My father and I had a less-than-perfect relationship. As I would come to see, he didn't understand me very well at all, and our constant squabbles attested to that fact. So, one summer, home from college, it surprised me when, while discussing my future hopes and dreams, my father, with a certain look in his eye, very lucidly and directly said to me: "God didn't put you on this earth for a man."
No doubt there are grounds for a heated discussion about that comment's psychosexual implications and the Freudian interpretation to which it is surely open. Yet, what I heard so clearly at the time, took very much to heart, and still work to live up to in my life, is that aside from romantic relationships -- though they may be deeply fulfilling and long-lasting -- that when all is said and done, the planet needs me to give more to it than simply making sure that a man is happy. That is what I heard my father say to me that day.
As women, there are certain challenges to achieving the lofty goal of contributing mightily to the planet during our lifetime. We are living in a post-50s, yet-still-pseudo "Mad Men" era in which women are pressured through media, politics and society to be sex symbols first, with all else to follow. We are working our way through this growth phase in fits and starts. Those of us on the other side of 50 remember the hoopla over actress Katherine Hepburn's "outrageous" wearing of pants as tipping the scales of impropriety in its day, while today, we see a rapidly growing number of self-made women CEOs running female-driven companies. Surely, many of them wear pants. Yet, while today's young women seem less likely to acquiesce to the inequity and double standard of a patriarchal hierarchy, sometimes, in our biological imperative to nurture, we end up giving too much of ourselves away to all the "others" in our lives, only to find out too late, when our well has run dry, that there is no internal mojo left for us.
As a clinical psychologist, I see this face of exhaustion and broken-heartedness come and go on my therapy couch every week; the hopelessness and resignation with which so many women of all ages present themselves. For many, life has become an endless treadmill. How can we not feel depressed without adequate nourishment for our souls, not feel brainwashed by the self-dialogue of having to do more and more and more for everyone but ourselves? The job of self-care is an important one, however, and it ultimately falls to us. Women, as freestanding individuals, need to espouse humanistic values of self-responsibility, empathy and unconditional regard--not only for others but also, firstly, for our selves. We need to take charge of making sure that our fuel is re-fired and our heart's wishes, personally and universally, are met. In order to excel at self-care, though, as flight attendants advise, we need to learn how to put on our own oxygen masks before we assist others.
Mindfulness and other meditative activities are sure ways to begin to enrich this very important relationship. Author Pema Chodron calls it, "befriending ourselves." Only through the development of self-compassion rather than self-recrimination -- discernable through a mindful examination of habitual thought patterns in meditation practice -- do we naturally begin to more fully know ourselves, understand our unique hurts and pains, and, as human beings and in our roles as women in society, act in ways that reflect the deepest levels of emotional intelligence. In this way, we are better able to contribute in truly impactful ways to our own personal development; our family's emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health; our community's ability to thrive; and the wellbeing of the greater world.
In order to realize success in the best sense of the word, here are some simple steps to guide you towards authentically living from your innermost truths and passions and spending your precious moments on earth fully awake to them:
1. Start a mindfulness meditation practice.
2. Work diligently to discover your own singular, innate gifts and share them with others in your community.
3. Don't give all of yourself away; develop effective self-care behaviors.
4. Through mindfulness and the cultivation of awareness, try and truly be in every moment in which you find yourself, rather than lost in thoughts of the past or concerns about the future. If the mind drifts, simply return it to the here-and-now.
5. Remember that the life you are living right now is a precious experience. It is your life.
6. Embraced each moment wisely and peacefully to the extent possible, and with grace.
7. Know that happiness is a birthright for everyone.
My father may not have fully appreciated my personhood or agreed with my worldview, but in his own way, he gave me a priceless gift: He woke me up to my purpose on the planet, and he let me know that women, too, could wear the pants.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.