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You are Too Tough for Your Own Good

The advice I'd give my younger self

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A Young Tough Cookie 

Preschool through high school, I was a tough little cookie.  Classmates and friends never saw me cry or show frustration. Always resilient and captivated by learning, I got the best grades in the class.   I was a nerdy little girl who loved math, science, and the arts and often had my head in a book.  Yet I was not a loner. I got along with everyone and though hardly a prom queen type, I was voted both prom and homecoming queen.  Honors that I look back on with a tinge of embarrassment.   All my friends were casual, and I didn’t let my guard down with any of them.  

Being studious, tough and resilient served me well through college and my career.  I graduated with honors, rapidly rose to be an SVP of HR at American Express and founded a successful strategic HR consulting and leadership consulting business.   

Besides work friends I was very active in the Human Resource Planning Society where I made many new friends.  They told me they admired my creativity and strategic mind.  But they also had my number when it came to being tough.  One person commented, “Jeannie is so stoic that if her leg was frozen to the pump, she would cut it off herself.” I laughed at the funny mix of mid-west myths about body parts being frozen to pumps—it’s normally tongues! But I didn’t fully appreciate what the feedback was telling me. 

A Late Stage Breakthrough 

In later life, I was dealt some cards that shook me to the core: the death of my husband after 41 years of marriage followed by the death of a 7-year companion. I endured these events, tough as ever. I had let my guard down and showed vulnerability with my mates but I still did not with my friends.  

Ever hopeful, I married David three years ago.  After two years of marriage, David and I decided to sell our house in Portland and move to Central Oregon. Then he had five serious operations in a row and the house sale was a nightmare. 

That did it.  At dinner, with a group of close business friends, I finally broke through my tough exterior and my emotions spilled out. My normal composure was shattered.  It felt liberating. I basked in the outpouring of loving support. It was very clear that my friends thought no worse of me for letting my guard down.  

My advice to my younger self:   

Develop close relationships with friends during your entire life where you can let out your doubts and lay bare your vulnerabilities.   You can still be tough when it serves you well.  But be very tender with yourself in the company of good friends.  

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