the art of rocking out your identity crisis so you can go on to rule the world
A young woman and I were driving my older boys to Pasadena when I learned that she gave motivational speeches to teenage girls.
“I talk a lot about the importance of developing your own identity,” she said.
This is something my therapist – one of the smartest women I’ve ever met in my life – has brought up in our discussions together. The issue of female identity, how girls will get into relationships with boys or men before their own identity is formed (“when it needs to be the other way around: you become who you need to be, and then you find the person you need to be with”).
It’s why many women will often have a second coming-of-age when they’re – oh, what a coincidence – around my age — when unresolved issues tend to raise their blobby heads.
(I thought this was referred to as a midlife crisis, but maybe that’s just for men.)
(My therapist trained her own daughters not to get married until they were over thirty, when they had established careers and financial independence. I thought this was VERY VERY WISE. I know that marriage is great for many people, but I also have this sneaking suspicion that if marriage was so fabulous for women as we seem to believe it is, the culture wouldn’t have to work so hard to sell it to us.
At a black-tie event a month or so ago, a major movie star of my mother’s generation sitting next to me told me, “If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t get married. And I say this as a happily married woman.” And also, I pointed out, saying it as a woman with an amazingly successful career. “Even so,” she said. “Your identity can still get subsumed.” But I digress. )
Identity has been on my mind lately, because everything I’ve been learning and blogging about in the past couple of years demands knowing who you are and what you stand for.
It demands not just a sense of identity, but a finely honed blade of an identity to cut through the marketplace.
You can’t build a platform, start a movement, create a great personal brand, if you are a question mark to yourself. (You can, however, use the work of developing a platform, a brand, to soul-search and figure out some answers.)
When we were in Pasadena, this same young woman – let’s call her Kelly, it’s the name of a favorite character on the soap opera SANTA BARBARA I was addicted to in junior high — noted the fact that I am an obsessive reader (I was e-reading on my new cellphone, an Infuse 4G I chose partly for its massive screen) and asked me if I could recommend any biographies of cool women.
“Yeah, I love those,” I said. (I had just finished DANGEROUS MUSE, about Lady Caroline Blackwood: aristocratic, beautiful, brilliant, difficult, damaged, alcoholic.) I rattled off some of my favorites: books about Edna St Vincent Millay, Lee Miller, Coco Chanel, Catherine the Great.
Kelly said: “I want to read about women who were – you know – not just great and powerful and accomplished and everything, but knew how to rock being a woman. Who totally rocked being a woman.”
“Then you will love these books,” I said.
We moved on to other things.
But that phrase has lingered in my head ever since:
how to rock being a woman
because I thought it was interesting (especially in light of my previous post) that she had to specify that. Would a man say, “Yeah, Alexander the Great conquered countries and shit, but did he rock being a dude”?
But I knew exactly – on a deep, nonverbal, womanly kind of level – what Kelly meant.
So I was trying to take this gut feeling and articulate it. A certain savoir-faire, or je ne sais quoi…? No, not quite right. Being comfortable in your woman-skin…?
But I think it goes beyond that.
I started Tribal Writer – spinning it off from my faithful little Livejournal – about a year and a half ago.
It was a way for me to explore this idea of author platform. Since the moment I took to my Kindle, I sensed the sea change in publishing and how online platform would be key to future survival.
For the past ten years I’d been moving between the technology community and the writing/publishing community, and the two are a world apart. One also moves faster than the other. If I wanted to explore platform, it made sense to ask some of my tech-business friends about where they thought publishing was going and what they would be doing right now if they were writers. It made sense to pour over social media blogs and how-to-blog blogs, which segued into online marketing and direct marketing and branding and creative entrepreneurship (which, I realized, is what platform can become: an exercise in creative entrepreneurship, and oh, isn’t that interesting) and innovation and creativity in general.
I read – obsessively – about all these things.
Because I realized that I loved this stuff. Loved it. Loved.
And I also began to notice that there seem to be two different – and I’m not quite sure what to call them – creative-content-entrepreneurial subcultures or ‘spheres’ on the Internet. There’s a lot of overlap, and they’re very friendly with each other, and they both celebrate the unconventional life (while acknowledging how difficult it can be), but they each have a different feel to them – at least to me. One is male and the other is female.
The ‘male’ sphere is all about authority blogging, world domination, battling The Resistance, creativity + organization = success, creativity + productivity = success, prolific + healthy + brilliant = success. I went to check out the website to a book I’m reading called the ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE by Todd Henry. Note all the guys. Go to the BOOK page and scroll down to the many testimonials. All guys. Also note how books about creativity and innovation – which tend to be business books – which tend to be written by guys — tend to use the same examples of people being brilliantly innovative and creative. Who are mostly guys. (Hell, mostly Steve Jobs.)
The women are all about getting down to business too, but it’s presented in a more holistic and even spiritual approach (spiritual in the sense of creative and personal growth, not organized religion). Take Marie Forleo’s ‘Rich, Happy + Hot’ adventure mastermind program for female entrepreneurs at various stages of biz development: a participant’s goal for the year is just as likely to include “becoming a nonsmoking cleaneating hardbodied yogi”* as well as “making six figures” or “landing a book contract”. One of the queens of the realm – Danielle LaPorte, who recently landed a quarter-million dollar book contract with a major publisher – sets the tone with striking, distinctive posts that blend the spiritual in with the business advice (it’s pretty cool).
This sphere is all about self-actualization rocks and marketing from your magnificence and empowering passionate people and calling you to rule your realm. Many of the products and services are marketed to a mostly-female audience. It’s not because anybody is discriminating against men. It’s because of underlying themes that perhaps appeal uniquely to women. Not just how to run a successful biz or build a successful brand, but how to create a successful life that brings everything together: that harmonizes. A new kind of model that lays down a new kind of script, for a female existence that not so long ago would have been considered radical and revolutionary.
How to rock being a woman.
* I, uh, know this because this is my goal. one of my goals. i’ve accomplished the nonsmoking part, am working on the hardbodied part, and then shall tackle the cleaneating part. but right now I’m eating salt and vinegar chips. because I can. dammit.
The overriding message is the same: we are moving into a new era (if not already in it) of what Daniel Pink calls “high-touch, high-concept.”
Empathy, ideas, connection, community, design and storytelling are the orders of the day: reaching people emotionally as well as intellectually.
It’s an interconnected world that demands authenticity + transparency because it runs on influence + trust. You are what you do, and not what you say you do, or pretend to be in public. Because somebody’s going to blog about it, and somebody else is going to share it, and people are going to compare notes, and discuss, and all this is going to happen in about thirty seconds.
The command-and-control power model doesn’t work so well here. There’s no center from which to rule. The ‘message’ is whatever the people say it is. What’s more effective is power to: empower and inspire and relate to each other in ways that change the game and move the needle. It is also an oddly level playing ground, where Goliath often finds himself outmatched by the quicker, nimbler David (and is still a bit confused by “the Twitter”).
It is a world that plays to what have traditionally been perceived as the strengths of women. This might be why Adam Carolla’s latest book is called In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks.
Which is probably a slight exaggeration.
Time to rock.