A topic that has weighed on my mind heavily, most recently since attending the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) this past December, is the stark contrast between what is motivating for women, and what is simply garnered from an inherent sense of competitiveness.
The lesson I grasped onto the most at WLI was that as women, we need to be in a place where we are consistently lifting and supporting each other – as defined by the #wlsalt mission and community – Support Affirm Lift Transform. Whenever we as women find an experience valuable, we should be in a place where we extend a hand, and bring someone along with for the ride. What an awesome thing – to share the knowledge, advice, experiences, and support that you may have received from other women, and to pay it forward!
Unfortunately, with a need to bring our best selves forward – personally, spiritually, and professionally – sometimes comes a competitiveness that seems to stem from what society tells us should exist. Why is it that when a female friend or colleague comes forth to share a fantastic event or opportunity in her own life, we are sometimes compelled to become defensive (even if only internally), or worse, make attempts to “one up” the other person, just to reaffirm our own good endeavors? Where does this need come from? And if we’re being honest here, sometimes when a friend or colleague shares a valuable or impactful experience with me, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I too sometimes think to myself, “Why the heck didn’t I think of that?!?” or “Why wasn’t I a part of this experience?”
Sometimes, that sense of competitiveness can be quite motivating. And that’s ok! It’s what gives us drive, and ideas on how to expand outside our own comfort zones. But there are vast differences between motivation and competition. It’s those overly critical and disparaging inclinations that go against everything we should be doing to support each other as professionals in the field. We need each other for that drive, but that drive should not be spun solely from motivation to “one up” one another. Instead of critiquing or feeling a sense of pride and defensiveness, use that spark to propel yourself into a direction that works for you.
That competitiveness also snowballs into a vicious cycle of guilt and empathy sometimes. Instead of proudly and boldly sharing, “I did this! This is something to be proud of and excited about!” often guilt and empathy for someone who may not have those shared experiences stops you from sharing. You keep the accomplishment to yourself, rather than sharing that accomplishment with others. One of my favorite Pinterest quotes states, “Don’t let comparison steal your joy.” We should be proud of our accomplishments as strong female leaders! That excitement to share with others should not be overshadowed by guilt, or from thinking that the particular accomplishment isn’t good enough to share.
On a recent episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass, Oprah and Iyanla Vanzant explained that truly successful people want other people to feel empowered and want to lift you up. Instead of a bitterness or disdain for others who succeed, why not simply ask for them to share their own experiences? Oprah and Iyanla also shared the thought that we often criticize qualities of others that we ourselves need to resolve – “I see in you what I refuse to see in me.” What a powerful statement! (You can check out notes from the “class” here – it was a fantastic episode!)
So where does this leave us? My experiences connecting with other women in the field professionally this last year have left me stunned. It’s not that I’ve been so surprised that other women are willing to help – but why on earth had I never thought to ask up until this point?! Asking is half the battle!
As strong female professionals in the field, I challenge each of you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I proudly share my accomplishments with others?
- Do I ask, with a sincere interest, for others to share how they got to where they are today?
- When I find myself in a place when I want become defensive or boastful with other women – do I take a moment to reflect on the situation before reacting?
- What can I learn from others to apply to my own life – but in a way that works for me?
- Do I work to help lift and affirm the lives of other women, especially newer professionals in the field? Do I openly share my experiences and help to set an example for others?
- What conversations can I have with others to help them see their own gifts and talents?
I challenge each of us (myself included) to take these unique lessons from other women, to find parts of those lessons to apply to our own lives, and then to carry it forward. As role models to our students and to other Student Affairs professionals, this is a great way to push us as female leaders forward confidently and positively. Now go compliment another woman today. J
*The fantastic Teri Bump wrote a great post speaking to the idea of lifting and affirming others. You can read it here.
Melissa Robertson is an Area Coordinator at Purdue University. Follow her on Twitter: @melpels