Every woman reaches a point at least once in her life (most of us, many more), where the frustration of sexual discrimination, subtle undermining or personal self-sabotage we learned at the knee of the dominant culture smacks us in the face. You know it. It’s that moment of wordless disbelief, where we grit our teeth and hang for a moment on the brink of eruption. It’s the moment we stand on the edge between power and powerlessness.
I’ve felt it before when I saw myself and other women discriminated against for promotions and kept my mouth shut. Even though I don’t keep my trap shut in these instances any more, it happened to me recently again when I found myself procrastinating on recruiting speakers for a TEDx Women event InPower Women is co-sponsoring because I was unconsciously afraid of standing in my own power. How could I DO this to myself?!?!!?
What do you do when you reach this point? Get angry? Swallow it and move on as though nothing happened? Lash out? Turn around and take your shock into another room to vent on someone else?
My good friend and fellow InPower blogger, Marcia Reynolds, recently wrote a great post on this subject that asked when we women will get angry enough to stop the swallow reflex and get angry. About corporate discrimination. About reproductive rights. About how women are fed a constant media diet of unhealthy beauty most of us can’t achieve no matter how much we starve ourselves or cut our bodies… and how we stand by and accept all of this.
I know we encounter it in many other situations: when the boss tells us the man deserved the promotion because he has a family to feed; when we are caught in the horrible decision whether to bug out on our team at a crucial time or attend our kid’s school play; or when we swallow our passion and sign the employment contract for another two years at a job we hate because we don’t believe in our entrepreneurial dreams enough to risk our husband’s anxiety about the family income. And so many more decisions that tear us apart inside.
Marcia’s post sparked a spirited discussion on our LinkedIn group where several of us struggled with this question.
A No-Win Choice
I, for one, don’t have any desire to “get angry.” Anger is toxic and I’ve spent years ridding myself of anger in order to find happiness and fulfillment in all parts of my life. Everywhere I look in our world I see mismanaged anger beneath the violence that destroys women’s lives, the lives of their children and their families. Why would I want to invite it back into my life?
I posed this question to Marcia, who replied that she agreed with me about its toxicity, but had found anger a useful spark in her own life to stop accepting the things outside and inside herself that held her back. I can relate to that and so our discussion turned to trying to searching for a way to describe this “useful anger” that Marcia is seeking in women everywhere, and which I seek too.
ENOUGH: The Middle Way
Other women joined the conversation and we soon birthed a good word to describe what I’d always thought of as “resolute determination”. They said, we just have to get to that point of saying ENOUGH.
What happens when a woman says ENOUGH and means it in her bones? In my experience, something magical happens. That woman becomes very, very powerful – not only in that moment but in every other moment she calls that ENOUGH energy forth in her life.
This is kind of abstract, what does this really look like? What should you DO when you’ve had ENOUGH?
Any or all of the following versions of ENOUGH will move things forward in the right direction and I recommend that when you reach this point – regarding a specific event or things in general – you practice any or all of these (and feel free to suggest more) every.single.time.
- Counter-ACT: Identify what, if anything, you’re doing to play along and act to demonstrate to yourself and anyone else in the vicinity that you do not agree. When I realized I was getting in my own way about the TEDx Women event, I walked straight to my computer and sent out 5 invitations and queries (and if you know any woman in DC who needs a power pulpit on December 3, please let me know!)
- Channel your anger constructively: As Marcia said, anger can be a great motivator to ACT. Just make sure your action is constructive. Don’t let the anger make you act “out.” Be measured and controlled, even if it pisses them off. If YOU do not speak or act out of anger, their anger will dissipate much more quickly and move you into productive conversation.
- Take a stand & speak your truth: Take a stand with your actions or silence so there is no question in anyone’s mind – including and most especially your own – as to where you stand on this issue. This can be as dramatic as slamming your fist down and speaking eloquently, refusing to do something someone else wants you to, going silent or simply leaving. The key is to be true to yourself in that moment.
This may seem passive on its face simply because it’s not the vision of “Enough!” we’re used to seeing portrayed in the media – or the life drama our media tries unsuccessfully to copy. We usually think “Enough!” has to look like the heroine smashing the evil witch in the face or ripping up the multimillion dollar contract, but a hundred daily enoughs can make up for one big ENOUGH! every few years. I will guarantee that if you do these three things consistently and regularly, being honest with yourself about your emotions and not succumbing to the fears that hold most of us back, you will not only become more powerful in all your interactions and self-sabotage less, you will also cause a shift for other people as well.
What About The Fear?
There is no question that when the stakes are high we confront a lot of fear. And it’s the fear that has trained us so well not to act or speak, so it must be dealt with. I’ve spent a lifetime finding ways to address the fears and am building an eCoaching practice to pass on what I’ve learned, but I’ll give you these three secrets that will help tremendously. Do NOT succumb to your fear when you reach the ENOUGH! point. It really can be this simple.
- Stop and ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen. More often than not, it’s not as bad as our knee-jerk fear led us to believe. Sometimes it’s the fear of admitting that our younger self (i.e., the self we were two minutes ago) wasn’t as determined, gritty and strong as we are in this ENOUGH! moment.
- Consider the cost of ongoing silence and inaction. Don’t just ask about this event, ask about what is the worst if you continue to succumb to fear on this point for the next year. Three years? Five? When will enough be enough? When we understand the future cost of our inaction or silence, now is quite often the time to take our stand.
- Don’t let the fear win. Every successful woman I know, even those with nothing, who has decided to overcome fear, has been glad she did. If not now, when?
Start small and see how the fear recedes. Let your small victories build your confidence for the big things. It will. It’s your pattern of saying enough and putting the fears away that matters. Don’t’ beat yourself up over lost opportunity, commit to a future full of opportunity. With every choice to take a stand for ENOUGH! You build your inner power. Imagine how powerful you will be at this time next week. Next month! Next year!!
Over a lifetime, it’s the daily ENOUGHS! that matter most and make the big ones all the easier. Start today. What have you had enough of today? What other strategies have worked for you? Please share.
Take charge of your career development to get the job that supports your work and your life. Check out the tools and resources in the InPower Coaching Career Center.