Senator Barbara Boxer: Don’t Compromise in Love

Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For August, Senator Barbara Boxer, author of The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life, shares lessons learned over a lifetime in public service. This week, she reveals an early heartbreak and the lesson it taught her.

My mother taught me that it wasn’t important to have a huge number of “friends” around you.

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

“If you have only one friend, and she or he is truly a friend, count yourself lucky,” she said. “What’s important is to make sure those you confide in, those you spend your time with, those you care about, truly care about you too.”

I remember a particular case in point. In high school I was stuck on this guy named Oscar. He was an unusual choice for me: a foreign-born student from Eastern Europe. I knew that he had a very troubled life and that somehow was appealing to me. So I asked my parents if I could invite my new “boyfriend” over for dinner.

“Mom,” I said, “I don’t think he’s ever eaten steak in his life!”

Food was always a way to show affection for my family and my mother was pleased to share our bounty. My father was less enthusiastic, but he always was when I told him I had a boyfriend.

Let me be clear: we were far from rich or even in the middle of the middle class. Anyway, Oscar started to come over on a regular basis and began eating us out of house and home. I loved it until he started acting weird. He became jealous if I even talked to another boy and made fun of the fact that I was co-chairman of the Boosters, a group that cheered on our not-so-winning high school basketball team.

“Why do you care about this silliness?” he said. “You are spoiled rotten by your parents.”

Now maybe he was right, but my life was warm and I was surrounded by love, and I didn’t understand why he felt that I was being spoiled. I began to doubt myself and was having a very hard time dealing with his criticism and cynicism. Through it all I still liked him, but wound up confused and mad at myself. So, you guessed it, I took it to my mom.

She had a simple solution.

“If any person in your life doesn’t really care about you, hurts you, especially if you have shown them love, then walk away and walk away fast,” she said. “Why do you need it? What good does it do you? I know you feel bad for Oscar because his life isn’t as good as yours, but if your warm family life makes him jealous, well, that’s his problem. He doesn’t understand that there’s a big difference between being spoiled and being loved.”

There she was again: giving me advice I would have had to pay an analyst thousands for if I couldn’t follow her wisdom. I told Oscar we should break up because I was too young to have just one boyfriend. He didn’t argue, just looked sullen, as if he expected it. He walked away. As he did, I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from me. Maybe it was lifted from him too.

So, yes, find good people who truly care about you, give them your love and support, give them respect, but expect it back. Otherwise, take a hike. Get away. Find real love, real friendship.

No wonder when I was eleven I wrote the following rhyme to my mother. I found it in her jewel box after she died:

Ill always love my mother. She is so dear to me.

And when a good thing happens

Shesalwaysthere to see.

She makesdelicioussuppers

That I just love to eat

And when she tucks me in at night

It really is a treat.

And so when you give out medals

My mom deservesthe prize. She is a wonderful person

In everybody’s eyes.

Excerpted from The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life (Hachette Books), by Barbara Boxer.

Senator Barbara Boxer on Channeling Anger for Good

Intent on making 2017 your Best Year Ever? We can help with that, thanks to our 2017 Coach of the Month series. For August, Senator Barbara Boxer, author of The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life, shares lessons learned over a lifetime in public service. This week, she shares her tips on channeling anger for good, not evil.

Being tough doesn’t give you license to dive into an angry rage. Back when I was in sixth grade, there was one kid—his name was Albert— who was harassing me and driving me nuts: pulling my hair, chasing me around, and shouting nasty things. Every day!

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Honestly, I don’t know why he was doing it, but boys in those days engaged in this behavior around girls to get their attention. I was little— still am—and so was Albert, so I was an easy target for him.

The antics were mostly harmless, but to me it was adding up. I didn’t want this attention from him, and I had just gone through the same sort of problem with another boy named Jay, who chased me down a dirt hill filled with broken glass and debris, which was my path home from school on a regular basis.

One day, the predictable happened on my usual “run away from Jay” activity. I tripped, flying through the air and landing, my knees and elbows scraped, thoroughly embarrassed. When I got home, Mom told me she was going to the principal’s office to put an end to it.

Mom’s visit to the school turned into a “she said versus she said” between my mother and Jay’s mother, and the whole thing was a humiliation. So when it came to Albert, I decided to take matters into my own hands and put an end to his harassment in a big way. Big mistake.

Toward the end of the school day, when the halls were emptying out and nobody was watching, Albert insulted me—something about my height and my clothes. He got up in my face and punched me in the shoulder. I lost it. I took my number-two sharp lead pencil out of my pencil case and stabbed him in the upper arm. Fortunately, no one saw this happen, but oh, my God, it was awful. Albert started crying and so did I, but neither of us made this public. Me, because I had lost it and I knew it; Albert because he deserved it and I’m certain he knew it. It became our nasty secret.

I was immediately stunned at my own loss of control. What I’d done was contrary to everything taught by my parents. I was so ashamed. I told no one about it, but my punishment was coming, the self-inflicted punishment of anguish.

The day after the stabbing, Albert didn’t show up for school. My heart sank. He was also gone the day after that. On my way home on the third day, I saw a black crepe cloth over the front door of his house. Now I knew the truth. I had killed him.

I ran home and cried to my mother. After listening quietly, she expressed her total shock that I would do such a thing.

“I’m surprised at you, Barbara Sue,” she said, using the name my parents used when they were serious. “You know what a terrible thing you’ve done. But I doubt that you’ve killed Albert, and will call the principal to make sure.”

It turned out that Albert’s grandfather had died and the household was in mourning. I felt really bad for the family, but I felt such joy to see my nemesis when he returned to school. I even hugged him. Me hugging Albert. He wasn’t amused or particularly happy to see me, but after that, he left me alone.

I learned that using my fists or a sharp pencil was not the way to go. I had agonized, felt guilt and remorse, and it probably would have been better to tell Mom to make another trip to the principal’s office, even though it would have been “babyish.”

I felt so lucky that it had all turned out okay.

Over the years, and I admit this with some difficulty, I learned to channel my anger, control it, analyze it, talk it over with those I trust, and map out a strategy to confront the issue in a smart way. Taking a pause is good for me because sometimes I can overreact or misconstrue a situation. There are other ways to win an argument. I wasn’t going to repeat that fiasco.

In my work over 40 years, I’ve had to be much tougher than I thought. Guys like Albert were a piece of cake compared to what I was confronted with day after day. Of course there were good things too, which kept me going. The more I have been attacked for my views and actions, the more I’ve stood up to it, and the more support I have received.

That support has been the wind at my back, pushing me forward, and I’m truly grateful for it. That support has made me a much better person, secure and unafraid of the venom, able to get past it and do my work without anger.

Excerpted from The Art of Tough: Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life (Hachette Books), by Barbara Boxer.