The photo on the left is me in 2004. On the right, 2013.
It’s a great thrill to be in Red Magazine this month and to be one of the judges of the Red Hot Women Awards this year. I was once a nominee (didn’t win – always the bridesmaid) – and I loved the whole spirit of the thing, the unashamed celebration of women achievers in all fields and all backgrounds.
So, since by now everybody knows that self-help books are my guilty pleasure, here are my top 10 rules for a happy life as a woman (uncensored).
1. Be nakedly ambitious.
It doesn’t matter if other people (hi, Daily Telegraph! Hi!) use the word “ambitious” about you as a pejorative. From the cradle, you have been trained to be a Queen Consort; to achieve wealth, power and status by marrying a man. That’s the tale of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Marry well, and all your troubles will be over.
The fact is that women – just like men – have a need for significance, and the female virtues of self-sacrifice, modesty, meekness, silence and collaboration, while estimable, are a recipe for depression and an alcohol disorder unless you can do something for yourself. Aim high in your field. If that’s not working out, try another field. The game isn’t over until you stop playing; believe yourself to be special and act accordingly. Take a night class. Learn a new language. Start a website. Run for office. Apply for at least one great new job or internal promotion every month – unless you’re founding your own company. I really don’t care who you are; people from poorer backgrounds than you, with greater disadvantages, have started and succeeded.
Don’t be afraid to have male role models. Margaret Thatcher and Arnold Schwarzenegger were mine, when I was growing up.
2. Beauty matters.
It may be right or it may be wrong, but a huge part of our self-esteem is stamped into how we look. Instead of decrying this as unfeminist and refusing to wax our upper lips, flip it on its head; tell yourself that making yourself look as good as you can is your gift to yourself, a sign of how you value yourself. Age is not as important as everybody says. If you swapped my picture above for the ten years younger version I would be horrified.
3. Brains matter more.
Bimbos never prosper; you should constantly learn, adapt, and update your skills even when nobody is paying you to do it. Training yourself keeps you young and again, sends you that signal that your story is not over. You are going to make big changes. You’re moving to Rome, you’re buying a house, you’re taking a doctorate, you plan on getting a pilot’s license. Keep at it. You will never be this young again – take advantage.
4. Love your work.
Either find a way to love your job or work hard at finding a new job. Most of your life is spent in the office. You can’t be happy trading five days a week for two. You need to be happy every day.
5. Better to be single than with a loser.
Do you love him? Do you want him? If the answer to either of these is no, just cut bait. So many women still feel incomplete without a guy. Growing up I never had a boyfriend, not a single one til I reached college. It still worked out OK.
6. Have adventures.
Oh my God, this is so important. Studies have proven that it is experiences, not possessions, which give our lives joy. Travel is the simplest shortcut – indeed, if you go to Egypt and walk in the Valley of the Kings you will return a changed woman – but you should do other stuff, too. Learn to ski in middle age. Walk over a firepit barefoot (I did this). Scam your way backstage at a gig (I did that one billion times). Write to your greatest hero (a letter, not an email). It works, it’s wonderful. If I told you all the incredible things that have happened in my life none of you would believe it for a second.
7. Make sure that you feel intense desire for the man you marry.
If you don’t, your marriage will be miserable.
8. Get money, all the money you can. Women are trained to be reticent about asking for good pay and perks (for fear of seeming “pushy”) and to regard money as hideously selfish capitalist piggery while next to them, less experienced men are shoving themselves forward. “Job satisfaction” is nice but it won’t pay your mortgage bills, and you will be doomed to a lifetime of anxiety. Save and invest (in a house or flat) instead of buying designer stuff. Try to get a flat you can rent out, some kind of income that is not dependent on you being employed. And ask for the job you want. Just ask your boss to promote or employ you. It works more often than not. Benjamin Franklin said “Money is coined liberty.” Freedom; think of it like that.
9. Get fit and stay fit.
OK, so no BS; the magazines and fitness industries have spun you a lie. Three times a week for 20 minutes is going to do the square root of sod all for you. You need to jog about five times a week and lift weights twice a week. Don’t forget the weights. You lose lean muscle mass after 30; pick up that dumbbell, and don’t let an old woman crawl into your body. And don’t diet; you only lose muscle and then regain it in fat.
FIVE times a week. Arnold Schwarzenegger says to do something every day. Listen to him, because he’s gorgeous. I stuff my face with porridge, frozen yoghurt and endless handfuls of nuts but I also work out. If you’re going to kick all that ass, you need some energy. Plus, it makes you happier and less depressed. I’m 42, three kids.
10. Write down your goals.
Just writing them down helps you achieve them, because it crystallises them in your mind. And you start moving towards them. Don’t wait for your birthday, or January 1st. A new year started today. Pick three or four big changes and just achieve them. And if you fail, so what? The honour in life is in the attempt. Keep trying. And then try other stuff. Nobody ever succeeded at anything by thinking small.
So good luck. Be red hot. Don’t wear too much make up (men hate it. Yes I care what men want. I love men). Go for your dreams and encourage others to go for theirs.
Here’s a short motivational video from Schwarzenegger, my Yoda. What can I say – Thatcher never made any. Watch this, and see if you don’t want to start something special for yourself.