"Women can be powerful. Women can be likable. Being both is hard to do." says Fortune editor Patricia Sellers in her post this last week, "Facing Up to the Female Power Conundrum." My Own Power Struggle
I totally resonate with this battle. And it's not just a theoretical fear. From experience, I know that as others perceive me in leadership, power or influence that my relationships more frequently have experienced jealousy, competition & criticism. As a people-pleaser, it's a temptation to choose popularity at the expense of my power.
On Friday, I spent part of the day in a coffee shop with a girlfriend of mine. Part of our conversation centered around a workshop we had both attended last weekend where six of us participants went through a process of discovering our essence. While hard to explain, it's basically stripping away all the titles, identities and things we do for others to land on a handful of phrases that captures who we truly are. An acorn has the essence of an oak tree-- that which it is meant to become.
The hardest part of that workshop for me was owning how powerful my essence feels. For me, standing in that group and stating my essence was really difficult (even though they all validated and pushed me to see what they saw.) It felt presumptuous, vain, bold and big.
The little voice of my critic kept whispering "Who do you think you are to say those things about yourself?"
I was raised being told that I could be anything I wanted, but somewhere along the way I received messages that it wasn't acceptable to look like I wanted it. Rather, I felt like others celebrated false modesty, encouraged giving all credit to others, expected me to undersell my contributions and wanted me to pretend I didn't care for ambition and accomplishment.
To be truthful, I know I have a greater power and force than I am currently owning. My fear? As the article nailed on the head: losing likability.
The Role of Friendship in the Power Conundrum
There is still a huge difference between how we perceive men in power versus women in power. And it would be easy to point to men as the obstacle to us owning our power, but in my experience it is definitely more my relationships with other women that will influence whether I step into my ambition. Apparently, both genders have a harder time liking women in power as much as we like men in power. But I'll argue that women have a stronger influence in empowering or preventing other women from having to choose one or the other.
Two years ago, sitting in the living room of a girlfriends home, she read us all the famous Marianne Williamson quote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
And we sat in a circle, vowing to each other that we would rise to the occasion of being women who would contribute to all of us being our best. It was powerful, to say the least. And now for two years they have proven that to be true. We have all chosen repeatedly, and it's not always our first impulse, to cheer for each other even if it makes us jealous and taps our own desires. But we hold to the belief that when she wins it will inspire my own wins. It's not an either-or where only one of us gets what we hope.
The role of a friend is to remind us that we will both applaud each others happiness, not just our own.
Choose Both & Let your Friends Choose Both.
I can only hope that in the GirlFriendCircles.com community that we will continue to try to be women who show up in ways that prove that the choice doesn't have to be between likability and accomplishment. We may not be able to solve the media bias or bring equality per se, but in our own small way, we can offer each other friendship that can be sustained through whatever ambitions we each choose to chase. If we cheer for each other, we will at least know we are liked among those who know us.
On Friday, my girlfriend modeled this. She is pushing me to trust that whatever I step into, she is going to be there. So while I totally understand the power struggle that women feel, here is one girl who isn't being forced to choose only one.
I will choose to own both my power and keep my friends.