She was funny, vibrant, fearless, beautiful, and confident, always up for anything, and always getting into mischief too. She had a BFF that she trusted with her life, a dashing Latin husband who, although sometimes got frustrated with her antics, loved her for just being her, and a fab rent-controlled apartment on East 68th in NYC. Who is she? Our beloved and favorite red head, Lucy, of course.
The on-screen persona of Lucille Ball, who this month would have celebrated her 100th year birthday. Lucy, so vulnerable, lovable and filled with imperfection that we could not help but watch and adore her. Marlo Thomas (another fav on mine, think back, “Free to be you and Me”) wrote in the Huffington Post last week that “whether she was plucking chocolates off a conveyor belt and stuffing them in her mouth, or vigorously stomping in a vat of grapes, or lighting a putty nose on fire — while it was attached to her face — Lucy's mission was always the same: to see the laugh all the way through.
In sharp contrast to her goofy and very imperfect onscreen persona off screen (when not playing Lucy), Lucille Ball was know as tough and the ultimate professional and perfectionist. She had 13 Emmy nominations and 4 wins to her name and was the first woman to run a TV Production Company, which she started with husband Desi Arnaz and then took over after they divorced (divorce at that time was also cutting edge). She was also the first woman to be pregnant on TV and to give birth on TV (of course they couldn’t use the word pregnant at the time, "with child").
Plenty has been written this month on her career and the trail she blazed for women comedians to come, Tina Fey, Ellen Degeneres, Rosanne Barr and Joy Behar to name a few. So I won’t try and compete with the biographers, but will say that she was an incredibly shrewd “business woman” at a time when women did not have that kind of power in Hollywood. She was also an expert in her craft of comedy. Her performances were written, staged, and practiced to perfection. She was described as an Olympic gymnast, who practices tirelessly, executes to perfection and always lands on her feet. No question, her business acumen, her skills and her leadership should be a model for so many women today beyond just the comedians.
However, my interest is never just in the obvious. While reading about her life in the past week I thought about something and would like to pose the question to all of you:
Could Lucille Ball have been “less perfect” in real life and shown her flaws more like her character Lucy and still been as “successful”? What about the rest of us? If we embraced our flaws (or at least shake hands) would/could that make us happier? And maybe in turn more successful?
I thought about myself. Truthfully, only later in my life (post 20’s and 30’s) have I become comfortable showing my flaws (Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t fooling anyone but myself). But now I hang them out to dry for all to see. I try and laugh at myself or with my husband and kids, as is often the case.
Spending so many years covering them up, trying to fix them, hide them from employers and relationships for fear that I would be “found out”, was just too exhausting. And as I look back, had I been more comfortable in my own skin, I would probably have been a lot happier and felt more successful about what I was accomplishing at the time. At minimum, I would have laughed a hell of a lot more.
Brene Brown, author of "The Gifts of Imperfection" (Hazelden) and blogger on courage agrees. A research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, she has spent 10 years studying vulnerability, shame, authenticity and courage. She passionately believes that we all should try to embrace both life and oneself with all of our imperfections. That this would release incredible stress associated with overdoing, overworking and pretending.
Brown shares ten guideposts on the power of what she coins “Wholehearted living”—a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. In her ten guideposts, she explores how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, "No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough," and to go to bed at night thinking, "Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave."
I am not sure this would have worked for Lucille Ball. The time and era was not right for it. Women still had too much to prove. Probably would have been happier though if she could have combined the best of Lucille and Lucy. But thankfully women today have more options. There is open dialogue about our challenges, our choices and our character.
And maybe the answer and the learning taht we take from women like Brene Brown and Lucille Ball is that you can’t show your imperfections to the world until you feel the rest of you is good enough (or worthy). That all of you, the good and the not so good, mixed together, (often in one sloppy mess like the infamous grape stomping scene) is worthy of being loved. And always always always see the humor and take the laugh.
What do you think? Do you laugh at yourself? Are you honest about your flaws? Run from them? Or still think you don’t have any ?
As a tribute to Lucy as she turned 100, lets all embrace our “inner Lucy” and show her to the world because hey, everyone loved Lucy. I sure did.