I recently opened the manuscript for the book, Getting Ahead and Staying Ahead: Success Strategies for Women in Funeral Service, started last year – and realized I needed to revamp the whole thing. However, I liked the Preface of the book, and thought it might be something you’d enjoy as weekend reading. It comes with a PDF worksheet for your own exploration of the women role models in your own life. What fun! So, here’s an essay on my role models – to act as a catalyst for you.
I’ve always been a curious person, prone to asking “Why?” more often than my parents could tolerate. That essential curiosity led me to the pursuit of what my father felt were too many college degrees (“Kim,” he said one day, “you’re over-educated and worthless.” Thanks, dad.) But it also led me to delve deeply into topics ranging from the history of the British monarchy, biology (and science in general), anatomy and physiology…art, astronomy, and archaeology. Along the way, I fell in love (or should I say in fascination) with some amazing women. And as I sat down to polish the manuscript for this book, I was forced to consider what these women had in common; I wanted to understand why I found them so engaging.
Just take a look at this list: Elizabeth I, Cleopatra; Marie Curie, Sara Bernhardt, and Isadora Duncan. Those are just a few of the women who walk the corridors of my mind. There are others, to be sure; but these are the ones that stand out, and stand up to be recognized for the role models they are.
Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. She was a strong, dynamic queen of England, when women were seen as being unfit to rule. Some say she was the first queen of that nation, but you’ve got to realize that she followed her older sister, Queen Mary – and the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey. But, Elizabeth did something neither of these women could do: she left her mark on England, and is still the focus of books, films, and television programs some 500 years later. Certainly neither Queen Mary, nor Lady Jane was of the same caliber of intellect.
Cleopatra – who doesn’t know about this amazing woman? What Cleopatra had was, again, intellect, and she was savvy enough to become the last pharaoh of Egypt. Both these women assumed the roles of men – although Elizabeth didn’t call herself “King,” she certainly ruled England with the same (often despotic) force as her father, Henry. She was a king in everything but title.
Cleopatra was said to be a beauty, but it was her intelligence that gave her power. As a young woman she studied philosophy, literature, art, music, medicine, and was able to speak six different languages: Aramaic, Egyptian, Ethiopic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. She could “hold her own” in any setting.
Marie Curie was another role model for me when I was growing up. Talk about brilliance! Born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, the daughter of a secondary-school teacher, Marie received a general education in local schools and some scientific training from her father. She went to Paris to continue her studies at the Sorbonne where she obtained degrees in Physics and the Mathematical Sciences. She met Pierre Curie, Professor in the School of Physics in 1894 and in the following year they were married. She succeeded her husband as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne, gained her Doctor of Science degree in 1903, and following the tragic death of Pierre Curie in 1906, she took his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences, the first time a woman had held this position. In assuming a role held previously only by men, Marie was like Elizabeth and Cleopatra.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1911 was awarded to Marie Curie “in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.”
How can Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer, and Sarah Berhardt, compare to these women? Easily!
Isadora Duncan was born in San Francisco in 1877, certainly a time when women didn’t pursue their dreams. She has inspired countless dancers since then; but more than that, she’s an inspiration to any of us who seek to live rich, rewarding, non-conformist lives. In a time when women didn’t think independently, Isadora’s dreams took her to Chicago, New York, and finally Europe, in search of artistic fulfillment. Money was scarce and they faced starvation, but Isadora would endure any hardship for her dance, which she characterized as life itself. Isadora was an emancipated woman, ahead of her time. Willing to take risks in pursuit of her goals. Sound familiar? I bet it does!
Sarah Bernhardt was a French stage actress, living about the same time as Isadora. To earn a living, she combined the career of an actress with that of a courtesan – at the time, the two were considered scandalous to a roughly equal degree. There again, we’ve got a woman living outside the boundaries of “normalcy.”
She made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s, and quickly developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the title, “The Divine Sarah”; arguably, she may have been the most famous actress of the 19th century.
Although primarily a stage actress, Sarah was also talented in the visual and literary arts. She was a painter, sculptor, as well as a published author. She lived life as she wanted, despite conventional thinking – in fact, in spite of it.
When I grow weary, or concerned that my goals are less-than-achievable, I think of these five women. I picture them standing beside me; together we’re projecting a force to be reckoned with.
But, how does this help you? There’s a coaching exercise that involves naming a person you admire, and noting down the characteristics that you feel make them remarkable. The concept behind the experience is this: when you name those characteristics as being ones worthy of accolade, they are really characteristics you own. “You name it, you own it.”
What all these women have, to varying degrees, are:
1. Strongly-developed intellects
2. Courage to be authentically themselves.
3. Willingness to defy conventional thinking.
5. The inner resolve to be successful – however that word is defined for them.
If the coaching philosophy holds true, these are all characteristics I possess. It is that basic similarity which drew me to be curious about these women; to admire them, and to do my best to emulate them. So, what women – or men – do you admire? Take the time to write down their names on the worksheet, and then learn all you can about their lives. As you’re reading, note down their essential characteristics. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that you share the same traits! Knowing that will lead you to live a life where you are true to your own authentic qualities. While I focused on women, this may not be the case for you – and heaven knows there have been men of great value and worth, throughout history. Use your list to build your awareness in the following ways:
- Refer back to it when you need to restore your bearings.
- Use it when you go to the library. Reading biographies of those you find inspirational can enrich your personal and professional life. How? By taking the time to read a book, you find relaxation. In adding knowledge about the personalities and skills of people you admire, you add to your own success strategy “toolkit.” It’s a win-win situation!