A recent college graduate approached me two weeks ago to thank me for the workshop I gave at The Lady Project Summit. To anyone who has ever presented or talked in front of a group, it’s pretty well-known people will approach you after and chat. It’s my favorite part, since often, I get asked really great questions and get to interact one-on-one.
But what this girl said to me really struck me, and it struck me hard. She told me thank you for my presentation because it will change her life. After spending four years in college and earning a degree in a field she enjoys, she’s working full-time in an unrelated place. It’s not awful, but the challenge is she has no idea what it is she wants to do. And the reason she thanked me was because my presentation focused on figuring out what it is you want in your life and how you can effectively take risks through discovering your core values. These are the things deep inside you that matter; they are touchy-feely sort of things that are different for each and every person.
They are not the sort of thing you’d learn about in school.
This girl told me it meant a lot to listen to someone talk about values, rather than career milestones. It hit me then how little time we spend talking about the softer parts of ourselves and how much those matter in all aspects of our lives. In a world that is eager to funnel you into one place or another, it’s important to stop and reflect upon the ways you as an individual get to control those funnels and how much you pour into one space or another.
What struck me about her comments, though, weren’t that they were flattering to me (they meant a lot, of course). Rather, they were the same sorts of thoughts I was having about the event that day and the takeaways I’d had from the workshops I attended. I had the opportunity to learn about assertive communication — learning there is a tiny but powerful difference between assertive and aggressive that has changed my entire perspective of talking and asking for what I want and need. The other workshop I got to attend was about negotiation, where I walked away with real tactics for negotiating and advocating for myself. Both workshops, as well as two of the powerful keynotes, were given by smart, driven, engaged women and it hit me how wonderful it was to be learning powerful things about “softer” talents from women who’d figured these things out. So what this college graduate student said to me mirrored so many of the things I’d been thinking about my own experiences and things I wish I’d had the opportunity to say the those speakers.
The last few months have been personally challenging for me. I haven’t talked much about it and don’t plan to, but I’ve had to make a few life adjustments in order to make space for even more changes in my life. Non of it is bad, per se, but it is exhausting and draining in a way that can exacerbate the reason I need to do those things in the first place. I’ve tried to find positive, exciting spaces to make up for it, including joining a local yoga studio and being involved with the practice on and off the mat, but it was really The Lady Project Summit that unlocked something for me.
There are some wonderful women in my life. There are incredibly talented, well-spoken, driven, and reliable ladies in my life. But now that I’m not engaged with a professional institution as I have been before, I’ve missed out on the opportunity of networking, of learning new skills in an in-person environment, and enjoying the spontaneity of connection. I’m not a particularly extroverted individual, but one reason I find conferences to be worthwhile is that I can take away the things others say, mull them over as long as I need to, and figure out which pieces are worth it for me and which aren’t. I love being challenged by new ideas and voices, and part of what made The Lady Project Summit so wonderful was that I knew no one in attendance — I’d only emailed and chatted briefly with the CEO and co-founder — and I had never attended an event that was 100% female-centric and female-developed.
I can think of no way to describe the level of enthusiasm, of empowerment, and of intellectual discussion and “you can do it, dammit” spirit that infused the entire event. Walking away, I was filled with a sort of excitement I hadn’t felt in a long time, and I’ve been eager to share the things I’ve learned and learned about with about anyone who will listen. (And yes, if you’d like my notes from the sessions and keynotes, please hit me up — I am jazzed to share them!).
This year’s “About the Girls” almost didn’t happen, in part because I’ve not been feeling like my best self. I didn’t want to push something together that wasn’t great or outstanding. In part because I take pride in everything I write here and elsewhere, and in part because I know how blog engagement is down significantly from what it has been. In order to stand out anymore, you need to be angry or be talking about hot issues of the moment. And honestly? I’m just not interested in that right now. What I am interested in is primarily self-focused: I want my old self back, and I want to put together the best work I can in all capacities.
But when the end of February rolled around and I had no “About the Girls” to look forward to, I knew that I had to put it together again. Even if it was low-key. I knew the women who would participate in the series would turn out great work.
I’ve thought about that last-minute decision in conjunction with the way I feel about blogging and engagement more broadly, and I can’t help but see the parallels between those things and what it was I walked away with from The Lady Project. There will absolutely be times we’re all on our up, just as there are absolutely times we’ll be on the down. Respecting them both matters, but there shouldn’t be a point where one’s down impacts one’s ability to recognize there will come an up time again. Maybe this series was meant to be smaller and tighter this year; not because our audience isn’t there — it is, and thank you! — but rather, it was meant to be smaller so I could use my reserve energy to put together the most amazing anthology for next spring.
And maybe, part of this year’s “About the Girls” is about recognizing that I needed to hear from the voices I heard from, as much as I needed to share them with readers (and then those readers sharing them with their readers and teen girls themselves).
Female-identifying individuals are amazing. They are wildly talented, and they’re worth our time and energy. In many ways, it’s surrounding ourselves with women as women that we begin to truly understand the magic of other girls. Being in a space that welcomes women of all shapes and sizes and ages and experiences and then encourages those women to be themselves in order to find their best selves is like nothing else in the world. The energy is there. The compassion. The “got your back” vibe. Not to mention how incredible it is to see other ladies in their own element and showing others how to make the best of theirs.
The final keynote from The Lady Project Summit left a sour note in my mouth following such a spectacular day. The speaker is a business woman who crawled from the bottom of the barrel up to being a major player in some major companies. I cringed about ten minutes into her talk when she proudly proclaimed herself “not a feminist, but a woman.” Those, to me, are not separate identities. Her advice to the audience bothered me to no end because it came down to this: play the boys’ game in order to be part of the game. Dress nicely. Don’t wear dark nail polish. If you got in trouble for wearing something, it was probably merited. “Don’t distract from your message” was her repeated mantra.
But the truth is our world has bowed to and catered to the boys’ game forever. If we don’t stand up and demand change and if we don’t do things on our own damn terms, then the boys will continue to be the ones we ask about and bend do. The boys will continue running the show, putting limits onto what is and is not “acceptable.” And even if you play the game by their rules, who says what the outcome is will be what it is that makes you your best self? Dampscribbler on Twitter said it even better:
@veronikellymars Also, you don't win *your* prizes that way, best case you might win theirs, maybe. Know what you want.
— Dampscribbler (@dampscribbler) March 13, 2016
“About the Girls” is about remembering how important it is to recognize that girls and girls’ stories and voices matter. Every girl has magic within her, and it’s important to encourage girls to cultivate those things and share them in the ways that feel best to them. Likewise, it’s vital to tell girls and women when their stories impact you and when it is you’ve taken a piece of their insight and grown from it (or expect to grow from it). I want a world that is rightfully angry and driven, but I also want a world that encourages girls to work together, for one another, with one another. That is how we allow one another to come from out of the shadows, how we stand up and own our voices and refuse the erroneous beliefs pressed upon us by others, and how we come to find safe spaces and solid, powerful bonds among each other.
This is how we claim our own prizes and how we find what matters to us.
Never stop reaching. Your way is the right way.