In the year I was born, women were unable to get a credit card in their own name. In fact, in many states, they couldn’t get a mortgage or own their own homes. Of course, I didn’t know this when I was born but maybe I sensed that there were major inequities in the world and I became determined to see those inequities change. Sounds like a women’s empowerment story, but it didn’t happen quite that way and I found myself in the middle of my own feelings of inadequacy.
My parents never suggested that I go to college. I truly believe that they meant well, because they came from a generation in which women didn’t “need” to go to college, but rather women needed to find husbands and raise families. During my senior year of high school, my favorite typing teacher pulled me aside and told me that I should go to college. She told me that I was smart and that I was limiting myself by not pursuing a college education. I went home and told my parents just that and they agreed that I could go to college.
College was so empowering for me. I loved meeting new people, learning, challenging myself, and constantly growing. I graduated from college, started working, and then decided that I wanted to pursue graduate education, so I went back and got both a master’s and doctoral degree in psychology. While doing so, my husband and I had all three of our children. Those were some of the most joyful days of my life. I was learning and doing work that was so meaningful to me, and I had a family that I adored.
So what did I do next? I quit working. Yep. I bought into the story that a good mother should be home full time. I bought into the story that the work I was doing wasn’t as important or as well paid as my husband’s work. I did what I thought I should do. I did what other people wanted me to do and I fell into the pattern that I, and so many other women, struggle with. We lose our voices. We lose our power and confidence. If I had wanted to be a stay-at-home mother, that would have been great – but I didn’t. I love my work and I love my family and there was truly no reason that I couldn’t have both, except that I had gotten in my own way.
The next few years were some of the most painful of my life. I was lonely, bored, and struggled to find meaning in my daily life. My kids were in school full time and I was now without my career or the will to go find it again. One day I reached out to a friend and told him how much I was struggling, and how I felt so disconnected from my clinical skills as a therapist. This dear friend held space for me and my feelings and then recommended that I go back to school (yet again) and get trained as a coach. That idea ignited a spark, and it felt as if I could recharge my clinical skills while also learning some useful coaching skills.
To make a long story short, I fell in love with coaching and decided to focus exclusively on coaching, while staying connected to the psychological theories that I loved so much. Within a year, I had started my own business and I’m now a successful, and joyful, executive and leadership coach. Although I work with both men and women, I particularly love my work around women’s empowerment. If someone who is as privileged and educated as I am could lose their voice and power, imagine how easy it is for all women to do so.
Standing in our confidence is where our power lies. When I ask women what they want, they will often tell me what they perceive others want of them. That’s not what I asked! What do YOU want? We can’t always get what we want (isn’t that an old Rolling Stone’s song?) but we can never get it if we don’t ask. Finding my voice, my preferences, my desires has been a wild ride; sometimes fun and sometimes terrifying, but worth it every single step of the way.
So, ask yourself a few questions: 1) What is it that I really want for my life and for myself? 2) What is keeping me from that? 3) How can I step into my own power and use my voice to achieve my own goals while also being kind and respectful to others? 4) How will I feel in 6 months or a year if I don’t follow my own dreams? Life is too short, and you are too fantastic to not bring your power and competence to our world. Equality for women is more than just a concept, it’s how we bring our unique voices and experiences to the world.