What the Women I Grew Up With Taught Me

Debbie Reslock

By Debbie Reslock | Jan 21st, 2018

We didn’t get here by ourselves. Women who have encouraged and inspired us are many. They may be walking with us today or are those whose shoulders we stand upon. When I look to those I admire, some are famous, others are public figures and not surprisingly, there are writers. But the ones that stand out to me the most also taught me. Here are just a few.

Laughter makes almost anything better

When I was a kid, there was a red-headed woman making everyone laugh on the black and white television show, I Love Lucy. It was already in reruns before I saw it but I still remember laughing out loud when she dressed up as Harpo Marx, Clark Gable and Gary Cooper to fool her near-sighted friend, who she had promised an introduction to the Hollywood stars.

Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy
Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy

Everybody loved Lucille Ball’s character who often landed in trouble while trying to talk her husband Ricky into letting her be in his nightclub act – which he never would. In real life, Ball was actually married to her sitcom spouse, Desi Arnaz, but the similarities ended there. Known as incredibly strong and smart, she became the first woman to own her own film studio as head of Desilu Productions.

Lessons learned

  1. Being funny is a gift. If you can make others laugh, it’s a priceless one.

  2. And if someone won’t let you be in their show, move on and create your own.

Words are powerful

I love the sentiment often credited to George Bernard Shaw – that the biggest problem with communicating is the illusion that it has taken place. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a one-way conversation, you’ve probably had the same thought.

Maya Angelou
Poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou

As a writer, I’m also an avid reader and have long been fascinated with those who can bring words to life. Communicating actions or emotions to someone by the perfect choice and context of words can have the same effect as speaking to them in person. We all have stories to tell and you know you’ve come across a great writer when they make you feel that the story is yours. Finding myself in their prose is one of my life’s greatest surprises.

Nora Ephron
Writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron

The women writers I admire most are Maya Angelou, Nora Ephron and Anna Quindlen. Their writing talent lets us share their imagination, whether it’s a comic scene, commentary on the world or we’re being gently encouraged to take a hard honest look at ourselves.

Lessons learned

  1. True communication is a dialogue, not a monologue.

  2. Our words are powerful and can change the world. Choose them wisely because you don’t get to take them back.

Finding your courage

There are so many women who have modeled great bravery during their lives. Most of us will not find ourselves face-to-face with great danger, but life itself can be scary at times.

I ask myself if I would have the courage to refuse to give up my seat on a segregated bus, like Rosa Parks. I hope I would but I also know how much safer it would have seemed to just go along. Or what about when Harriet Tubman, the famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, not only escaped slavery herself but then helped others to be liberated?

Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955)
Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955)

Where does this kind of courage come from? Hopefully for all of us there is a line that would cause us to take a stand.

Lessons learned

  1. Sometimes we don’t think we have what it takes to face the challenges ahead.

  2. I don’t think we’re born with courage but when we look inside ourselves and we really need it, it’s there.

Intelligence knows no gender

We’ve come a long way from the days when men were considered to be the wiser sex. But women haven’t always had the same support for educational or intellectual pursuits. In the May 2017 issue of the National Geographic magazine, journalist Claudia Kalb researched why more women seem to be missing from the genius list.

As an example, she points to Mozart’s older sister, Maria Anna, who performed with her brother until she reached the age of 18. Although she was considered a brilliant harpsichordist, once she became what was thought of as the appropriate age for marriage, her father effectively ended her career. The question of whether she could have risen to her brother’s musical genius will forever remain unanswered.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

But women still found ways to make their mark and continue to do so today. Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and then she won another one. And we’ve finally broke into the U.S. Supreme Court with four female Justices – Sandra Day O’Connor (retired), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Lessons learned

  1. It’s not a competition between men and women but the playing field is still not always level.

  2. We are meant to live up to our fullest potential, whatever that might be. Even if it’s an uphill climb, don’t stop.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

“Here’s to Strong Women”

There are too many women I’ve admired to list them all here. And in fact the top three in my life would actually be my mother, daughter and granddaughter. But out of all that I look up to, they seem to share certain traits.

  1. They believe in themselves. Whatever they are trying to accomplish they have an inner confidence that they will be successful.

  2. They keep going regardless of the setbacks or disappointments.

  3. They are kind and don’t believe an end justifies any means.

  4. They understand that success isn’t possible without failing.

  5. They also have a strong sense of gratitude. No matter how hard they’ve worked or how much they’ve sacrificed, they acknowledge they didn’t get there by themselves.

One of my favorite quotes was by the Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who pointed out that none of us got where we are by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody bent down and helped us pick up our boots.

That’s what it’s all about, to receive and then return the favor. So as the saying goes about strong women – “May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock writes about and for the baby boomer and 55+ market, including the amazing journey of aging itself. Her blog, The Third Act, can be found at DebbieReslock.com.


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