Empowerment : Wait for it or take it?
When I was a little girl, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you that I wanted to be a vet. Except on the days when I wanted to be princess. But mostly I wanted to be a vet.
Looking back, even then there seemed to be a battle in my head between someone who wanted to follow their dreams, and someone who was waiting to be rescued.
Fast forward thirty years, and I was spending my days in an office in the City of London, working long stressful hours as a Wealth Manager. I had risen relatively quickly up the rungs of the corporate ladder, and after several promotions I was one of only a handful of women at my level in the company.
I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and I believed that I didn’t need to rely on a man for anything – I was more than capable of achieving anything off my own back.
I could do anything that a man could do.
Sallie Krawcheck, a veteran of Wall Street, CEO of Ellevest and self confessed Financial Feminist, wrote an article last week about Female Empowerment.
In it, one of the points she makes is that some women are still waiting to be Empowered (literally translated “given power to”) by men. Sallie understandably takes issue with this as being the complete opposite of female empowerment.
Instead, Sallie argues, women as a whole should be recognising and using the power which we already have within us. And, by extension, helping each other to empower OURSELVES.
Now, when I first read this article, I will admit that I balked a little. After all, I certainly wasn’t waiting to be given power by a man, thank you very much. I was doing just fine on my own.
But then I started to consider the events in my life over the past few months.
After nearly 20 years in the corporate financial world, the long hours, the heavy drinking culture, the stress and the pressure of trying to squeeze myself into a male dominated industry took their toll.
I burnt out.
And for the first time in the best part of 20 years, I asked myself what I REALLY wanted out of life. I had spent so many years competing with men for jobs, for money, for recognition, that I hadn’t stopped to ask myself whether that was even what I desired in my life.
Here’s what I found.
I didn’t want to spend my time in a stuffy office, in grey business suits and languishing in endless internal meetings where the main topic of conversation was whether the men were allowed to remove their suit jackets on a particularly hot day. (I shit you not, you would not believe the amount of hours devoted to this topic in buildings across the city.)
What did I want?
I wanted to buy my own house. I wanted to travel extensively and I wanted to run my own business.
So what was I waiting for?
Looking back, it’s actually crystal clear.
I was waiting for a relationship. I was waiting for a man to help me to achieve my dreams. I believed that it wasn’t within my reach to achieve those things for myself.
I believed I would never be able to afford to buy a house on my own (the house prices in London are eye-watering and combined with a sky-high rent its incredibly difficult to scrape together the necessary down payment) and so I believed I needed a man to go halves with me.
I believed I would never be able to start my own business without the security of a second income to fall back on.
And I believed that I would enjoy my travels so much more when I had a man to hold my hand along the way.
Sallie had got me spot on.
I was waiting for a man to help me fulfil my dreams. And I have to tell you, that’s pretty tough for me to admit.
So what did I do about it?
Well, I had a choice. I could continue to wait for my knight in shining armour to come and rescue me, or I could slay the dragon and climb out of the tower myself.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I decided that I wasn’t going to wait around to start living my dream life, I was going to go out there and create it for myself.
And when my Prince Charming comes along (in my head he’s a cross between Theo James and Benedict Cumberbatch…swoon…) he’ll fall head over heels in love with the independent, feisty, best version of myself.
Some months on from this realisation, and my life is rather different. I’m writing this from the house that I recently bought, in the home office from where I run my business, on the laptop that I will shortly be packing up and taking to Costa Rica with me.
For the first time in my life, I really AM empowered. I stopped waiting for someone else to give me the life that I wanted, and went out there and made it happen for myself.
And I know that every single woman has it in her, maybe with a little help from the sisterhood, to recognise the power she already has within her and go after her dreams.
So what are you waiting for?