My grandmother called me a “ruffiana” – a free spirit always getting into trouble. It seemed like I was constantly getting punished for things that made total sense to me. It was challenging being a free spirit in a structured family. I lived in my own little world where I pretended to be characters from TV shows and movies; and I made up my own stories. That did not go over well in a family that focused on being responsible and working hard. With my three Italian mamas, it was nothing but cleaning and cooking. I wanted to smell the roses.
But, that was very difficult in a house that smelled like garlic and bleach.
School was no better. The nuns ruled with an iron fist; and there would be no talking. It was discipline, discipline and more discipline.
They gave the saying ‘children should be seen and not heard’ a new meaning. I, however, had a curious mind. I wanted to ask and answer questions. In the fourth grade, I learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut. I would often get put in the dumb row, if I got an answer wrong. Like breaking a bucking bronco, the “ruffiana” was broken and stayed quiet. I hid in closets and under the bed; and people made me nervous. I needed to be in my own little world. It was my safe place.
All of that had an impact. I had things to say; but my voice was silent. I was even afraid to speak up at the dinner table. My dad would introduce conversations where my sister and I needed to express our thoughts and opinions. My dad would play devil’s advocate to see how we would support our positions. I looked up to my dad; but, was afraid to speak my mind. I didn’t want to be wrong.
Out of that came my Type A personality. I worked hard and needed to be perfect. Amazingly, I chose to go into marketing as my career choice. I thought it would be creative. But, I found myself struggling on two levels. First, there was a lot of number crunching. Not my strong suit. I gravitated toward writing, especially being involved in the creative process for advertising and promotions. I had to work extra hard to understand numbers and analyze them. Second, marketers tend to be extroverts who like to be seen and heard. Not the right place for an introvert. I was a square peg in a round hole.
I did go through career challenges. I was laid off on more than one occasion. I felt like such a failure. Yet, I continued to learn, grow and, eventually, come out of my shell. And, surprisingly, I moved up the corporate ladder. In my last corporate position, I was Director of Marketing of Color Cosmetics and ran a $300 million business. The business grew 13% under my leadership. But, I continued to put pressure on myself to be perfect and gain approval. I was working long hours and was so stressed out. And, then, life has a way of happening. I had a defining moment. I thought I was having a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. It was so scary. Thankfully, it was only a panic attack. That event rocked my world. Years later, I realized it was a blessing.
Despite it all, I did have a successful 22-year career in marketing. At this juncture, though, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was not cut out to be in corporate. I had a wealth of experience. and was now in unchartered waters. I kept asking myself, what do I do? Where do I go?
And, then, something frightening and wonderful happened. I started to listen to that still small voice within me and followed my heart. I started to discover what gave me joy; and I paid attention. After all, what I’d been doing my whole life obviously wasn’t working. I started to pursue acting. I took a class for fun at the Learning Annex in New York City on commercials for real people. I thought, I’m a real people. And one thing led to another. Now 15 years later, I’ve found my voice. I’ve written and performed my one woman show, It’s Only Lipstick; and now, I’m writing this blog with my goal of sharing words of wisdom and encouragement from life-lessons learned, with a few laughs along the way. I’m still traveling that road; but I’ve come into my own. I’ve come to understand that life is an adventure. Sometimes it does take a while to figure things out.
Through all of this, one thing hasn’t changed. I’ve loved the movies my entire life; and I recently saw the film, Darkest Hour. I was moved during the entire film; but the following quote by Winston Churchill resonated and touched me deeply.
I encourage you not to give up; but dig deep and find the courage to discover your voice. We all have something to say. The beauty is we get to say our something in our own unique way.
It is a journey, but remember…it’s never too late to go after your dreams!