Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Trouble with Role Models

When thinking of success many people turn to role models. How has someone else done what you want to do before? The danger with role models is that we often pick them because of their results. We may look at women's success like Jackie Joyner Kersey's athleticism, Katherine Hepburn's portfolio of movies, or Beatrix Potter's generational tale of Peter Rabbit and see them only for what they produced.
I realized my own "star struck" role model studies were causing frustration and perhaps unrealism. When we study role models we are so focused on all that the person has achieved and we forget that in some cases it took 10-20-30 years or even a lifetime to create.
We read of a role model's success in a period of hours and because it took us a far shorter time to read or to watch a movie of their life, as compared to actually creating the success, I believe our brains develop a false sense of just how long it takes to create something successful.
Before J.K. Rowling became a smashing success with Harry Potter, another Englishwoman, Beatrix Potter, drew similar fame and generated another literary legacy with her Peter Rabbit books.
I've always been under the impression that Beatrix Potter was a strong, forthright woman. Perhaps Renée Zellweger's bright, solid portrayal of Beatrix in the 2006 movie, Miss Potter, plays in my mind as I read an old biography on Beatrix Potter entitled "The Tale of Beatrix Potter" (1946).

In this biography by Margaret Lane, I am reminded of how lonely and awkward Beatrix Potter was in her early life. Born in 1866 to uninteresting parents who felt parenting simply meant providing a roof over a child's head and arranging for their education, Potter found herself living a very quiet, secluded childhood.
She was never sent off to school, having a governess teach her in an upstairs playroom/nursery instead. Potter didn't hang out with friends or cousins her own age. She did have a younger brother, with whom she was quite close it seems, but he was sent off to school as soon as it was appropriate.
Through loneliness and to entertain herself, Potter was forced to create her own stimulating environment and she did this beautifully.
She was intrigued with nature, finding her summer vacations on Scottish estates far more exciting than living indoors in London. In Scotland, she could run free and explore – which she did with relish. She carefully studied and drew rabbits, frogs, and fungi. As she drew, she observed the behavior of her subjects which is how she created such endearing and yet still anatomically correct, animals for her children's books.
Potter decided to convert a story she told, that of Peter Rabbit, into a book. She approached six publishers with her idea and drawings, only to be rejected by each.
Disappointed but not giving up, she decided to print her own private edition of 250 copies. Her "little book," as she called it, was surprising popular and many of her family and acquaintances would buy four or five copies at a time to give as gifts to the children they knew.
Emboldened by this warm reception, she again approached the one publisher who had given her the softest rejection. As the book was now somewhat proven, the publisher felt the risk of publication was less and took on the book.
I've always been so impressed with the steps Potter took to get her book published. I found it especially remarkable because it was the late 19th century and she lived in a time when respectable middle class ladies such as herself didn't write or work. Although Potter didn't grow up in economic poverty, her childhood was void of social interaction, stimulation, and from our modern perspective, love. Her parents were not interested in her, yet this was not necessarily a reflection on Potter, but rather her parents were not interested in much of anything!
Potter, in contrast, lived her entire life with her childlike enthusiasm (a key ingredient to creativity that sculptor, Maya Lin, also adheres to), and saw the magic of living throughout her life. Her books created financial independence for her, a rare feat for a woman of her time.
She was able to create the life she wanted and she became successful, not only in her writing career, but also in her second career as a rancher and land preservationist. Yet driving all this success, under all this strength, lay a reticent, awkward, quiet, young woman whose self consciousness manifest itself into perfection.
When Potter's "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" was accepted for publication, she went into a frenzy. In letters to her publisher, she questioned the quality of the drawings, offering to do them over again and again.
"I am perfectly willing to redraw the who if desired…" p. 64
"Would you be so kind to post me the two [drawings] that are the worst? I should be very glad to try them again, any that you are not satisfied with…" p. 65
While it is a natural inclination to want the drawings to be perfect for her publisher's edition, I find it interesting that she didn't seem so self conscious for her own private edition. I expect she didn't take her private edition as seriously, after all, it was just "a little book."
During negotiations with her publisher over her writing contract, she states, "I must apologize for not understanding, but I would like to be clear about it… I am aware that these little books don't last long, even if they are a success; but I should like to know what I am agreeing to…I have not spoken to Mr. Potter [her father], but I think, Sir, it would be well to explain the agreement clearly, because he is a little formal, having been a barrister." P 64
It isn't that I find her language objectionable or disempowering; it is just that it struck me as very different from the image I held of the stolid Beatrix Potter, successful author and ranch woman. While studying her as my role model, I had forgotten that she too, started at the very beginning, with rejection letters from publishers and a lack of understanding of the industry.
I remember when my manuscript for A Portrait of Josephine was with an agent I developed an acute attack of writer's block and I fretted over the revisions my editor suggested. I was so surprised by my feelings that my novel was no longer "good enough" just because it was being considered by someone in the industry.
I was relieved to read of Potter's own self-doubts and beginnings, especially since her success was so great. It is helpful for me to keep in mind that when I am learning about someone who is successful, I keep an accurate perspective on the amount of time it took for them to become successful. I hope Potter's example will help you be more forgiving of yourself if you are currently in the beginning of your journey to success.
As a side note: The reason Potter became so wealthy in her own right was because of the franchising opportunity she created with Peter Rabbit. This same model has been utilized modernly by George Lucas with Star Wars and more recently by J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. I just noticed while writing this article that Harry and Beatrix have the same last name. I can't help but wonder if Englishwoman, J.K. Rowling could have been inspired by Beatrix Potter's legacy and perhaps her lead character's name is an homage. This is pure speculation.
Click here to watch a wonderful, short interview with Renée Zellweger regarding her portrayal of Beatrix Potter.

Allison Frederick believes that Role Modeling is one of the most effective ways to launch a program, improve a product, and personally achieve a higher level of success and goals. www.AllisonFrederick.com

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"Laughter is Healing," Australian Speaker's Approach to Self-Improvement

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a humorous lady from down under, Nancy Wylde. Nancy Wylde is author of the book "Ticket to Freedom: A Self-Empowerment Guide for Women" (2008) and a motivational speaker.

Attendees to her seminars are in for a surprise because at Nancy's seminars, the focus is on them. She doesn't bombard them with what she wants to talk about; rather she customizes her seminars to the individual interests of the participants.

When I asked Nancy about her speaking style, she replied:

I usually have a topic to follow and then am open for some questions. Once again, I don't feel I have all the answers. I prefer if I am not viewed as one who "knows it all" because quite frankly I don't. Each of us is unique. What works for one person does not always work for another.

I had an elderly woman of 95 years ask me how she can gain financial independence from her husband. This was a rather awkward question because I wondered, "Why would you want to be independent now?" However this was important to her and I answered to the best of my ability, offering her some suggestions (as practical and realistic as they could be given her maturity).

Few seminar speakers have the ability to think on their feet and to respond with sensitivity to the needs of the participants instead of making the seminar about the speaker. At Nancy's seminars, you control the content to learn what you need to learn.

I love sharing personal experiences most women can relate to. I speak to my audiences as if they were sitting next to me over a cup of tea. I use logic and laughter as I talk to women about how to get a hands- on approach toward positive reinvention. I offer practical, realistic strategies that any woman can use in her life, regardless of her circumstances that will aid her toward self improvement, personal goals and growth.

Nancy currently offers seminars around Sydney, Australia. To learn about her speaking schedule or to get on her email list in case she broadens her market or offers seminars online, please visit her website.

At faMiss Women (pronounced "famous"), we are always interested in who the role models for successful women were and who influenced them. I asked Nancy about the influential people in her life. She offered some writers for us all to encounter plus an endearing comment about her grandfather.

I have been inspired by the writings of Stuart Wylde, Florence Shinn, Catherine Ponder, Frederick Bailes, Napoleon Hill, Dr Deepak Chopra, Dr Wayne Dyer, Louise L Hay, Eckhart Tolle, just to name a few of my favourite authors and motivational speakers.

My grandfather who is 95 years young now and who just celebrated his 70th Wedding Anniversary with my grandmother last week has been a strong influence in my life.

From as young as I could remember he appeared to be worry free and took everything in his stride. He was not an ambitious man, but he was an excellent provider for his family. He was not interested in acquiring too many things in life as he was content with little. He still likes boiling his water in a pot on the stove as opposed to using the many electric kettles his grandchildren have given him over the years (and has stored them away somewhere).

He cannot understand why we all rush around so much when it is far easier to sit and listen to music on the veranda overlooking his garden.
He has time to tell you stories of the days he spend in the concentration camps ( two years) and how he found a way to survive the horrors and tragedies he lived through and saw during those two years. He found beauty in the German people and realised they too were victims of the horrible war. He did not see any man as his enemy. He did not shoot to kill while on the firing line, because he had no quarrel with his fellow man, regardless of his colour, culture, religious or political view.

He is a simple man and quite simply, someone whom I have admired all my life.

Sometimes it is helpful to have a motto or an affirmation, or quote to keep before us so that if we start to become distracted from our goals, we can regain our focus. Do you have a motto that is meaningful to you?

I live by several motto's. Not by one or two. It's difficult to pick just one as they are all important to me.

"Fear stops us from growing, loving, learning, having fun, living in the moment and noticing the beauty in all things and all people. Let go of fear and live!"

"We are responsible for our own lives. And even if we are not necessarily responsible for our circumstances, we are still responsible for the attitude we choose."

"Empowerment is knowing that you are directing and co-creating your future reality." ( I think this is my favourite)

Several female writers and artists also take to gardening, ranching, or farming. Edith Wharton studied French and Italian gardens, using their influence to create large, stunning gardens in her homes (for lovely pictures, visit The Mount website, Edith's home in Lenox, Massachusetts.)

Beatrix Potter was an avid gardener who managed to keep Peter Rabbit, Mopsy, and the rest of the bunch at bay. Contemporary, Barbara Kingsolver underwent a "eat local" experiment for a year; growing most of her own food (this interesting journey is told in the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.")

Even Georgia O'Keeffe grew her own vegetables in her New Mexico home. Nancy Wylde is in league with these other ladies. I asked her about her family's organic farm.

My parents and I bought a farm some 22 years ago and slowly began farming. It was quite unintentional that we turned organic, however due to the growing awareness of the dangerous pesticides in our produce and hormones in our meats, we began to move in this area. As we became more and more conscious of how these poisons affect our bodies we began researching into how we can produce fresh fruit and vegetables and free range livestock without the use of such toxins.

This was primarily to aid us, our family and our extended families. As well, we cater to our friends. We don't sell to the public, but we have more than enough family and friends who are happy to come and pick when our fruits and vegetables are in season. If they don't mind the hard work that comes with picking, we don't mind giving it away!

My father has a water business (Alkalife Water) and he is the sole distributor for the Western Sydney Region (this is a huge region!). His customers love calling out to the farm to pick up their orders as they also get the benefit of taking a walk in the farm and taking some fresh organic produce home for a small fee. My parents are generous and usually ask a small fee to cover their costs.

Caring for the farm is empowering because knowledge is empowering!

We can no longer sit on the fence and hope that someone else will fix our problems. We can take back some of our power by becoming actively involved on some level. I can still remember when it was announced that "Soon our fruits and vegetables will be genetically modified." We thought we would be powerless and that we would be at the mercy of the growers who controlled this. This is all part of the competition; the bigger, and shinier and prettier the produce, the better the price.

We are a culture (especially in Western cultures), where appearances are everything. If you take a peach or plum that is grown on my farm and compare it in size and 'appearance' to that of a peach or plum that has been genetically modified and has had tons of pesticide sprayed onto it, it is significantly smaller and less appealing. However, the difference is both in the taste (you would be surprised at how different an organic cucumber or tomato tastes compared to one that isn't organic!), size and appearance. You see, we are so socially conditioned that 'looks are everything'.

Even if we cannot grow our own organic veggies, we can support those that do by buying it. And yes it is far more expensive. The answer to that is that we need to learn to consume less. We are large consumers of everything! Ignorance is expensive- it can cost us our health. Become aware of what our bodies need, what is good for it, what is not good for it - this is empowering.

In your book, Ticket to Freedom, you describe many adverse situations that you've overcome with considerable grace and humor. How do you encourage yourself when you experience new obstacles?

Self-encouragement is not easy. I just look at what I need to do NOW, this moment. I look at what I CAN do as opposed to what I CAN'T do.

If I am empowered to fix something, I will. If it is something I have absolutely no control over then I choose not to worry. I choose to find the humour in all things as opposed to sadness. Laughter is healing.

I have come from having everything to nothing (living in a tin- shack with 3 children - and a very squeaky clean tin- shack at that with flower gardens, hanging pots and a happy environment for my children!).

It was only today that I took my children out for Christmas Eve lunch at our local golf country club ( where my son-in-law and son play golf) and they commented on how proud they were of the home I provided for them when they were small during the many years I was a single mother. Have I got great kids or what!?!

I made it a home to the best of my ability and within those tin walls that were sweltering in summer and freezing in winter, there were the sounds of children's laughter while mum told funny stories to her children and we watched funny movies together. I had to have a sense of humour. I just didn't know I had any other choice!

Of course the tin shack is still there, and serves as a reminder of the happy times we shared together in spite of our hardships.

What would you say to someone who is experiencing disappointment after disappointment?

Find beauty in something, anything! Learn about the power of gratitude and how important it is to count one's blessings. Disappointment is usually a result of not attaining something we desire or the result of others not responding the way we had hoped. Don't make this important and certainly not an issue and something to worry about. Once we remove this expectation from others, we find we are no longer disappointed.

Nancy's book, Ticket to Freedom: A Self-Empowerment Guide for Women, is a quick read full of humor, insight, and inspiration. To pick up a copy of her book, or learn more about Nancy Wylde, please visit her website: http://www.nancywylde.com/

Allison Frederick believes that Role Modeling is one of the most effective ways to launch a program, improve a product, and personally achieve a higher level of success and goals. www.AllisonFrederick.com