As we wrap up International Women’s Month, I paused to reflect on the women leaders in my life and how they inspired me. I come from a large, extended family, and from a young age, the women got things done. They fed me, they taught me, they encouraged me, and they put me to work.
More hands (even small ones) made big chores manageable and wrapped me in a blanket of belonging. I knew there was a place for me, shucking corn or clearing dishes. They also showed me the value of communication, the glory of a well-told story, and the courage to make up my own mind about any and all topics.
All these things have carried me through life. Thanks to those that came before me, I was the first woman in my family to go to college and earn a degree. I have strong personal relationships, appreciate being part of a team, and value collaboration. I never shy away from a conversation or the opportunity to make a connection, and I cannot help myself from helping others.
As a stepmother, and an auntie to many, it has always been my goal to be a stalwart champion for them and hand down what I learned, creating a new generation of women who will carry the baton to a more equitable life. The things I learned around a kitchen table translate wholly to a conference table. You can be good and do good. You can be strong and whole-hearted in everything you do.
So to the ones who come next, here are a few words of wisdom from the ones who came before:
Take a chance.
Life is going to put some weird stuff in your path, and sometimes you will have to trust your gut. Take the job that you love, and the money will follow. Go out for coffee with the “not quite right” one, wear your favorite things often and embrace the idea that anything can happen. Life happens for the ones who live it.
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Figure out what you like and what you don’t. Learn to say no and mean it. Don’t encourage or buy into someone’s nonsense to protect their feelings.
Get your hands dirty.
Do the work. Do the work you think isn’t your job, do the work for yourself, your soul, and your next opportunity. Every experience enhances the next.
There is power in laughter and humor.
Those kitchen conversations were always filled with laughter. I didn’t know it then, but laughter is a great healer; it strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and alleviates stress. When you find humor in life, it’s easier to find balance in your heart, mind, and body. I keep a list of funny sayings and comments on my white board to lighten my burdens, inspire hope and connection and to keep me grounded, focused, and alert.
Happy Women’s History Month and remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” I can’t wait to read about you someday.