I arrived back from an incredible few days in Tokyo with Google to kick off their Womenwill program. The mission of Womenwill is to elevate women around the world and leverage the technology to inspire and empower women economically and socially.
Of course, there are many factors—like inflexible workplace policies, unconscious bias and entrenched gender norms—that contribute to what’s known as the ‘gender gap’. However, one of the biggest challenges women face is simply believing in themselves and owning their own personal agency to affect change—in themselves, in their workplaces, communities and the world at large.
Part of what lays beneath this is a deep sense of inadequacy; a constant feeling that we need to be more of something in order to be enough.
Not successful enough… organized enough…confident enough… slim enough… talented enough… experienced enough… thoughtful enough… capable enough. If you’re like many women I meet, you’re probably pretty tough on yourself and often focus on what you haven’t done, or didn’t totally nail, versus all that you have done and did nail!
Many women can be exceptionally self-critical; often far harder on themselves than on anyone else. If you relate, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the company of a legion of amazing women who often feel they don’t measure up on some parameter.
Let’s face it, we live in a society that bombards us 24/7 with messages, urging us to live up to idealised images of success, brilliance, beauty and ‘got-it-all-togetherness’. And while most women intellectually understand that no one can be at their best all the time, we are masters at using our fallen moments as a baton to beat up on ourselves. (If you’re a working mother, double it!).
It’s why the best self-help must always begin with self-compassion; accepting that no matter how hard we may try to be forever generous-spirited or brave-hearted or ‘insert-virtue-here’, we will inevitably fall short.
And that’s okay.
Research has found that it’s not self-esteem or optimism that helps people handle life’s challenges best, it’s self-compassion. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, when we are kinder to ourselves, embracing our fallibility and accepting our flaws, we don’t lower the bar and retreat to our couch to binge on ice cream. In fact, just the opposite! We expand our capacity for action, deepen our connections and recover faster from hardships and heartaches.
So if you often feel like you are not measuring up and have grown a little (or a lot) jaded by the endless advice on how to be your best self, my best advice (yes, no irony lost there) is to cut yourself some slack, get off your own back and give yourself permission to be fabulous and fallible, innately worthy and wholly imperfect …. all at the same time!
My last six months have been fertile ground for practicing self-compassion and embracing my own fallibility. During that time, I’ve packed up my life in Australia—teenage children in tow—and replanted in Singapore. Let me assure you, I’ve had more than my usual share of fallen and ‘uncomposed’ moments where I’ve felt anything but my best self.
Yet, as challenging as some days have been (and there’s been many), I’ve come to appreciate that our greatest growth and deepest fulfillment doesn’t flow from the parts of us that are flawless or the times when life is easy. Rather, it flows from the parts of us that we’ve been wrestling with our entire life; the vulnerable parts that dial up a notch or ten when plans go awry or life presses in on us (like moving country with teens). It is embracing our raw moments that make us real, relatable and allow us to forge the most authentic connections with others.
Life has taught me that we are not so much human beings as human becomings. It’s in the space of giving up on perfection that we open a window to a deeper dimension of living in which we can experience more moments of genuine joy, connection, gratitude and fulfillment.
Just imagine what possibilities could open up for you if, every day (or just as often as you can manage it), you stepped out into the world with the deep knowing that you don’t have to be more or less of anything in order to be enough — to be ready enough, good enough, successful enough, smart enough, worthy enough.
Imagine, if instead of continually striving to be the woman you think you should be, you embraced the innate adequacy of the woman you already are?
As the most pressing problems in our world seem to grow larger and we get behind the call to #PressForProgress, it’s vital that we women stop talking ourselves down and waiting until we feel we are ready enough, deserving enough, brave enough, worthy enough, before we dare to try. Because, as I wrote in Make Your Mark: A Guidebook for the Brave Hearted:
“It is by being as kind to ourselves as we are to others that we can liberate ourselves of the perpetual need to impress or prove or please and unlock our potential to make our unique mark in our workplace and the world.”
So this International Women’s Day (and every day thereafter) – dare to engage in the world around you from a place of sufficiency and worthiness . Because when you embrace your humanity and choose to show up as the flawsome human becoming that you are, you give other women permission to do the same.
What greater gift there is?