On a Clear Day You Can See Yourself: Turning the Life You Have Into the Life You Want
By Guy Kettelhack
This is a book about making choices.
Maybe that doesn't sound like a new idea. Certainly a book directed to women about making choices may seem to cover familiar territory. We've heard from feminists for nearly thirty years now that we have the right to choose exactly how to live our lives, to get out from under the feminine yoke that centuries of male-dominated culture have thrust upon us.
So why do we need a book on choice now?
We certainly aren't where - or who - we used to be. As a recent cover article in Time magazine, "Women Face the '90s," proclaimed, "a vast majority (of women today] revels in the breakthroughs made during the past quarter-century: the explosion of roles for women, their far greater participation in the country's political and intellectual life, the many options that have come to replace their confinement to homemaking." Not all of women's struggles in the past three decades have been in vain. Women have a voice and a presence in today's world that we never had before.
And yet the issue of making our own choices has never been greater than it is today. Perhaps a lot of women (and men, for that matter) have gone into retreat for the very reason that so many old assumptions about us have been dislodged - or at least given a jolt so that we're starting to question them. Told that we can be whoever we want to be, a lot of women feel stymied, even terrified, and stuck in their tracks. Exhorted to make a journey of self-discovery, many women are simply baffled. What exactly does that mean? How do you make that kind of journey? And will it make you happy? "Self-discovery" and "making choices" sound fine on the face of it. But nobody has really told us, in ways we can clearly understand and implement, how to become what we dream of becoming: satisfied, fulfilled, at peace with who we are.
It's clear to me as a clinical psychologist, television talk-show host, and frequent lecturer to thousands of women across the country that women still aren't happy, despite the undeniable gains we've made. There is an ache for fulfillment that seems, if anything, to have intensified in the twenty-seven years since Betty Friedan woke us up to the sexist ties that bound us in The Feminine Mystique. This ache is often hidden beneath fear - a fear that actually changing your life to make it what you want it to be is more than you can really handle. I know this fear because I've felt it - and overcome it. I know what the struggle toward self-realization feels like because I grapple with it every day of my life. As a close observer of our culture for the past three decades, I've seen, listened to, and tried to help thousands of women who are facing the same struggle toward self-realization. And I've written about it.
In Men Are first Desserts, I asked women to see themselves as the "main course" in their own lives, to see that they, not the men they loved, must direct their own lives. In Smart Cookies Don't Crumble, I wanted women to see that while life presents any number of obstacles and setbacks, they can be negotiated, and women need to learn to negotiate them if they are to move ahead. In A Hero Is More than fust a Sandwich, I talked about the fact that love is an acquired taste, that other people define love for us and that, often, our early experiences, even those that were abusive, may be misinterpreted by us as love since they're all we ever knew. It was a plea to women to examine carefully the contents of love and not just the label; to define love for themselves instead of accepting someone else's definition, so that they would feel cherished and respected when they heard the words "I love you."
In many ways, On a Clear Day You Can See Yourself is the culmination of these preceding books. What we need now, more than ever, is clarity about ourselves and who we can be. We need, once and for all, to extricate ourselves from the myths so many women still cling to out of habit or fear or ignorance, myths that keep us "girls" and prevent us from becoming as fulfilled and satisfied as we deserve to be. Learning, truly, to see yourself is the crucial first step to building any kind of fulfilling life. While my message has always been that we need to discover our own inner direction before we can live satisfying lives, it's now time to apply that message more broadly to what it means to become a woman - what it means, really, to grow up.
The child in us sometimes gets disgruntled at the thought of growing up: isn't becoming adult a pretty grim business? Who wants the responsibility of being a grownup? Who wants to go through life with furrowed brow, worrying about bills, taking care of other people, holding down a job, becoming self-supporting, saving money, showing up on time, making adult decisions? For any number of reasons - many of which we'll explore in this book - women are peculiarly resistant to the idea of taking responsibility for themselves in a way they imagine to be grown up. Centuries of conditioning tell us that, really, our goal is to be taken care of. Taking full responsibility for yourself may deeply strike you not only as grim, for many women it can seem vaguely unnatural.
It's no wonder growing up has proved so elusive to the thousands of women I've heard express their ache to me. They've been saddled by somebody else's idea of what growing up means. It's never occurred to them to create their own definition. Not that there aren't some universal that separate woman from girl; as you will see, there are a number of hard facts that we have to face if we're to make that passage to true adulthood. But the goal isn't to turn into some stern, gray, burdened grown-up. The goal is to become as full and unique a human being as you can, to discover and then live up to your own unique potential as a woman.
Growing up is something we all desperately need to do. Why? Because you can't be happy until you've grown up. You can't have a chance of lasting satisfaction in your life until you accept responsibility for your own life as completely as possible - which is my definition of growing up.
Betty Friedan helped to identify the bafflement and ache felt by so many women today in her 1981 book The Second Stage, which made it clear that women were ready for something deeper than, and different from, the feminism that ensued after The Feminine Mystique. Friedan asked in The Second Stage that feminists go beyond sexual politics, which saw men as the enemy, and embrace all the options open to us, including motherhood and homemaking. Some feminists saw this as backtracking; others interpreted her message to mean that we should try to have it all (although most of us who did try have given up in exhaustion).
In fact, Friedan's message is only now becoming clear, ten years later, and it's different from either of the above interpretations. She is inviting us to be who we want to be, and if that includes, or is even limited to, motherhood or the boardroom, fine. The point is to allow us to follow whatever path we wish to follow, not to knuckle under to whatever the prevailing politically correct pressure happens to be. The Second Stage asks that women look to achieve balance in our lives, to celebrate our nurturing traits as well as our assertive ones. This new feminism doesn't require women to become men; it allows us to be women in a fuller, wider, and more permissive sense than we've known before.
What a lovely idea this balance is! But how, exactly, do we go about achieving it?
That's what On a Clear Day You Can See Yourself will tell you.
Too many of us grow old before we grow up. I've learned in my own life, and from the experience of thousands of women, that our happiness depends on how well we grow up. But what exactly is growing up? How do you do it?
The first step is to develop as much clarity about yourself as you can. This doesn't only mean taking stock of your particular circumstances right now (although that is important); it means looking at some of your hidden assumptions that may be keeping you on a lifetrack you don't really want to be following. What we'll examine in the first chapter is the most damaging assumption women commonly make about themselves, what I call the Feminine Mistake: thinking - believing - that direction and fulfillment come from outside yourself. This is how we've seen and stymied ourselves for decades, no matter what prevailing message we were told to espouse. But gaining an appreciation for the power and pervasiveness of that mistake is only the beginning. It sets us up for a number of other hard truths, which we'll examine in the second chapter of this book.
Those hard truths, a woman's Facts of Life, will explode many of the myths our Feminine Mistake has encouraged us to believe: Myths about how and where to find happiness, love, fulfillment. Myths that have led to all the misery women have known in their lives, all the misery that continues to plague us today. And we'll start, right away, to see how to begin to free ourselves from these myths, awakening to what are sometimes very subtle restraints that have needlessly held us back. The Facts of Life may surprise you, but they'll set the path for the rest of our journey - a journey that should prove to your own satisfaction that these are indeed facts.
The next leg of that journey will help you to apply the principles of self-reliance you'll be learning to the sometimes terrifying prospect of making actual changes in your life. How do you decide exactly what changes to make? What changes have the best chance of fulfilling you? Chapter 3, with its Four Rs of positive action, will start you on your way.
We'll then explore some specific ways to develop the inner strength you need to sustain positive changes once you start to make them. Growing up means a new kind of getting tough: developing the pragmatism and discipline to face life on its own terms is essential to making changes in your life that will last. In chapter 4 you'll learn some "emotional fitness" exercises to help you do exactly that.