Wandering with Jean Shinoda Bolen, Charlie Warzel and Edith Wharton
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
As I read through Crones Don’t Whine by Jean Shinoda Bolen, I found myself dismissing it as fluff. It seemed to be just a collection of nice ideas to make aging women feel good about themselves. (And God knows I appreciate that.) But I’m trying to put into practice the reading advice Edith Wharton received from her friend Egerton Winthrop:
“Read slowly, marking important parts in the margins with pencil. Re-read marked parts after finishing a chapter, and all back marked parts before beginning a new chapter…”
Upon re-reading the back marked parts of Crones Don't Whine, I discovered a wealth of insights, several of which are helpful in thinking about my constant quandary (amplified by my rapidly emptying nest) - what does meaningful work look like for me? If Charlie Warzel is right, this is a question lots of people are asking, especially after the pandemic turned the status quo on its head. Warzel writes,
“What the career skeptics are asking is a simple question: What if all that reasoning and endurance language is bullshit? What if, instead of working toward something for decades and barely tolerating the day-to-day process, we created a different value system around labor? What if we built our working lives around a concept other than endurance and submission?”
Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book shifts the perspective so that it’s less about the outer journey of the work we do in the world - this outer journey and its trappings being the corporate focus - and more about the inner effect our work has on us. Are we growing in wisdom? Are we making choices out of enthusiasm and truth and from the heart or out of fear and anxiety? At the end of a life, it’s not really about the forty years of shuffling papers or properly submitting TPS reports. This is why Sharon Blackie and Jean Shinoda Bolen and Bill Plotkin consider much of the western ideal of success a sham.
All of this corporation-bashing aside, I have met one woman who seemed incredibly fulfilled by her work in a humongous corporation. The constant opportunity to learn and problem-solve absolutely floated her boat. She seems to found for herself, within a corporate environment, a path with heart.
Bolen paraphrases Carlos Castenada, summing up the way to walk the heart’s path:
“There are many paths to choose from, and none of them go anywhere. Yet you must carefully choose which path you will take. If you choose a path with heart, it may be difficult, but there is joy along this path, and as you travel, you grow and become one with it. If you choose a path out of fear, anxiety travels with you, and no matter how much power, prestige and possessions you acquire, you will be diminished by it.”
The challenge to walking the path with heart is that there’s no big neon sign that says “THIS WAY FOREVER.” It requires constant checking in and making adjustments. As Brené Brown writes, “Joseph Cambell wrote, ‘If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
I recently asked myself what the characteristics of a worthy and beautiful life are to me. I came up with kindness, conversation, curiosity and color. I'm hoping that if I try to infuse my life with these things I will build a bridge to a future that I can't quite see. The challenge is that in building the bridge, I can't use all of the mainstays of my past or I'll just end up exactly where I've been. (It's helpful for me to realize that my progressed Moon is in the 12th house, so I'm letting go of the things that won't serve my next phase of life.) Discernment is required. But I also need some kind of tools to steady myself with. So
tool #1: list of characteristics of a beautiful, worthy life
tool #2: lots of reading (curiosity)
tool #3: finding role models (curiosity and conversation)
tool #4: following Edith Wharton's example by nurturing my secret self (which in my case could probably be summed up by a desire for kindness, conversation, curiosity and color)