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Today I’m talking about cultivating strong women in your life. I have been blessed by strong women and I think there’s a case to be made for finding and cultivating more opportunities for that. Having a strong woman in your life can be a guide for living, interacting with people, and knowing and speaking your truth!

A photo of Marly in the garden with the text Cultivating Strong Women, The Chopped Podcast Episode 162

Cultivating Strong Women

Today I want to talk with you about a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately: Cultivating Strong Women. I think of this topic primarily for women, but men need strong women in their lives as well.

I have been blessed by strong women. And I’ve definitely encouraged that in my daughter’s life as well. I loved exposing her to all kinds of people so she could feel inspired by them. We had a foreign exchange student from Thailand one year. I was a single mom in those days and I remember that Dione told me once she was shocked to learn how much women could do in this country. That’s because I had a job, traveled, supervised people, and even mowed the yard.

Dione came from a culture where families were oftentimes disappointed to have girls. So, she was surprised to be here in the US where people celebrated daughters.

How I Met Marty

The real reason I wanted to share with you this topic on Cultivating Strong Women is because I lost a big one recently. And the reason this topic is so important for me to share with you is because without my friend Marty, I would not be here talking with you at all. Because Marty encouraged me to believe in myself to follow my dreams and to speak my truth.

Oftentimes you’ll hear me describe Marty as my adopted mom. That’s just how I felt about her. It’s nothing against my own mom. But Marty was a different breed. To be honest, I have never met anyone like her.

I met Marty because as a single mom I moved in across the street from her. She was my neighbor. And I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t know what to think of her. She would call me and say things like, “I see you just got home with your groceries and I noticed you left your garage door open.”

I wasn’t used to this kind of thing. I think they call it mothering. No one had really watched over me that closely. I grew up in a small town where I ran around probably like a little heathen. I know this because people tell me stories of meeting me for the first time and they describe me almost always on my bike, as covered in mud, but always with a big smile on my face.

So, seriously. I was not used to this. But it didn’t take long before I began to realize how nice it was. The next thing you know, Marty and I were on the phone 10 times a day, every day. She was there for me through ups and downs. When I moved away to graduate school – about two hours away – we still talked by phone every day. And then when I went off to Argentina and had to leave Adee behind, Marty talked me through that as well.

School of Hard Knocks

Marty went through the school of hard knocks. She learned everything the hard way by living through it, messing things up, and then finally getting it right. She had a tough love mentality when it was required, but then the most genuine kindness you could imagine. It’s a powerful combination!

In all of our conversations, Marty’s tough love mentality helped me learn a lot. I was in a very toxic job environment, for example. And Marty coached me through learning to speak up for myself. I also had a therapist working with me too. Between Marty and my therapist, I finally started speaking up for myself.

Of course, when you’re a people pleaser, others are drawn to you because of that. They don’t necessarily like it when you find your voice. At that time, I was also the subject of sexual harassment and did my best to work directly with my boss to address that, but eventually took the issue to HR. I’m not sure I would do that again, because I learned through that process that HR is basically there to protect the company, and ultimately the executives. But anyway, I did it. And Marty was there cheering me on every step of the way. Exactly two weeks to the day after going to HR to report my boss, I was demoted.

My boss? He got to keep his job. No questions asked. I was devastated, but there was Marty cheering me on! I told her that I felt like I wasn’t being heard. So, I wrote an email to our company’s board of directors. And I attached the same report I had given to HR, detailing not only the sexual harassment but many other issues as well. 

Marty’s response? “You go girl!”

But guess what? My company’s board of directors did nothing. So, you know what I did next? I sent that same email to the board of directors of the company that owned us.

And Marty cheered me on some more.

I am not a rebel rouser. It is just not my thing. And still to this day I have moments whether I wonder if it was the right thing to do. But seeing the pride Marty and others on my team made me feel stronger.

I stayed on in my demoted position for about a year, so I could learn new skills that might take me further. It wasn’t easy to be in that environment. But then again, knowing that I wasn’t being yet another quiet woman, that I had spoken up – even though it had cost me a lot and even though I was ignored and demoted and drudged through the mud at every turn – I stood tall.

Eventually my boss “resigned”. I say that in quotes because his resignation announcement came out the same day the resignation was effective. [I can read between the lines on that one.] The truth always comes out in the end, but sometimes it takes courageous voices to help keep it moving along!

I share this as an example of the types of struggles Marty helped me through. She also coached me through multiple interpersonal struggles. As a lifelong people pleaser speaking my truth was so very difficult. I think as a result, I attracted some people in my life who had a tendency to take advantage of that. Marty showed me how to say what I need to say and why.

Say What You Need to Say

At first, saying what I needed to say came out in tears. It was the only way I could do it. But eventually I got a little tougher, and speaking my truth became easier. And now, I can say difficult things on the fly.

There’s always going to be a bit of the people pleaser in me, so I still sometimes have to coach myself through it, especially with new people. So, for example, with Shawn it’s very easy for me to speak my truth because we are together so much and we’ve been through this. Same thing with my mom. Last year we moved her from her house to an apartment and she wasn’t so thrilled with that at the beginning. It was hard, but I said the things I needed to say and we got through the move. And guess what? Now she’s really happy.  I knew she would be, I just needed to get her through that and a little tough love was the way to get her there.

Best Advice from Marty (aka Martyisms)

I wanted to share with you some of my favorite advice Marty has given me through the years. I tell you, this stuff really changed my life and moved me onto a trajectory where I am living the life of my dreams. It doesn’t mean I don’t have issues. I still have bad days. But it’s like that old story: give someone a loaf of bread and they can eat for a day. Teach them how to bake a loaf of bread and they eat for a lifetime.

Something like that. Right? Marty taught me how to bake bread. And so that’s what these bits of advice are.

A grey box with black lettering that reads: If only one of you is happy, it might as well be you."

  • I’m starting with the biggest of them all. Marty repeated this saying to me so many times. Probably because I needed it. Again, I attracted a lot of users and I oftentimes found myself in situations where the other person was demanding something of me. And I would be the kind of person to not push back. I had a core belief that if I self-sacrificed, other people would know that and appreciate it. It’s as if I expected them to say, “Thank you so much for giving me that hour of your time that you didn’t have to give. You have changed my life.” But instead, I would sacrifice that hour and find the other person still unhappy and asking for more. That’s when Marty told me these golden words of advice: If only one of you is happy, it might as well be you.” Mic drop! It’s such a simple phrase, but there’s so much truth to it. This is the advice you need when you find yourself with one of the many children of the dark — you know who I mean — those supernova black holes disguised as people. They’re the people who suck the energy out of the room. Or maybe it’s more subtle than that. Maybe it’s the person who’s more like Eeyore – always sad, always seeing the glass half empty. I’ve always felt I had enough positivity to spare and have taken on people like that. Marty set me straight. Why spend your energy trying to fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed? She said this to many so many times it now goes through my mind automatically. Don’t take on lost causes. Don’t be a part of the drama. If you think you can help people, that’s a different story. And Marty was the first in line to help people. You have to be discerning. It’s ok if you don’t get it right at first, but if, time and time again you find yourself with the short end of the stick, it’s time to say this: if only one of us is happy, it might as well be me!
  • Speaking of being discerning. Here’s another statement I loved from Marty. People are guilty until proven innocent. She wasn’t speaking legally. It was a matter of trust. You can’t give out your trust willy nilly. No, Marty admonished that trust is earned. I have been the kind of person who trusts instantly. I sometimes referred to myself as a golden retriever. Remember the one from the movie Up. “I have just met you and I love you.” That was me. And I was constantly being disappointed. And then Marty told me how your trust is something people have to earn. They demonstrate to you over time that they are worthy of it. And this leads me to my next point.
  • It’s better to be respected than liked. I have wasted so much energy trying to get people to like me. Here’s what Marty says about that: if you have to try to get someone to like you, they’re not worth your effort. People are going to like you or they’re not. Just be yourself. It’s better to be respected than liked. And maybe someone won’t like you, but they will respect you more if you’re not running around trying to get their acceptance.
  • Don’t be afraid of tough conversations. If you’re speaking honestly, and you speak your peace and the other person is offended, that’s on them. Say what you need to say. You don’t do anyone any favors by not saying it. So, if I had an employee that was constantly doing poor work, it doesn’t do them any favors to let them get away with that. It may be tough to have that conversation, but in the end it’s worth it because it lays the cards out on the table.
  • Happiness is the best revenge. You know when you’ve parted ways with someone and you feel hurt and you want to call and let ‘em have it? I’ve had more than a few moments like that in my life. Marty’s advice was always this: happiness is the best revenge. Not that fake “look at me I’m happy” kind of thing. But real, authentic happiness. Live your life. Be happy. That is the only revenge there is. Kill ‘em with Kindness. This is another favorite Martyism she would share with me. 
  • Really love people. This is not something Marty ever said, but she demonstrated it. She had difficult conversations of her own with the people in her life and she never let that hold her back from showing kindness and compassion too. Case in point. Marty was the treasurer of our homeowner’s association. And that meant she had to call people when they got behind on their dues or broke the rules in one way or another. Now, can you imagine calling someone and telling them that they needed to catch up on their dues or face legal ramifications one day, and then seeing them out on the street getting the mail the next day? Most people, I think, would practice avoidance, but not Marty. She would great them with a smile and ask how they were doing. She knew how to shower kindness and love. Every year she made baskets of goodies that she delivered to neighbors, doctors, friends, and family. She even shipped them to people who had moved away. She spent months making and freezing all the goodies to give to people. If you were in Marty’s circle, she showed you with love and goodies.
  • Don’t spoil the people you love. This may seem counterintuitive, but Marty would tell me time and time again how there was someone special in her life who she turned into a monster. She met his needs before he knew he even had them and it didn’t take long before he came to expect it. And eventually she came to resent that. This goes back to the first point above. Because she realized she was trying to make him happy by doting on him. And it backfired. Don’t spoil the people you love by giving them every little thing. She used to tell me that she would say to her kids, “I’m not a short order cook!” In other words, if you wanted something different than what she had lovingly created for dinner, go make it yourself.
  • Here’s another thing I loved about Marty. She knew her power was more than about beauty. I didn’t know Marty in her youth, but I could tell she was beautiful then. And she was beautiful now. But I loved how Marty accepted herself for who she was along the way. She didn’t shy away from pictures. She knew her sense of style and she accepted herself along the way. We all need that. Right? In this world so focused on looks, it’s important to know you are so much more than that.

Taking a Facebook Break

I found out about Marty’s death on Facebook, but honestly, I had a premonition before that. We were getting ready to go on vacation and Marty and I were trying to find a time for lunch. I had hoped to get it in before we left on our trip, but it wasn’t looking like that was going to happen. And I had this moment where I thought, I hope Marty doesn’t die while I’m gone.

At the moment I had that thought, she had already passed. Sigh.

But it was Facebook that confirmed it for me. I went on for something entirely different, but there it was. The notice the family had left on her page. I read it and reread it again, not believing my eyes. Wishing I could erase it.

I haven’t been on FB much after that. I think I have a bit of shock about it all and maybe I’m a little afraid of FB now. I will get over it. I will. 

I’m not going to say goodbye to Marty because she lives on with me. I feel it. And I hope now, you have a little bit of Marty in you as well. So, this is why I’m thinking so much about cultivating strong women. Because we all need someone like Marty in our lives. And if you don’t have a strong woman, begin to create the conditions for her to show up. Because having a powerful woman in your life is crucial.

Remember to be Open

How do you cultivate conditions for having a strong woman in your life? Well, that’s a tough question. I was pretty lucky to meet Marty. And to be honest, it’s hard for me to imagine ever being so lucky as to meet someone like her again. But I hold that thought at bay, because that feels closed off.

And I realize that I have been closed off lately. I have a very tight circle of friends and I think I got a little too comfortable in that. I loved how open Marty was to meeting new people. You know that saying about friends and melons? You have to try a lot of melons to get to a good one. And the same is true of friends. Not every friend is going to be your best friend. But be open to friendship. To kindness. And then see what connections are made.

This will be my plan moving forward as well.

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