Being raised by a single mother has taught me two things: Work your ass off, and depend on no one. For years, I watched my mother struggle after divorcing my drug-addicted father. Things like carrying a lightbulb from room to room because we couldn’t afford to buy a new one inspired me to never, ever want to do that again.
But along with watching my mother struggle, I also watched her rise. She worked two jobs to support me and my brother, and put herself through college at age 40 (and then put us both through college a few years later). Earning a degree while balancing two jobs and two teenagers couldn’t have been easy, but she did it with grace and poise.
Clearly I was motivated, and by senior year in high school I was cutting out of class -- but not for the reasons most kids were. I was sneaking out of sixth period so I could jump on the R train and head from Brooklyn into the East Village to do an internship at TVT Records. One that I got by writing a letter to the marketing department and offering to do as much free work as they needed in exchange for nothing at all but experience.
They took a chance on me, and for three afternoons per week, I was locked in a conference room stuffing press envelopes as the new KMFDM album played on repeat. Was it completely mindless? Yes, but I spent every other free minute chatting up the employees to figure out what else I needed to do to forge a career in the music business. I didn’t even care that I got no school credit (this was pre-college, remember), and my only pay was in German industrial CDs. (They made great holiday grab-bag gifts!)
That, coupled with writing and publishing my own zine with my best friend left little time to get into trouble. I ran my zine, Honeyspider, as a full-fledged business, developing relationships with publicists and band managers, and even coordinating paid advertising for my Xerox-copied pages. At age 17. (I credit that zine for giving me the entrepreneurial itch that I still have to this day.)
I quickly realized how addictive success was, and how good it felt to get shit done. By age 23, I was an executive assistant for Clive Davis, and by 26, I was working for MTV earning more money than most of my peers who had just acquired their master’s degrees. I continued to bust my ass and at 32, I'm a director at MTV in charge of 15 employees. Long hours, taking on innumerable tasks (you never said no), and a pair of balls the size of Texas paid off big time.
In my downtime (every waking moment that I’m not fulfilling my day job duties), I run a brand that I’ve developed based on my blog, and I’m writing a book. And I just became a life coach.
All of this is not to rattle off my accomplishments, but to show you that as women, we need to be proud of what we’ve done. We need to celebrate our accomplishments. And we need to not feel bad about living the way we want to live. This can be confusing, especially when society tells us we should be modest, demure creatures that know how to make hollandaise sauce from scratch and never talk about things like money or blow jobs. Those women don’t flaunt their paychecks and drink $70 champagne and take themselves for massages once a week. So what’s an empowered lady to do?
It can also feel gross to celebrate your success when so many people are out of work. My husband was recently unemployed for six months. I actually found myself hiding purchases from him because I felt bad that I could buy new clothes and he had to wear a five-year-old suit that barely fit him anymore to job interviews.
Granted, I did hook him up while he was out of work (that’s just what you do with this “for richer or for poorer” thing), but I still had this unshakable guilt about spending $250 on highlights when he was using change to buy lunch. And I’m not alone. A survey in 2009 found that 80% of women felt guilty about spending money on themselves. And 96% of women felt guilty at least once a day for something.
But I had to remind myself that all of my past actions had brought me to the place I was -- employed, ambitious and hungry for more. And I deserved to (responsibly) reap the benefits of my hard work.
For example, I got my tax return money and immediately took that cash and enrolled in a life coaching program. It was something I was passionate about doing, so I devoted countless hours over the next couple of months to achieving that goal. I worked myself to the bone to finish school while also juggling my full-time job and you know what I did when class ended? I went out and bought myself a $400 purse.
And for those questioning whether or not I just blow my money on French leather and overpriced hair treatments -- fear not, I have a pretty fat 401k and pension plan, so I’m covering my bases here and making my mama proud.
But the guilt over being ambitious and living comfortably was still surfacing in certain situations, particularly around my unemployed husband or in front of girlfriends who were struggling. It wasn’t until I actually had a sit down with my husband during our “single income crisis” and he told me that my insatiable drive is actually what propelled him to work harder at finding a job that I really got it. While it did kind of emasculate him to be stuck home doing dishes all day while his wife was out power-housing, he assured me that my passion was motivation for him. Watching me thrive made him realize that he wanted to thrive, too. He began digging within himself to rediscover his passions, and he went on to snag an amazing job that he’s completely crushing right now.
I have always prided myself in helping everyone around me reach their fullest potential. It’s a certain kind of karma we owe each other, especially as women. We need to pay it forward.
So ladies, I’m officially waging an all-out war against feeling guilty for our wins. We need to rock our shit out and sing it from the roof tops. We need to own it. No more downplaying our success in front of those who maybe haven’t gotten there yet. Because who knows? Maybe your triumphs will catapult someone else’s.