In the vulnerable moments of our formative years, it’s all too easy to follow the safe, well-trodden road.
But, as time imparts an awareness that only experience can bring, we often find ourselves looking back and thinking, ‘If only I’d known...’
So when those who have gone before us offer up their own tried and tested wisdom, you’ll find us poised with pen and paper ready to learn – especially when that woman happens to be Hollywood powerhouse Laura Dern.
In an open letter to her 12-year-old daughter Jaya Harper, Dern shares an emotional take on what it means to be a woman today – “a woman in her own skin, in her power, without any labels placed on her.”
Writing for the September issue of InStyle magazine. she reflects on her childhood in the Seventies, when women were starting to push boundaries and move beyond the limitations of decades past. Dern explains that while her mother and her friends were the among the pioneers who wanted to do it all, they faced a society that expected them to fail.
As a result, she set her sights on success but decided that to really do it all, she couldn’t do it all at once. And she makes a point of telling her daughter she doesn’t have to think the same way.
“Continually striving not to fail was the burden I put on myself,” she writes.
“And I’m writing this to you because I want to make sure that you don’t limit yourself in the same ways.”
Explaining that she faced every phase of her life as an exclusive opportunity, Dern reveals that believing that she had to give each experience her undivided attention meant that she was constantly holding herself back.
“I’m going to be an actress, but I have to give it everything, so I probably won’t be able to also have a successful relationship,” she says she thought.
“I’m about to be a mother, so I’ll give up my acting.”
Dern illustrates the point with the very public example of Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential campaign – referencing the people who chose to tear her down as she dared to climb the political ladder, with comments such as “Oh, yeah, she’s brilliant, she’s presidential, but she’s cold, so she’s probably not a good wife and mother. She’s not compassionate.”
“Why?”, questions Dern.
“Because she’s brilliant?”
Keen to impress on her daughter that success in one arena does not mean failure in another, Dern notes: “It should never be the case that defining yourself as one thing lessens your ability to be everything else.
Moving on to her recent realisation that sometimes getting it wrong is part of the journey, Dern says: “Life is scary, and it’s glorious. You’re never going to get it all right. You’ll get it deliciously messed up, and that will be part of figuring out who you are.”
And while such sage advice is undeniably as applicable now as it was 40 years ago, the actress doesn’t fail to understand the ever-changing pressures that her daughter faces, addressing the impact that social media may have on her daughter – describing it as her “second mother”.
“This other mother is very influential, and she’s telling you that your value is determined by how many people follow you. She is also deciding what beauty looks like and which extravagances add up to a fun life.”
She continues to explain that while life seen through social media can be very black and white, in reality most happens in the grey – and those are the moments that we need to embrace.
“Between bliss and heartbreak, between having everything lock into place and having it all fall apart. That’s where the grace is,” she remarks.
In a bid to equip her daughter with the skills to navigate the challenging years ahead, Dern encourages her to believe in herself through both the highs and the lows before highlighting the hidden beauty in letting go of perfection.
“You will succeed and fail in equal measure. Both experiences are worthwhile. They will both define you.
“The truth is, the minute I surrendered to the flow of the mess of life, everything came together magnificently: my longing for art, my skill as an actor, and my capacities as a friend and mother.”
With her closing words, Dern steers her daughter away from the familiar road, instead encouraging her to blaze her own trail.
“You have to get out of your own way and write your own story – and not be forced into the narrative that you think will give you the easiest path to success or the most likes. I want you to live in the space that’s your own, your own delicious mess. The story comes from within you.”
Read the letter in full here.
Images: Rex Features