breaking down barriers

file0001312170283In addition to the external barriers erected by society,
women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves.
Sheryl Sandberg¹

I received a copy of Sandberg’s book, “Lean In“, from a dear friend. I have only started reading it, but I have found connection, empathy, authenticity, grace, and challenge in the first chapters. Sandberg proposes a hypothesis which many of us already know is truth… as women, we are often our own worst enemy.

Sandberg explains that women often deeply internalize the negative messages we receive during our life – and quickly undervalue the positive messages that we earn.

I believe that women are essential to making important world changes in society through our relationships, families, and jobs today. To do that, we need support, advocacy, and partnership with the men in our lives, but we also need to believe in ourselves to step confidently into the places that we are created and gifted to fill. 

How can we do that? I’ve started a list here from some of Sandberg’s comments and some of my own experiences:

Gain self-awareness.

Personality profiles, StrengthsFinder, Reflected Best Self Exercise, work preferences, gift tests, feedback from mentors/friends/others… all help to discover and affirm unique value and contribution. The more I learn about myself, the easier it is to choose where to invest my time and my talents with confidence.

Don’t give unnecessary power to gender stereotypes.

“Strong”, “assertive”, “outspoken”, “intelligent” – these words often negatively describe a woman leader, but compliment a man. Words like “sensitive”, “passionate”, “caring”, “transparent” can also be used to disregard a woman’s position, but be considered uncommon and valuable assets for men. The key principle to remember is – no matter what I do or what I am like, I will never please everyone. I need to be comfortable in my own skin.

Get past the fear.

Women sometimes feel afraid… afraid of not knowing enough, afraid of saying something stupid, afraid of failing, afraid of being labeled as a fraud². Fears like these could easily paralyze and cause a step back from opportunities, but so often they are irrational and never actually occur. I am learning to speak up or act with courage in spite of my fears. I am learning that I am needed and because of that, I must “keep my hand up… and sit at the table”³. 

Say a simple “Thank You” for compliments and awards.

Sandberg explains that it is often our insecurity that causes us to scoff, brush off, and negate the achievements and accolades that we receive. I sometimes fail to accept a compliment without explaining or excusing it away with a, “It was nothing”, “I had lots of help”, or “I guess I had them fooled.” I am grateful for those in my life who (first) express their sincere appreciation for my efforts and (second) confront me if I undervalue my contribution. 

How have you been your own worst enemy? What would you add to this list?

¹Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013. p. 8.
²Ibid. p. 28-29.
³Ibid. p.38

8 thoughts on “breaking down barriers

  1. Terry, one of my favorite class exercises – students create two columns on a sheet of paper. On one side they list the traits of men and on the other they list the traits of women. We discuss these traits then I ask them to look at their paper and check the traits exhibited by Jesus. What do you think they find? Hint: gender is a cultural construct.

    • A wonderful exercise… and a wonderful professor! I learn so much from you, but even more than that, I am encouraged and motivated to take action on what I learn. Thanks for continually investing in other leaders!

  2. Boy, did you nail this one. I’m overwhelmed at how much I fall into those “categories” of not doing or being who God made me–with the joy and intent He wants me to put into it. Thanks for the encouragement to not let the barriers keep me from the role I’m called to.

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