There’s a plaque that graces the credenza in my office that states: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” I’ve had this on my desk for years. I don’t even recall who gave it to me. It has served as a motivator for me as I grew my business and looked to make my way in this world. But it has also always struck an unsettling chord with me: I don’t know that I completely agree with the concept that I need to “mis-behave” to make history. For those who know me, they know that I’m a rule follower so they can understand where I’m coming from!
So as I was considering this blog for Women’s History Month, this plaque spoke to me once again. This time, I decided to do a little research into the background of this famous quote. Turns out, the original author, Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, coined this phrase in the 1970s in a scholarly article about Puritan funerals. In the 1990s, the phrase gained momentum in pop culture, which led Ulrich to write a book titled “Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History.” In its original form, Ulrich meant for the quote to infer that well-behaved women should make history, not to encourage misbehavior. In her book, she looks into why women who break from conventional behavior tend to be remembered, while more conventional women do not. According to Ulrich, “Most well-behaved women are too busy living their lives to think about recording what they do and too modest about their own achievements to think anybody else will care.”
I can identify with that! I’ve long talked about writing a book, but I always come back to “who would really care about what I have to write about!” But every day I’m reminded of how social media is changing that. Women “influencers” invade my feeds, capture my attention and suck me in to their everyday lives. They are doing exactly what Ulrich envisioned: “I hope that someone would take away from this book that ordinary people could have an impact…”
With this in mind, I asked myself “What’s my impact? How do I make history?” I think it starts first with thinking about the women in my history and the impact they have each had on my life. I can’t begin to list all the women have impacted me, but I do want to mention three in particular:
- My Mother – My mother has naturally played a lot of different roles in my life from nurturer to teacher to disciplinarian to friend. She has been my biggest confidant and moral supporter. She has taught me to work hard, but also take pride in my work. She has always lived by the philosophy “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!” But, if I had to single out just one thing she has taught me that will make an impact, it would be integrity. Staying true to my values, being honest and always honoring my word are extremely important to me. Without trust, what do you have?
- My Grandmother – My recollection of my grandmother was a woman that loved and laughed! She loved her family, her church and her neighbors. She never met someone she didn’t like. She showed her love by always sharing her talents and hobbies, whether that was cooking a homecooked meal of all your favorites, spending endless hours quilting hundreds of quilts for her 6 children and 15 grandchildren or simply sitting, chatting and, of course, laughing with you. And, when she laughed, her whole body laughed. It was genuine, just as she was.
- My first boss – Everyone always remembers their first boss and the impact they had on their life. But, my first boss Rae Evans, was more than just a first boss. She was and still is a mentor to me. To this day, when faced with a tough decision, I ask myself, “What would Rae do?” And, then I remember what she would likely tell me, “Just make a decision. Then, live with that decision – good or bad.” She taught me how to be a strong, business woman, dedicated wife and doting mother. She consistently pushed me outside my comfort zone, tested my humbleness and trusted me to do the job at hand. She was a tough business woman, but always managed to use her southern charm to win others over. In four short years, I learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons from Rae. But, more than any other lesson, the thing that stands out the most to me from Rae is to treat everyone equally. When she went on business trips, she didn’t always try to just meet with the executives, she asked the assistants to lunch. She engaged with the spouses of her business colleagues the same as she did them. And, she always treated her staff as family.
Integrity. Love & Laughter. Treat everyone equally. These things may seem to be ordinary, but they are what drive me every day. Here’s hoping that in some way they will have an impact on someone else through my actions, and therefore make history, just as Ulrich ultimately inferred.