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From Paradox to Possibility: Redefining Success for Women in the Workplace

This blog was inspired by two things. 1. It's Women's History Month, and 2. we recently watched the Barbie movie with that intensely relatable monologue by America Ferrera.


If it's not already seared in your psyche, she starts with this line:


"It is literally impossible to be a woman."

Oof. Yeah. Preach it, sister. I think every woman I know has been caught in the tightrope walk of needing to "make your presence felt" while at the same time being nudged to "play it down a bit" in our work or social circles, and I know similar impossile pressures are put on our gender-rebel colleagues as well. Perhaps you've been cheered on to voice your thoughts louder, occupy your space with more confidence, or flaunt your skills and accomplishments without a hint of bashfulness. Maybe you've received back-pats for your ambition, your drive, or your zeal towards your objectives.


Yet, on the flip side, have you felt the tug to dim your light? The urge to soften your personality, underplay your achievements, or dial back your dreams. The push towards becoming more palatable, more yielding, more "likeable," lest you come off as too much, too qualified, or, dare we say, "too assertive." I know I've wrestled with this - not always super successfully.


If you're navigating the professional world as a woman or gender-non-normative human, this conundrum might not be unfamiliar. The tightrope of being encouraged to be both grand and modest, assertive yet not overpowering, ambitious but not insatiable, and successful without being seen as a threat.



So, how can we chart a course through this bewildering, impossible-feeling maze? How do we strike a balance between authenticity and societal acceptance? How can we shield ourselves from the fallout of these mixed signals?


Here are ideas I've been exploring - and please believe me when I say I was inspired to do this as a kick in the ass for myself to keep pushing forward, as much as for any other reason. It gets heavy, y'all!:


  • Acknowledge the Real Adversary: First off, understand that the fault doesn't lie with you; it's the system. A system steeped in outdated stereotypes and norms that both cages and curtails our true potential and influence. A system that simultaneously applauds conformity and penalizes assertiveness in anyone but traditional "alpha" men, prioritizes looks over merit, and ensnares us in a catch-22 when we aim for success and respect.

  • Dispel the Myth of Mutually Exclusive Choices: There's no need to oscillate between being "big" and "small." Reality is, we can embody both. Merge confidence with humility, assertiveness with consideration, ambition with kindness, success with solidarity. We're not forced to choose—we can blend these qualities seamlessly.

  • Champion Your whole, Awesome, Complex, Multifaceted Self: NONE of us are meant to squeeze into a one-size-fits-all mold. We are all a beautiful tapestry of strengths, vulnerabilities, passions, and aspirations. Masking any aspect of our identity to conform or to be accepted diminishes our richness. Instead, let's celebrate our complexity and genuine selves, and let our multifaceted personalities shine.

  • Seek Out Your Squad: Remember, WE are not treading this path solo. Numerous women and gender rebels, maybe ALL of us, are navigating, or have navigated, this labyrinth of expectations. There are allies and mentors out there who recognize our worth just as you are, irrespective of societal sizing. Cultivate a circle of supporters who offer wisdom, motivation, critique, and encouragement. Let's make a pinky-promise pact to engage with those who not only applaud our successes but also propel our growth.

  • Be the Catalyst for Change: We wield the power to reshape the narratives that have long dictated the "appropriate" space we should occupy. By embracing our true selves, raising our voices, initiating change, championing others, dismantling barriers, and making a tangible difference, we become activists and advocates for each other and contribute to a cultural shift towards more inclusive, equitable spaces where we can thrive without constraint.

I believe the journey to embodying both greatness and grace is not about dimming our light or amplifying it to dazzle; it's about shining authentically, in a way that illuminates our path and guides others along theirs. Let's pave the way for a workplace culture where the paradox of being big and small becomes obsolete, replaced by a culture that celebrates diversity, inclusivity, and the power of authentic self-expression for us all. ♥


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