The theme for this year’s Women’s History Month is “Choose to Challenge!” – which I find quite appropriate since this is a year when women are faced with choices that challenge almost every part of our lives. There are new paradigms at work, home, schooling, caring for parents or others (who normally would be in daycare or having outside resources which are no longer available). And then there is house work, cooking, cleaning etc., which add to the already mountains of responsibilities we have. Challenge after challenge. Sometimes we are blessed with a great partner or family member who works beside us. Sometimes not. In either case, it can become easier for us to just settle and not go after what we need because our lives are upended. Some days it feels like there is not a lot left for us to give back to ourselves.
Just Get Through or Thrive?
How can we not only ‘get through’ and stay sane, but also thrive? This article is not to tell you How To do this all. There are tons of articles on the ‘how to’ for you to find. What I want to convey now is that you need to make yourself a priority. Period. Set boundaries. Set time for real self-care. Be committed to you at least once a day. This is about making a promise to yourself because unless you do that, all of the articles out there will be of no help unless you accept that you MUST take care of you. Stop settling for any less.
Finding Inspiration from Women’s Stories
When we look back at just the history of women in the U S, the stories of women who have been challenged by the hardships of daily life, and also who challenged the system around them, are abundant! From the women who took their families and pulled up stakes to go across country in covered wagons, to the courageous women struggling with the terrible slavery of themselves and their families, to women who had the tenacity and perseverance to stand up for the Vote and started the Women’s Suffrage Movement to women going through the Great Depression – there are boundless stories we can learn from which will support us in getting though our challenging times. All of these stories are about women warriors- which I doubt they would have thought of themselves that way.
Resilience in Us All!
I am reading the Four Winds right now by Kristin Hannah. She writes about how the lives for everyone during the Great Depression and the years of the Dust Bowl were almost unbearable. It was daily survival in the truest sense – food, shelter, money, work – all of which were scarce beyond imagination. And the impact on the women – the mothers, grandmothers, daughters – well – the word ‘challenging’ does not even seem to come close to describe how these women were able to survive and still take care of others. And yet they were able to find how to keep going on. What we can learn from them is that we have such a deep capacity for resilience – it is really unlimited.
Smile More. Laugh More. Everyday.
Take a few minutes to read even a small article which will inspire you. Write down what you learned from then and then what it is you need right now. Next write down just one action you will take everyday to use your resilience to make your life a bit happier. Smile more. Laugh more. Hug more (where you can). And mostly love yourself more. I know the women who preceded us probably didn’t think so much about the concept of self-love. But something inside was so driving them to live differently and so they found their resilience to move forward. I do know that by following their instincts for survival and for making things better for themselves and to those important to them, they brought about small and enormous changes that made a difference. Learn from others. Learn from ourselves everyday. There is a ‘warrior’ in each us longing to come out.
Photo credit – I took this photo at the Orvieto National Archaeological Museum in Orvieto, Italy. I discovered that the ancient Etruscan women were a strong and powerful part of their society and we can go back to ancient times and learn from them as well.
Aretha Franklin was a joy to us all. I loved her! (After all, we shared the same birthday–March 25th.) When I was young, I always wanted to sing like her so I would practice her songs very loudly; over and over. I was a skinny Italian girl who grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country so I didn’t know much about R&B or soul music. What I did know was that Aretha’s music made me smile and my feet would automatically go into a happy dance whenever I heard her sing. At some point I realized I didn’t have the talent or drive to hone my voice so, instead, I have always kept her songs in my playlists and, when I am sad, the pure magic of her voice picks me right up.
She made for herself an amazing life. She was not a Diva or Drama Queen like many of today’s artists. Her life was full of hard knocks and tireless work. She commented more than once about those challenging times…
It’s the rough side of the mountain that’s the easiest to climb; the smooth side doesn’t have anything for you to hang on to.
The “Queen of Soul” was the first woman to be entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was one of the best-selling female artists in history with 75 million records sold worldwide in her career. She lived her life with grace, honor and humility and was grateful for each day:
Every birthday is a gift. Every day is a gift.
She is one incredible role model, which is why at The International Center for Women in Leadership, we couldn’t let her time on earth go uncelebrated. Thank you Aretha for sharing your talent and giving us joy.
There is hardly one woman I know who doesn’t have some fairly high level of stress in their lives – especially women who work – who are in their own business or have a career. For a lot of us, being happy is inconsistent or elusive. As women, we still feel we must do it all – do it, give it, make it happen. This pressure is almost debilitating and it can become harmful to our overall health. We may experience a feeling that it is hard to breathe, develop a pattern of sleep problems, poor eating habits. Perhaps become sullen or angry, or depressed or worried. Sometimes our lives are unfulfilled or unpleasant because we are too pressured with responsibilities to enjoy life. We can almost be so unhappy that we get to a point where we realize we are in too much pain and something must change.
About Conscious Choices
Our lives will not change unless we make conscious choices to make change happen.
I have been thinking a lot about how to get myself into action so that I could reduce my stress and increase my level of happiness every single day. It is a lot about acknowledging something is not right and about giving ourselves permission to get support and find more joy every day.
Many of you know my story: how my beloved husband of 30+ years passed away last year, leaving what feels like an endless void of sorrow. Besides this new reality, I’m still growing and running my business. I have had to make extreme efforts at times to move forward, and now am at the point of being very conscious of how I can be happier every day, despite the circumstances of my life. It is not a place that I would ever choose to be, but here I am and I want to share what has helped me manage my layers of stress and sadness and move forward by taking responsibility for my happiness now.
Here are 3 powerful ways I want to share with you to help you move forward and find a sigh of relief and joy each day:
- Move Your Body
It is truly amazing how good it feels to move! I started to use my Apple Watch which has this great little reminder that goes off every 60 minutes. It reminds me to breathe, and but I also use it to get up and walk around. And even better, I started to take dance lessons, which is something I have been wanting to do for years but was unable to. I said to my dance instructor, Christian, that is impossible to be sad or stressed and dance at the same time! Go take a lesson. I’m learning the Bachata, and I just have to laugh. Put on your favorite dance music (I like Better When I’m Dancin’, and My Heart Is In Havana. — I am playing it now and dancing at my desk while I write this.) Smiling is not optional! Speaking of which:
- Smile and Laugh
In an INC. article, Angelina Zimmerman writes: “Children laugh an average of300 times per day compared with an adult’s average of 5 times.” What has changed and why has this happened to us? Some would say – “Well, you have to grow up sometime.” And I say dig into that inner child instead. She is still there waiting to enjoy life again. Women who work (outside or inside the home) especially need to laugh.
Even by simply making yourself smile, the body does a little happy dance inside your brain – endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin are released.
These chemicals are released in the brain(called neuro-transmitters) and go to work to make you feel good – blood pressure and heart rate drops, your body relaxes and a feeling of overall pleasure descends, even if for a moment. (Endorphins are also triggered by dark chocolate! A good excuse to indulge a little.)
Share the Joy A smile truly rubs off on others because smiles are contagious. When you smile at someone else, there also is an automatic trigger which pushes them to smile back (unless they consciously stop it). Try it a minimum of 3 times today. You’ll be amazed at the reactions.
- Talk to Others and Support Them
Not text or email them – talk to them. I made a resolution this year to text less and talk more and am finding that choosing to talk and connect live with others has its own joy. Establishing this verbal connection brings me closer because I can actually hear how the other person is feeling. Hearing the voices of others live, I can decipher whether they are happy, sad or stressed and can then talk about that and we both leave in a better place.
Reaching out can also lower our stress, and theirs. Even a small offer of support does wonders. Come from a sincere place of service to others. Your muscles relax when you are in a place of support which puts things in perspective. When we text or email, we simply don’t get the whole picture. We don’t see or hear the whole person and many times, we “make stuff up.” A personal connection helps us sort through how we both feel. It takes active, conscious listening, which is the topic of the next article.
Decide to do more of what makes you happy – right now. Step up and make a conscious choice to make changes in your life which will reduce the stress you have been living with for far too long.
We are not here in this life to be sad or anxious all the time. We are here to take part in the bounty and beauty of life which is all around us. We get to choose how we want to spend each day. Please let me know your thoughts and ideas on how You find joy everyday.
If you are an executive woman or business owner, the International Center for Women’s Leadership is offering an Ultimate Self-Care Program just for you – A retreat in Orvieto, Italy, for self-care and finding joy, to take place in the spring of 2019. This will be offered to no more than 10 women internationally so please see how you can join us for a Week of Self-Care,
Reflection, Connection, and Renewal
This is first in a series of articles and podcasts for executive women and business owners which will take place over the next few months.