I was recently asked this question after a talk I gave for a group of Girl Scouts who were visiting Eastern Massachusetts, including Salem. Several years ago I created the Salem Women’s Heritage Trail, so I was asked to highlight some of the women on the trail for our smart and enthusiastic young visitors. I told them about Salem authors, publishers, teachers, philanthropists, reformers (abolitionists, suffragists), artists, founders of social service organizations… it’s a long and impressive list.
And then, Q & A.
“Do I have to have money to make a difference?” one girl asked.
I realized I had not made the point that, NO, YOU DON’T!
In fact, I replied, it’s the women who did NOT have a lot of money whose stories I find particularly compelling and inspiring. How did they achieve what they did against obstacles we can’t even imagine today? What were their strategies and tactics? What was their background? What motivated them? How did they come to believe in themselves?
Answers to these questions are what I have attempted to provide in my talks and Unitarian Universalist sermons over the years, because history is a living energy. We can draw on women’s wisdom from the ages to enlighten us today, especially when we find role models who faced some the same challenges we do-including not having a lot of money.
In Massachusetts women’s history alone I think about Phillis Wheatley, who was kidnapped from Africa as a little girl, brought to Boston where she was “sold” to the Wheatley family, and eventually became the first published African American poet.
Louisa May Alcott comes to mind as well, whose father was notoriously unable to make money. Through her pen and her imagination, Louisa became the most successful and famous woman writer of her day-and she supported her family! And she always insisted that women be paid what men are paid.
I remember Margaret Fuller, who spent about a year and a half living with friends and relatives as she could not afford her own home. She became the first woman literary editor of a national newspaper; an unparalleled reporter in the United States in Europe; the first female foreign correspondent (in Italy); and the author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, a landmark book in the history of women’s rights.
And so, you do NOT have to have a lot of money to make a difference. What you DO have to have is a rock-solid belief in your abilities, wherever that comes from; a strong support system (which means ditching the people who do not support you); and the ability to spot or create opportunities and go after them-and to keep going!
Having said all of this, you do need money. You need money to survive and thrive, and you DESERVE to have money. As one of my coaches always says, “You can’t be of service to anyone if you’re broke and homeless.”
She’s right, and since being of service is our highest calling in life we really need to think about this truism-and to be of service to ourselves first!
Money is also a lubricant. It helps you get things done, including publishing your own book or investing in your own business!
We were all raised with the lingering Puritan notion that money is bad-that money is the “root of all evil.” This is a lie, and it’s one way that people, especially women, are kept down. Instead of focusing on the LACK of what you have, focus on what you DO have. You DO have your talents and your reason for being here. With the right support system-people, faith, whatever you need-the money will come because you deserve to be rewarded for using your gifts! And you will use it to help others.
I always learn something from my audiences, and I will keep this Girl Scout’s question in mind for future talks.
I did not have the chance to find out her name, but whoever you are, thank you for the question and keep them coming!