Be a Heroine

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim,” Nora Ephron advised those gathered for commencement at Wellesley College in 1996 in one of my favorite Nora Ephron quotes. Ephron died last week.

Ephron continued in her commencement address:

“What are you going to do [with your life]? …. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands. And this is something else I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn’t know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever.


“When I was your age, I would have [described myself as]: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single …. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list [of top five descriptions of myself]: writer, director, mother, sister, happy.  Whatever [five things describe you] today, they won’t make the list in ten years — not that you still won’t be some of those things, but they won’t be the five most important things about you.”

As Ephron says, let’s be the heroine/hero of our life, not the victim.  Whatever has happened in the past or present, or will happen in the future, we can choose how we’ll respond to it.  We don’t have to be like driftwood thrown around by the waves—unless that’s how we choose to be.

I’m not saying that it isn’t hard or scary, frustrating and seemingly hopeless at times, but the more we strive to be the heroine/hero of our life, the easier it becomes.  We lose our job but keep looking and reinvent ourselves.  We get an unwanted medical diagnosis, so we learn everything we can about it, become our own advocate, and push the edges of what our medical condition lets us do.  We’re the heroine, not the victim.

Maybe our work environment’s lousy, so we figure out every way we can to make it better, make sure we live a healthy lifestyle away from work, and look hard for a new job.  Maybe a friend uses us, a partner treats us poorly, or a family member jerks us around, so we figure out what’s in our power to control and change (usually ourselves) and then we decide whether or not we need distance from the relationship. 

If we don’t like our life the way it is, it’s up to us to figure out how to make it better, even if all we can change is our attitude.  As Ephron says, we can choose to be the heroine/hero of our life, instead of the victim.

Even survivors of rape, domestic violence or sexual abuse don’t call themselves victims, they call themselves survivors.  They work at being the heroines and heroes of their life—a long journey to be sure, but one that survivors live by not being merely victims.

Yes, life circumstances affect all of us, sometimes significantly, but we don’t have to let those realities constrain us as if we’re locked in chains from which we cannot escape.  We can be heroines and heroes.  As  Nora Ephron reminds us, it’s our choice.

The full text of Nora Ephron’s commencement address is available at

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