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Sleeping With the Prince: Be Careful What You Wish For

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Don't be a victim. Cinderella had a fairy godmother... you don't

It's no coincidence that Cinderella is once again on Broadway, this time around via Rodgers and Hammerstein. This ancient tale of victimization, oppression and eventual rescue has captivated women (and some men) for centuries and still manages to inspire the daydreams of the most determined and talented. The recurring plot pattern is so ubiquitous that it has its own classification in the AarneThompson Tale Index (510A - The Persecuted Heroine).

You'd think after all these years, we'd know better -- but this dysfunctional aspiration just won't die. A few years ago, I was riding in the car with my daughter (who was 8-years-old at the time). During the excursion, she blurted out, "One day, I'm going to marry a rich man who's going to buy me a big house and anything I want." In a moment of panic (where did she get this from?) I turned to her and bellowed, "You will NOT marry a man to buy you things. You will become successful in your own right, make your own money and buy yourself what you want -- not dependent on someone else to do that for you!" She initially looked confused (probably reacting to my emotional outburst), but eventually got the picture. Neither her mother or father subscribed to the "rescue formula" to have wants and needs met. Personal empowerment became our battle cry moving forward with my progeny.

However, even armed with the best of intentions, we still see hugely skilled and qualified individuals (usually women) who, despite a portfolio of accomplishment, fall into the trap of looking to be rescued, with less than stellar results. They can often be found in the following situations:

1. My Godmother, the Mentor

Throughout corporate America, mentoring programs abound, as well-meaning, highly-placed executives are paired with high potential workers to nurture and cultivate their talent. While it sounds great on paper, these mutually-enabling relationships often breakdown into the mentor becoming a Svengali to build her own kingdom while the mentee evolves into Trilby, with dependence on her mentor to shield and protect her from the ravages of the workplace. All goes well until... oops! -- the mentor is transferred or worse, fired. Like the Titanic, chances are the mentor grabs the lifeboat and the mentee goes down.

Alternative Plan: Build a network of advisors as part of an overall sphere of influence... do not become dependent on one individual; there is no safety in putting your eggs in the basket of one counselor.

2. The Promoting Habits of Horrible Bosses

Yes, your boss treats you like dirt and is crushing your soul, but she holds the key to your future and has the power to eventually award the prize of a great promotion -- as long as you can hang in there. You spend your days and nights "hoping" it happens sooner or later, as opportunity after opportunity is dangled before you with the promise of eventual liberation, if only, like Jacob, you'll be a slave for seven years, when Laban will then hand you the prize. Well, you know how that story turned out, and yours will be no different!

Alternative Plan: It comes down to this -- you have three choices: a) You can work to make the situation better; b) Suffer with the status quo; or c) Get out. Actually, the best route is to develop a realistic exit plan as soon as you get a new job. You can't "hope" it's going to get better, and after attempting to mollify and please a psychopath, and things don't improve, you must smell the potential for self-loathing and head to a less scorched pasture. With an exit strategy in place, the leverage is gone and your sense of self remains largely intact.

3. He's Not Perfect, But He Has Money

This is a difficult nut to crack especially when one considers the complex relationship women have with money. Even today, when more women are increasingly in the role of family breadwinner, they save less for retirement than men (career interruptions for family) and are more financially risk averse, even in the early years of investing. And hey -- it's so much easier to rely on someone else to make the big bucks, so we can overlook a few fatal flaws. I'll never forget when my mother-in-law told me (and she was dead serious) that men should make the money and women should tell them how to spend it; or my own mother, who considers herself to be one of the original feminists, counseling me that the height challenged boy I was dating in college looked, "taller standing on his money." This noble ideal is fraught with peril. Having your own money may not buy happiness, but it does give you choices -- which is critical. And no matter how close you may become to your partner, his money does not necessarily become your money, so you may not have the choices you need.

Alternative Plan: Take a good look at "him" without the money. If you don't like what you see, forget it. While the initial thoughts of financial freedom may be enticing, that "freedom" becomes very costly in other ways and instead of giving you choices, it could potentially make you feel even smaller and more victimized. Partner for love and live on the money you make. More stuff isn't worth it!My daughter has told me that she wants to see the stage revival of Cinderella currently in New York -- she loves the music. She was careful to add that she would love to see a sequel, and find out how Cinderella fares, living at the behest of a "Mamma's Boy" prince and his parents in a drafty castle. Fantasy? Think of the late Princess Diana. And her mother didn't even make her sweep the chimney...