Celebrating the Journey
International Women’s Day is an excellent time to reflect on the past, present and future of our journey as women. It’s also a time celebrate the women in our lives who have loved and encouraged us. It’s a time to be grateful for the moments, both big and small, that have helped us become who we are.
As I reflect on the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, “Choose to Challenge”, it causes me to think about my own personal growth. Most of the growing I have done as a woman has been through the times when I am most stretched and challenged. “Growing pains” are real- the physical kind but the emotional and physiological as well. When considering my journey, there are definitely some specific actions that have helped me to overcome the challenges I have faced.
Ironically, these are all things that I talk about with my clients each and every day. It’s my hope that by sharing them, you will be able to take something with you that will make an impact on your life.
1-Focus on Your Strengths
In 2009, I would have described myself as a wife and a homeschooling mother of 4 children (ages 2,4,5 and 7). I had decided to take some time away from the workforce to be home with my kids. It was something I had always wanted to do, and I will always cherish those moments with zero regrets. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Because I was so focused on being the very best wife and mother I could be, I forgot a really important part of being human… that is, making sure I also focused on my own well-being. This made it very difficult for me to actually be the wife and mother I wanted to be. I felt lost and alone.
It was during this time that the Clifton StrengthsFinder was introduced to me. I will never forget seeing my top 5 Strengths. The words on the page reminded me of someone I once knew and brought a deep sadness to me because I no longer felt I was that person. It was a wake-up call to say the least.
I made a commitment to myself to re-discover this woman on the page and work hard to live in my Strengths. The first thing I needed to do was “own” my talents. I needed to call out the greatness within me and the StrengthsFinder was a great place to start. And let me tell you, it was a very basic start. If you had asked me at that point in time what I thought I was good at, I would not have been able to answer. I felt like a failure in many areas of my life, but I knew that needed to change so I dug deep.
After some time, I realized that I am good (and have been since childhood) at building bridges between people. I also became more aware of many more of my natural talents like being organized, seeing both sides of a conflict, and being trustworthy. These talents had always been in me, but I needed to see them and be brave enough to own them. It changed my life and because of this, my dream is that every woman on this planet would know what they are good at and be able to state it immediately after being asked. I dream that women across the world would name and claim their greatest talents with no hesitation.
So, I propose the question to you now:
What are you really good at?
If you are unable to answer that today, please don’t fret. You are not alone! Please keep reading and consider taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder as a start by clicking here.
2-Lift Other Women Up!
In 2013, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Israel and Palestine. The goal of the trip was to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of women. It was a life-changing and heart-breaking trip all at the same time. One particular day, the group of women I was traveling with met with a handful of women from a conservative Muslim community. Once we were in the meeting room and away from any men, the Muslim women ‘let their hair down’ and took off their hijabs. The conversations we had through the interpreter were deep and meaningful. I realized that these women wanted the same things that I wanted. We had the same hearts and desires for our families. We were so similar. My experience that day made a forever impact on me and changed the way I look at women. I realized after that encounter that I had been a person who would meet another woman and instantly start analyzing the ways we were different. I knew from that moment that I was called to switch my thinking. From that day on, I became a woman who desires to look at the similarities between myself and other women and do everything I can do lift others up.
I believe there are three ways each of us can describe the way we relate to other women.
The Competitor: We’ve all seen it and it starts when we are young girls. We see another female as a threat. It happens in friend groups, in the workplace, on the playground and many other places.
The Avoider: This was me. Previous to my trip, I preferred to work with men. It just felt easier. I have always had great friends but in the past, I was more selective about who I would give my time, energy and attention to. I know I missed out on a lot of great relationships because of this.
The Celebrator: This is what I strive to be each day. I want to be a woman known for celebrating other women. I want to help them to know how incredible they are and all the goodness I see! May we all be celebrators of one another!
I am sure it is true for most of us that we would not be where we are today if it weren’t for the women in our lives who have loved, challenged, supported and encouraged us.
I was blessed from birth with an incredible and strong line of women to show me the way. From my great grandmother who came from Italy at age 17 by herself with just a chest full of belongings and who lived to be 94, to my own incredible mother who never backed down from a political debate and could answer every question on Jeopardy.
While working at a pharmaceutical company early in my career, my boss was a huge advocate for me. She constantly worked to involve me in projects that would give me more opportunities in the company. She didn’t feel I was paid enough so she went to bat to get me more money. She promoted me to others and always introduced me to people “I should know”. She showed me how to be a woman and climb the corporate ladder with ease.
I have also been incredibly blessed by incredible friendships with women who celebrate and challenge me. These friends are there for me for life’s ups and downs and I would be lost without these relationships.
I am forever grateful for the women in my life that have helped make me who I am.
Who has helped you to become the person you are today? Have you thanked them? If not, do it today!
3- Be Courageous
There’s a book by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie called “Strengths Based Leadership”.
The book begins with the concept that the greatest leaders live on. They live on in us and everyone they lead. Being this type of leader requires courage. It requires us to step outside of our comfort zone. We need to be willing to do hard things. We need to be willing to be scared but take action anyway.
For me, courage was making it a point to be intentional about my own well-being. One of the things that was most helpful was as simple as re-discovering the things that gave me energy. My friend and mentor @michaeldauphine suggested I start with a simple list. One side said, “things that energize me” and the other side read “things that don’t”. As I would try new things and experience the things I did on a regular basis, I added them to the list. It was a simple but incredibly helpful exercise.
I also forced myself to do things that scared me. One experience that stands out was auditioning for the drama team at my church. I had wanted to try acting since I was young but was always too scared to go for it. This was truly one of the scariest things I have ever done and guess what!? I made it and had a lot of fun with it during that season.
Sometimes courage looks a bit different. Sometimes it looks like being courageous enough to stay in touch with ourselves and know what we need. I have had seasons of life where the most courageous thing I could do was say ‘no’. Sometimes courage looks like a season of rest. Be brave enough to take care of yourself.
My mentor has coined the phrase, “heathy people ask for what they want”. We must be healthy enough to know how to ask for what we want. This applies to all aspects of our lives but one in particular that stands out is the gender pay gap. There’s a book by Linda Babcock, called “Women Don’t Ask”. She references a study done on negotiating a salary. While 57% of the men in the study attempted to negotiate, only 7% of women did.
As women, we need to be courageous. Courageous enough to walk in our strengths, lift each other up and be women who change the world. The life of our dreams is waiting for us all… just outside our comfort zones!
What will be the one courageous action you will take this week?
I would love to hear your response! Accountability in community is key to growth. Please post your response below or feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.