• Coco Chanel: Being Married to Your Work Can Bring Financial Success and Fulfillment

    By Abby Birch

    I love stories about strong women—particularly women who succeed in business—and that's why I devoured Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel, written by C.W. Gortner, about Coco Chanel, a fashion icon whose name every woman with a credit card surely knows. She was the original female entrepreneur who said, A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous,” a credo that she certainly lived up to in her own unique way.   

    At a time when women were wearing rib-crushing corsets and fruit-bowl-style hats, Chanel asserted that what women needed was simplicity and practicality. She bucked the trends of her time to become a huge success. Chanel gave us “ready-to-wear” style, jersey cotton, layered pearls, the Little Black Dress (LBD), and Chanel No. 5, all innovations in congruence with her belief that, "In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."

    Birth of an Icon

    Born in poverty and sent to an orphanage in France when her mother died, the story of Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel is a true rags-to-riches story. Her ambition and drive propelled her to become one of the richest women not just of her time, but of all time. When she died in January 1971, her net worth was $19 billion (equivalent to about $118 billion in today's dollars), which is an astounding achievement on its own. Not only did she fashion her own empire, but she changed the way women viewed their appearance. "Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman," Chanel said.

    Body of Work

    Chanel's phenomenal success got me thinking about the effect of building an empire on one's personal life. As a woman, does the more success you have financially take a toll on your romantic success? Chanel's life serves as an answer to that question as well.

    There certainly were leading men in her life: Chanel had many famous friends and lovers. However, she never married. In the book, she is quoted as saying that she was "married to her work." But, the first big love of her life, the wealthy Arthur "Boy" Capel, financed her first venture, a hat shop in Paris in 1910. The famous double "C" logo of  Chanel is rumored to stand for Capel and Chanel. Tragically, Capel died in a car crash in 1919.

    Chanel had several beaus after Capel, including the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Second Duke of Westminster, and Igor Stravinsky, but Capel was the true love of her life. Either I die as well, or I finish what we started together," she said.

    Chanel went after exactly what she wanted in her business life, but was she too coy to come out and ask for what she wanted from Capel? We will never know.

    Still, I wonder about the relationship between career success and romantic success in my own life. Generally speaking, the more I put myself out there through accepting new leadership roles at work and with within HFMA, the more success I have—and the more time I spend away from home.  

    Love Versus Money

    My Dutch-Argentinian husband Gerben and I have been married for seven years. We’re both career-focused but getting closer to starting a family, if that’s in the cards for us; age 35 is my "get serious" cut-off. I work from home and travel, and sometimes I look back and realize that I have been home only six days out of 30 in a month. The time I spend away from home is often filled with wonderful people who positively affect my life and career, but I recognize the need to then double down on the home front to ensure that the love is still flowing freely and abundantly around our house.  

    Can we maintain both? Can we have a life of big career/financial success and big love? We certainly can today more than ever before, but it takes work and solid communication. You have to be able to ask for what you want and need—both at work and at home.

    Before we married, my husband and I talked about kids, finances, and expectations at home. Fortunately, he was not looking for someone who was going to do his laundry and cook him dinner every night, and that is never going to be me. I am always going to work, and there will be many times we will have dirty dishes in the sink.

    Ask for What You Want

    We are both very independent, and the things we do for each other are out of the goodness of our hearts and to show love instead of expectation. That’s just what works for us. It’s easy to get caught up in your own career, but you can’t stop showing your love or asking for more time together when you need it. We both have to consciously ask and remember what the other is working on, celebrate each other and our accomplishments, and chose to make what we have together the best it can be. 

    I realize this is easy to say only seven years into our marriage and sans children, but what I took away from this book and the beauty of Chanel's life is that hard work and determination can get you what you want. It’s our personally responsibility to know what we want for ourselves, and if you are married, your partner has to be in on that game plan as well. Like Chanel’s fashion philosophy of “simple sophistication,” it's important to cultivate a guiding philosophy for your own life.

    My personal philosophy happens to mirror HFMA National Chair Mary Mirabelli’s theme for HFMA this year, “Thrive.” From my love, Gerben, to my career at Advanced Patient Advocacy, to my garden at home—posted in detail on Instagram @abzwaga—the word “thrive” runs through my head regularly.

    I’d love to hear about your personal philosophy. I'll give you a head start with Coco Chanel's personal belief: "A girl should be two things: who and what she wants," and one short and sweet one from me, whether you want love, success, or both: "Get it, girl!"

    Abby Birch is vice president of client development for Advanced Patient Advocacy in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

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