Years ago, after wrapping up a work project in Boston, I decided to make my way to Concord, which was just a short drive from the city. My intrigue was two-fold: a love for all things history (in this case the American Revolutionary war) and the rich literary culture housed in the small colonial town.
I walked through the streets to the famous ‘Sleepy Hollow’ cemetery. While standing alone on ‘Author Ridge” surrounded by some of the most prolific writers, I closed my eyes and thought of all the amazing words written by those that lay beneath my feet.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The above quote is by one of my favorite writers and had an impact on me as a young child reading it for the first time and has continued to resonate in my life well into adulthood. It has been the phrase that has taken me through tough moments, pushed me to achieve and reminded me to always be true to myself along the way.
This past week as Oprah Winfrey took the stage at the Golden Globes to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award, her words quickly transcended across the globe. A moment and a speech that went straight to the hearts of young girls and young boys intently watching. But, her words struck a chord in the hearts of many adults as well, “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
The speech was given on the backdrop of the “me too” campaign during a year that has been monumental in raising the proverbial curtain on sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in the workplace.
I have written previously on owning our truth, but listening to her words made me want to take a deeper look at why in some situations it is easier for us to do so than in others.
As a professional woman, there have been moments in my career that made me raise an eyebrow and question certain behaviors.
One that comes to mind is the time someone insisted he would only take a meeting with me if my boss (a man) were present because he needed someone with the authority to make a decision in the meeting. My boss had already explained to him previously that I was the person he would need to speak with.
My business card read as my name, followed by the title Vice President. Yet, there I was having to justify my abilities to someone who was trying to do business with our company, not the other way around.
You can imagine what I wanted to say back as a retort, but refrained.
After drafting a dozen different versions of my response, I made it short and simple:
This meeting has been cancelled…indefinitely.
It was a reminder that there really are people who simply think women were meant to create life and hold no other value, and certainly have no business being in business.
My truth in that moment was that I didn’t need to do business with someone who had such little regard for me or the position I had worked so hard to earn in my professional life. And certainly not with someone who would assume that because of my gender, I lacked the authority to make a decision.
After cancelling the meeting and processing through both my anger and frustration, I laughed about the interaction with colleagues and friends. But I wondered, did I do enough in that moment?
One of my closest friends used to tell me she admired my courage and no nonsense approach to business – pragmatic and brutally honest. But why as women do we sometimes find that hard to do and make excuses for taking a backseat in our professional lives, often to our male counterparts?
I was catching up with another girlfriend recently who has had her own climb up the ladder in a highly competitive industry. As she prepares to give birth to her first child, she is going through a lot of emotions – wondering how she is going to be able to balance it all, questioning if there will be enough space in her life for both motherhood and career? As I tried to assure her that if it was important to her to balance the two, she would find a way, she quickly defaulted and said, “now I understand why men get paid more to do the same job we do. Can I really be there ‘fully’ if I am also focused on being a mother?”
As you might imagine, I stopped her dead in her tracks. I am sure it felt like I was jolting her back to reality, but she needed it in that moment! There was no way in hell I was going to support that train of thought – not even on the coldest day.
I was frustrated to see a brilliant woman reduced to some patriarchal and archaic idea of who she was supposed to be, minimizing her value in the workplace simply because she was preparing to give birth.
One of my clients used to tell me that if you want something done efficiently and done right, ask a working mother to do it. And it is true. I don’t say that as a judgment against men in business or single professionals with no additional responsibilities. It is simply the balancing act that so many of us do, day in and day out.
I have read article upon article about women of our generation, tasked with both holding down the home and running companies, the ‘keepers’ of everything.
The dichotomy of being a professional woman while having a personal life. The ability to navigate through a boardroom as easily as we do potty-training, sleepless nights, school lunches and keeping the schedules of all the small humans in our lives.
The balance is real. And, it isn’t easy.
But just as I explained to my friend preparing to add “mother” to her list of accomplishments, don’t ever see this as a check against you.
Some women choose to focus singularly on motherhood. Others choose to focus solely on career. And then there are those who don’t get a choice, physical limitation decides that for them. Whether you are a working mom trying to juggle it all, a stay-at-home mother running the household, a single person new in your career or someone with 20+ years under your belt, do not allow yourself to use any circumstance to justify being treated as secondary.
You are worth it. Time is up on thinking otherwise!
My truth is that I am a woman who loves walking into a boardroom and sealing the deal on a new contract or having a project hit the New York Times bestseller list, just as much as I love burning dinners, bedtime snuggles and creating beautiful memories for my children. I am both a practical business woman and a nurturing and loving mother. And it is absolutely okay to be both, to own both as equal truths. You don’t have to choose. You don’t have to be one or the other. You can be both. You can be anything.
In fact, whether you are a mother or not, or whether you are a woman or not – we all have the same opportunity to own our truth, labels and circumstances aside.
This week, let’s all challenge ourselves to rise above whatever it may be that is holding us back and manifesting as fear in our lives. Whether you are a career woman preparing to navigate your way through motherhood, you are pursuing a new business venture that has you uncertain or you are making tough choices in your personal life – own your truth and listen to your gut. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised at what it is trying to tell you.
Cheers to a new week!!