Back in 2001, I had returned to India from New York during the 9/11 disaster, jobless, penniless and unknown to me then, severely traumatized. My wallet had moths, my bank balance was in the negative and I had just left my fiancé at the altar. I wasn’t exactly the epitome of having anything together. In a recessive market, I landed an opportunity with a huge financial services company in Mumbai, far from the airline industry that I came from. In the first six months there, I somehow caught the fancy of my department head. Harassment at the workplace was something that women were deeply ashamed of then, awareness was low and taking action was unheard of. I could never tell a soul. “The red nail paint on your toenails look hot”, “You should wear that short skirt with the side slit, your legs look great in it”, “keep your hair long only, you look amazing”… so many cringe-worthy comments of discomfort from someone I respected, revered and the world knew as an exemplary gentleman, and these statements were just the tip of the iceberg. I had no idea how to handle this all at age 25. So, I worked out my anger and frustration at the gym like a maniac and went out drinking with my department buddies on weekends. And that went on for 2 and a half years that I was there. By the end, I was an alcoholic wreck, in depression and my entire career was in question, the only thing I had was a bit of money and loads of shame, trauma, and isolation. But what I had the most was a deep sense of powerlessness. In the end, I had no choice but to quit.
I wish I knew then, what I know now. The feeling of being powerless for most women does not originate from an external source. It is the invalidation of a being before it has had a chance to discover what its gifts are.
A woman by birth is gifted. There are so many qualities that come naturally to her. Most of these qualities instead of being nurtured and expressed are a source of shame, blame, and attack. If a woman is physically gifted, she is targeted for it. Of course, it is never the other person’s perspective that needs correction, right? If she is compassionate, she is easy. If she is silent, she is manipulatable. And so on. Added to this, women are not taught to carry these qualities like badges of honour. In the shaming of them, their spirit is broken down. For women to know themselves, carry themselves with respect, drawing boundaries and being resoundingly clear is a place of power.
So how would I have handled this situation differently had I felt powerful? I would have had a conversation with him without the fear of consequences. I would have involved more people and shared my story and sought help. I had enough proof with emails and texts that could have been used to legally course correct. Instead of being angry and self-destructive (like it’s my fault), I could have channelled it into something constructive and created awareness for other women working there. If only I had felt my own power, I could have made enough noise and drawn lines. In those 2.5 years, I could have actually spent my time learning, working to contribute better to the company I worked for, be an invaluable asset to them, and be a great team player. In short, a productive member of an organization.
Power isn’t about control over others or over external circumstances. It is the full awareness of who one truly is, accepting that with no judgment (good or bad) and expressing it in the world. Letting your power, gifts, talents, abilities do the talking. Instead of shrinking in shame and blame for them.
A powerful woman is a gift to the world. She is self-actualized, awakened at various levels, wise, aware and knows exactly how and where to apply herself and what to walk away from. A powerful woman is beyond shame, blame, manipulation and is rarely targeted. Her power is felt, not seen. In her words and her silence. She can inspire others, be a role model, start to impact those around her through her choices, words, actions, and thinking. She is different. I have never known a powerful woman who does not bring change in the world.
So how does a powerful woman become a gift?
No. Not the Einstein one. It’s about how you relate to yourself. The theory here is simple. When a powerful woman relates differently to herself, she relates differently to you and therefore you relate differently to yourself. I had a deep sense of being useless and worthless most of my childhood and well into my teens. I thought I would never amount to anything in my life. Then a woman boss at my first job out of college was a powerful and wise woman. She related to me very differently than most people ever had. She called me names like “resourceful”, “thinks on her feet”, “street smart” and “sharp”. I would mumble something that sounded like a thank you, never believing a word she said, wondering what was her angle. Then a few months later I landed a huge opportunity with an international airline and I didn’t want to leave her. She told me “I value you first as a human being, then a woman and then as an employee. You are so talented and you beat over 150 candidates to get this new job, please take it and I will remain your friend and cheer you on, always. You have been a gift to me and never forget that” I cried that day and hugged her. She inspired me to relate so differently to myself that I did a hundred times better at the next job as I felt more powerful. I saw what she saw in me. I knew she was telling the truth all along. And now, 22 years later, we are still in touch. Powerful women naturally inspire. Because they have a great level of self-awareness, everyone else falls in the same purview and it’s hard to miss other people’s nuances. Powerful women see what can be reaped in others and teach them how to reap it by being an example. They work on themselves the most. Anyone willing to evolve that much is a tremendous gift to society.
They take the off beaten path. They mostly do not want to do anything like how it is done or was done or supposed to be done. And therein lies the fun. When you step out of structures, new discoveries are made. Powerful women go there. They love that place. It excites their mind and heart to see what is truly possible that has never been done before and yes, if it works, the accolades are welcome and if it doesn’t work, they got to do their favourite thing, learn. Powerful women let the fear fuel them. Instead of cowering to it. They become natural leaders to others. The willingness and playfulness of discovering new paths is second skin to a powerful woman. She isn’t typecast or willing to role play for others’ approval. A powerful woman cares least about approval and inspires instead without trying to.
Self-actualized, powerful women, know a thing or two about investments. Not the monetary kind. The energetic and time kind. Their brains are wired differently. They have trained their minds that way. To asses in a split second what will be worth investing themselves in, they waste no time. Rewards aren’t always in kind or in specific returns. Sometimes rewards are in terms of evolving or growth. I know the founder of a company who took to pottery because it taught her how to deal with people. And if you didn’t know this about pottery, I suggest you ask me about it. She invested herself in the pottery classes without fail and by the end of six weeks knew how to deal with a very tough situation at work with her team. It led to a very highly productive and profitable year for her business thereon. They have a pottery wheel at the office now for “stress-busting”.
Powerful women are shameless. They have no reason nor time to feel shame for their history and who they are now. Everything that has happened in her life is a source of learning. A powerful woman owns her story, tells her story and she inspires with her story. The ease of having lived her life the way it unfolded draws others into a space of self-acceptance of their own story. There is so much inspiration beyond shame. Her compassion, kindness, humbleness, and ease comes from owning everything that occurred in her life. She knows she has a role to play in it all and sees the perfection of it. There is no resistance of herself within. Owning your story gives you permission to express yourself unapologetically and makes you unstoppable. You have broken all your inner barriers and reasons for being small. Owning your story makes you greater beyond your wildest dreams.
Aside from being a gift to the world, powerful women also have choice, possibility, opportunity, and freedom. They are not bound by the shackles of fear, shame, guilt, regret, and isolation. They find everything interesting; they are curious and eager to learn. Most of all, powerful women find peace and joy in living a full life. They know their value here on this planet and go out and fulfil it.
Imagine every woman accessing this inner strength and power. And how the landscape of humanity can finally shift if every woman chooses this.