What makes a strong woman? I came across an old magazine article over the weekend. You may not remember her name, but you likely remember seeing photos of the young female surfer competing without an arm. Bethany Hamilton was 13 when she lost her arm in a shark attack while surfing in Kauai. After losing 2/3 of her blood, her future was uncertain. Yet 24 days after the attack, Bethany was back on a surfboard. Two years later, she was a national champion.
Bethany’s mindset – her ability to focus on what she could do and what was possible instead of the obstacles and challenges – kept her moving forward. I was struck by the words Bethany gave the interviewer: “My passion for surfing outweighed my fear of sharks. I dreamed of surfing competitively and the loss of my arm didn’t stop that dream.”*
Our passions are stronger than our fears.
Being a strong woman doesn’t simply happen. They are made by the storms they walk through with every challenge and obstacle they face every day
Those storms can be major challenges, like COVID-19, or they can be small swirls gaining momentum over time that overtake us if we don’t get ahead of them. Becoming strong doesn’t have to happen all at once either. Keeping a positive mindset and taking action in small steps can build momentum over time.
As I watched various news outlets announce Kamala Harris as the Vice President-Elect, a feeling of awe and emotion came over me. She is the first female and the first mixed-race woman to break the glass ceiling for either of the two highest offices in the United States. It has been 100 years since women received the right to vote in the US, and it took all 100 of those years to reach this moment.
In 2018, Stacy Cunningham became the first female president of the NY Stock exchange, after its 226 year history with only male presidents. This, along with many other small steps over time, have built the momentum to break these glass ceilings. It is the small things that make a real difference in accelerating more women into higher ranks of leadership. The groundswell comes from the paths we can forge, and each of us can contribute every single day.
McKinsey and Lean In just published its 6th annual study, “Women at Work.” As a result of COVID-19 and social injustice, 1 in 4 women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable less than a year ago: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce. (Read the full McKinsey article here)
I, for one, do not want to allow the most recent storms to create a backslide for women. I am recommitting every resource to “double down” on our female leaders. Several years ago, I asked our Signature Network, to look behind and pick two women to support, sponsor, and pave a path for career acceleration. If we each do this, and double ourselves, it will create an exponential difference in achieving bigger goals.
So, what does being a strong woman mean?
Strong women show their strength every day through the work they do. They don’t have to overcome shark attacks or break glass ceilings to be considered strong. You can make a difference every day, in simple, yet diligent efforts. Look behind you and share your experience, your insight, and your interest. Be strong for those behind you. As Bethany reminded us, our passions are stronger than our fears.
*Hill, Graham. “Surfer Bethany Hamilton Lives ‘an Unstoppable Life’ after Shark Attack.” Channel3000.Com, 25 Oct. 2019, www.channel3000.com/surfer-bethany-hamilton-lives-an-unstoppable-life-after-shark-attack/.