Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyway. —Eleanor Roosevelt
When I started my first company, I kept thinking something was wrong with me.
The fact is, I needed to get more aggressive with my perception of the situation I was confronted with. Let’s take a huge step back. When Alexander the Great conquered “the known world,” things were different. To consolidate his power, he founded 20 cities and made half a dozen political marriages. Ruling the world was a physical business—you left your seed and your city-state behind to represent your status. Most people didn’t read, but they knew what they saw or touched. If you think about it, the whole engine of ancient warfare had a certain pragmatic pattern: slay the enemy boys and men, get the women pregnant, and import your own religion. It is inherently a male sex strategy. It’s not so much culture building as literally injecting your own biological basis.
For women, who procreate much more slowly, female leadership traditions have been primarily rooted in wisdom traditions, not spray and pray. And yet even those traditions are almost apocryphal, because today’s culture is puts female silence on a pedestal still. Modern, young poet Lily Myers, whose poetry slam Shrinking Women quickly went viral and captured 3 million eyes, says, “There is this kind of insidious, like subtle pressures on what our bodies are supposed to look like and on what we’re supposed to put in our bodies, but also how we’re supposed to take up space and how –well, really how we’re not supposed to take up space.”
Ruling today is working slowly toward a model with room for everyone. It’s a lot less about your physical mark and more about your psychological one.
The world’s largest community is arguably Facebook, not a political empire. And tomorrow, it could be something else. Money and ideas rise and fall thanks not to a ruler’s DNA, but to digital DNA—the faster-than-light stuff of thoughts. Hopes. Dreams. And overall, connections. I read yesterday that if women business owners were a country, it would be the fifth largest GDP in the world. We are all living in very exciting times—and yet, why isn’t it the 1st or 2nd largest?
Our whole culture is slowly evolving toward something much more balanced and beautiful. It’s something we can’t necessarily see in one lifetime, but it’s happening.
Women entrepreneurs: seeing our own face
If you want to rule today, you have to rule hearts and minds. Starting with your own. (This is where I really had to put in, and still do, lots of work.) Especially if you are a minority leader, like women entrepreneurs, the culture tells you in myriad subtle and not so subtle ways that you aren’t what a leader looks like, sounds like, talks like or dresses like. That’s changing, but it’s still with us.
The truth is, ruling the world is more approachable and attainable than ever, for everyone—for you, and for me. Alexander the Great had to inherit a massive army and dedicate his life to it, and he only got as far as the “known world.” We are still feeling the impact of the era of Hellenism he created in his short 33 years. How much MORE influential can you be?
You can be all you want to be and are willing to work for.
I’m sure I’m not the first person who has said that to you. The technologies available to support you in your quest are legion—and only becoming easier to access. The hard part is defining your own personal message—or, one could say, defining the kingdom you want to rule. Until you do that, no matter how powerful the distribution opportunities you have, you have no “juice” to jump-start the engine. You have to have a sense of where you’re coming from, to reach where you want to go. Otherwise, like so many, we can end up living a life of aimless circles.
There is not a light on that path from “where you are” to “where you know you should be,” especially if you are a minority leader. For us, that path is slippery with cultural expectations—and yet still so worth it.
You have to find your own feet on that path.
Not the pretty, manicured feet our culture is telling you you need. Our actual, grounded, solid and dirty feet.
Remember the idea of binding the feet of Chinese girls? From Wikipedia–and I promise this has a point–
“Lotus feet”) is the custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth. … Eventually foot binding became very popular because men thought it to be highly attractive. Foot binding was their way of being beautiful, and a way to show that they were worthy of a husband. The foot binding process begins with a young girl (4-7 years old) soaking her feet in warm water or animal blood with herbs. After soaking the feet, her toenails were to be clipped short and given a foot massage. Next, every toe would be broken except for the big toe. Then the foot was wrapped with binding cloth. Everyday, or every couple days, the foot would be unwrapped and wrapped again. The girls were put into smaller shoes until their foot was about 4 inches long.
My point in sharing the awful foot-binding story is that many of us still think in footbound ways.
Brilliant cultures—like ours and even China—have barbaric rituals built in.
To be free of these barbaric rituals buried in our cultural consciousness, we’ll have to shed some ideas. We have to understand it’s high stakes and this stuff matters. Stop diminishing moments and minutes when you sense a pressure to conform to something that isn’t quite okay with you. Consider it a call to conquer, and ask yourself if you trivialize your own problems, demean your lack of inner peace, and diminish yourself with misplaced blame.
Most women entrepreneurs are born culturally silenced. And so, if that’s true, our real lives actually begin the day we choose to speak up.
This is an excerpt from How You Rule the World: A Survival Guide for Female Founders, available on Amazon Kindle.