When my son went to China and started a relationship with his (now) wife, he said the most difficult part of communication was not the language, it was sarcasm. It just didn’t translate well. This could have been a major problem, as our family is just a tad sarcastic (she says, illustrating her point…).  Fortunately, Jing is a brilliant woman…or at least she has learned to put up with our nonsense. 

I also learned that people who are coming out of surgery can’t do that translation either. My SO, who normally THRIVES on sarcasm, recently had surgery and was adorned with all sorts of wristbands to identify him and his needs/conditions. He is allergic to cashews and pistachios, so a hospital staff person wrote “Nuts” on the allergy alert wristband he was wearing. A few days after the surgery, once he was securely home, I noticed he was studying that band. I had to assure him that it was an allergy statement, not a judgement on his mental state. 

It’s easy to see how people new to a situation confuse a statement and miss its meaning. In the early 1960’s, Gloria Steinem and the others in the women’s liberation movement made the statement that women can do anything. Eager to embrace this new freedom, but unsure of how to do that, women en masse translated this to mean we MUST DO EVERYTHING. Madison Avenue came along to cement that belief with the creation of the “Superwoman”: a woman who not only can do everything, but does it by herself and does it perfectly. Enjoli perfume’s commercial at that time drove home the point that women could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you’re a man”. We embraced this new ideal and set off in pursuit of it.

Here’s where the translation failed us: The Superwoman ideal is a scam. It serves no one, except the advertisers.

I had, in my own life, wonderful examples of women who could do anything. I had a grandmother who worked outside the home, who was a creative genius and artisan and who would have had her own reality TV show today showcasing her ability to find an antique gem in a pile of junk. My mother was a stay-at-home housewife, who could sew anything, was active in the PTA and was instrumental in getting sex ed conversations into 5thgrade classrooms in our conservative town. They were active, engaged and busy women. And I learned to continue that trend.

When I was in my 20s, my mother gave me some advice: “You’re doing too much”. I thought this was rather ridiculous, coming from someone who was always on the go. Besides, as I explained to her, “I wasn’t like her” and I needed a lot of outside stimulation. 

My translation of “You’re doing too much” was taken as yet another attempt to control my life. Well, thank you very much, but I have this one. And I will show you – I will do EVERYTHING, do it by myself and do it perfectly. 

OK, she was right. 

Well, let’s say her intention was correct. But what would have been easier to swallow and much more beneficial would have been to say “Find your joy and make that central to your life. Everything else is secondary. Do what you want to do – but only if it is right for YOU, not because you think that is what others want of you. And ask for helpto get what you want. People want to see you succeed.”

Yes, we CAN do everything. But just because we can, must we? When you tap into what is truly yours, what brings you joy and utilizes your unique gifts, then life flows without the translation issues and struggles. And letting others help you only makes it that much smoother and more enjoyable.

Live your life in a way YOU understand – not lost in translation.