Happy International Women’s Day!
The theme this year is #choosetochallenge which couldn’t reflect more the work I do as The Midlife coach;
International Women’s Day (IWD) is very important for me because from an early age I had to choose to challenge expectations of what my life could be, and the inequality I often witnessed for other women.
I was born in 1970 in Belfast during the height of the troubles when everyone was told what side of the fence to sit, and women were told their place.
As a child I spent a couple of years in South Africa (my dad was a journalist) in the height of apartheid when everyone was told what side of the fence to sit, and girls and women, especially black girls and women, were told their place.
As an 18 year old I volunteered for a year teaching English to girls in Pakistan, where to my horror, some of my pupils were married off at 13 or 14, and I saw the injustice of girls and women being very much told their place.
As a student I studied International Politics and Women Writers and saw how peoples (and women in particular) in the world order have been told their place throughout history, and women rarely had a voice.
As a young woman I worked for UNICEF, travelling to countries like Zambia, Sierra Leone and Iraq, seeing first hand how girl’s education was sacrificed for domestic drudgery, and women there had very little voice.
As a journalist I wrote about the joys and struggles of parenting, of the joys and struggles of caring for elderly parents and young children, of women’s issues and why this is the time we are (and have to) challenge the scope and potential of our midlives, choosing to challenge expectations of ‘our place’ and finding our voice.
As a mother, I am raising three daughters to challenge societal expectations of them, to fight for equality - theirs and others, to strive and thrive in their lives for everything they want to be and can be.
Midlife is a time of change, challenges, choices and chances, and it can also be a time of overwhelm and juggling responsibilities.
We women must continually #choosetochallenge society and ourselves so that we say where our place is. We decide how our lives should be. We find our own voices, and then learn to listen to them.
This week I gave a talk for IWD to 70 secondary school students and I told them that at their age I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be, but I figured out my guiding lights (for me that meant agency, creativity and storytelling) and it also took me time to build the confidence to know my voice, and to listen to it.
The girls I spoke to are just setting out on life, but already no doubt defining themselves by external expectations, by beliefs they have formed about who and what they can be, and by conditions that will inform their decisions - thankfully with much more equality than ever before, but still not enough in terms of pay, freedom from fear of violence, and more than their fair share of domestic and emotional workload in families. I shared with them the three life lessons I have learned that have made my life what it is:
#choosetochallenge your definition of success. Often we just adopt someone else’s idea of what success means, rather than defining what it means to us. That could mean stepping up, or stepping back; doing more, or doing less; saying yes or saying no; making our own choices rather than following expectations; bigger or smaller; faster or slower; more connected or less connected; marrying or not marrying; having kids or not having kids. Define what a successful day, relationship, work/life balance, career, life means to you.
#choosetochallenge what’s possible and don’t be afraid to try. Failure is part of success, don’t try to be a perfectly polished (Instagram-driven) finished product, but keep learning, trying, being curious and exploring yourself.
#choosetochallenge how your story is written. It’s not as important what happens to you, but how you respond to it. Life will be full of challenges, loss, grief, rejection, disappointment. That’s normal. It doesn’t mean things have gone wrong, it means you have to ground yourself in who you are, remind yourself of your guiding lights, and keep showing up for yourself anyway.
Most of all I told those girls that they are, and always will be, a glorious work in progress. And I say the same to the glorious women I work with. It’s never too late to choose to challenge who you are, your habits, your beliefs about yourself, the expectations others have of you, and the way you get to redefine this midlife.
Happy International Women’s Day.
Happy every day you choose you.