Communication Matrix Awards I sat iPhone-camera distance away from Senator Gilibrand, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Glen Close, Tyra Banks, Lesley Stahl, Maria Cuomo…check the list. It was inspiring beyond belief. Each award recipient chose their presenter, and what I took away, more than anything, was how kind and authentically supportive the pairs were. To hear Meredith Viera discu Anne Curry’s hard-fought path to the top, or to hear Senator Gilibrand gush about the myriad public service initiatives of Maria Cuomo was nothing short of uplifting.

My favorite pairing, may have been Glen Close and Deputy Chief Theresa J. Shortell, the Commanding Officer of the NYPD Gang Division. Which–whoa. She’s also Glen Close’s mentor and model for her character on The Shield and it’s clear the two have become friends. Two women, worlds apart in a million ways, who found common ground through their professional paths.

Glen quoted Deputy Shortell about succeeding in the police force, or anywhere, really: “The trick is to be a woman. And not let it matter.”

That’s going to stay with me a long time.

These women talked about ups. They talked about downs. They talked about getting up after the downs. They made every woman in that room feel like anything was possible…but that we still have a ways to go.

(Let’s say it’s a little intimidating to hear the anchor of the number one morning news show admit that she’s “tired of living in a man’s world.”)

One thing they were not was self-critical. Not really. They talked about vulnerabilities, they were honest about pitfalls, but at the same time, they were strong and powerful and confident and motivating.

liz gumbinner and anna quindlen
with anna quindlen

As if this weren’t enough of a high for the entire year (to say nothing of Julie Andrews only a few days earlier), the very next night I had been invited to host a q+a with one of my all time favorite authors and columnists, Anna Quindlen, for the launch of her new book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. I am still not entirely sure I didn’t dream it, except for the evidence on Twitter. And man, I wish I had had the entire thing recorded. Not just because I was sometimes too focused on thinking of the next question to wholly take in her wisdom, but because this beautiful thing happened in a room (okay, in the midtown Talbot’s shop floor), where three generations of mothers and daughters gathered around together, eager to learn from another woman–and, I believe, she from them.

There was so much love in that room. So much respect.

I am now convinced that if you have ever had the impression that Women (as in the entire gender) are catty and back-stabby and otherwise awful, you are spending time with the wrong women.

Or maybe you’re the jealous one. Maybe you’re just not ready to learn. I know I’ve been there in my own life.

But now I am. I’m open. And I’m listening.

I think that’s why I’m in this place right now, surrounded by women like this. I worked really hard to get here. I believe I’ve earned it.

The best part: it’s not over.

I’m so excited to spend the next few days at the Mom 2.0 summit. Because you don’t have to be Katie Couric to have something wise to say. You don’t have to be a Pulitzer-winning columnist to enrich someone else’s life. You can be a blogger with a story. You can be a commenter with a thoughtful paragraph to share–which is what I’ll be presenting about.You can just be a woman sitting by a pool at a conference, wondering if there might be another woman sitting by the pool at that conference who wants someone to talk to, too.

That’s how I met some of my greatest friends, sitting by a pool at a conference so many years ago, and some of the people who have taught me the most in life to this day.

Women are freaking awesome.

You just have to be ready to see it.


48 thoughts on “The wisdom of amazing women”

  1. Love this line — The trick is to be a woman. And not let it matter. Thanks.

    And my favorite chapter in Jenny’s book is the one about her poor dog and Laura coming in to help out with a shovel and a margarita. So clearly happened. So sweet Laura.

  2. Which is why I’m SO disappointed that I can’t make Mom 2.0 Summit or BlogHer this year 🙁 I’ve had the distinct pleasure of making a handful of friends through my blogs and during my short time as an Etsy artist. I love having the opportunity for new friendships and to make new connections. I count some of them better friends than people I’ve known my whole life! They inspire me, support me and most often are the shoulders I cry on.

  3. There was a moment in college where, upon learning that an acquaintance was finished with all of her exams on Tuesday rather than that coming Saturday, like me, I said to her “Wow! Well good for you.”

    She looked at me, mystified, and said “Thank you for saying that. Everyone else has given me grief.” It seems inconsequential, and in essence, the topic itself was. But realizing that I could control my outlook and could influence others positively just by being happy for them rather than jealous, or annoyed, or any other range of normal emotions that I feel but try to temper, was a big moment for me at age 19.

    Despite that revelation and many others, I know I don’t know a damn thing. But I’m stumbling through, staying positive, learning from everyone here and other thoughtful places out there, taking it all in…ie “The trick is to be a woman. And not let it matter” and “Women are freaking awesome.” Yes to both!

    Have a GREAT time in Miami!

  4. This is a great post. I’m glad you get to meet such amazing women, and I’m even more glad that you take the time to tell the rest of us about it!

    It was also a nice reminder for me of why I blog. I’ve learned so much from the blogs I read and the comments I get on my blog. I work in a very male-dominated field, and so I spend most of my time in the company of men. Blogging helps me find other women like me- and also completely unlike me, but who have good, interesting things to teach me. It squeezes in around the edges, letting me interact with smart, wonderful women when I have time (like first thing in the morning or last thing at night). It can never replace having friends “in real life” (a funny turn of phrase- because blogging is part of my “real life”). But it has been a wonderful addition to my life.

  5. I’m so here. I’m so there, ready, too, in my own way. This is why I say with no shame that blogging is the best thing that has ever happened to me (and Lisa Stone, who responded to my first shot in the dark e-mail six years ago. Changed everything.)

  6. Great post. I agree woman are freaking awesome. I suppose that is why I have always had more female friends then men friends, that and I hate watching sports. Playing sure, but watching bores the heck out of me.

  7. So many good takeaways… from “The trick is to be a woman. And not let it matter.” to “Women are freaking awesome.” But for me it’s this line: “The best part: it’s not over.” I’d even venture to say that the best is yet to come. Thank you for sharing your experiences and creating this amazing community of women (and men) who are freaking awesome.

  8. I too spent time with the back stabbers etc group. They were all in NY and in stand up, like me. It got to the point when every day working with some of them would have gotten a normal person hooked on Xanax, the meanness was so overt. I, instead, moved to LA and was shocked that the female comics out here were not horrid at all. I guess because there are more opportunities out here and you do have to claw your way up, but not at the expense of another woman, usually at the expense of your agent!

    These days I’m very wary of a lot of the women I follow on Twitter. Not all, just some who call themselves funny and seem to be in competition with other funny women. There’s no grand prize on Twitter ladies, so calm down. We can all win!

    The takeaway on this is that women have become very competitive, like men, but men help each other out. ALL THE TIME.

    I’ve had more men help me in my career than any woman. Joan Rivers wrote me a note once and it said, “Once you get in, there’s plenty of room for everybody” and I’ve never forgotten that.

    I help everyone out because I know what the opposite of that feels like.

  9. I am so excited to be en route to Mom 2.o (literally in the air right now) and your words could not be more true. Women are freaking awesome, and I am mere hours away from meeting so many that I have mad respect and an overwhelming amount of admiration for, including you. 🙂

  10. “The trick is to be a woman. And not let it matter.” — This is the best thing I have read all day.

    I think I know the wrong women. I am always quick to say that I prefer the company of men over women. Most I’ve met are catty, jealous, negative, backstabbing. Well I can keep going can’t I? Using all the worst stereotypes to describe an entire gender. And that’s unfair. Of course I have female friends that I love, but a part of me always distrusts. Its not that I’m not ready to learn. Perhaps its that I’m still too afraid to trust. Enough knife wounds in the back keep you from whole heartily believing those who veil themselves in the mask of friendship.

    I have hope. I always have hope. For my daughter. Perhaps even for myself to find the right kind of women.

  11. I’ve always contended that women are the better sex. I had to cancel my plans to come down to Miami, which is so unfortunate, because given the opportunity to sit and talk with a group of men or a group of women, I’ll choose women every time.

  12. As if I wasn’t already teary about missing you this weekend…

    I’ve had my troubles with the ladies (heh), especially in my neighborhood where I sometimes feel as if I’m back in middle school. But today I was out biking with a neighbor whom I’d like to know better, and she asked about what I do. I was so proud to tell her about what you and Kristen have done, the role I’ve played, and the friendship we have. At the same time, I was so pleased to be on the path to making a new friend close to home.

    Women are wonderful. Hug a bunch of them in Miami for me, will you?

    1. Oh Julie, we only wish you were here. You’re loved, and if if someone else doesn’t see that you’re loveable, then they lose.

    2. Can we be online friends, Julie?

      I began a blog b/c my neighborhood gave me the cold shoulder.

      Too different I guess.

      On my way to meet you.

      Isn’t blogging wonderful??

  13. Beautifully put, Liz! I just hate missing Mom 2.0. HATE IT. It is one of my favorite events of the year. Have so much fun. I’ll be thinking of you all this weekend. 🙂

  14. Just finishing Anna Quindlen’s book and she does the most amazing job at giving the reader the entire arc of motherhood. Reading it you can envision yourself at every stage of motherhood from birth onwards. Big relief for me to hear the the empty nest does not really start until the kids graduate college. Her wisdom abounds.

  15. I think, like Jenny, that the internet has helped me a lot with this personally and professionally. I have sort of an odd work at home set-up that is weird where I live, but totally normal and accepted in my online community. I love the support of other professionals, other mothers, other friends, other people out there that I’ve met or not. I work in a traditionally male profession, but have a female boss who has been to the very pinnacle of our business and being a woman is never an issue with her or in our practice. I am so thankful for all the mentors and leaders that have made it so and hope that the rest of us 30 somethings are blazing a good trail for the next set as well.

  16. Thanks for the post. Throughout my life I’ve had many awesome women friends but I’ve also had a few times where things got weird and people needed to be cut out! 🙁 I think women friends can love and support each other in a way that compares to no other relationship. It’s so fantastic to see so many beautiful, powerful women giving and sharing with one another.

    1. I think it’s perfectly natural for anyone at any point to take inventory of friends and find those who need cutting out. I really believe that knowing when to do it is an amazing sign of emotional health.

  17. What a great and inspirational post! To all women supporting women….instead of being their worst enemies. Like they say, birds of a feather flock together….so you should be surrounded by a plethora of inspirational women. Have fun at the mom 2.0 conference. Its the first time i’ve heard of it and so I am really looking forward to hearing all about it!

  18. Being a woman, and not let it matter… that is exactly it!
    I remember looking for my first job as programmer in Romania, not knowing language, and going for all interviews in prospective start-ups in garages and shady apartments, I admitted to one of the employers how I was afraid somebody will snatch me for brothel slave. And he laughed and he said: Do you think some one will post add for programmers in effort to attract FEMALES? At that moment I realised “Wait, I’m in “male” profession?”
    But profession being so new, the stereotype was not hard set. So, today, looking around me in IT area I see lots of women, actually more than half. Smart, confident, useful. Because of natural tendency to pay attention to communication and quality of communication, they ended up in Analyst role, constantly “translating” geek-talk into normal words, keeping relationships between teams, making sure everybody is on the same page, and making sure everybody is happy with outcome.

    Yes we are women in our prospective roles. And no, it does not matter.

    1. Almost forgot, enjoy the summit – and bring us new tidbits to admire and inspire.

  19. I have learned that it is okay to let go of “friendships” that are pulling me down, if the negative energy is consuming me…
    Well said. Loved this post.

  20. lol

    just KIDDING. you did GREAT on your talk. so cute, well done. bravo!

    and love this post…I feel the same way, I can’t believe some of the amazing women I’ve met through all this blogging stuff…it’s such a blessing. anyway, I should be listening to meredith, so this comment is over. xoxo

  21. I just wanted to leave a comment after your powerful speech. You know it’s a good one when you can make your audience laugh AND cry in 7 minutes. Way to totally rock it. So glad to have finally met you in person.

  22. My four closest friends are all women, and I can be completely myself with them. Not only are they supportive, they’re people I admire as well. I find it odd when women bash other women and say that they only get along with guys. I think the same as you: maybe you haven’t met the right women yet.

  23. Today I was sitting at the pool during Mom 2.0 with my wonderful IRL virtual friends (much like you describe above) and saw you, someone I admire so much and am so honored to call a friend. When I went over to say “Hello”, you were sleeping and looked so content taking a break from all the craziness. I swear you had a smile on your face, and it sounds like you were dreaming about your heavenly week. I would have been, too.

    And your meeting with Anna Quindlen? That. Is. Amazing.

    1. That hour of sleep may have been a highlight of the weekend – and that’s saying something.

      Loved seeing you Holly if only briefly!

  24. I’ve often wondered, and still wonder: if this openness and willingness to learn and be taught is a personality trait, or can it be encoraged?

    I have always been hungry for learning more, hearing more, having my point of view changed: but I’ve also heard others, on twitter,e specially: talk as if they are the only ones who know, and judging anyone who thinks differently as wrong.

    People who don’t and won’t listen.

    I am proud that I can already tell my three children are growing up to be people who want to know more. I’ve heard them ask “tell me why you think this. It’s interesting…”

    I am proud of that. I think that’s the only way to go through life: to realize that every day, you may have your mind enlightened.

    I loved this post. I’ve been reading you over two years, but this one made me stop and comment. Thank you.

  25. I love this. I was struck by Anna Quindlen’s assertion in her new book that the women who are happiest are those who have strong, intimate friendships. I’ve always KNOWN this in my core, but to hear someone I admire so fully say it was like the voice of God speaking. xoxo

  26. I’m late to find this post (found the link on my dear friend Alexandra’s FB page), but couldn’t leave without a comment. It is just lovely, sumptuous, so ringing with the truth. “The trick is to be a woman. And not let it matter.” – indeed!

    I have always had and valued strong friendships with women, Somehow I have been lucky and never gravitated toward the competitive back-stabby kind.

    Even so, in spite of my strong supportive friendships in my local community (NYC-UWS) I have found extraordinary connections among the women of the bloggosphere. Especially as a special needs parent, but also not, just among other, “ordinary” women writers. (And as I write “ordinary” it makes me think of Heather of the EO, one of those wonderful women-supporting women it has been my pleasure to befriend.)

    Thank you for this thoughtful post celebrating the power of women’s friendships. It made me stop and appreciate mine all over again.

  27. I love this post! I’ve always felt most comfortable with women, and have always felt a little sad, a bit mystified, and kind of betrayed, somehow, by women who don’t like other women. We women need to stick together, our voices should come together, more often, on things that we have in common. Women who don’t like women –those are the attitudes that divide us, and keep us weaker.

Comments are closed.