In late 2012, my ten year-old daughter and I each faced major setbacks that collectively provided rich fodder for introducing her to the subject of women’s empowerment, global development and what it means to lead from the heart and live one’s own voice out loud – all subjects that encompass some of the deepest dreams of my heart and embody all of my childhood experiences growing up around the world.
My daughter was struggling to stand up for herself in the face of relentless schoolgirl bullying. Should she stand up or stand down? What if ignoring the behavior did not create change? Should she settle for something less than she’s worth, or risk the loss of friends and the potential consequence of social stigmatization? Could she hold on to her confidence and her character in the midst of these challenging circumstances? It was painful to watch as I recalled my own past struggles to stand up for myself and to claim my own voice; struggles that at times in the past, drowned out my dreams and kept me from living my fullest potential.
During this same period, I was struggling to find employment after an abrupt and unforeseen layoff at the peak of my rebound career. Having re-entered the workforce only a few years earlier – as a newly single parent at midlife and the midpoint of my career, the ‘safe’ path I always believed would be there, the one that previously enabled me to take risks in my career, seemed to vaporize before my eyes, and I found myself at a once unimaginable and seemingly un-navigable crossroad in my career.
Deemed ‘over-qualified’ by many and geographically constrained, my daughter, concerned for her mom and eager to help, innocently suggested that perhaps if I were less smart; if I could convince others I know less than I do, it might be easier to find work. Others suggested that I minimize (or hide) my experience, though as I wrote in a previous blog post that has since garnered wide attention, ‘dumbing down’ is neither my idea of empowerment nor my definition of integrity or authenticity.
In the wake of these challenges, my daughter and I watched live streaming interviews with Sheryl Sandberg and scenes from Girl Rising. We talked about women’s suffrage, and explored how and why women and girls are still denied equal access to education, opportunity and/or pay. We talked at length about honoring ourselves, our voice and our talents, and finding the courage to stand up for our selves and others, too. Most significantly, we talked about character as a catalyst for empowerment and how every female, regardless of age, culture, religious or socio-economic status, should be entitled to the basic human right to live her voice out loud and become a leader in her own life.
As I watched my daughter study my face, anxious to offer ideas to help, I soon realized that how I responded to my own challenge could profoundly impact, influence and shape how she would respond to her own.
The choice was mine. The impact was ours. And out of that moment the Global Girls Project was born.
Intending to deepen the dialogue around women’s leadership and empowerment and to model a better choice; intending to mindfully act, turning a challenge into an inspiring opportunity, I realize in reflection that what began as my constructive answer to one set of challenges, became the very catalyst that continues to give birth to the deepest dreams of my heart. The greatest blessing of all has been watching how my dream has enabled and empowered my daughter to find her own voice, restoring her confidence and empowering her to pursue her own dreams, too.
About the Global Girls Project:
Based on the United Nations Millennial Development Goal of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment and sixteen defining principles of heart-aligned leadership, this project invites women and girls from around the world to share stories and advice from their own journey toward empowerment and leadership. The goal of this project is to create a global collection of stories that not only inspire and uplift, but encourage and empower others to find their own voice, too, passing on the legacy of leadership from one generation of women to the next.
When Sharon's not working on the Global Girls project, Sharon divides her time between strategic consulting on community, global & sustainable development initiatives and writing on heart-aligned living, leadership and organizational effectiveness. She is a contributing author of the book, Inspiring Hope: One Story at a Time and served as co-editor of Stan Phelp's best-selling book on organizational culture and employee engagement, What's Your Green Goldfish. If you have a story you'd like to share, Sharon would love to hear from you. You can follow her on twitter at @sharonereed.