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Five Important Lessons I’ve Learned in Becoming a Strong Woman

Her husband made all decisions in their company. She needed his input for every tiny detail. She spoke only inside her head, nodding to herself. She had no female friends. She showed little emotion beyond biting, cold indifference — unless pushed. Then, sometimes…came violent rage. She treated all her employees, both men, and women, like crap. Like we were beneath her.

This woman was the CEO of a multinational company I once worked for.

I was 25 when she barked orders from her leather sofa every day. She drove luxurious cars. Global certificates surrounded every wall of her lavish office. She waltzed in wearing popular handbag brands and red high-heeled shoes that I would die to wear.

But her expensive lifestyle did not make me like her. Like most of my colleagues, I could not even stand a 5-minute conversation without running away from her. I didn’t want to be like her.

Holding a higher position in the workplace does not equate to being a strong woman. Neither do material possessions or a high-status spouse. A strong woman is someone who isn’t afraid to share her opinions and speak her truth. She does things on her own. She is filled with compassion and a willingness to be vulnerable and authentic.

No matter what, she is true to herself.

1. You’re not half of anything.

These past few weeks, I’ve been leading a team of 22 personal development trainers. I’m in charge of their training schedules, department allocations, and delivering the right training to the right people at the right time.

As a new team leader, I’m doing my job without depending on my romantic partner. I share my day and important decisions with him. But I don’t wait for him to tell me what decisions to make every day.

Women are not half of anything. We’ve created a whole.

Some women define themselves and estimate their own worth as a function of the role they play — how “helpful” they are, how “useful” they are, how their significant other “can’t live without” whatever they do for him.

My old boss was a perfect example.

She couldn’t decide on anything without consulting her husband. She asked for his input even though a particular decision did not affect him but had a tremendous impact on her. She acted as an incomplete person.

Every woman is a complete individual.

It’s great to have a partner who navigates life with you. But your navigation accomplice should never drive all the time. You must learn to drive on your own to have a rich and rewarding relationship. To build your confidence in your abilities. To feel secure within yourself. To become a mature individual.

2. Find your voice.

“How did you learn to speak in front of people without fear in your voice?” my new team asked me at our first team meeting.

“I practiced repeatedly,” I told them.

Before I learned to find my voice, I was the shyest woman in any room. I remained silent, and not because I didn’t have an opinion. I had one. I had thoughts, feelings, and something to say. And yet, I remained mute in global gatherings and team meetings. My voice wavered, “Um. I’m sorry but…” I hesitated, “Should I say it or not?” I used needless words, “I mean, like well, I think that…”

Speaking up terrified the hell out of me.

I’ve practiced again and again until I could speak in any gatherings. So can you. You can learn to raise your hand and speak up. You can stop speaking only inside your head.

Finding your voice is important because you know. You know the answer no one else can hear. Management cannot notify you if you don’t speak up. You might be the smartest person in a room. You might have a novel perspective that adds value. But without speaking up, no one can hear your thoughts.

3. You don’t need anything other than you.

We don’t need a man. We have ourselves. I’m not saying men aren’t wonderful (because they are!) or that they are not worth your time (yes, they are!) What I’m saying is that no one is worth giving up you.

Needing a man has cost me 4 years. I was in my 20s and I needed this guy like the air I breathed. A sense of dread filled those empty years when I waited for him to do anything.

I didn’t realize I had everything I needed in myself. Like every woman has what she needs in herself. Learning to do things alone taught me I don’t need a partner to do the things I want to do.

Whether you’re pursuing your hobbies or want to travel, you can do these things on your own. You don’t need anyone’s permission to get them.

This is important because you do not wait for someone else to conquer your fears. To have a purposeful life. To take those leaps and chances. To make your dreams come true. To navigate the strongest currents and the most blazing summers on your own.

4. Value the friendship of another woman.

My old boss had zero female friends. I doubt the men she surrounded herself with were her friends. They hang out with her because of the luxury she provided.

Women need to value the friendship of another woman. I’ve four close friends, two of whom live far away. They are the first people I told about my new promotion. When either of us feels despair — or has something to say — we reach out. We talk. Nobody understands as my friends understand. For the duration of that conversation, everything falls away. Everything.

The friendship of other women strengthens our emotional and mental foundation. It’s an outlet to share problems, thoughts, feelings, and triumphs. It’s a safe place where we can cry on each other’s shoulders and tell secrets.

Strong female friendships even save lives. According to a study published in the journal of clinical oncology, women with early-stage breast cancer were four times more likely to die from cancer if they didn’t have many friends. Those with a large group of friends with early-stage cancer had a much better survival rate.

5. Be vulnerable.

The first time I was given a higher position to lead a training team of 12 people, I sucked all my emotions in. I marched through my work stoically, my heart neatly sealed, safe from the joys and sorrows of life.

When my idea was dismissed, I locked my heart. When some female colleagues hated me, I pretended all was right with the world.

I remained in emotional solitary confinement for an entire year.

Until one day I cried on my mom’s shoulder. I told her everything I was feeling. The feeling of being vulnerable felt like a host of sinister bats leaving a subterranean cave at night. My mom kissed my tears away, the light filtering in where the mere concept of luminescence was hidden for a year.

I felt free. Openhearted. Present.

Since then, I’ve learned to verbally express my feelings in front of my team. This helps me manage my emotions.

Every woman needs to be vulnerable. I feel your fear. Allowing others to see you cry is choosing to be vulnerable in a world that tells us to toughen up, to be invulnerable. Allowing others to see you cry is letting go of control and self-image in a world you perceive as controlling and image-obsessed.

Allowing others to see your vulnerability feels… unsafe.

Still.

Stay open, to feel those terrifying emotions, to remain vulnerable — even if that means getting hurt.

Sticking to the truth improves your well-being. You can be yourself. You can have lasting relationships. Research shows that the quality which makes a relationship last is its degree of affection — and affection requires vulnerability.

When you’re vulnerable, you ask a friend for help. You take responsibility for something that went wrong at work. You confront a family member about their behavior. You can do these things only if you’re vulnerable.

We can be brave. We can admit to the fear, sadness, and pain we all feel. And we can be there for each other without judgment.

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