Reading: To All the Gals I’ve Loved Before

Secrets to Her Success

To All the Gals I’ve Loved Before

Sometimes the women who have the biggest influence on you are ones you don’t even know

By Dawn Colossi

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Photo by Izumi Jones on Unsplash

Most women don’t need statistics to tell them the value of female friendships. I am blessed to have a strong network of women who support me, from family to lifelong friends to colleagues through the years who have become sisters-in-arms. But there are also women out there whom I’ve never met, who probably don’t even know I exist, who have come in and out of my life when I’ve needed them. They helped shape me, influence me, and even save me, and I think it’s time I finally thanked them.

Lesson Learned

Let’s start with the high school English teacher I didn’t actually have. Ms. M was different than the others: she was young, loudly single, and she wore jeans — back then. I loved that she seemed like a bit of a badass by bucking the system, and I was impressed that she didn’t worry about people thinking she wore the same jeans every day!

But then one day, I was in the library when Ms. M walked past a table of kids. As she passed, one kid said, “Hey Ms. M, nice jeans,” and of course the whole table giggled. I think I held my breath as time seemed to stand still. I hoped she had a smart-ass remark to match her badass look. But instead, she became unhinged — I’d never seen a teacher that emotional and it was not a good look. 

All of my admiration went up in flames. That day led me to this conclusion: whether I like it or not, people make certain assumptions and will treat me a certain way based on how I present myself. Because of Ms. M, I always dress the part in professional situations — no matter how casual the dress code — and leave the jeans for the weekend. 

Role Models Inspire

My internship was at Working Women Magazine and at the time the editor in chief was Kate White, who later became the long-time editor in chief of Cosmopolitan. During my first month or so, Kate was on maternity leave. Then one day, she arrived at the office with her newborn and another baby in tow. I couldn’t stop watching as she moved around the office, baby on her hip, newborn in the stroller, having REAL conversations. It wasn’t a “see my new baby” visit. She came in to see the latest issue laid out (it was the days before digital) and to have some conversations before she started back the following week. I seriously think Helen Reddy was singing in my head: “I am woman, hear me roar.”

At that moment in my life, Kate was a superhero, a real-life example of you can do it all. Two short years later, I was working at a magazine, married, with a baby on the way. In my mind, Kate with those two babies — and being an EIC — was all the reassurance I needed. I never doubted that I could do both. Although she never even spoke a word to me, I considered Kate White a role model and someone I continued to follow throughout her career.

Perfection Is Overrated

Kate may have shown me that I could do it all, but a woman whom I just call ‘Messy Hair Mom’ (in my own head, of course) taught me that it’s OK to admit that sometimes it’s really hard and nobody is perfect. My children are nine years apart. After having my son so young, I truly believe someone “up there” decided I could only have one at a time because that’s all I could handle. So, when I did have my daughter after years of secondary infertility, I figured I had this. But as every mother learns, each child is unique, with their own personality and challenges. My daughter was a one-woman wrecking ball. Give her three unsupervised minutes and it looked like the Tasmanian devil just zipped through the house. Between my Type A personality and wanting to keep her safe, she was exhausting. In my quest to tire her out in safe places, I signed her up for toddler gymnastics. 

That’s where I fell in love with Messy Hair Mom. She had three boys under the age of five. Each week she’d run in five minutes late, almost like a cartoon scene, everyone in a big tangled mess and a cloud of dust. She’d literally push them through the door to the teacher and plop down on the bench behind the glass where all the moms watched the class. She didn’t talk much, but one day she said something that saved me. After shoving the boys through that door, she plopped down and, to no one in particular, she said, “This is fucking hard.” With that acknowledgment, she freed me from the mommy guilt I felt for failing to be perfect, and for not loving every minute with the child I had wanted so badly. “Yes, it is,” I said. We didn’t elaborate, we didn’t commiserate. In fact, unwilling to give up the 45 minutes of blissful solitude, we didn’t say another word. But for the next few months, although we never really said more than a few words, we were comrades.
 

My Turn

Two years ago my boss decided he wanted to “shake things up,” and reorganized his leadership team. Personally, this meant I lost the big, close-knit team that I had built. To the outside world, it appeared I had been marginalized. Long story short, I continued to show up each day and do my job. Six months later, not only had I built a new area, but I got my previous area back too because the “shake up” was a disaster. When I resigned eight months later for a great opportunity, a woman from outside my department, and with whom I basically only exchanged niceties when we passed in the hallway or met in the ladies’ room, stopped in my office before my last day. She said, “I have to tell you, I couldn’t be happier for you. I’ve been rooting for you all along. I didn’t think you deserved the re-org but you handled it with such grace and leadership. I couldn’t help but become  a big fan of yours. You deserve all of the success you’re experiencing. I consider you a mentor.” I was floored. I just did what I thought had to be done, but it seems my behavior had a major impact on people I would’ve never considered.

Sometimes life’s lessons and inspirations happen so quickly, we don’t even realize they are happening, but they stick with us because for some reason we needed them at that moment. And, chances are there’s someone out there whom you’ve influenced without ever knowing it. So I say, let’s put it all out there — the good, the honest, and even the ugly. It could help a girlfriend out. 

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