By Jill H. Lawrence
Sandra Ford Walston is the personification of courage. You can hear courage in the fervor of her voice, you can see the courageous determination in her eyes, and most of all, you can feel the courage of her heart. She’s the real deal.
Does this mean that she’s some kind of mythic heroine who has slain dragons, conquered mountains, and saved villages from plague? She would be the first to say, “Absolutely not! I am truly ‘everywoman,’ not the exceptional woman!” Which is her point exactly.
Whether she is inspiring audiences with a keynote speech, teaching a business seminar at a stellar university, authoring one of her many articles, conducting one of her fifty plus interpersonal-skills training programs, or autographing her book: COURAGE-The Heart and Spirit of EveryWoman/Reclaiming the Forgotten Virtue, her authenticity and passionate message come through loud and clear.
Her message has welled up from within her since she was a little girl and her mission has long been clear: she’s come to the planet to unearth and cultivate her own courage and to help other women develop and own theirs as well.
Few women are celebrated for their courage
Sandra is well aware that every human must call on courage many times throughout a typical lifetime. She points out that some historically well-known people are known for their courage—people who have made public contributions such as George Washington, Martin Luther King and other leaders and military heroes. Some, like Christopher Reeves, are hailed for personal courage. “My personal research has revealed that most of these famous ‘heroes’ are men, not women. Why? Probably because women have been socialized to believe that courage is simply not meant to be part of the feminine nature,” Walston explains.
Walston says it’s been commonplace for women not to own courage, not to see their own need for it nor their own demonstration of it. “Not surprisingly, my research and personal experience revealed that women who do own courage are much better equipped to deal with everyday life than those who do not,” she emphasizes.
Walston was indignant early on regarding gender inequities
“In junior high and high school, I’d just get mad about how women were viewed,” she recalls. “I declared someday I am going to write a book about this! I was indignant about how women were treated and the double standard that thrived. I always defied the current ‘beliefs’ and said to myself that they were a bunch of garbage!”
Women and courage were words that rarely occurred in the same sentence when Walston was growing up. Instead, women were considered to be the “weaker sex,” the inferior gender. Only men were labeled courageous and yet a deep conviction inside Walston told her the truth was different.
But before she was to share this revelation of courage with everyday women in the world, she had to live it. This, of course, is why her eyes flash so passionately and her words are so inspired-she’s been there, done that in spades!
Unmarried and pregnant, a woman’s eternal crisis
Contempt for illegitimate births has been around since ancient times. In more contemporary times, as recently as the 1920s, pregnant women were forced to marry their rapist; so unthinkable was it to be an unwed mother. Thinking progressed in some small degree over the following decades, but the social stigma to be an unmarried pregnant woman still prevailed in the late sixties.
Nonetheless, this is precisely the state in which Walston found herself—in college and pregnant by a boyfriend she knew she could not marry. “I was a Catholic, unmarried and pregnant at age twenty,” she remembers. She suffered the pregnancy in silence—often stumbling to class in a nauseated haze as she vomited into gutters on her way. She hid in shame from her hometown friends and tried in vain to become invisible.
Not only was she pregnant, alone and subject to societal vilification, like other women, she was treated to movie dramas that, showed childbirth as truly torturous, often resulting in death. “I went to confession thinking that when I delivered my baby, I might very well die. The priest heard me crying in the confessional and declared, ‘God has forgiven you, but you have not forgiven yourself.’ It was a very profound moment,” Walston assures.
This nonjudgmental priest helped Walston tap into her courageous nature and go forward. In the aftermath of this intense experience, Walston composed herself and chose to give her son to a family that she authorized. She felt very strongly that he would have a much better life if Catholic parents (who had already adopted one other child prior to her son) raised him. “I felt that otherwise we would be two kids leaving the hospital,” Walston remarks.
Not surprisingly, Walston’s book is dedicated to her son: “Dedicated to David. Always loved, never forgotten.” And she talks about her experience now publicly, using it as an example of courage—courage that is present in every woman.
Using courage as an ally
Over the course of Walston’s life, courage has been brought front and center time and time again, “just as it does for all women,” she reminds. She has demonstrated tremendous resilience and the ability to courageously reinvent herself a number of times. She taught gifted students she lovingly referred to as “Walston’s Weirdoes.” “We were known as such because we did so many innovative, creative things,” remembers the educational maverick.
Later she moved to Los Angeles with very limited funds and began a career in real estate. “Why not Beverly Hills?” she said more as a statement than a question. Courageously, she entered a new career in a new city and did remarkably well. But when the prime rate hit twenty-three percent, she opted not to weather the economic cycle. Instead she made another radical change and went into banking.
Courage was the catalyst
As Walston applied her courage and savvy to a new industry, she quickly worked her way up to Vice President of Private Banking. Her success in this third arena triggered people to ask, “How do you do that?” These quandaries, typically posed by women, triggered the advent of her fourth career as a speaker and seminar leader.
“Their questions were the catalyst for some self-examination. I began to see how the key ingredient in my life has always been my courage. In this case, it was the courage to reinvent myself,” Walston notes.
Along the way, Walston’s courage was harvested to keep her going in the face of both career challenges and more personal challenges as well. She moved to Colorado with her fiancé, leaving friends, career and family behind, and the condominium she loved, only to find herself unceremoniously dumped five months later. “I had no friends, no family and only knew my way within a tiny radius from where I was. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I can usually make lemonade out of water.” It was from this experience that a defining moment arose: an insight came to her that she was to write a book about women and courage. “I had to reinvent myself one more time and pull from my reservoir of courage!” Walston emphasizes. She faced her fear and asked for help, almost holding her breath to see what would happen. “People helped me. People want to help people. People are good. I asked and it was given,” she happily reports.
The French “corage” says it all—heart and spirit
Walston has surveyed over 700 women for the purpose of learning their courageous stories. As a result, she is a cornucopia of true stories, including her own, that stand as testament to the fact that women are courageous.
Walston is most inspired by the French version of the word courage, corage. In her opinion, the French have said it best by defining corage as “heart and spirit.” She herself is brimming over with heart and spirit and so are the women with whom she comes in contact. Her passion is to help other everyday women see themselves as courage personified.
So, if you see more and more women with dazzling eyes, courageous hearts, and passionate spirits, you’ll know that women everywhere are getting the courage message and using it to be Queen of their own lives, thanks to Sandra Ford Walston.
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