A Force Behind Aviator Glasses


Time and again when people come to me seeking coaching, there is this resounding theme they think theyre the only ones struggling, doubt-riddled, fearful or in turmoil about how to best divide their time so nothing gets short shrift.

Time and again I reassure them they are not alone and that this is, in fact, common among our fellow human beings. At least the ones who are really living.

This all came to mind as I watched the documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words, which debuted on HBO this week. Over the course of an hour, I realized Gloria Steinem, a feminist icon, falls right into the same category as all the rest of us.

Sometimes we imagine that the most famous or most successful people among us just woke up one day and fearlessly took on the world or invented something genius and life went swimmingly from there. Their speaking engagements lined up, their books sold, their business soared, they became popular and of course, money came pouring in. The Red Sea parted to make way for their painless, effortless, seamless life.

Uh huh.

Early on in this film featuring a present day sit-down interview with Steinem interspersed with archival footage -- we find out she wasnt dazzling us with her keen fashion sense with those signature aviator glasses she was hiding behind them. Her mindset at the time was, the bigger, the better.

It is so easy to forget that those who have effected real change, who are in fact trailblazers, had to stare down naysayers, clear hurdles and, as was the case for Steinem, go within to wrestle some persistent demons.

I learned to use anger constructively, Steinem says at one point in the documentary, which was produced and directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Peter Kunhardt.

The channeling of emotion into ones art or other passionate pursuits is what I try my best to get clients to see as a healthy and appealing option. When Steinem was denigrated in an Esquire piece or her naked form was made into a poster with pin the penis on the feminist as the theme, she didnt take it in stride. She admits to being thin-skinned, to not wanting to leave the house in the face of the criticism.

But there was work to be done. There was a magazine to run, marches to organize, legislation to advocate for or denounce, marginalized people to support and uplift. There was a mission of massive proportions and a fire in her belly that wouldnt be doused.

There was breast cancer at age 50, depression, exhaustion, a confrontational caller on Larry King Live challenging the value of her lifes work. There were family obligations to weigh against the cause and she later regretted her choices on some of those. There was a lack of self-esteem, only discovered after she was knee deep in writing a manuscript and a therapist friend noted that what was missing from its pages was Steinem herself. That 1992 book, Revolution From Within, became, as its subtitle states, A Book of Self-Esteem.

There was the occasional clash with those older and younger in the feminist fight, perhaps most prominently Betty Friedan, whose book The Feminine Mystique was an awakening for so many middle class housewives yearning for more from life. But where Friedan appealed to the middle and up, Steinems work gathered in the downtrodden as well. That is a whole different level of message and service.

The biographies of [St. Francis of Assisi] are overflowing with examples of his servant spirit and his teachings on the importance of downward mobility, John Michael Talbot writes in The Lessons of St. Francis.

So often we think staying focused on a goal or mission is about never wavering or not being sidetracked or incurring setbacks. It is actually important that we heed the call for a respite or diversion that allows us to stay on track, keep pressing forward and do what we set out to do.

Going off course often puts us on a better path. Dealing with a major tragedy can bring desperately needed perspective. Depression or exhaustion can force a pause that allows for reflection or summoned energy.

Sometimes we just need to know were like everyone else so we can go about doing the work that will distinguish us from the pack. And theres some ironic comfort in that.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.