I realized around the age of 50 that I had few deep and longtime friendships. I listened with envy to other women as they spoke of a friend since childhood, from kindergarten or college soul mates. I wondered what happened to me.
Where did I fail?
My professional career was in Washington, D.C., as a lawyer and lobbyist, and loads of eclectic fascinating individuals passed through my life. When I married at 30, my husband also had a very public, political career so there were many social gatherings. However, I had failed to build intimate and decade’s long-lasting female friendships.
How did this happen?
My husband says it was because I came from a large, Italian-American family. He observed early on in our relationship that I was given a childhood message that if someone was not a second or third cousin or blood relative they did not merit my time or attention. Who needed friends when there was so much family!
From college to starting my professional career, I moved frequently as I advanced. Constant relocation, physically, emotionally or mentally, does not lend itself to building and nurturing friendships. I had no children, so there was not a PTA or mothers of other children to promote a bond for lasting relationships.
As an unapologetic workaholic my career, community and civic leadership consumed my days and nights. Relationships were all work centered and when I reached the level of senior management, I made a decision to never treat someone I supervised as a friend. There were not many women in higher management and leadership roles so I had few peers with whom I could have bonded. (I was often the first woman.) I felt isolated and alone.
The reasons for failing to foster and nurture long-lasting friendships are understandable but that does not counterbalance the sense of loss from this private failure. It takes time and energy to nurture and grow a friendship. I still find it difficult to make this a priority in my life.
Growing up in an Italian-American household there are an abundance of unspoken expectations. For example, Sunday dinner is for the family; a time to break bread, drink wine, and talk very loudly over one another. The unspoken expectation in this situation is that you show up, you sit in your assigned seat and spend time with the family. Another unspoken expectation is young Italian girls should be independent, but not too independent that their, expected, Italian husband is intimidated by their actions. Unspoken expectations resonate throughout my life – I would consider my private failure not living up to those expectations.
The idea of following your path, is an unspoken expectation I feel I do not live up to. With the notion of everyone has a path they are expected to follow being drilled in my head as a young child, it is a harsh reality to find that no such path actually exists, especially in today’s world.
For example, when my grandparents were growing up, people went into their respected fields, mostly men, and stayed there until retirement. It didn’t matter if they were passionate about it or if it was something they loved; it was an expectation to get up, go to work, make money and provide. That expectation is not the reality for Millennials like me or many others in today’s society. We are taught to chase our dreams, do what you love and don’t settle for the expected.
The mixed signals are what make me feel I have not lived up to the expectations, when in reality the expectations are not always achievable and vary by person. For example, in the past women were expected to make a choice between career or family. Women today no longer have to make that choice; however, they are faced with a different challenge that if they do not perfect the balance of both, they are judged as a failure.
I have found myself constantly trying to live up to the expectation of being the perfect daughter – well-mannered, successful, dedicated to the family and having the ability to make a difference.
We may encounter defeats but we must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still. come out of it.” – Maya Angelou
For each of these leadership topics we’ve shared our own individual experiences as a baby boomer and a millennial, shared some of the questions we are often asked and seek to answer in our work, and some related resources for women who want to explore further on their own.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill