I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows. If I fail, if I succeed – at least I’ll live as I believe. No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all is happening to me. I found the greatest love of all inside of me. The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. – (Greatest Love of All)
Michael Masser and Linda Creed wrote the music and lyrics in 1977 with the most famous version of it recorded by Whitney Houston in 1985. I listen to it often . . . usually while starting my evening run. It has a good beat. Houston has a good voice. And the song . . . has a great meaning.
I grew up in the 1970s, graduating from high school and college during that decade. And that decade included the end of the Vietnam War, Kent State, Apollo 13, Watergate, Mark Spitz, Love Story, Soul Train, the skateboard, and hot pants. That time period was a strange mixture of longing for the simplicity of the past while yearning for what might be great changes in the future. It was also a mere fifty years since the United States granted women of the United States the right to vote.
During the 1970s, women weren’t exactly encouraged to pursue their dreams. It was certainly legal to go to college, bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan. But . . . it wasn’t readily accepted as a way of life. Change was still far off on the horizon. We, as women, could see it, but it was distant, and fuzzy, and always just a bit out of arms reach. But we, collectively, and I, individually, moved on, just putting one foot in front of the other, day by day, week by week, year by year. Nothing was perfect, but it wasn’t chopped liver either.
What became clear to me early on . . . is that I had to believe in myself – believe that I could succeed, believe that I would be okay if I tried and failed, believe that I, alone, and no one else had control of my destiny. That’s not to say that I stood by myself 100% of the time, but it had to start with me. It had to start somewhere deep inside my world and gain momentum along the way.
The only way folks like Sandra Day O’Connor, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and my very own mother achieved the greatest they achieved – as I can unwind it – was, first, loving themselves. Not selfishly. Not thoughtlessly. Not inconsiderately. But supportively, sensibly, and courageously. They seemed to know how to lead themselves before gaining the skills used to lead others.
Via Houston’s voice, Masser and Creed tell us – regardless of gender – “never to walk in anyone’s shadow.” They are certainly not the first folks to tell us so, but they do so in a simple, direct way. And, in the previous stanza, they tell us to let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.
My six-year-old grandson is carefree, confident, happy, inquisitive, and has absolutely no fear of failure. In fact, in his eyes, there is no such thing as failure – only unusual successes. He definitely isn’t walking in anyone else’s shadow. I am not even sure he has the ability to do so. He certainly doesn’t have the desire. He loves himself for himself. Children are models in that regard, our inspiration.
Though I have slowed down a bit with this activity, throughout my own children’s college years, I would routinely email the lyrics to songs like The Greatest Love of All to my sons and daughter, usually on what I called Motivation Mondays. With each email, I would remind them of their own personal greatness and implore them to consider their talents in order to make a difference in their world, in my world, in the world. My purpose behind Motivation Mondays wasn’t to stroke ego or make sure that all 18-22 year olds related to me were attending college classes as scheduled; rather, it was to nurture the ability within them, within all humans to love ourselves in the best way possible.
For me, I hope and pray that the struggles of the 1970s are nearing the end, and that the solutions to today’s struggles are easier to reach. I hope and pray that my own children have the Greatest Love of All, and that they recognize that it is being modeled for them every day, in every way, by the gentle giant of a six-year-old who is a fearless soul at this point. And finally, I hope and pray that I continue to forge my own path, my own destiny, never walking in anyone else’s shadow.
It’s a story that hasn’t been finished.