Let’s shelf being a female leader for a few moments.

Let’s connect with who we are as women—real women. The ones who clean up throw-up, go to work, balance a marriage, get manicures, and worry whether they forgot to turn off their flat irons. We hold many titles outside of work: mother, wife, daughter, niece, aunt, grandmother. We wear many hats and are expected to wear more if we can. It never ends, and in the pursuit of happiness and trying to make everything perfect for everyone around us, we get lost.

Then the divorce hits at forty-eight, or the layoff at fifty-two; or the child dies; or you watch as your parents suffer and ultimately die. Or whatever…

And we find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with what the natural order of life dishes up. We start to wonder how the hell we got so off track. When did we lose sight of ourselves?

We may remember a younger version of ourselves: how she was strong, or perhaps even the unwanted parts of ourselves, like being young and insecure. The shadowy whispers of our fears surface full force when life hands us transition through divorce, change, or even the death of a loved one.

Oh, and I have been there, believe me. I remember one morning reeling through my own divorce and feeling the weight of it. Exiting one of seventeen years was no easy task, but it was the best decision of my life. One morning I woke up thinking, “Well, I’m breathing. That means I must go on, even if I don’t know how to do this thing.” “This thing” was about how to be alone and how to be happy with just little old me.

That’s the biggest fear and the biggest illusion of humans: being alone. It’s scary, and for women it’s devastating. We are built to plan, love, talk, collaborate, and gather. It’s in that loneliness that we find the quiet moments of ourselves; if we sit in that long enough, we find we are not alone after all. But tell a woman who is fifty and just divorced that she might die alone, and you’ll see the blood drain out of her face. Tell her she may not remarry and see sheer terror.

That’s when you know you’ve got a big fat problem: somewhere, you did lose yourself.

As women, we should all know how to do a few things, and mastering these will make us better leaders, but most of all, better women.

Why cry about what is wrong with the world and point outward, when in fact we don’t have our own selves together? Because, it’s easier to work on everyone else; frankly, it’s hard to be in a constant state of self-improvement.

There is no way to save the world or make an impact without first looking at ourselves, and as women we find ourselves last on the list. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by not paying attention, but for whatever reason, life has a way of throwing a major re-org at you and forcing you to wake up.

I am convinced that life is set up to do just that: throw cold water on our sleeping selves and wake us up.

From my heart to yours, here are some things I think every woman should know:

Every woman should know where her money is and have a financial plan. She knows the man isn’t the financial plan and has the “great escape” money to move out if things go south. She ultimately knows how to take care of herself and is financially dependent on no one. Her money is her freedom chip.

Every woman allows herself some mad money: money that is only for her to spend on a frivolous thing like a new nail polish or a snazzy purse she found on sale.

Every woman should know how to comfortably live alone, even if she doesn’t want to. She knows that a man doesn’t complete her and can sit in her own stillness on a Friday night, not wondering what she’s missing “out there.” She doesn’t hit forty or fifty and worry about how she cracked up her last marriage and only has so many years to look good. Above all, she knows she is a complete unit.

Every woman should know how to grow old gracefully. She doesn’t loathe her old body or her wrinkles. In fact, the older she gets, the more she sees the body as a shell that she will leave behind someday. Instead of hating it, she learns to be with it, peacefully. She knows how to leave her youth behind and step into a confident mature woman.

As women, we should all know how to do a few things, and mastering these will make us better leaders, but most of all, better women.Every woman should know how to leave a job and do it with grace, not blaming everyone around her as she departs. She owns what she did and didn’t accomplish in her last job, and she takes the time to train her successor.

Every woman should know how to love her children, but also work her way out of the job called parenthood so she can reclaim herself in newfound, exciting ways. She doesn’t define her children as her own vain accomplishment; instead, she knows they are rented and an exchange, and not things that she owns or did. Her children are hers for a short time, then released into the world. She claims none of their successes and none of their failures; she is not defined by motherhood.

Every woman should know how to be a decent stepparent, if honored enough to be given that title. She doesn’t take out her anger at the ex-wife on her stepchildren, and never, ever competes for the love of her husband with them. She supports both parents, and yet she knows her place in the family.

Every woman should know how to use a basic set of tools, so she can hang up a picture or conduct simple house repairs if needed. Her ability to be resourceful is her joy.

Every woman should have a dress or suit, along with a fantastic pair of shoes, that makes her feel extremely confident and beautiful, which she can dig out of her closet at a moment’s notice for a date or an interview.

Every woman needs to know who her friends are and whom to trust, and which family member to confide in and which ones to keep at arm’s length because they squash her dreams.

Every woman needs to know how to comfort herself, and when to reach out because the isolation has become dangerous. She recognizes when her inner thoughts are garbage and polluting her spirit.

Every woman needs that one friend who will tell her the absolute ugly truth and hold nothing back but do it in such a loving manner she is never offended or angry.

Every woman needs to know how to throw a party to bury the dead or celebrate a wedding.

Every woman should have a home where she is comfortable, where she can have others in her private space for dinner and to foster community.

Every woman should have that one item passed down from her mother, be it a recipe for a homemade stew, a string of pearls, or an old photo that shows her where she came from.

Every woman should know how to forgive her parents and be thankful they gave her life. Despite old childhood disappointments, she makes peace with her past, so her present moment isn’t cluttered with pain.

Every woman should find a mentor who is another woman she admires. She should listen to the feedback and not take it personally and implement her suggestions.

Once a woman masters even just one of the above, then and only then, is she qualified for leadership.



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