As a young girl I was drawn to the things in my mother’s dresser, the stuff in her closet, the boxes of silks and remnants of material saved from her life working in Japan. Although I’d already memorized the contents of her jewelry boxes peppered with mismatched earrings and a gold chain with a single black pearl, the ring missing the diamond, and the little pair of dice, I persisted in peeking in at my mother’s stuff; a rhythmic meditative journey into the why of her life and the intricacies of human consumption.
Why did we have an entire cabinet—purchased no doubt second hand from an antiques dealer going out of business—full of curios and figurines and old books of poetry and odd woodworking manuals and dictionaries in foreign languages nobody in our family spoke?
Why did our neighbors spend their weekends shopping for cake mixes and power tools? Why did the carpool moms litter the back seats of their cars with empty soda cans and mail circulars and jackets and gum wrappers? Why do we send flotillas of garbage to remote islands for the seemingly sole purpose of serving as a future archaeological dig that nobody will be alive to perform? Did we invent dime stores to sell useless crap, or did we invent useless crap to have dime stores?
In the process of teaching women to negotiate, at some point in the journey our students come face to face with the rift between wants and needs, desire and contentment.
Inevitably it seems, we discover that money has no intrinsic value in and of itself. We assign its value. We give it meaning. We don’t want to raise our fees or bargain for a raise simply to see the dollar signs accumulate; we want something else; more time with friends, travel, new experiences, and artistic stimulation. A nice pair of shoes every season, a new suit, a car that doesn’t sputter and pollute on the way to work—those are the perks and outward show of our newfound dollar signs, but they’re hollow victories if we can’t have more time with friends, travel, gain new experience and be creatively engaged in the world around us.
When we reach this new awareness, we ponder again—or perhaps for the first time—who we are and what’s really important to us. We become wide-eyed with little epiphanies and realizations about our value as women in a culture that is not quite ready for feminine leadership, but headed there nonetheless. With women representing over 50 percent of the workforce, we are one by one waking up to our intrinsic value in a world that is desperately seeking direction and repair. Along the way we are giving up the remnant biases we’ve ingested from our lives and upbringing.
What is so incredibly beautiful is that we are not pursuing economic well being for the gamesmanship of “he-who-has-the-most-toys-wins” but rather, what needs am I here to fulfill in this world?
Where am I needed most? Where can I manifest a match between my skills and talents and passions and do something good at the same time? As we women generate this kind of personal and economic power, we can look forward to our future, not fear it.