I am a Dolly fan, for sure. Not hard core — I don’t know the lyrics to every song (but a lot) and I have yet to make it to Dollywood (but would like to). I am a child of the eighties though and I remember peak Dolly and Kenny Rogers days. 9 to 5 still resonates — even though now it’s more like 8 to 6.
So naturally when I saw the new Netflix documentary “Dolly Parton: Here I Am”, and given that I live in the rainy PNW a good Dolly documentary sounded like just the weekend activity. And while I enjoy Dolly immensely, I was struck by a realization that hit me right in the feels.
Every success story about a woman has the shared characteristic that, at some point, she stood up to a man and told him “no.” It is almost always referred to as a moment of insanity or craziness — a decision that defies the odds.
In Dolly’s case, she said no to Elvis — the King of Rock and Roll and the biggest success in music history (at the time). He wanted the rights to “I Will Always Love You” and she would not part with it. That decision made her millions of dollars decades later when Whitney Houston sang it in The Bodyguard, hitting the number one spot on Billboard for 14 consecutive weeks. Cha-ching.
But I want to go back to that moment (or period of time) where Dolly was running that around in her head. If her head is anything like a normal woman, she had to ask herself if this was a career ending move. At the very least, fear of regret or failure to get another opportunity had to be present.
And yet, she did it anyway. She was true to herself and how the choice felt versus what was, on paper, an obvious decision. And that is why I think Dolly is the ultimate self-love story.
“Find out who you are and go do that on purpose” is a quote attributed to Dolly. And for women in particular, even those of us who are seen as very strong, we are constantly being told what to think, how to look, who to fuck, who to marry (and that we have to), when to have kids, what a good career is, what to eat, what to do with our money. We are so inundated with the “should” messaging that most of us don’t know who we really are, or if we do, we are too afraid to claim it to the world. And in my mind that has been the greatest gift of 2020 — not just for women surely, but I think especially for women.
What would the world be like if we listened to our internal voice and just did that? Dolly knew at age 10 that she was going to be a music star. Every song that came out of her overflowed from within her — not carefully crafted and revised and revised. Jolene was about a bank teller that was going after her husband while she was on the road. Every song was a piece of her and that is how she became successful. It was not something she could simply give away control of — even to fucking Elvis.
It was just a documentary, but it helped remind me what an incredibly authentic person Dolly is and that is why so many do love her. She is a great reminder to be fearless in the face of honoring what I know about myself — no matter who I need to stand up to. I feel like that is not an act that I have heard any regret stories about — particularly from women.
And so, my challenge to you for 2020 is, say “no” to something. Even if it’s something small — there is probably something that comes to mind that you’ve just been going along with because that’s how it’s done, or you don’t want to rock the boat. What if 2020 is your year to re-write your reality, though? What might you gain if you walk away from something you know just isn’t for you? I personally plan to find out for myself, and it already feels much better.