At the recommendation of my sister, I recently read Diane von Furstenberg’s latest book, The Woman I Wanted to Be. Mixed feelings is the best way to describe how I felt from start to finish. Often times while reading, I felt uncomfortable about her honesty, pride, failure, success, privilege and passion. At the same time, I can’t deny that I also felt inspired and motivated to be a better, more ambitious version of myself going forward. This book gave me pause to think about the woman I want to be – decidedly NOT Diane, but certainly more Elise.
Throughout the book, Diane von Furstenberg is very raw and honest about the bad and good decisions she’s made. She’s also quite frank about the ways she’s let a man change who she was at various points in her life. She’s proud of herself and doesn’t hold back explaining the lavish life she’s led. This all made me angry and embarrassed on her behalf – how dare she admit she made business decisions based on her current lover? Or that she’s been a jet-setting, fabulous socialite since her late teens, falling into opportunity upon opportunity? I had to call myself out for my judgments and prejudices I was casting upon her. And I had to ask why it was bothering me so much.
Perhaps it was because while the majority of the book was pure entertainment and vicarious living for me, I found the most valuable and least ostentatious part of her story was on the very first page. The words in her introduction spoke most to me at this juncture in my life:
“I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be my own person, independent and free. I knew that freedom could only be achieved if I took full responsibility for myself and my actions…if I became my very best friend.
“…Landscapes change, people come in and out, obstacles appear and disrupt the planned itinerary, but one thing you know for sure is that you will always have yourself.”
Perhaps the concept of being your own best friend is not new to you, but to me – the queen of being my own worst enemy and critic – this is a novel idea that I think just might save my life.
I recently resigned from my job and in several weeks will be moving on to something and somewhere else. I don’t know to where or to what yet, but the time is right to make a change. I’ve been in identity-crisis-career-tumult-mode for months and months now; plagued by not trusting myself to figure out the next steps and feeling like the rest of my working life hung in the balance. I’ve been sitting around waiting for others to help me make the biggest decision of my entire life – what job I’ll take at 33. I’ve managed to ask every best friend on this earth I have what I should do next except for my new best friend according to DVF – myself.
So I went in my head and asked best-friend-Elise to counsel real-Elise. It’s been uncomfortable, weird and hard to have this inner-dialogue, but here’s what I’m working on each day:
- Trusting my gut when certain opportunities don’t feel right, even though they look good on paper. I do in fact know what is not right for me.
- Admitting that what I do next is NOT the biggest decision of my life but it will inevitably lead to the rest of my life. That’s simply a fact! There will be many more things I’ll have to decide that will be important, each leading to something else. No one choice needs to be the end all be all. Putting that much pressure on it is simply a fear-crutch to keep me from moving forward. Oy.
- I hope my next role will be my dream-job, but it might not – and that’s not settling for just anything that pays the bills; that’s coming to terms with the uncertainty that I won’t fully find out until I get there.
- I am not desperate, and I am capable. I have expertise in Talent Management and Business Operations, and those are marketable skills that employers will find valuable. There is no need to over-sell myself. And this old dog can absolutely learn new tricks if need be.
- Balancing my positive self-talk with humility. One must be confident, but she must also be genuinely humble. Diane’s humility came across as disingenuous to me, so this is the one Elise-to-Elise-conversation I keep revisiting the most after reading the book.
In all fairness, DVF does end the book in a way that satisfied me and encouraged me to forgive what I found to be masked boastfulness but what she intends to be candor.
“I don’t know if I have reached wisdom, but hopefully my experiences, told with all the honesty and candor I could find in my heart and in my memory, will inspire others to take their lives in their hands, be their best friends, and go for it fearlessly.”
Should you read this book? Eh. I can’t recommend it heartily, but at the same time maybe I can. Any woman who can both inspire me to change my thinking so profoundly AND introduce me to my new best friend is worthy of my (and your) support and respect. Why not give it a read?
Oh, and when I do land my next role, I am absolutely buying myself one of her iconic wrap dresses to celebrate. They symbolize ‘effortless, sexy and on-the-go.’ Now those are the qualities of a woman I want to be.
P.S. To purchase the book, you can click here.
P.P.S. Yes, I absolutely put on my DVF green platform ankle-strap pumps to read the DVF book in the pic above. Why not?!