The Women That Strength Built

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Up, Up, and Away in My Beautiful Balloon April 7, 2010

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”

–       Abraham Lincoln

 I met a woman today who is getting ready to turn 40.  She told me that so many people waste a ton of money on milestone birthday parties.  Instead, she wants to use her money to help herself and others in a way that will have a lasting effect.  For the 40 days leading up to her birthday, she is going do something different each day.  Since she is a triathlete, she is running a couple of full and half marathons, and bicycling in a 100 mile event to challenge herself.  On the day of her actual birthday, she hopes to run 40 miles.  On days she is not pushing herself, she gives time to others.  She has set up shoe donations so that one day she can give 40 or more pairs of shoes to the homeless.  On another day, she plans to take 40 balloons to the park to give out to all the children. 

Wow!  What if each of us did this every time we had a birthday?  What if in the days leading up to that special day each year we did something momentous?  What if we combined service for others with challenge to ourselves?  Think what each one of us could accomplish.  And think how memorable our lives would be by the end of our time here. Imagine even further what the world would be like if we taught our children to do the same thing.  At 5, kids could pick five things to do.  At 10, their excitement and planning would be that much greater.  And by adolescence, we’d have raised a generation of generous adventurers.

Certainly it would be a huge challenge just to fill the days the first time you planned this.  It could take another whole year to come up with the plans for the next birthday.  Let yourself brainstorm.  What would you have on your list?  Think of all the things you would love to do in this lifetime.  Could you make them part of your birthday celebration?  And what have you always wanted to do for others?  That would be a great place to start.

And lastly, there’s not a better way to have more self-confidence and to feel stronger than to successfully challenge yourself or to help others.  I know I feel better whenever I do either.  So what are you waiting for?  If you have a great idea, share it here.  Let’s help each other come up with our list before the next birthday rolls around, and one more forgettable day slips by.

– Kandice

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Can Marriage Lead to Poverty? March 19, 2010

45% of all women who have gone through divorce are now living at the poverty level in this country.

– Statistic provided by H&R Block 

I learned this amazing fact when I went through my divorce.  And it was easy to believe.  All I had to do was look at what my life had become.  I went from being a successful business owner with a home, a husband, two cars, and several pets to having absolutely nothing.  Suddenly, I was living in an apartment, driving a 10-year-old car and making $6.25 an hour working retail.  Do I need to mention that $6.25 an hour didn’t even cover my bills?  In time, I found a somewhat better retail job.  But things are still tight.  I still struggle to make ends meet.  And I never go on the trips, have the possessions, or do the things other people seem to do.  And it’s hard struggling day after day.

 At least I’m not trying to support any children.  Many of the women who fall into the above statistic are single mothers whose husbands don’t pay child support.  They are in a far worse situation than I am, and their lives are much more difficult.  I believe it’s this fact that scares many women into staying in unhappy marriages.  Without their husband’s paycheck and insurance, how would they survive?  If he skipped out on child support, how would they and their children live?  These are very valid questions.

 It is easy to convince yourself to stay in an unhappy marriage.  It is much harder to find the courage to leave, especially if doing so would put you at a disadvantage.  But too many women think the decision is up to them.  What do you do when he comes home one night and says he wants a divorce?  What then?

Don’t wait until you find yourself faced with this situation.  There are ways to prepare yourself.  If you never need them, that’s fine.  But it’s better to be prepared.  Find the time and money to go back to school.  Work part-time, even volunteer, so you will have some skills for a resume.  Start your own savings account.  Have at least one credit card in your own name.  Have contingency plans.  Where will you go?  Who will help you?  What resources can you take with you?

 Listed on the blogroll are some sites that provide assistance to women in need.  They are there if you need them.  All you have to do is reach out.  And even if you are in a happy marriage, you may still need contingency plans.  Don’t be like my best friend whose husband had a heart attack in his 40s.  Even with life insurance, etc., she had three children to raise and had never worked a day in her life.  Planning ahead makes you strong.  It keeps you safe.  It gives you options.  And options give you freedom.  Believe me; you would rather have the freedom to choose your own life than to let someone else choose it for you.

 

Did You Want to Join the Circus? March 1, 2010

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

–       Rachel Carson

 I went to see Cirque de Soleil today.  And I marveled at all they accomplished in only two hours.  They created a small universe of exquisite beauty and talent.  The sets, costumes, and lighting were unparalleled.  Their performers’ talent was truly amazing and unique.  And the show’s ability to transport the audience back to childhood wonderment was truly worth the price of admission.  But more than that, I marveled at how there’s a place for everyone in the show, and if you extrapolate, a place for everyone in this world no matter how different they are.

For example, on one stage I saw contortionists, fire dancers, acrobats, singers, musicians, and clowns.  Where else in the world do you see some of these people?  And do you wonder if when they were little they worried where they might fit into the big picture?  Most children who go to their parents and say “I want to be a fire dancer” will be steered in another direction.  They will be gently, and then more firmly, encouraged to pursue another career.  But ultimately there will always be children who don’t fit into the norms of society.  It’s nice to know that whatever interest they have, there is ultimately a place in this huge world for them – if they only have the courage to search that place out.

And that courage is key – to discover who you are and to find your place in the world takes great determination.  When I was little, I had many interests.  And when I would take them to my parents, I was gently discouraged from pursuing them.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I wanted to be a writer, a film maker, an ice skater.  Even more practical pursuits were discouraged for practical reasons – we just didn’t have the money to send me to law school or medical school.  The result is that I’m still looking.  I still haven’t found a place in this world to call my own.  At middle age, that’s rather discouraging.

So I would ask two things of you.  As a woman, and possibly a parent, you have great influence over the children in your lives.  Encourage them in their dreams and pursuits.  Help them discover their place in the world – even if that place is on a high wire for Cirque de Soleil!  Let them start early to define themselves.  This gives them so much more time to shine and to positively influence the world around them.

And secondly, if you never found your own  place, start looking.  Our talents are uniquely matched to where we belong.  And it’s only through giving our talents to the world that we fulfill our destiny in this life.  So this afternoon, I sat in a paper snow storm watching a clown cry onstage.  Tomorrow, I go into the storm of life to discover what I’ve missed and where I belong.  Won’t you come with me?

 

Dreams Are Not Just for Olympians February 17, 2010

“The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.”

–       Anais Nin

 It’s the month of the 2010 Olympic Games, and most of us have tuned in to watch as world athletes pursue their dreams of gold.  Have you noticed it’s not the win, however, that engages us, but rather the stories behind the medals?  The sacrifice, the repeated attempts and failures, the time running out, the family members in whose honor the athletes compete – all of these reasons draw us in and make us root for particular individuals.

And yet, dreams are not relegated to just athletes.  All of us have had our dreams.  And many of us have failed at these dreams.  It is one reason the struggle of these athletes resonates with us.

When I was a very little girl, my mom took me to ice skating lessons.  As I twirled around the ice, I dreamt of growing up to be an ice skater like the Olympians on TV.  As I got older and took writing classes in school, I dreamt of being a world-class journalist or an award-winning novelist.  In college, I went to film school and dreamt of being the next Steven Spielberg.  Later, my dreams resided closer to home – finding a knight in shining armor and having a family of my own.  Unfortunately, none of my dreams came true.

If you fail at your dreams often enough, it’s very easy to give up trying and to feel your life has been a failure.  But dreams are made of hope.  And as President Obama pointed out, hope is an audacious thing.  It doesn’t let go easily.  So what can you do if it’s obvious you won’t fulfill the dreams you had earlier in your life?

You have two options.  You can incorporate elements of those dreams into your current life.  For example, did you want to be an actress?  Then perhaps you can act in local community plays or direct a children’s theater production.  Did you dream of being the next Annie Leibovitz?  Then turn your photos into art to hang on your walls and give as gifts.  Did you want a house full of children but have none?  Volunteering at a children’s hospital can surround you with the love and fulfillment you miss while helping others who desperately need it.  And bringing those dream elements back into your life can help you feel strong and confident again.  You may not be famous, but you’ll be doing something you’ve always loved.  And that’s a wonderful validation of yourself.

In the event that incorporating your dreams into your current life is just too overwhelming, or seems too much like a lost cause, then pick a new dream.  The tricky part with this solution is that you need a dream you can fulfill, or else you’ll be left feeling bereft again.  The solution is to break the dream down into achievable steps so you feel an accomplishment each step of the way. For example, you’ve always wanted to make documentaries.  Go get a digital recorder.  Buy the necessary software for your computer.  Write an outline.  Do some research.  Get going.  You may decide to take filmmaking or editing classes.  You may just post your results online.  But along the way, you may find the happiness you’re searching for.  And isn’t that why we have dreams in the first place?

So in this month when dreams will come true for so many others, isn’t it time you reinvested in your own dreams?  While you may not win a medal, you could find happiness shining softly in your life again.  Your soul could feel validated, and your spirit could be lifted. You could even find some small part of yourself you lost along the way.  Isn’t that almost as good as a medal?  If you think so too, then I’ll see you back on that road to where dreams reside.

– Kandice

 

A Trouble Shared is Easier February 7, 2010

“I am a woman above everything else.”

–       Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Long before books, it was the stories women shared that built community and offered support.  They helped us realize that we are more alike than we might guess and that we are not as alone as we think we are.  These stories gave us strength and support to be confident and powerful.  They were true stories and fiction.  They were about women who were already strong and confident.  Or they were stories about women who become that way while facing other challenges.  Stories can still help us today.

I like to read.  In fact, I’m a voracious reader.  I read just about every story genre out there.  However, you don’t have to read to benefit from other women’s stories.  There are audio books.  There are movies made from books.  There are storytellers who present their stories to us in a live forum.  There are women on radio.  And there are the stories our friends tell us when we’re together.  The important thing is that the story touches the core of who you are and that you walk away from the experience feeling stronger and more positive about being a woman than you did before.

There are all types of stories available.  In the area of non-fiction, there are memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies.  Many women found the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis inspirational during her lifetime.  There is probably someone whose life you admire, and there’s likely a book about her.  Reading or hearing her life story might help you deal with struggles similar to hers

In addition, there’s every type of fiction story available.  For example, some stories of strong women include The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (series), Clan of the Cave Bear (series), Fried Green Tomatoes, and Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons.  There are equally excellent stories published for young women, including The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Little Women, and The Secret Life of Bees.

So if you’re feeling alone, or you don’t have much time to spend in community with other women, consider spending time with a story.  It may turn out to be just what you need to get through a difficult time.  And the next time a friend of yours needs some additional support, pass the story along to her and keep the storytelling tradition alive.  

(Note:  If you’re interested in an online book club that supports women, check out Goodreads.com and search for the book club “The Women That Strength Built.”  For additional information on this, see the “About” page.  If you would like to support the written community, then consider donating your time or money to your local library or to this month’s charities.  Links to these charities can be found on the blog roll at right.)

 -Kandice

 

Letting Go Makes You Stronger January 27, 2010

Filed under: Tools for Strength — thewomenthatstrengthbuilt @ 4:00 am
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 “We need to find the courage to say no to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.” 

 –       Barbara De Angelis

             If you look around your house or apartment, will you find remnants left from past relationships?  Do you have jewelry, books, CDs, furniture that came from your past partner?  Are you still holding on to these because they bring you fond memories?  Do you think you may still get back together and will want the items later?  Do you like to look at them and remember when times were better?  Is this really doing you any good at all?

            When I was younger, the first thing I did after a breakup was to purge anything from my life that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend.  Stuffed animals, pictures, matchbook covers from restaurants, records – everything went immediately.  But somewhere along the way, I started collecting stuff – a few pieces of jewelry here, a picture there, a box of trinkets to look at when I wanted to remember.  This all seemed very innocent until I went through a divorce a few years back.

            While I wasn’t left with much after the divorce, I did keep our wedding album, my wedding rings, and some other small items.  In the time between our separation and divorce, I did manage to give away a few of those items and to discard most of the pictures.  But I kept my wedding rings.  If I was truthful with myself, I thought I should keep them in case we got back together.  Really though, I was keeping them because I couldn’t let go of a dream.

            Dreams die hard.  But the reality is that our marriage died long before our separation.  And the items I kept only served to remind me of the difficult times we shared – not the happy ones.  What about you?  Do the items you have from past relationships really make you happy?  Or do they make you melancholy?  And if they make you melancholy, wouldn’t it be better to get rid of them?  How strong can you be if something is making you sad every time you look at it?  Wouldn’t it be better to turn it into something positive – to let it go and leave the space open for something new?

            I did that today.  I took my rings to the jeweler and sold them.  I only got a fraction of what was paid for them originally, but I needed the money and was satisfied with the amount.  And driving home, I realized I was really happy.  I had let go of something that brought me mostly sad memories.   I no longer had any physical connection left to my past relationship.  And I had opened up some space in my life that could be filled with something new and positive.  That was worth much more than what the jeweler paid me.

            What about you?  Those things that slowly squeeze your heart when you look at them – could you let them go?  Sell them on e-bay?  Donate them to charity?  Can you get rid of what’s not serving you today?  I did.  And I feel stronger, freer and more positive about my life.  I hope by taking a chance and releasing some of your unhappy past, you can do that for yourself.  After all, you deserve to feel strong.  And you definitely deserve to be happy!

 – Kandice

 

Welcome to the Women That Strength Built January 19, 2010

Filed under: General — thewomenthatstrengthbuilt @ 12:52 am
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Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

– Mohandas Gandhi

Indomitable will – the ability to persevere no matter what the circumstances. I have known so many remarkable women with indomitable will.  I worked with a woman who walked out of an abusive marriage in the middle of the night in her nightgown, went straight to the airport, and flew from Egypt to America to escape her precarious life.  I have a relative who raised three children on her own while studying for her CPA license and fighting multiple bouts of cancer.  I met another woman who left a marriage to an addict, only to help his next wife when he was abusive to her.  Why?  Because the second wife needed support and had no one else to turn to but the woman I met.  And yet many times in their lives, these women doubted themselves. 

I recently went through a difficult situation where both of my parents were sick and in-and-out of the hospital at the same time for over a month.  I took off work to care for them.  I drove three hours every day to be by their sides.  I took care of all their personal responsibilities while also communicating daily with doctors, home healthcare people, social workers, etc.  I was exhausted, stressed – and strong.  I felt that I could handle absolutely anything.  And then life returned to normal.  And before long I found myself doubting my abilities in my daily life, questioning my decisions, and feeling incapable of handling many things.

Why is that?  How can women go from being the glue that holds other lives together to not having the glue to keep themselves from falling apart in many daily situations?  How do we lose the ability to recognize and keep hold of our power and confidence?  Why is it that some of us never learn how truly wonderful we are?

I believe it’s time for this to change.  It is time for women to support each other and to help each other find their strength.  It is time for us to remind each other of all the times we’ve been strong and how powerful we really are.  It is time for us to teach our daughters how exemplary they are.  Think what a truly amazing place this world could be if all women recognized these qualities in themselves.

With each entry of this blog, there will be a link to a women’s charity (listed under the blogroll).  If you desire to show your support in this manner and can, then please donate or volunteer your time.  If you don’t have the money or time, then reach out to a friend and help her see how strong she really is.  And please check back often.  In the months to come, this blog will contain inspiring messages, helpful stories, guest postings, and ideas on how to become strong and stay strong.  Together we can make this world a better place for everyone on the planet.

 – Kandice