One of my favorite role models from history is Susan B. Anthony. She spent the majority of her life advocating for basic human rights and most especially for a woman’s right to vote. Even into her eighties, Ms. Anthony was leading a major suffragist effort. Clearly she had a strong vision for what was possible and embraced that vision as her primary mission in life.
Because history focuses on Ms. Anthony’s leadership role and contributions to the early suffragist movement, it is easy to lose sight of the person behind the story. As I read some of her journal entries, many of her speeches, her own views about history, and several books about her life, I gained some valuable insights about the vision Ms. Anthony embraced.
Susan B. Anthony didn’t need to seek a vision or purpose for her life. The seeds for her life work were planted very early. She grew up in a Quaker family where equality was valued. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and others were no strangers to the Anthony family.
As I read about Ms. Anthony’s life, I realized that the seeds of my own life work were also planted early. I was so busy seeking some “big purpose” that it took me several years to discover that I already had a unique purpose. I just needed to reflect on my life experiences and passions.
Ms. Anthony was clearly a very capable, determined individual who could have lived very comfortably throughout her life. Yet she chose to follow a purpose that was greater than herself alone. In spite of how discouraged she may have become at times, she knew what she was doing would benefit others long after she was gone.
To find a purpose beyond ourselves is a vision worth having. In spite of setbacks, nothing is more motivating than knowing that our lives matter because we are making a difference. For me, teaching has been part of my life vision. Even after I retire, I will continue to invest in others so that they will be more empowered.
No matter how capable Ms. Anthony was, Ms. Anthony was open to expanding her vision by working together with other like-minded individuals. It wasn’t until she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton that she began to see that women’s rights – especially the right to vote – were really human rights that she already embraced.
Being open to the ideas of others and finding like-minded individuals is something I’ve come to appreciate more in the last couple of years. Although my community of like-minded friends isn’t huge, those connections keep me grounded and moving forward.
Sometimes I find opportunities to collaborate such as when one of my friends and I developed a workshop together and co-presented a keynote on how others can live their best lives. This friend, an artist, sees things in ways that have helped me grow and recognize new possibilities.
In spite of how committed Ms. Anthony was, she took time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. She enjoyed returning to her family farm and spending time in the orchard and to engage in everyday activities that gave her pleasure. She enjoyed laughing with friends, and liked eating fruit and sipping on tea.
I have to remember to keep life in balance. Taking time to enjoy friends, to watch nesting doves, to hold my husband’s hand, to spend time with grandchildren, to cut fresh roses from my garden – these are the moments I truly treasure.
Sometimes Ms. Anthony had to adjust her expectations. At one point, she believed that the Constitution gave her the right to vote. After she did manage to vote, she was later arrested for voting without the legal right to do so. No doubt this could have been a devastating development for Susan B. Anthony and the cause for which she advocated. Instead, she figured out how to adjust and turned her arrest into a rallying call that furthered her cause.
I think visions are like living organisms that can both grow and adjust as needed. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I have a clear vision for tomorrow, but I also need to be flexible as to how that vision will be carried out.
Susan B. Anthony has been one of the more influential role models in my life. Sometimes I imagine “channeling her spirit” when I need inspiration to move forward.