"My mother's always been ahead of her time," my then 24 year old daughter said of me many years ago. She was at a party I held to celebrate my not getting tenure, in spite of an 8 - 1 faculty vote in my favor. After my six-year journey towards that goal ended, I felt it important to invite friends to help me dance with the career barriers I was not able to overcome. As Sheryl Sandberg and others are finally discussing at www.leanin.org, women aspiring to career success have had plenty of occasions in the past 50 years to dance with the challenges of disappointment, and the grief of lost causes. But we must learn how to step up to embrace recognition and success as well.
Recently I was given such an opportunity when, in celebration of Women's History Month in Pittsburgh, and as a fundraiser for the now national non-profit, Cribs for Kids, I was honored, along with twenty-five other women as we received Women of Achievement Awards. I'd never imagined this happening since the tapestry of my crazy quilt career has gone against most all the elements necessary to encourage being recognized for it.
Recognition comes to people, most often men, who have stayed within a particular field of endeavor, and who have done something in that field that was appreciated at the time
they did it. It's also helpful if the person lives most of their life in the same geographical community, making it possible for people to keep track of their accomplishments.
None of these elements were present in my career path. Starting out as a professional dancer, then social worker, professor, therapist and director of a clinic, I've zigzagged across the lines that commonly separate the arts, education, and social sciences. Thankfully award sponsors came up with a new category for me, Transformational Arts. In this my encore career I'm a dancing social worker whose memoir, 'Warrior Mother, fierce love, unbearable loss and rituals that heal' will be released this summer.
As my daughter wisely noted, my efforts often went to projects that, at the time, people in general did not yet
celebrate, (training for Title IX, equity in women's education, and founding a Women and Work Center at a university). Like my professor emeritus friend Jim, whose FBI file is thicker than some of his publications, he was not universally applauded when he engaged in protests against the Vietnam War. But unlike me, he was lucky enough to get tenure before he did something too unpopular.
Multiple moves in response to job opportunities, from IL to KY to NY to MI to NE to TX to PA (no, my family and I were not in the military), created a situation where past achievements were reduced to thin lines on a resume. In the new community people see you only for what you are engaged in now, and once you become "a woman of a certain age," don't be surprised if you become invisible.
So as unlikely as it was, I did stand up in front of several hundred witnesses, with women entrepreneurs, attorneys, social workers, bankers, a university president, and even an
left to right - Joann Forester, Dr Collins, Mary Zappala, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappal
owner of a women's football team. To help me step fully into this honor, I thought of my foremothers, who did not have the opportunity to enter most of these fields, let alone achieve in them. I would accept this recognition on behalf of them, because they opened the doors that we walked through. I accept also, on behalf of my granddaughters, who I hope will always know, as Nelson Mandela, in quoting Marianne Williamson put it, "Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great? As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."
"Our Deepest Fear" -Coach Carter
"Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg