Over the course of Thursday 4th and Friday 5th February, I spent 14 hours in the company of 40 other women. We were there for a discussion – about the joys and challenges of being female and being change-makers. Its name? “She Is Sustainable”.
We heard inspiring and thought-provoking stories about women’s lives, careers, choices, adventures, loves, losses, changes, glass ceilings, struggles and values.
The organisers, the speakers and the participants were an inspiring bunch. To name just a few of them, they included Solitaire Townsend, Becky Willis, Amy Mount, Melissa Miners and Fiona Reynolds. Participants varied in age from 21 to 31. Speakers varied in age from 27 to over 60.
Certain themes came up repeatedly, and seem fundamental, normalising, grounding and motivational for all of us who are working women in sustainability. To share these themes is the main reason I’m writing this blog. The pearls of wisdom and realisations we had are summarised below:
- Be true to your values.
Do what makes you happy, and hang on to your purpose as your driving force behind everything you do. It will help you stay motivated.
- Define your own meaning of success.
You come up with your definition of success, don’t let society dictate it for you, in terms of who you are or what you do. Success looks different for every single person.
- Can women have it all?
You probably can’t have it all, all of the time. Over the course of your life you have different bits of the ‘all’ at different times. And, going back to point 2, work out what you mean by ‘all’!
As an aside, I was struck that the women who were ‘successful’ in the traditional sense of the word (i.e. at the top of a large organisation, large level of influence), all said they either didn’t have children, couldn’t have children, or their partner was the main carer. That was an important realisation for me that I really need to think about point 2 and work out what success means for me – and then how that will affect my choices in life linked to family, friends, spare time, work, and contribution to society.
- Believe in yourself.
It’s the most quoted, clichéd phrase you can find, but it’s true. A few of the women who spoke commented that they didn’t know how they were going to do a job when they applied for it, they just knew they wanted the job and would find a way to do it. Their self-belief that they would figure it out later carried them through.
If you don’t believe in yourself, how are you going to convince anyone else to do so? The most common barrier seemed to be our own self-limiting beliefs. Often these were created or reinforced by society, but it was clear how peoples’ own judgements of themselves are almost always far harsher than anyone else’s opinions of them.
- Act confidently.
Many of the women who spoke – inspiring, strong, motivated, intelligent, self-aware women – gave advice to put on the appearance of being confident even if you don’t feel it. Which links to yet another commonly quoted phrase that holds a lot of merit – “Fake it til you make it”.
- “I’m not ambitious, I’m a change junkie”.
Most of the women who spoke explained their drive came from the positive impact they want to create. My favourite quote of the two days linked to this was “Glass ceiling? Who cares about a glass ceiling when I’m tackling climate change?!” It links back to point 1 – put your values and purpose at the core.
- Be courageous and assertive.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Take risks. Be scared and do it anyway. The greatest impacts, achievements and learnings often come from these moments!
- Other peoples’ opinions of you are none of your business.
Be nice to people, but at the same time, accept that you won’t please all of the people all of the time so don’t let that be a hindrance to you acting for the greater good.
- You have one life so choose how you live it.
Think about what your 80 year old self will think. How do you want to look back on your life? What impact do you want to have had? Think about what really matters to you and make sure it is there in your day to day.
- Most people are making it up as they go along!
“Post-hoc rationalisation” came up a lot i.e. that idea that with hindsight your choices and the directions life take you all make a lot of sense, but at the time it all seems like a lucky coincidence, or a crazy move, or a “what the heck am I doing here?!” feeling.
When you are trying to choose between path a or path b, most people have no idea what lies ahead. Take comfort that whatever choice you make – good or bad – give you experiences, contribute to who you are as a person and help you develop.
- Be generous.
With contacts and connections, with (genuine) compliments, with support to others, and with yourself.