A male colleague, upon hearing the news of a recent hire, predicted a show-down would be imminent as he observed that this would place two powerful women in the same department. This was his belief: Powerful women are inherent adversaries. In hearing this, I paused to think, "Is this true?" Is it true that powerful woman are natural rivals? As I looked inward, I wondered: Do I harbor resentment towards other powerful women, hampering possible collaborative outcomes?
In seeking self-reflection, I often peer at my children. I can find answers to complicated questions, beautifully revealed through them. This time, my thoughts turned to my elementary-aged daughter and her prized collection of fairy figurines -- all female. Don't let the name "fairy" distort your perception, these are powerful women. Some of these fairies possess wands which they extend outward with focused determination. Some invoke a powerful presence just in their stance.
Never have I seen my daughter engage these women in battle against each other. Instead, they go on adventures, accomplishing impossible things, like taming dragons -- and they do it wearing sparkly crowns. If you know my young daughter, you know she fully embodies fairy-energy. She can control a room with her presence and smile, and she does it with sparkle. Unlike me, who traded in my femininity with my first business suit back in the 80s, her power doesn't come from stepping out of herself.
As I questioned what type of female figurines would engage in a show-down, my mind landed on Cruella de Vil, Ursula, and Maleficent. Disney is an equal-opportunity employer of powerful villains. Are these women adversaries? Can I see these women locked in combat? Sure. But my daughter has never begged Santa for them. The truth that she plays out is one of powerful collaboration.
But at the office, are women powerful because of their destructive power? Are we all nothing more than Disney villains? When I'm powerful, is it the result of being caustic? I hope not, but in hearing my colleagues pronouncement, "is it true?"
Back in my suit wearing days, I had a performance review that went really well. But along with the litany of goal-exceeding accomplishments, there was one noted observation: "A noticed harshness in my manner."
I admit, I felt smug in this comment. I was quick to correlate my accomplishments, and accompanying raise, to this necessary personality trait. But as the decades passed, the words of this review weighed on me. In trying to shake it off, I allowed myself to question the tie between my accomplishments and my mannerism. I knew I wanted to achieve many fulfilling things; but, did I need to be a bitch to do it? I made a commitment to round my edges.
There are benefits to growing up in a small town. One of them is being able to introduce my daughter to those that "knew me when." She perks up when she hears the old folk say, "You're sweet, just like your momma was when she was little." Hmmm... I was sweet. Nice to be reminded.
My perception switched, I didn't have to learn to round my edges. Those sharp edges resulted through my holding back my fullness. And in revealing my true full self, I aligned with other incredible, powerful women -- women who understand that impossible tasks are tamed through soul-enriching alliance. These women are amazing and I'm honored to have them as colleagues.
From this persecutive, I reflected back to the many people who support the adversarial story. What life circumstances created this story that they hold and cause them to perpetuate it through off-handed comments? Who are the women that hear this, and in an unexamined approach, buy in? I reflected on my early business days when I scrubbed pink out of my wardrobe, wondering why I felt that the heart-less path was the right approach?
In breathing out, I am grateful to my collegue for the question that prodded my reflecting. Through my daughter, I can see the truth. Now, I am whole in who I am; fullfilled in what I am accomplishing; and inspired by the supportive women with whom I surround myself. Flare has returned to my life, and it is powerful.
While it may be a bit outlandish for me to ask my female office-mates to pull out their fairy crowns, this is how I see us. I may, however, suggest that we keep our collective wands handy when perceptions need to be tamed.
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