These hard-earned realizations — made by powerful women whom I’ll almost certainly never meet personally, but nonetheless feel deep admiration and personal gratitude for — have pulled me out of funks and reminded me that I hold the compass of my life: I am my own north star. One of these quotes is worth a thousand of my words, so I’ll hop to it.
1. “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.” — Hillary Clinton
Regardless of your political orientation — and your opinion on Clinton’s politics and platform — her career is an inarguably long, productive, and dynamic one. If you’ve survived as long as she has in the political game and weathered as many relentlessly public storms with your chin held high, you know how to take a punch. More importantly, you know how to let in the good and let go of the bad.
2. “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” — Madonna
Boy oh boy, have I been called a bitch for going after what I want. For wanting to further my education, my career, my goals, my self-knowledge, my sexual safety, my creative work. Not everyone is going to like you when you start living your life for yourself (even if you do so compassionately and with awareness). I listened to decades of family members and friends telling me to “tone it down” and soften myself, usually to appease boys who were either threatened or repelled by my academic drive and wacky humor, my insistence upon my place at the table. I tried to tone it down, and it was miserable: taking my edge off was like a dog whistle for all the manipulative, opportunistic, and callously destructive relationships I’ve been in and (thankfully) gotten out of. No amount of palliative behavior is going to bring me closer to achieving my dreams. And if that makes you call me a bitch, then okay. I’m out.
3. “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” — Malala Yousafzai
When I see something going seriously wrong in my shared communities — a pattern of discrimination, abuse, or simply lazy thinking — I think of this quote. Being the only one to speak up is terrifying (the literal definition of being “singled out,” and by your own hand, no less). But it’s worth it for your conscience and integrity: you, alone, can still create change. Be the first.
4. “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” — Gloria Steinem
I wouldn’t have understood this wisdom just a few years ago. It’s only as I move into a more “adult” chapter of my life — questions of higher purpose, civic engagement, family, longevity, investment in all senses of the word — that I can look back on my earlier twenties and see how it was mostly my own ideas getting in the way of my fulfillment. I was focused on learning things about myself; now, I’m focusing on un-learning larger ideas (especially about gender equality) that I didn’t know I had absorbed by osmosis during childhood. Another one of my favorite Steinem quotes that goes hand-in-hand with the one above is this: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
5. “Power’s not given to you. You have to take it.” — Beyoncé Knowles Carter
True. Just…true. I like this one for its clarity and unapologetic simplicity; Bey clearly lives by this idea and proves it. You can hear her doing it every time she sings.
6. “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” — Maya Angelou
I’ve spent large swathes of my life totally focused on catching the balls that other people were throwing at me (go ahead; giggle. I did when I wrote that sentence). When I was playing catcher, I prided myself on my ability to receive, consider, and help with everyone’s problems, in my personal life and my work; at a certain point, I took a half-step back from the game, forced myself to “drop” some of the balls being thrown at me (I’ll hold for a laugh, here), and question why I wasn’t throwing more of my own pitches. I’m still assessing this one, to be honest, but Angelou strikes — as always — the heart of the issue. Two catchers’ mitts, and you’re hobbled.
7. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion with one’s courage.” — Anaïs Nin
I’ve enjoyed the most expansive opportunities, challenges, realizations, and sense of freedom and personal agency during the periods of my life that I was leaping before looking and trusting myself to build the airplane on the fall down. The more you dare to reach for, to think about, to believe you’re capable of and allowed to pursue, the more opportunity and potential for joy and empowerment you’ll see around you. It takes courage to question your limits, and courage to accept responsibility for holding yourself back. But if you exercise bravery (which can only exist if you feel fear), you’ll be able to push against the boundaries of your current life and watch it expand.
8. “I learned compassion from being discriminated against. Everything bad that’s ever happened to me has taught me compassion.” — Ellen DeGeneres
Oof. Such a tough pill — maybe an impossible pill — to swallow when you’re in the middle of weathering someone else’s discriminatory behavior. I definitely haven’t found a way to exercise compassion in the moment (and part of me strongly questions whether that’s entirely healthy; expressing anger is a necessary step to feeling at peace with your emotions). But, with many years of distance from some of my own experiences, I’m beginning to see the fear, sadness, and pain that motivated the crueler behaviors people have directed my way. I feel for those people, because I’ve also felt fear, sadness, and pain; looking back compassionately also strengthens my resolve to move forward without perpetuating that negative behavior.
9. “I know for sure that what we dwell on is what we become.” — Oprah Winfrey
When I’ve been consumed by feelings of betrayal or abandonment, those feelings began to define me. The more visionary, constructive thought you can pour into the higher causes you’re working for, the more you’ll rise to meet those causes. I hope you can dwell on the quotes above and find some inspiration for a restorative weekend!
Image via Unsplash