"You're screwed up, I'm screwed up, but we're gonna be okay."

Recently, in honor of their 2012 Keyholder Event with special guest speaker Whoopi Goldberg (see below) , I was approached by The Women's Fund to write about the woman in my life who has had the most impact and what women and girls can do now to spark change in their community. Here's my take: 

Many women have made an impact on my life and each of these women are special. Some have made a profound mark on my writing; some showed me that women can have incredibly deep resources of love, strength and compassion; some were simply there for a moment in time, encouraging me when I needed it.

I could write paragraphs about each of these women, but I want to talk about just one today, because if I could be like anyone when I grow up (you know, when I stop being 21. Ahem), it'd be her. And, if there's one way to change a community, it'd be to embrace her life philosophy.

She was my boss one summer when I worked at a camp. We had met the summer before, and I knew her as a person that everyone looked up to and respected. So when I found out we'd be working together, I was excited to get to know her better.

Our weekly meetings often ran for hours as we talked and shared and (I) cried. We'd sometimes find ice cream on one of those ubiquitously sticky Florida summer evenings, and would sit on the hood of her car while we sorted through what it was to be both a woman and a leader. What it meant to be the kind of woman who is both unwaveringly compassionate, but firm. Someone who gives generously of herself, but doesn't budge on the things that matter. A strong woman who never feels the need to prove that she is strong, but simply embraces being.

I'll never forget when I asked her, at one point, how she did it.

"How I do what?" she said.

"How come, when I screw up, you never get angry with me? I've noticed you don't get upset with anyone, and sometimes people are really awful."

"Oh," she said, "that's because I fully expect you to screw up."

I stopped for a second. Weren't leaders supposed to expect the best from people? Wouldn't high expectations yield better results?

"OK. Explain?"

"You're human, I'm human. We are going to do very stupid and very bad things. It's in our nature. If I got angry every time someone disappointed me, or hurt me, or broke the rules, I'd be angry all the time. So, instead, I just expect it, and am very unsurprised when it happens.

The flip side is, I get to be really, really excited when you do something right."

I thought about it, and she was right. It's why I could come to her and tell her that I was crying over a boy (again) and not see her roll her eyes or feel like she wasn't listening, or get the sense that, "We're having THIS talk again?" 

She was a one-woman "No Judgement Zone" and it's the reason she'd earned everyone's respect, why people couldn't wait to be her friend, why so much of her time was spent listening to people as they poured their hearts out to the one person they knew would never say, "I told you so."

We've lost contact since that summer, but I think of her every time the conversation turns to inspirational women. She wasn't a high-powered success, or someone who overcame incredible odds...she was just a woman who understood that sometimes in life, when it comes to changing ourselves and our community, all we need is someone to listen, nod and say, "You're screwed up, I'm screwed up, but we're gonna be okay."

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The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio is excited to welcome special guest Whoopi Goldberg to Nationwide Arena on Friday, June 29th for Keyholder 2012. The Women’s Fund’s annual Keyholder event is a preeminent gathering in the central Ohio area, attracting thousands of people to honor the women and girls who have made a significant impact in their lives. Tickets are on sale now for $50 each and all proceeds are used to provide grants that promise social change for women and girls. Call 614-225-9926 to purchase tickets or stop by http://womensfundcentralohio.org for more information. Connect with The Women’s Fund on Facebook and Twitter (@WomensFundCO).  

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