Growing up, I faced my own small share of personal challenges. I overcame them, triumphed and carved out a little niche for myself. Naïvely, I believed that this entitled me to believe that I had Overcome. With a capital O. I felt that I knew what adversity was, and that my personal “success story” was proof that anyone could overcome anything.
Naturally, I didn’t include those I categorised as “Obviously Downtrodden”. Women cleaning toilets which are really just holes full of nightsoil, unceremoniously jammed into the sides of houses deep in rural India. Women who are prohibited from pursuing careers, studies, families or anything remotely resembling a dream. Women who can’t leave their homes for fear of attack. I wasn’t thinking of those women. I was thinking of women like myself, women who failed to empower themselves because of fear and ignorance.
I confess that I was thinking of these women with scorn.
A boss of mine (a gentleman boss) used to challenge my views. We’d argue ceaselessly as he tried to prove to me just how very downtrodden I was, and how I should fight tooth and nail to empower myself. I was annoyed. I felt that women who weren’t empowered were their own worst enemies. I felt that if I could overcome my challenges, they could overcome theirs. I felt that men (and women) who tried to help women achieve empowerment were patronising and demeaning.
I can honestly say that, until recently, I had no support for the idea of “empowering women” in the least. Why? Because as far as I was concerned, women are already equal. We should treat ourselves and our sisters with the respect we deserve, and expect the same treatment from the men around us. And we should treat men exactly as we would treat another woman, or any other person. Equality means equal respect, kindness and support.
Then, in the first half of this year, my husband (who is one of my biggest advocates, supports and sounding boards) asked me to read an article printed in Time Magazine about Sheryl Sandberg and her “Lean In” programme. I’d already seen the cover of that week’s issue, and I was more annoyed than ever. Why couldn’t people just get on with life and BE equal, instead of making so much noise about not being so? When my husband asked me to read the article, I did so at best to humour him, and at worst with grudgingly poor grace.
I was inspired!
I never expected to be spoken to so personally, so directly. It was like being woken up from a deep and pleasant sleep by the ever-welcome smell of freshly brewed coffee. Suddenly, it all made sense. I began to see just how sheltered and nurtured my life had been up to that point. I realised how my parents had taught me to be the best that I could possibly be. Phrases like, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well!” and, “if it can be done by anyone, then it can be done by you” had become the solid foundation from which I had launched every adventure. They were the “get-up-and-go” that helped me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and have another go at something great.
I realised how valuable it is to have a supportive husband, who truly wants your best and honestly helps you achieve it through a mixture of support and constructive criticism.
I also began to take ownership of my identity. Until that point, I had been an entrepreneur developing an online marketing business. Now I took ownership of the fact that I am a woman business owner, a home educator, a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend, who passionately believes in helping every woman I meet achieve the level of fulfilment I have been able to achieve.
I wanted to educate my children at home long before they were even a possibility. I also wanted to own a business that made a positive difference in the lives of my family and each of my clients, as well as impacting the world for good. I wanted to dedicate my life to learning, to acquiring knowledge and skills and never, ever stagnating. I’d always believed that these goals were mutually exclusive. For many years, I’d miserably tried to pick which one needed my focus at that particular phase of my life.
But for the last two years, I have been living my dreams. I am learning and growing all the time. I am watching my children unveil their beautiful minds and explore their world every single day. I am building an exciting business which makes me proud and empowers many others. And I just know that if I can do it, anyone can do it. If I have done it, I can help someone else to work out what their picture of fulfilment looks like, and how they can achieve that.
That’s why I’m dedicating not just women’s month, but the next ten months, to leaning in. I’m taking my dreams seriously. I’m putting in the work, and giving all I’ve got. I want my daughters to be strong young women who lean in to their God-given dreams, talents and destiny, and I want to model that for them.
Why? Because I am the Lucky One. And I want to give back to those who aren’t – or who, like me, haven’t realised yet that they are. I believe we can have it all – as long as we honestly evaluate what that will cost, and decide that it’s a price we’re willing to pay.
So let’s celebrate each of our extraordinariness.
What about you? How would fulfilment look in your life? Do you have it, or are you on your way towards it? Do you need to make a big change to get there? If so, what’s holding you back? Today, I’d really love to hear back from you. Please tell me your thoughts on “having it all”, balancing your life and work, and achieving your goals. If you agree with me, awesome. Please let me know. If you think I’m way off base, fantastic! I’m keen to hear your views. Just remember to keep it clean and kind – our kids read these posts, too!