Iris Apfel; Wise Woman, Wise Words

Iris Apfel

January; a time for resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, drop bad habits and get a better job. According to a recent article in Forbes only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. I think the reason so many people fail is that their goals are external. If there isn’t a meaningful soul-level yearning for change than it’s hard to make the external ones stick in the long haul.

Instead of resolutions, I prefer to do an internal housecleaning. I sift through old thoughts throwing out the ones that no longer serve me, release patterns of behaviour keeping me stuck and review my dreams to see if they need to be tweaked or drop entirely. To help me re-evaluate and modify these core beliefs I look to women who have gone before me, whose wisdom and clarity of years well-lived help to illuminate the path I’m just beginning to trek.

These Elders are a source of great inspiration and knowledge in an age where youth and beauty are deemed the only valuable aspirations.

One Wise Woman I admire not only for her quirky fashion sense but for her vitality and joie de vivre is 93-year-old Iris Apfel. Although most people equate her with being a fashion icon she is also a successful business woman and entrepreneur.

In an interview with Fusion she shared her rules for fashion and for life.

“My father told me I should never expect too much from anybody because I wouldn’t get hurt and I wouldn’t get disappointed. If someone was very nice and did lovely things for me it would be twice as delicious.”

It is important not to make other people responsible for your happiness. This is a difficult task when most of us, myself included, fall into the trap of people pleasing because we expect that if we sacrifice our own desires to please another they will reciprocate in kind.

That is quite frankly a recipe for disaster. But if you take responsibility for providing yourself the experiences and environment in which you will thrive then when people surprise you with their generosity is will be a bonus and not the source of your fulfillment.

“Learn what you can do . . .”

The most important word in that sentence is do. The only way to learn what you can do is by doing. Learning is not a passive endeavour. No great insights into who you are can be found sitting in front of the television watching reality shows.

When my marriage ended and my household income took a nosedive I took any job I could get. I’ve worked as a stable hand, house cleaner, barista, gardener, chambermaid, receptionist and office worker. I learned I can do what needs to be done to take care of myself even if it means working three part-time jobs doing work that was deeply unfulfilling.

During this period, I also explored new things just for the joy of it; horseback riding, yoga, belly dancing, pottery, cello lessons. I learned that I still love to dance but have absolutely no musical ear (my apologies to my cello teacher). And I started to write. It was in this pursuit that I found my passion and my joy.

My most profound learning experience came when my sister and I sold everything to move to a hobby farm in the middle of nowhere. I learned to use power tools, rewire lights and furnace switches, replace plumbing pipes, fix gates and fences, care for chickens and goats and shovel off roofs despite my fear of heights.

Discovering that nature gives me solace and recharges my soul was a life changing revelation for a city girl, one I never would have realized living in suburbia.

“Learn what you are comfortable with . . .”

Life is a duality and you can’t learn what you are comfortable with until you experience discomfort.

I have learned to be comfortable with much less, I learned not to allow the stress of poverty stop me in my tracks, I learned that I am more resilient and resourceful than I had previously given myself credit for.

“Learn what you can pull off . . .”

Iris is talking about fashion but you can also apply it to your life. I’ve learned that my perseverance and determination allows me to pull off anything as long as it intrigues me. I learned medical transcription on the fly after I already was hired for the job. I wanted to work in an artistic setting so I stalked the owner of a potter studio before she even opened and landed the job. I learned I could pull off writing novels and have them published.

“Don’t try to be someone else . . .”

Iris is not afraid to dress in a manner that expresses how she sees herself. She is not defined by the latest fashion trends or a preconceived notion of how a women-of-a-certain-age should dress.

In an interview with Ari Seth Cohen, Drug of Choice from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo, Iris discusses how people need to find out who they are and that fashion is an expression of the individual. She said that some people are maximalist some are minimalist and some are in between.

Find out what feels authentic to you whether you apply it to your wardrobe or your life.

So to Iris, I thank you for your wisdom and your assistance in creating my New Year’s list.  This year I will:

1. Lower my expectation of people and raise my expectations of what I can accomplish.

2. See where my curiosity leads me. Perhaps and archery class or harp lessons or whatever else strikes my fancy.

3. Devote more time to writing and time alone in contemplation.

4. See if I can pull off writing full-time so I no longer need to work another hospitality or retail job.

5. Express my authentic self in all aspects of my life including my wardrobe.

And here is one last piece of advice from Iris . . .

“If God has blessed you with an ample butt, that’s a good thing but don’t wear skinny jeans ‘cos it’s not pretty.”