[T]o lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow…”

–Mrs. March

Like a lot of women, I’m afraid that I haven’t made the best choices about money and other resources, or anything else for that matter. If I look at the images popular culture gives me of what success looks like — mansion, closet full of designer clothes and shoes, “A-list” invitations, handsome husband, children attending private school, nanny (anyone who has seen even one episode of Desperate Housewives or Sex and the City can extend the list) — my life seems lacking. But does the pop culture, or even the news reports, we consume daily present a version of success that matters to me? Why should I care that I don’t hold up well when compared to the Kardashian sisters?

My answer: I shouldn’t.

However, I also understand that our choices in life are influenced by the culture we consume. We engage with the stories and soak up the values they present. We think we are looking for entertainment when we pick up the latest copy of People or turn on the television after work, but we’re inadvertently picking up advice about how to be a woman, how to think about money, how to behave at work… Again, I can’t exhaust the list of areas of life advice that we pick up from pop culture in one short paragraph. We’re swimming in culture and it’s not going away.

Little Women

Photo of a 1922 edition of Little Women.

I’ve done a couple of things this year to respond to a nagging sense that I wasn’t measuring up. First, was to sign up for a course in the fundamentals of financial planning. Second, I reread Little Women.

As I got to know Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Marmie again, I realized that I had patterned a lot of my decisions on what Jo would have done (right down to her righteous anger, unfortunately). One of my friends told me she wanted to be Beth, and other women have chimed in with identifications they felt with the March sisters. This time through, Marmie’s advice emerged more clearly from the story, and I noticed that the March family didn’t spend a great deal of time in regret that they weren’t often mingling with the Kim Kardashian equivalents in 19th-century New England. They found success in sincere, loving relationships with friends and family, good food shared in good company, creativity, and service to community.

In short, useful, pleasant lives.

Photo originally published on Flickr by maryn0503. Used here under a Creative Commons license.