I’m a Woman in a Woman’s World
... And here’s the beauty I see. For the past year, I have been blown away by the women who have come into my life. From goddess circles to business masterminds, my life (as of recent) has been surrounded by strong, powerful women. Women who have achieved great things and transformed entire communities by their presence, by simply allowing others to see essence. Their essence is their state of being, who they are underneath all the masks and expectations that society tells us to do, to be. Every single one of us, women and men, have an essence, but many of us are unaware of it, much less know what it is.
The first time I longed to see my essence was two years ago, when I closed my second startup. At the time, I was working 100 hours a week and my personal life and my physical health were in disarray. I believed that success, especially in startup world, required hard work and sacrifice. I remember going to a tech event of 300 people, and being one of eight women in the room. I remember being approached for speaker events to talk about what it was like to be a female founder (before we had amazing communities like SheEO, The Vinetta Project, and Lean In Canada) because so many women needed to hear that they weren’t alone. I remember going to networking events, where I was getting catcalled and asked out, resenting the fact that even after all I had achieved, people were still treating me like an object rather than a person. I remember choosing to give up my cute bags and my pretty dresses after that, so that I could avoid that kind of attention. It really felt like a man’s world (back then).
Not only that, looking at the other female executives or founders in the media (like Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer), it didn’t feel possible to have a relationship and my business. It felt like if I wasn’t perfect, if I hadn’t given 100% of entirety to work, people would criticize and tell me that I could have done better. I made a choice: my business, my legacy. I had spent so much of my life building my legacy, graduating first in my year and creating businesses at a young age that I didn’t know what to do when I wasn’t trying to conquer the world. What do I do with all this free time, now that I have choice? But more importantly, who am I without my business?
For many of my “alpha ladies,” you know what I’m talking about. In the traditional school system where I was raised, we are told (even unintentionally) that it’s a man’s world. I remember being in high school, signing up for programming and engineering classes and my friends asking me why because my girlfriends were signing up for something else. I remember having an advising session with my career counsellor, and she suggested that even though I was taking an equal number of science and technology classes, that medicine would be the path for me. I remember being in undergrad and starting my first business at 20, and classmates asking me why I was working so hard when I could just marry something rich. (Many of these comments coming from women themselves, sadly enough.) I remember feeling like I didn’t fit in, wondering why people couldn’t see what I could see: that there are bigger games to play in life, that there are no limits to what we (women and men) can achieve if we choose the path for ourselves. I wasn’t going to settle for anything less.
It was after years of feeling this disconnect between what I perceived and who I am that I first discovered and witnessed my essence. Last year was one of the most raw and magical periods of my life, where I unraveled like a flower, letting go of old beliefs and allowing myself to bloom from the truth of my pain. At the time, I felt like I was suffering, coming out of a relationship with an incredible man and wondering why I felt unloved or unseen when I looked back at my dating life. I couldn’t understand what was happening; why was it so hard for me to give and receive love? Why did love seem so close yet so far away?
This answer came through when I started attending goddess circles. A goddess circle is a gathering of women who are embracing their potential and beauty, who come together to celebrate themselves and the people around them. They are women who are dedicated to doing the work, but also allowing themselves to explore and play and be. Often times, many of these women are people like me; women who have been killing it in almost every area, but feel that there is something missing in their personal lives.
In one of my first goddess circles, my mentor taught me the word “essence.” A successful businesswoman herself, she spent many years believing many of the stories that I shared with you: that we had to work hard and be invincible, that we had to give up our softness and flow of our femininity in order to harden ourselves in order to lead. Essentially, we had internalized the belief that we had to be a man to lead organizations because we believed that it was a man’s world. We had denied our essence, covered it up with layers of masculinity, and forgot that it existed. I sure as hell didn’t know what essence was, nevertheless knew what my own was. And the most painful part? If you don't know your essence or don't allow others to see your essence, you can never build the relationships or experiences that are based on a love of surrender and truth.
My mentor often tells me that the reason why women feel they are suffering is because we don’t allow ourselves to be unapologetically and fully ourselves. There have been times when we play down our smarts or our looks or when we hedge what we say rather than owning our words like we mean them. Since our essence is who we are and we have lived with it for so long, we may be unaware of what it looks like to begin with. Often times, we need a mirror to show us our truest selves.
A moment that I am thankful this year is when I got to witness my own essence. Every meeting at goddess circle, we do a standing meditation where we dance alone, with ourselves, as we have other women witness us. After each woman has danced, we gather to share what we have witnessed about their essence. Who are we without all the layers? Here is what I have been told about my essence: Sweet. Sensual. Playful. Amazonian queen. In an intimate embrace with the world. Unraveling. Blooming like a flower. Wow.
If I was to be honest with myself, I was unaware or unappreciative of these things because I've lived with them for so long. It didn't occur to me that being sweet or sensual or strong was remarkable, much less something to celebrate until I was able to view the essence of others and realize that each of us are different. Each person, woman and man, has a combination of things that make our essence uniquely our own. No one else in the world will have exact same essence that I have. Isn't that the coolest thing?
What blows me away is how much more powerful I feel after knowing my essence; it feels like a deep sense of knowing and trust. When I make decisions now, I operate from this place, from a place of being myself. If it doesn’t feel good, if it doesn’t make my heart sing, it’s a No. Acting from this place, where we are being ourselves, is the most empowering place to be. No one can ever take away your being; they can cover it up, they can make you forget (for a moment), but you can never truly lose your essence. You can always find your way back.
But the most amazing thing? Knowing and seeing your essence develops the ability of presence, of living in the present and seeing things for what they truly are, to experience the world in its entirety with all its wonder. Often times, we can be with someone or in an experience, but not truly be there. Our body might be present, but our mind and our soul might be reliving the past or worrying about the future. Being present feels like a revealing of colours and lights and possibilities for what the world is.
Here’s what I know now: I’m a woman in a woman’s world because the world is what you make of it. What you focus on is what you get, so here’s what I choose for myself: I celebrate all of the women who continue to create in their own and unique way. I honour all of the mentors, women and men, who have guided me in returning to my power. I thank all of my partners for giving me such beautiful moments with which to learn and discover about myself and the world. I light up seeing the possibilities for womankind, how we can choose to create from a place that embraces our feminine AND masculine. I smile knowing that here, today, is the start of the journey and there is so much more beauty and magic to come.