As we kick off Women’s History Month, I’m reminded of a book project I was invited to participate in about “dynamic women who pioneered and paved their own road to success”. I submitted what I now see is a cleansed version of my story of triumph over a few circumstances that I was willing to share publicly at the time. I was mindful of the hurt the full truth might cause–to my family and to me.
It’s not always easy to admit all of who we are and where we’ve come from, and sometimes we simply aren’t ready to embrace it. Perhaps my mother’s death last year and the distance I had to put between me and a few family members allowed me to accept the good, the bad, the forgotten, and everything in between. Or maybe it is the approach of my 50th birthday and what my best friend of nearly 38 years describes as having no more f***s to give.
I am still inspired by the women in the N.U.S.W. book, and my story up to the publication is not much different than what I shared, it is just missing some key elements that I wasn’t sure would reflect well on me or my family then. I had already shared enough, and I was still coming to terms with how I ended up wanting to take my own life.
As I shared with the 2019 graduating class at East Side Community High School this week, I was an athlete, I got good grades, I worked, and I did “all the right things”. But I was sometimes overwhelmed with it all: the abuse, the responsibilities, and the helplessness. I called on them to let others know when they are struggling and to have the courage to ask for help. When I went for my first counseling session required for my discharge from the hospital, I had an attitude of distrust and disbelief, challenging my psychologist to heal me. She did heal parts of me, and it changed the path of my life.
I hadn’t planned to speak so authentically about how I almost wasn’t here, but I saw the young girls sitting alone in the audience of nearly 200. I saw the faces of those pretending everything was fine and those who couldn’t hold back the tears when we acknowledged the obstacles some of them were overcoming every day.
Like the authors of NUSW and others featured in the book, I wanted them to know that it gets better and that they don’t have to do everything on their own. As the Chinese or Japanese proverb goes (experts disagree on the origins), “Fall down seven times, get up eight”. (Maybe it’s even six and seven, and I misquoted it.)
Women have been getting back up–after falling down and even being pushed–since the beginning of time. Men have, too, but as we kick off this year’s Women’s History Month, I am focused on the triumphs of the women in my family who have left me their amazing legacy. I’m in awe of them.
My grandma, who I never really knew was essentially the property of my grandfather. She used to tell my mom stories of how she woke up with snow on her blanket, from the winter storms that blew through the spaces between the logs that formed their cabin in rural Indiana. (I remind myself of that every time I whine about walking 10 minutes in my weather-proof parka to a heated building.)
This strong woman was the mother of nine children and gave birth to my mom a few months short of her 45th birthday–in 1929. My mom was supposed to be a twin, and was the only one of the kids born in a hospital, rather than at home in the then-rural Shively, Kentucky outside of Louisville. Grandma Lula lost two of her young children in the same year. A few years later, she came home from caring for her eldest daughter’s seven boys to find her husband had killed himself. Her eldest daughter died not long afterward. My mom had just graduated high school.
When I hear children complaining about household chores (as I did, too) or teenagers boasting that they don’t have to work, I think of my great-grandmother on my dad’s side of the family. Her parents were apparently so poor that they are believed to have sent Grandma LaManna to live with and work for another family. She was approximately 10 years old, and this was not unusual in poor families of the time.
I could go on, especially since I have done a lot of the genealogy research in my family. The conclusion would be the same–in part because that is what I choose. I choose to remember that I come from a long line of strong women. That privilege is not lost on me. Some of you have family stories worse than mine. Others know very little of their families. Some of you feel sorry for me. Others are dealing with worse than I have, and you’re struggling right now. I feel you, even if our experiences and opportunities are different. Be strong, like the women in NUSW. I promise you that it can and will get better.
No one’s life is easy, even if it appears to be. I’d be willing to bet there are more painful challenges that the NUSW women didn’t share in the book. Everyone around you is going through something, so as Kerin requested, be kind to one another. Own your strength, yet support each other. There’s room for all of us. Let’s create tomorrow’s history the way we wish it were today.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq., is a workplace attorney, ethno-religious mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. Her goal is to keep managers and small business owners out of court and build their conflict resolution skills so everyone has a better work experience. She is creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution, and an award-winning entrepreneur acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018, 2019 & 2020), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards).