Dear Madeline and Phyllis,
I owe each of you a huge thank you. As a woman in business, I realize nearly every day how you both influenced me, and gave me the tools to move forward on my own terms in this strange and amazing cultural landscape for women. What’s more, you each paid me (as your employee) to learn… on your dime. And you didn’t take advantage, only taking note of new things that surprised you, and asking (or nudging) toward greater responsibilities. Each of you were willing to be pleasantly surprised by life and people: an amazing virtue right there.
Madeline, you hired me to write calligraphy right out of high school, then moved me gracefully into roles of accounting, staff management, foreign rental management and event direction. Each stage of the way, you let me make mistakes, and never once criticized me or reprimanded me. Instead, you pushed me a little further, praising my successes and downplaying my mistakes, telling me fascinating stories of how you won a few and lost a few in your professional (and personal) life too.
You made me laugh regularly, treated me to massages and other luxurious treats when I was stressed, and flew me to the Caribbean for fun in the sun… more than once. You have always had a brilliantly colorful and hilarious way with words, and your boldness has inspired me to be brave in communicating. I also remember learning what a “formidable opponent” you are (thank goodness, not of me), and that alone was worth a lifetime of lessons. It is okay to be a woman, and go toe-to-toe with any powerful man when protecting yourself and your own. It is also okay to rise above your principals when survival and the right thing are at stake. That’s right. And you are.
Phyllis, you gave me a landing spot, more than once, when I came out of difficulty and needed an income and a quality extended family. You let me be my goofy, brazenly non-subordinate self and run side-businesses directly from yours. When I made a website for you in the late 90s— complete with bad spelling— you let it stand and would not let anyone steal that odd, electronic ground from me. Horrified by any mistake, I scrambled to fix and improve, but you never once did anything but thank and protect me, even as your closest friends and allies tried to shake me loose from your unquestionable Queendom.
You trusted my desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job, and you trusted my appreciation for YOUR mission. Your care for the community and deep stake in human kindness guided your actions over and over again, and was 100% consistent with your personal views. I respected it then, and appreciate it now. A woman CAN be kind, stand for a mission greater than profit, be successful and mentor the next generation. And she can build an empire. And another one, whenever needed. A woman can also be flawed, charming and delightful… all at the same time. She can be genuine, and she can win the long game. The game SHE wants to win.
You were a community builder, and continue to be one, even as the form of it evolves. You are not perfect, and in your unapologetic self-assessment, you made me feel okay to be myself too. Because before that I spent more energy hiding than doing things. Now I do things, even if my wounds are exposed and my rough side shows sometimes. Those were gifts you gave me: freedom and fearlessness, resting on a bed of love.
So, Dear Lovely, Strong, Real and Powerful Women:
I don’t know how you got to be the amazing ladies you became, but I am grateful that I was blessed enough to know both of you. As I get older, I see how lucky I was to learn how to become myself in real time, not just by a book or theory…. I also see how trust, honesty, praise and kindness are the greatest boosters of creativity and excellence. I see that in some ways, I was an experiment that you paid to wage. I feel invested in and mentored. What’s more, I feel loved, and inspired to carry on the missions of good women who walk boldly in the world. And I thank you.
With love and gratitude,