With the advent of the new Wonder Woman movie, I have once again read a number of accolades about role models for girls. Each round of breathless wonder at women finally being given opportunties to shine so that little girls have examples after which to pattern their dreams, makes me pause to consider, “Did I not have role models?” Of course, I did. There have been extraordinary women for as long as there have been women. I loved reading stories about Cleopatra VII and Marie Curie. In the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a young girl there were men that I admired like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, jr., or John F. Kennedy, but there was no lack of women to admire.
I avidly read biographies and news stories about Golda Meir, who became Prime Minister of Israel in 1969 and served until 1974; Indira Gandhi, the first, and so far only, female Prime Minister of India served 1966-1977, and again 1980-1984; Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of Great Britain, who served as Prime Minister 1979-1991; and Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch of Britain. I admired anthropologist Margaret Mead, actress Katherine Hepburn, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. With the exception of Queen Elizabeth II, these women were not given opportunities to shine. They shone. They used their gifts, and except for Anne Sullivan, they were thrust into the limelight because they could not be ignored. Queen Elizabeth II was not ready when her father died and many of the men in positions of power wanted to recruit a male for the throne, but the crown was hers and her reign has been magnificent. Anne Sullivan devoted her life to the success of her pupil, Helen Keller, thus avoiding the spotlight but finding her fulfillment in her gift of teaching.
The thing that I found so profound about all these women is that they did not require anyone to approve of their choices; they pursued their passions, and eventually the world took notice. They sometimes faced strong opposition, and yet they persevered. Some of them did not receive the recognition they deserved and yet they followed their own dreams. As a teenager, it did not occur to me that there was anything I could not do if I worked hard and applied my talents, and, more importantly, if I refused to let anyone tell me I could not.
Each of us is unique. We are a particular combination of DNA, environment, and culture. We each see the world a little differently than anyone else, and sometimes a lot differently. There will always be people who do not want us to succeed, whether from jealousy or prejudice. There will always be societal barriers, whether gender, race, age, physical characteristics, etc. There will always be practical barriers; a man who is five foot two inches will have a very hard time becoming a professional basketball player…well, unless that man is Too Tall Hall who played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was written after he lost his hearing. There is currently a young woman, Mandy Harvey, who’s America’s Got Talent audition has received more than 70 million views. She was a singer until she lost her hearing at 18. Despite the odds, she found a way to write music and sing; she found a way to pursue her dream.
Be who you are, even if the world says you can’t be. Waiting for approval that may never come, will only lead to failure. Being true to one’s own gifts is where fulfillment and wholeness is found.