~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #153
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“. . . for those of you who are tired of trying to squeeze into constrained categories, who long for integration and wholeness in everything you do, without limits on who you are or who you will become . . . it’s time to move beyond labels.” —Maureen Chiquet, author of Beyond the Label
Labels by definition provide a boundary, an end, a predetermined area of where something does and does not exist. And while a label on our wine bottle that we have chosen to serve with dinner may reveal the year in which the grapes were harvested or where a particular item of clothing or an accessory was made ensuring us of what we choose to support regarding labor, these aforementioned labels are helpful, reassuring and welcoming, but contrarily, labels placed on people, individuals, women, men, different ethnicities, generations, are limiting.
In many cases, labels for people have and do lead into stereotypes, all of which are reductive, oversimplified and purposely (by the one placing the stereotype on another) limiting on the group of focus. In all cases, as Maureen Chiquet, the former CEO of Chanel shares in her new book Beyond the Label, “The labels themselves make life more difficult.”
As a child when grand family-gathering food holidays would arrive on the calendar, it was always the women who were in the kitchen cooking the extravagant meal and after dinner, it was always the women who were in the kitchen cleaning up. I hated the assumption of these roles which nobody conferred with me about. Granted I was a young girl, and I did what I was told, and as a young girl, I didn’t know why I felt this way, but as I grew up and still saw this pattern in some instances, I then knew why I had just grave reservations: I didn’t want to be in either group, especially not the clean-up group as so much work and effort had gone into the meal. Was it the women’s job to cater to the men who sat in the living room, laughing, chatting and sipping their coffee or evening drinks? There was no part of this assumption or label that appeared fair. Now some of the women may have sincerely wanted to be doing the cooking as well as the cleaning, but I know I was not the anomaly. Who wouldn’t want to be fed and relax after the meal?
I share this experience with you not to complain, I am adamant that while I love cooking, the clean-up task should at least be shared, especially if it is a dinner for two as a way of thanking the cook or providing more time to chat and unwind together, but to offer up the conversation about the roles we inhabit and why we do so.
Often we step into roles not because we have an earnest desire to clean the kitchen, per say, but because we’ve seen others do it before us and that is “just the way it is done”. If we constantly adhered to this way of living life, women would still be domestic property of their husbands with no means to be independent. Needless to say, roles should be questioned to determine who is benefiting and why such a role is being perpetuated.
The labels and roles we embody throughout our lives should be in accordance with the individual, regardless of sex, regardless of social standing, regardless of . . . well, pretty much anything. It may seem safe to do what has been done before, but it is limiting, it is squashing of the incredible gifts each of us has to offer not only to the world and those we choose to share our lives with, but to our spirit and true contentment as we experience the life we have been given.
Whether it’s the assumption that the teaching profession is best suited for women because they are born nurturers (a false assumption, and a limiting label by the way for all the men who are innately nurturing as well) or the assumption that tall men with deep voices are better leaders (why? Because . . . they can sing bass and have to duck to get through the door? The last I checked, neither abilities were needed to lead successfully.), we reduce the potential to flourish and find the best fit for every individual when we place labels based on exterior appearances.
As Maureen Chiquet points out immediately in her new memoir and life guide, she “hates labels and boxes”. And it was her fondness for the French culture that drew me further into her book as she shares in her introduction, “It wasn’t just beauty that the French seemed to live for and breathe in, but a kind of freedom that emboldened me to radically extend the border of my more conservative Midwest childhood in the 1970s.” Her curiosity is what opened the door to recognizing that the labels that were being placed on her, or she felt being placed on those around her were inaccurate and soul-depleting. And it was her curiosity that led her to achieve the life and professional success which she leads us through as readers. She listened to the voice within, she was fortunate to have parents who encouraged her curiosity and didn’t limit her dreams, and she was courageous enough to do even when she didn’t know what the outcome would be.
Today I’d like to share with you 24 sage words of advice from Maureen Chiquet’s new book, released last month as a means of encouraging us all to examine the labels we accept to be placed upon us and come to understand why so that we might let go of those that are limiting and remove all together labels or at least help to redefine or change the world’s understanding of the possibilities of said labels that we may fall under at different periods of our lives.
1. Listen to your curiosities and follow where they lead you
“It’s often a matter of following the whispering intuitions and inkling that defy standard categories such as college major or job title . . . I do know the kinds of attitudes and sensibilities, the questions and the curiosities, that will lead you on paths to self-discovery, beyond recognized borders and conventions, and well beyond the labels that others want to use to define you.”
2. Reclaim femininity on your own terms
“Being a woman [is] not a handicap but an advantage, a source of strength.”
Simply by reading the word “femininity” we may have an idea of what the word entails, but we immediately limit in our minds what a woman is capable of being if we provide a definition beyond the actual definition “the quality of being female; womanliness”, we limit what is acceptable for someone who is a female to do. In other words, there is no one way to be a woman. With every woman in the world, there is a different way to be, just as there are more than seven billion people in the world, there are seven billion different ways to be.
Take a moment today, tomorrow or sometime soon to examine how you live your life that assumes behaviors and roles you partake in merely because you are female. Who set those rules? Why do you follow? Does it sit well with your being? Some women, no matter society’s expectations will revel in wearing make-up and pearls, while others will be out on the lacrosse field at six in the morning training with their teammates forgetting entirely about wearing any sort of make-up. A woman is simply a woman for the sake of biology, that is all. Beyond that, reclaim your own definition.
3. Redefine how a leader leads
“I started to understand that if women weren’t rising to the top more often, it wasn’t only because they weren’t ‘leaning in’ or weren’t just as ambitious as their male counterparts. It wasn’t just because corporate policies didn’t allow enough time for maternity leave or the flextime needed to raise families. These things were, and still are, crucial and must be addressed. But the underlying issue, the nut no one had cracked, was what kind of leadership we value and how we teach, assess, and promote ‘good’ leaders in all organizations —whether women or men.”
4. If you feel something is missing, trust the observation of the void and look beyond “the world’s obstacles, rigid structure and set definitions.”
To be able to look beyond, we must first look within. We must become so well in tune with ourselves that we know when something is not present and needs to be, even if we cannot put our finger on it at the moment. From my own experience, even at an early age, there were many instances, people, situations and ways of living that just didn’t make sense, and so as I began to build my own life, I explored, I asked, I became more informed and I stepped out of what I had been introduced to by others and began introducing myself to ideas that were new to me until eventually I found what made far more sense disregarding whether others approved or not.
5. Follow Coco Chanel’s approach to life: learn the rules, then step outside of them
“Chanel seemed to break every rule by combining seemingly opposite elements and by elegantly subverting convention to create something breathtakingly timeless and fresh . . . a woman who refused to blindly accept the aesthetics of her time in order to invent her own.”
In the rhetorical writing class I teach, one of the first lessons I share is while there are many rhetorical tools an artist/writer/speaker/architect/musician can use, in order to use any one of them, they must first know the standard rules of grammar they are breaking. Therefore, when they choose to use the rhetorical tool, they know why they are breaking it and what effect they hope to provoke.
6. Savor life’s beauty
When we follow our curiosity, it is a striving toward creating a life that we want to dance with each and every day. And if we are lucky enough, when we are lucky enough, to cultivate this life, we don’t want to rush, we don’t want tomorrow to come today. We want to savor each and every day. In other words, “slow it down, relish it, take it in fully”.
7. Become comfortable with a little discomfort
Uncertainty or unhappiness. The two concepts were juxtaposed recently in an article I read, and the point was quickly absorbed. Are we willing to give up a little discomfort in not knowing how or when something we hope for, but deeply want, will occur in order that we may no longer be unhappy?
Often we stay in circumstances, or remain under labels that do not fit us because it is what we know. And knowing is, for more than a few, far more comfortable than uncertainty. In the long run however, we only do ourselves a disservice and miss out on the beautiful life we could have led.
8. Let go of external definitions and lenses through which you have been defined and start from scratch. Ask why?
“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself.” —E.E. Cummings
9. Search until you are broken open similar to the relinquishing of a protective shell
In coordination with #7 and #4, many times we do not know what we are missing or what we will find when we step into the unknown. However, the protective shell we are under, that we think is offering us the best possible life, is actually the limitation, the barrier we need to step out from underneath if we are going to realize our own unique potential.
It is easy to know and accept this life concept, but I sincerely recognize far harder to put into practice. But, if you are feeling squashed, and keep bumping into a wall that time and time again has demonstrated it is not going to move, try a different path, even if you don’t know where it will lead. So long as you head out into the direction that speaks to your curiosities, trust that you are doing yourself a grand favor.
10. Refrain from following prescribed expectations and instead simply “be” and express yourself authentically (and allow others to do the same).
Find your tribe. Search out people who sing the same song or at least applaud you for staying true to yourself. Along the way, you may have to let go of those who want you to stay in the lane they became accustomed to you traveling, but model by example and support everyone’s mode of travel and path chosen to travel down. When we all become more accepting of different ways of living life, we free each other to step into a lane (or off into the open field) to be what comes most naturally and applaud the unique contributions we all can give.
11. Knowledge allows the magic to happen
“Every discipline in the humanities —literature, history, art history, philosophy, or religious studies —teaches us how to question how we see and interpret the world and who we are as human beings.”
As someone with a bachelor of arts degree, I took classes in art history, communications, history, literature, dance, sociology and a few other arenas in the humanities family that each contributed in their own way to the journey I am on now. I may not have pursued a specific career in most of these fields, but as I examine the careers I am pursuing, all of these classes have offered skills, knowledge and aha moments that helped me connect the dots and have given me a deeper understanding of the world, and thus my journey within it.
“[S]he who has the most information wins.” —John D. Rockefeller
Ultimately, knowledge can only open doors and the beauty is, it can never be taken away from you. Knowledge of the “why”s in the world, how certain religions came to be, why this war was fought and this right denied, etc. are all bits and pieces of a grand puzzle that will help you understand why the labels that may be given to you don’t actually fit at all. Allow all that you know and wish to know, as you pursue it fervently to be the key to opening up doors that curiosity leads you to.
12. Focus more on how it will work out and what could go right, rather than getting caught up in the reasons why it cannot be fulfilled (life has a funny way of adhering to what we consume our minds with – self-fulfilling prophecies)
“It a little bit like when you are skiing. If you begin to stare at all of the rocks, crevices, and obstacles, you’re sure to hit one.”
13. Take the first step even if the plan isn’t complete
“Sometimes, you have to take that first step without a fully formulated plan, follow your intuition, and be ready to go with the flow, just like plunging into oncoming traffic at L’Etoile.”
14. Improvise regularly
“Indeed, if you only memorize the score, you can be sure to hit the right notes, but will anyone remember your bland tune? The creative spark depends on patience, persistence, and practice, but you have to be willing to take risks, too. To improve requires having a sense of where you want to go, then letting that resonance emanate from deep within yourself, the place where love for your sole expression resides. “
15. Let go of fixed expectations
“Letting go of fixed expectations, or at least being willing to upend them for a time, allows the possibility for an act of creation to surprise us, to leave us dizzy with the excitement of discovering something new that, somehow, feels just right, as if we were waiting for it all along.”
16. Seek out respect coupled with love
“I had never felt love like that from any guy I had dated. It went beyond love; it was the purest form of respect.”
17. Find a path that allows your “beauty”, your real assets to be be utilized
“. . . ‘beauty’ — my real assets (intelligence, character, judgment, and taste)”
18. Embrace challenging circumstances as they unearth the pearl of a life you truly wish to cultivate
“Challenging circumstances and discomfort are often excellent teachers inasmuch as they require us to get closest to what we fundamentally care about.”
19. Raw learning experiences exist everywhere in every stage of your journey
“No opportunity is ever too small to show you what you can accomplish, and no boss is ever so mean that you can’t learn something, even if it’s only to show you how not to lead.”
20. Empower people and you empower progress
“People work harder and ultimately deliver better results when they feel empowered.”
21. Be calm, confident, self-aware and clear about where you want to go in order to have success
“Horses react to humans in a pure, intuitive way. ‘They mirror how we show up. More than eighty percent of our communication is nonverbal, so these nonverbal creatures can reflect back exactly what’s going on with us and whether they trust our presence and will follow our lead.’ Once you found yourself interacting with, leading, or heading a horse, you learned ‘in your body’ how to show up differently, how to be attuned to others without losing touch with yourself or your goals.”
22. Be the leader of your individual life, manage yourself well to be able to lead others well.
“In order to lead — and to get anyone else to follow you — yes, you do need to listen to others . . . a lot. But you also need to be attuned to yourself —your hungers, your drives, and your trigger points. In other words, you have to manage yourself in order to lead others.”
23. Understand how to regain your footing and balance
“I have found that taking a moment to move away from circumstances where you might feel pressure or triggered —to ask yourself what’s most important to you underneath the surface —helps restore your equilibrium.”
24. Examine and then release assumptions of how life should be that do not align with your newly defined self
“There is no one right way. There is not one label you can slap over your family and call it perfect . . . It is the labels themselves that can make these choices even more difficult. If we don’t unpack these assumptions [women should bear more of the parenting responsibility than men even when we wholeheartedly pursue our careers], if we don’t stop and ask why it is so, we just end up exhausted and discouraged . . . by letting go of definitions others might set for us as well as the idealized images we have created ourselves . . . we get what we most want . . . the trick is knowing what it is you do actually want and being clear with yourself and your partner on how you both want to lead and prioritize your lives.”
One of the most perplexing answers I struggle to give is when somebody asks me what I do for a living. I fluctuate between “Which should I say first: a teacher or a writer, or better, a blogger?”. It will depend upon the person I am speaking with, but most often, when I state that I am a teacher, there is a handful of assumptions that come along with it, most of which are untrue in my case, but you don’t want to dive into a deep philosophical discussion necessarily. As well when I open with “I am a blogger”, some become even more curious and others dismiss the title entirely. But the truth is, I feel limited by each, and perhaps you do as well, which is why Beyond the Label resonated with me. People ask such questions: what do you do for a living? are you married? where did you grow up? as a means to better get to know the person they are speaking with. The motivation is largely friendly and benign, but as most of us know, the answers, especially upon a first meeting, immediately build assumptions in the listeners mind – for better or worse. And so perhaps the fault is on us all, but that means all of us can play a role in moving beyond the label. “By moving beyond the label, we can all make our workplaces and our lives more effective and more equitable.”
“By releasing ourselves from these restrictions, we have a shot at creating success on our own terms.”
~SIMILAR POSTS FROM THE ARCHIVES YOU MIGHT ENJOY:
~Diana Krall’s new album Turn Up The Quiet (to be released May 5, 2017), her 13th album, 5-time Grammy winner
~view her tour schedule here
~The list of 11 songs on the album:
1. Like Someone In Love
2. Isn’t It Romantic
4. Night and Day
5. I’m Confessin’
7. Blue Skies
9. No Moon At All
11. I’ll See You In My Dreams