“Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.” — Gandhi
This is the quote that was staring me in the face as I attempted to deadlift 90 pounds. It graces the wall of my gym, but was actually put there by a juice company that operates inside. A juice company. My trainer pushed me through my last exhausting set, at the end of an already grueling workout, after I had rushed to get my kids to school and was anticipating rushing out after so I could get to work just a little late instead of very late. My point: People, there could not have been a more apropos time for some “you go, girl!” inspo.
And yet all this quote did was make me want to heave that barbell right through the juice company’s frosted glass window.
I didn’t immediately understand why this made me red-face-emoji mad, but it definitely had to do with the fact that by the time I read that quote, despite that it was only nine in the morning, I had already been bombarded with plenty of “inspiration” that day. There were memes on my Instagram and Facebook feeds; a “dance like nobody’s watching” in an email signature; and there was something about how “moms rule” on a coffee mug.
But my favorite from that morning:
“Successful mothers are not the ones that have never struggled.
They are the ones that never give up, despite the struggles.” — Sharon Jaynes
I know who Gandhi is, but Sharon Jaynes? Never heard of her, so I GTS. Turns out she’s an inspirational speaker, lover of scripture, and prolific author. One of her books is titled “Becoming the Woman of His Dreams.” (Which was written in 2005, not 1955, in case you were wondering.)
Which is when it strikes me: It’s the bastardization of these quotes that was at the root of my irritation. Things that important people say at important moments can be powerful. Monumental, even. The quotes that deserve a place in our culture’s narrative have the ability affect people’s lives and change the course of history. It’s why presidents use them (or try to coin them) in State of the Union addresses; why olympic athletes hold them as sacred mantras; why mothers instill them in their children. But do you even know who said that quote you just pinned up on your board? Do you care? Was it Churchill or Toni Morrison? Maybe it was just your neighbor’s yoga teacher when she was having a bad hair day. Maybe, like in the case of Sharon Jaynes above, you don’t even agree with what this person stands for. In this way, I don’t see how it can resonate. How it can mean anything.
Really, my issue here is all about context. These statements, when posted in some flash-in-the-pan way on social media, come off as shallow drivel that clogs up everyone’s feeds. This is surely something that Ivanka Trump is now considering. Her new book, “Women Who Work” is filled with said inspirational quotes from truly inspirational people like Maya Angelou and Jane Goodall. And a whole lot of critics are giving her the side-eye because of it. Jennifer Senior, in a review for The New York Times, calls the book “a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes” noting that “a quote from Nelson Mandela introduces the section that encourages women to ask for flextime: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’” Ha! What’s more: Trump’s book starts off by saying that our culture isn’t able to have real talk about the challenges that working mothers face. And this is where I want to reach for that barbell again. Is she really suggesting that the solution is tossing out a compendium of empty, hodgepodge quotes taken totally out of context? Furthering the conversation, in any real way, it is not.
I also have to wonder what this says about the poster of said memes. If you are publishing these quotes because you’re having a bad day and need the grounding reminder, I get that. I put up a post-in on my fridge reminding me to pick the fruit instead of the chocolate cake, too. But maybe you’d find real solace in some self-reflection rather than public broadcasting. Or, if you are instead posting because you’ve figured out something about life that the rest of us haven’t, well, congrats on your enlightenment. For me, this falls right into the bucket of Bad Mom-Friend Behavior: Empathize with me, sure, but don’t assume or imply you know better, even if that quote you posted is something about how the struggle is real. (Please, let me wallow in my struggle. I don’t need to be reminded that everything will be okay. If there’s anything moms know, it’s how to endure. But out of pain comes growth, so let me live with my pain for a little. It’s actually good for me.)
At very least, all these quotes plastered everywhere from Insta to your trainer’s t-shirt to the chalkboard outside your coffee shop have become so ubiquitous that they’ve become vapid and lost their impact. The Sheryl Sandberg book might have held real meaning, read in full. That single sentence lifted from page 79? Not so much. They no longer mean anything to me — maybe one a year sticks. Maybe. That is, unless, they make me laugh. Because you know what we do all need more of? Laughter. So, I’ll leave you with this quote, which is definitely worthy of a repost:
“Am I a Perfect Mom? No.
Am I trying my best to be a perfect mom? Also no.” — Scary Mommy