Today I was feeling frustrated. I’d been working hard on a project but it wasn’t moving forward. I thought of a quote from the humorist Will Rogers, one I’ve often used when speaking about strategic planning or leadership. He said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
How often do you find that a great quote can inspire you, inform you, give you just the kick of encouragement you need at a particular moment?
Happens to me all the time.
I’ve long collected quotes that speak to me in various files and electronic folders. I turn to them for inspiration and I often share them in writings and speeches. People tell me they look forward to these morsels of wisdom, encouragement, and power. In fact one friend told me she was addicted to the quotes I post on Facebook and twitter.
I’m a little biased about Jamia Wilson having had the pleasure of knowing her and working with her as we both went through several career transitions during the last decade.
She’s an inspiration to me because of her seamless commitment to social justice and her positive way of putting her ideas into action.
Her responses to my questions continue the series in which I ask people I interviewed for No Excuses what they’ve learned since then. You can connect with Jamia on Facebook and Twitter.
Gloria Feldt: In No Excuses, I asked, “When did you know you had the power to _____?” What have you learned about your power to _____ during the past year or so?
Jamia Wilson: In the past year or so, I have learned so much about faith and perseverance. I have faced many triumphs and challenges during a transitional time in my life and have learned so much.
The rough edges and moments where I stared fear in the face taught me about the importance of courage and authenticity above all else. I have learned that I have the power to choose to be who I am authentically without apology and let that guide me towards realizing my dreams and my highest power.
As Janis Joplin said, “Don’t compromise yourself, you’re all you’ve got”. 2010-2011’s greatest gift to me was an appreciation for my own resilience and that to me is one of my most sacred superpowers.
GF: Was there a moment when you felt very powerful recently?
When I speak on college campuses, I score points with students when they find out I know Courtney Martin, author, among several books, of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters and Do It Anyway. Though she’s the youngest of the four of us on the WomenGirlsLadies intergenerational feminist panel, she is usually the most together. The one who knows where we’re supposed to be when, gets the power point together, and remains calm when things go awry.
Follow Courtney @courtwrites and find her commentaries on The American Prospect and many other publications. Courtney is the Founding Director of the Solutions Journalism Network, along with New York Times columnist David Bornstein. In addition, she is the leader of the Op-Ed Project’s Public Voices Fellowship Program at Princeton University–coaching women academics to become part of public debate. She is a partner in Valenti Martin Media, a communications consulting firm focused on making social justice organizations more effective in movement building and making change and is an Editor Emeritus at Feministing.com.
Here’s what Courtney says she learned since I interviewed her for No Excuses:
Because my book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, came out officially in paperback on Leap Day—a perfect day for a book about women’s relationship with power, no?—I’ve been thinking hard about what the next great leap forward for women should be. So I thought I’d better check out the history of the every-fourth-year calendar adjustment that gives us February 29.
Watch Out, Men
Leap Day inspired a leap of vision and blazing hope for women in 5th Century Ireland when St. Bridget persuaded St. Patrick to declare a woman could do the unthinkable: ask a man to marry her.
At a time when a woman was, for all practical purposes, owned first by her father and then by her husband, marriage meant not love but economic survival for her and her children. No doubt many seized their one chance to override gendered power norms and choose their own fates.
The tradition continued, with merry belittlements to remind women how little power they had the rest of the time. Men had to pay a fine or give a silk dress if they refused marriage proposals. Women on the prowl for husbands sported red petticoats as warning so poor beleaguered men could dash in the other direction. Haha.
You may be laughing because Leap Day privilege now seems an amusing anachronism. Not only do the majority of men and women think it’s perfectly fine for a female to propose marriage, the End of Men has been proclaimed, Women’s Nation declared, and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof dubs women “Mistresses of the Universe.”
But such puffery masks how far women have yet to go to achieve genuine parity. The next norm-changing leap must be women creating and earning wealth that places the female 51 percent of the population into power balance with their male counterparts.
February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. This post by Catherine Engh ties the two together in historical context with links to some amazing but little-known women’s stories. Wow. Feel free to add stories of other such women in the comment section.
And be sure to check back here often as I continue my annual Women’s History Month tradition of highlighting many amazing women—some well known and others not—who have shaped our history. And as you know, No Excuses Power Tool #1 is “Know your history and you can shape the future of your choice.”
England’s reigning Queen Elizabeth holds a place in my history. My family bought our first television set and allowed me to stay home from school to watch her coronation. We cheered the new queen from Temple TX. For years after that, I had a recurring dream that Queen Elizabeth was coming to dinner and I had nothing prepared. I would awaken in a cold sweat after trying unsuccessfully to cobble together a dinner from leftovers I found refrigerated in my grandmother’s multicolored Pyrex dishes.
After reading this lovely piece by Suzan St. Maur, I think I would not stress so much over an unexpected visit from the queen, but rather would order in Chinese and look forward to a chance to chat with a hardworking woman who prepares her own breakfast cereal. Of course, I’d want to ask her about the upcoming royal wedding and what advice she’d give to the soon-to-be princess Kate. What would you ask the queen if she came to have dinner with you?
Although this old lady lives in comfortable surroundings, she is nearly 85 years old and still works a full week from 9 to 5 plus several evening shifts and on weekends. She has to be nice to thousands of people every week, shake hands with hundreds of them, share her mid-day and evening mealtimes with dozens of them, and look absolutely perfect at all times no matter what.
She’s been doing it since 1952. And she has to travel thousands of miles every year to gigs in far-flung places where she’s expected to be charming, and perform.
An inhumanely overworked elderly circus elephant, perhaps? Nope. She’s the Queen of England.
Or to be more correct, she is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, (titular only) Head of State of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland plus 15 other Commonwealth realms. Those realms include Canada and various Caribbean nations plus Australia, New Zealand and some further nations in the south-west Pacific.
Of course the British Republicans sneer and snort, waving anti-monarchy banners and saying how dare a woman like Queen Elizabeth complain about her workload when she lives in several different palaces and doesn’t have to worry about paying bills or maxing out her credit card.
Well, I don’t care what the Republicans say: this woman, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, to my mind is a huge inspiration to all of us who value the work ethic.
Inspiration is balm for the soul and a powerful kick in the resolve to take action.
Last year, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr on his birthday, I posted this call to share his quotes that have most inspired you. I hope you’ll go read them, for I know you’ll be inspired to use your “power to” to take action.
Upon rereading the quotes, I was struck by what King said about power: “I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” In words far more eloquent than mine, King tells us to define power on our terms. To reject the oppressive power-over model; to use the power to, in order to do good.