Statistics show there has never been a better time to be a woman. As of 2014, there were almost 9.1 million female-owned businesses in the United States, generating more than $1.4 trillion (yes, with a “T”) in revenue. The percentage of women who are household breadwinners is rising. Young American women are 33 percent more likely than their male peers to have earned a college degree by age 27. And around the world, women hold several of the highest offices in the land.
And yet, in practice, so many of us seem unsettled and wary of using our own power. We’re all too willing to hand it over to other people: our families, our friends, our employers, and more. What gives?
Too often, women make choices that benefit everyone else in our lives instead of doing what we, personally, are passionate about. We move in directions that take us further from our dreams. We rob ourselves of connections that could sustain us and of relationships that bring us joy.
This isn’t surprising; after all, centuries (millennia, even!) of socialization have taught women that our primary role is to support and care for others. Even now this attitude is alive and well. (Consider the fact that while women continue to take on a greater role in the workforce, the amount of time we spend on housework hasn’t changed much at all in recent years.)
Well, enough is enough. I want this to be the year you finally stop living by default and start connecting to your passion. It’s your time, just as much as (and dare we say, more than) it is your husband’s, your children’s, or your boss’s.
For many women, the biggest obstacle to claiming and using our power is that we aren’t completely sure how to tap into it and where to channel it! We’ve been so busy devoting our time and energy to everyone else around us that we may not even know what we care about most deeply.
The only way to figure out what your passion is and to learn how to direct it is to purposefully turn your power up a notch. Here’s how:
1. Deliberately get uncomfortable. No one ever did anything great by staying in her comfort zone. As anyone who has ever given birth to a child knows, passion is often born of pain! But exploring new territory can be scary stuff, and most of us will avoid it if we can. Unfortunately, by doing so, we also avoid growth. This is why it’s so important to not only push yourself, but to engage with others who challenge you, make you think, and sometimes even make you angry.
The messages that set us on fire are not always delivered in a positive way. Believe it or not, my own journey toward empowering and partnering with other women began with my high school counselor, who advised me to forget about college and look into secretarial school. Well, that advice ignited something powerful within me, but not in the way the counselor intended!
“As anyone who has ever given birth to a child knows, passion is often born of pain!”
2. No excuses: Start working out. Don’t worry; I’m not going to harp on your BMI, cholesterol, or blood pressure (though those things are important). The fact is, if you feel tired, stiff, weak, or in pain, you are unlikely to take on that next ambitious challenge. The less you do, the less you can do.
It takes stamina to push yourself out of your comfort zone! And besides helping you build up the physical resources you need, exercise relieves stress, helps you relax, and produces the “happy hormones” that keep you strong and resilient. In short, you must exercise to be at your best. And if you’re saying, "I don’t have time," well, I encourage you to think about it in terms of loving, respecting, and maintaining the one body and the one life you’ve been given.
3. Move to Connecting 2.0. The “connecting” too many of us do is of the “mile-wide, inch-deep” variety. But real connecting is not just about attending surface-level meet-and-greets and collecting hundreds of Facebook friends. It’s much deeper. It requires you to stop wondering, What can I get from you? and start thinking, What can we accomplish together?
This is Connecting 2.0, and making the shift changes everything. How well we can truly partner with other people (especially with other women!) determines our success.
Women inherently know how to make satisfying, mutually fulfilling connections. As you seek out ways to collaborate with other great women, aim for a good mix of social networking, phone time, and face time. Remember, this isn’t all about business. It’s also about building real relationships. Even introverts won’t mind doing this once they see how good it feels to connect this way.
4. If you can’t figure out where to channel your power, look to your friends. After years of doing what they think they should be doing instead of what they want to be doing, many women simply don’t know what their strengths and skills are. If this sounds like you, don’t strike out blindly. You won’t get far if you aren’t moving in a direction that’s aligned with your goals and values. For instance, getting a professional certification in a career field that doesn’t fire you up might make you a better employee, but it won’t bring you closer to living your purpose.
Ask your women friends for advice. In some ways, they know you better than you know yourself. They aren’t bogged down by your particular routine and worries, and they are in a better position to notice the things that make you smile and that you’re inherently good at. What do your friends admire about you? What do they encourage you to accomplish?
5. Practice staying present. How often have you “lost” a few minutes (or a whole hour) or even more ruminating on something that happened in the past or worrying about what might happen in the future? The point is, whether you can’t stop thinking about an argument you had with your teenager or are concerned about how a client will respond to your proposal, you aren’t focusing, creating, doing, or developing right now.
When you can learn to stay present, you’ll fret less and become more powerful. And it’s ironic that so many of us struggle to stay present because it really is the simplest, most natural thing in the world. It happens through the senses—all we need to do is tune in to what we’re seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting right now.
Challenge yourself to notice something beautiful about your surroundings. Allow yourself to feel grateful for it. Gratitude awakens us, and when we’re awake, we can see our opportunities and rise to our challenges instead of obsessing about our barriers and failures.
“When you are able to observe a positive difference in the world because of something you did, you’ll tap into a powerful well of motivation.”
6. This year, do one thing to change the world. When you are able to observe a positive difference in the world because of something you did, you’ll tap into a powerful well of motivation. You don’t have to solve world hunger or found an orphanage; in fact, I encourage you to start small. For instance, organize a panel of successful female entrepreneurs to speak to a local women’s group. Start volunteering at a local animal shelter. Or simply start picking up the litter you encounter on your walks through your neighborhood.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama. He impressed me when he said that the future of the world rests in the hands of Western women, but we would be able to fulfill this destiny only when we wake up. I so believe this, and I also think the opposite is true—changing your corner of the world for the better invigorates your whole being. It’s an amazing way to access your power.
Once you take those first few jarring steps forward and stop living by default, connecting to your purpose will become incrementally easier. You’ll begin to notice other women and men around you who are moving in similar directions. You’ll feel the joy and satisfaction of doing something deeply meaningful. And you’ll want to do more.
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of "Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life" and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women empowerment expert, O’Reilly helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website. For more information visit www.drnancyoreilly.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.