Recently, I was invited by my hometown university to participate in a roundtable forum called, “Women: What do they want? What are they worth?” for International Women’s Day. Each generation was represented in order to give their vision of life, aspirations and opinions about the place of women in society. I represented Generation Y.
I was extremely glad and very proud to be invited, but I have to admit I was overwhelmed and a little bit intimidated when I saw who else was invited. There were older women with a lot of experience and impressive positions, including CEOs of private enterprises, university professors along with other graduates from highly prestigious and recognized schools. I felt flattered, but certainly not good enough, despite my master's degree and my four years of experience in international business.
How should I behave? Could I meet the expectations of the full amphitheater, standing next to all these very smart and talented women who were so at ease speaking in public? How would my opinion of young, perhaps unworldly, women matter next to such accomplished individuals? All of these thoughts were swirling in my head as I was on stage shaking, holding the microphone with my sweating hand and talking for the first time in front of so many people.
To lighten the mood, I did what I used to do all the time; I said something to make people laugh and, luckily, they did. The second time I was questioned, I felt more comfortable. I gave my opinion in a really honest way, saying I would not accept a job that would not involve having enough time for my personal life as my family and friends were very important to me. I said I was looking for balance in my life and that having a ton of money, without having anything or anybody else, was senseless to me.
Somebody responded by saying that it was truly hard to "have everything," clearly meaning it was hard to be "perfect in everything." Precisely at that moment, I realized my voice mattered just as much as all the other women attending this event. Why? Because I realized the real problem is our perception.
Aren't we allowed to do anything without being picture-perfect? What does "perfect" even mean? Is it succumbing to society's requests? If it is, I'm proud I'm not flawless! After all, who says we need to be faultless all the time in all the things we do? We all deserve the right to speak our truth. We don't care about saying the right things with the right words by standing in the right body position. All that matters is the meaning behind our words. There is no shame in trusting our feelings, listening to our heart and speaking up if it's done with integrity. We just need to embrace our inner voice.
That's why I added publicly that the only person we need to compete with in life is ourselves and, in the same way, the only expectations we need to reach are our own, while being careful not to be too hard on ourselves. I received some great comments after the talk and had several people come up to me who agreed with my perspective. It made me happy to be understood and brought a big smile to my face. The truth is that I was thrilled and proud to be the imperfect representative of girls who stand up and use their voice.
Image courtesy of Mills-scofield.com