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Book review: Being Martha

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Being Martha – by Lloyd Allen

What a perfect combination. While I was cleaning up my walk in closet, folding my laundry and organizing my closets, I listened to the unabridged book “Being Martha”, by her friend Lloyd Allen.

I knew Martha Stewart from the stories about her perfect life, her perfect cooking and the perfect household and yes, I of course heard about the incident that got her all over the news in a less positive way. But, she built quite an empire. What can I learn from her? What is her secret to success? Those questions in mind, folding my sheets, this is what I thought.

What inspired her

To be honest, this book didn’t really explain. I learned that Martha came from a simple family, with parents who thought you should always work hard. Her father was apparently one that found criticism in all things, perhaps that taught her to strive for perfection.

I found it really nice that Martha is an autodidact in cooking. According to the book, she was inspired by Julia Child’s ‘the art of cooking’, and she taught herself how to cook by this book. I recently watched Julie & Julia, which was my first acquaintance with Julia Child, but isn’t it awesome that somebody like Martha Stewart, who is thé example of how to do things for many people, actually taught herself?

How did she accomplish success

This, as well, did not really come across. Her catering business became a success because she looked at the details, and that got noticed. Apparently, she learned how to negotiate during her wall street days. It didn’t really become clear why she decided to study finance all of a sudden. One thing Lloyd mentions, is that she had a real talent in hiring people and finding ways to develop talent. She did not take things for granted. Also, he talks about her ability to never question things. She makes a remark about starting a talk show, or  introduces her stylist to Hilary Clinton, like to her it is the most logical thing in the world.

Lloyd explains, that Martha remembers every little detail of past events, and is able to work really hard – doing the garden at 4am is not uncommon.

What were her flaws?

The book was written by a friend, which explains the mostly positive stories. Most of the parts about “Martha as a bitch” are told in reference to things people actually know nothing about, according to the writer. There were some parts that explained that Martha is able to do exactly what she aims for – the remarks from the antique sale buyers for example, where she is able to buy exactly what she wants by bypassing everyone else. Or, the times she crashed a wedding for which she wasn’t invited, to feature it in her book. I found the time she was bitching about something not available on set, quite an example of Martha as an actual person. It made her friend say ‘Martha, stop it’. And then: ‘I know’.  At which she cried. I think we’ve all been there – that moment when you’re focused, aimed, frustrated, charged, and then someone mirrors you and is kind to you and understands. I can surely imagine the emotion.

One of the flaws mentioned at first, is that she never apologizes. The writer explains, that Martha would call her employees a day after an outburst. Not saying she was sorry, but explaining, which was her way of apologizing. Later in the book, their reference is made to Martha writing a note to the apprentice she let go, explaining that she now had learned to apologize.

According to the book, the fact that her marriage failed, was because she had ‘terrible migraines’ all the time, and Andy, her husband, ‘also needed time for himself’, while she put him to work all the time. Which, in the perfect world she created, would seem like a flaw. But whether that is his or hers, that is something only they can decide upon.

The book also mentions the negative critiques of Martha on copying recipes and such which supposedly were ‘others’. I find the argument that Martha is CEO of a company, and you also never question whether the new Word update is acknowledged to Bill Gates or one of his employees – a nice one. That is one of the problems Martha faces, I believe: her ‘empire’ is looked upon as a household at large, instead of a billion dollar business. And that is also something that I think also causes the book to be mainly about how lovely it it when she is cooking, about her chickens in the yard, and the great ways she inspired people. A bit too ‘motherly’. And not about what steps she took to get there, what great choices she made, what chances she took that failed, what lessons she learned.

Memorable moments

The most memorable moment of the book to me was the chapter where she tapes a tv show in bad weather. Wearing rubber boots, she gets struck by lightening. But she’s okay, and insist to continue taping, as it would cost thousands of dollars if they need to proceed the next day. Afterwards, she takes of her boot, and notices a hole in her foot. Scared of being bitten by a bug, she visits a doctor who explains it is a lightening exit wound – the lightening entered her body, bypassed her heart and exited through her foot. Well, you can surely say no storm will push you over. The show must go on, no matter how many Volts 😉

My Martha moment? I found it the party they planned, where Martha appeared at work looking weird in a sort of car racers jumpsuit and cap with hairbands underneath. After their intense workday, the party started: she zipped off the overall, showing off a perfect party outfit, took of the cap and the hairbands, et voila: a perfect instant styled party outfit. Wow… That’s awesome. You cán have it all :)

How did she juggle work life balance

I find it very interesting to learn about her time in prison. Lloyd explains how she connects to the other inmates, and teaches them origami and other things, and learns to appreciate their suggestions as well. Have you ever imagined, what you would do if you were in a setting all of a sudden, where you were not allowed to go outside, could not use e-mail, had a day and night rhythm that was decided for you? It might sound strange, but these chapters almost came across as if Martha – at a time where everything was so intense – found it soothing in a way. I can understand that. It sounds like a mandatory detox from working life. Which would be good for all of us sometimes. Perhaps though, we should strive to accomplish this without having to go to prison 😉 

Martha’s family is part of her business. Her husband was as first, and her daughter Leslie as well. Her daughter speaks highly of her. Funny part is where she comments on the ‘no fast food’ rule… I can imagine ‘bringing home work’ for someone who bakes and cooks every day and ensures perfect living, can be quite stressful on the people who you live with.

So, inspiration from Being Martha:

  • You can put your imprint on every situation, even on prison life;
  • Strive for perfection;
  • You can work really hard ánd be a perfect host;
  • Just grab whatever you want and view that as perfectly doable;
  • You can teach yourself anything.

For a nice read or story during cleaning and laundry, this book is a recommendation.  For business inspiration, not that much. But if you want the inside on Martha Stewart – a must read.

More on Martha?

Her biography on Bio.
Her own blog
More reviews of Being Martha

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