When I heard that Gloria Steinem is celebrating her 80th birthday this week, I couldn’t believe it.
About twenty years ago, I was a college student and Gloria Steinem was my hero. You see, I was a feminist – a real feminist – not your everyday, run of the mill, bumper sticker feminist. (Although, my Chevy Cavalier did display a bumper sticker that read, “Keep Your Laws Off My Body.”)
I honed my feminist skills during a hot, adventurous summer, when I interned at the N.O.W. headquarters in Washington D.C. I also picked up some N.O.W. bonus points when I’d agree to travel more than three hours in any direction just to get a glimpse of Gloria Steinem at a book signing or speaking engagement.
Gloria Steinem seemed to have it all figured out. She owned her beauty and her intelligence, a power not yet mastered by many women I knew at the time. Her undercover stint as a Playboy bunny was bold and brash. And her life as a writer and activist was one of her own creation.
I saw the world through her tinted, aviator glasses.
Steinem was interviewed recently by The New York Times about her upcoming birthday. When asked how she planned to celebrate she replied, “First, get out of Dodge. Second, ride elephants.” Turns out that Steinem is as vibrant as ever and headed to Africa.
At 80, Steinem isn’t overly nostalgic about the past. She recalls former lovers with a tender nonchalance, and she doesn’t keep a bucket list of places she must see.
When asked if she had any regrets, Steinem said, “Well, it’s not so much what I would have done differently, it’s that I would have done it much faster.”
Not that long ago it seems, I was drinking cheap beer and sharing my dreams with the other N.O.W. interns. I wanted to write books and travel to Africa. I was drunk, not on beer, but on the promise of my own possibility.
It’s been two decades since my last feminist happy hour in D.C. and guess what? I haven’t been to Africa and I haven’t written a book. I don’t even drink beer anymore. What happened to all that possibility? Did I trade it all in along with my rusted Chevy Cavalier for something that seemed newer and shinier?
No. I just filed it all away under the tab “as soon as.”
I’ll write my book and go to Africa…
as soon as…I graduate from law school…
as soon as…I get a raise…
as soon as…my life calms down…
as soon as I turn thirty…
as soon as…as soon as…as soon as…
It is fair to say that money, children, lovers, and death can change the course of our lives more times than we can count. As a result, we may not have carried out the plans of our drunken youth in the timeline that we would have wanted, and there’s no shame in that.
But if you’re sitting on your dreams, waiting for the perfect “as soon as” moment to pursue them, I’m here to tell you I wish, like Gloria Steinem, I would have done life faster. I could have been to Africa five times by now and been a prolific writer. (Hello, Hemingway!)
What could you have accomplished if you did life faster or pursued your dreams sooner?
It’s your choice. Do life fast or do life slow. But whatever you do, ride more elephants, if for no other reason than Gloria Steinem does it, so there’s got to be some magic in it.
P.S. Happy birthday, MS. Steinem.