My sister and I fell in love with the same piece of public art, entirely independently of one another. There was something so powerful about that piece that we both remembered it in a conversation years later. The main body of the sculpture was a woman in a dress, staring steadily into the eyes of the observer. Her calm, vacant expression almost made you want to look away.
Coming from the woman’s head were multiple complex structures, her body a tree trunk, growing massive sets of branches from her skull. On closer inspection, each branch was revealed as an upside-down person. There were babies, children, older people, teenagers, friends and acquaintances.
That beautiful piece so perfectly depicted the life of a woman. It was one of those works of art that takes your breath away – one that captures a life so perfectly that the image has always stuck with me.
I thought a lot about that sculpture when trying to put words to International Women’s Day. It’s hard to find the language to do justice to not only all the amazing women in my life, but also to women the world over, and to adequately acknowledge the women everywhere who are balancing the important people in their life on their shoulders and carrying around worries and dreams for all those “branches” in their head.
Most of us carry that weight while quietly, getting on with it, as my mother would say, running businesses, organizing families, working at jobs, going to school, nursing parents, and generally having a full plate.
Even though we are successfully managing multiple demands, we also tend to be our own worst critics. Many women I know (including me) are full of self-criticism for the way that they carry out tasks, interact in relationships, perform at work, take care of their health, and so on. We second guess ourselves in conversations and analyze ways that we could have handled a situation differently.
In honour of this day to recognize women, how about we collectively take a deep breath and acknowledge that we are doing a good job – that what we do in the world matters? My wish for you is that you take a moment in your day today to stop and recognize yourself and your inherent goodness; that you practice a moment of self-compassion (and no, I don’t mean self-indulgence), by just speaking to yourself in the way that you would speak to a dear friend. Take a moment to recognize how much you are doing for others and how many things you are doing so brilliantly. Yes, brilliantly.
This exercise requires no “but..” statements. It doesn’t matter if you feel like there are places where you have shortcomings, or if people around you seem to be doing more. Just being kind to yourself and allowing yourself the room to make mistakes can help manage the load that you carry.
Practicing self-compassion also means that you recognize the common humanity of the other millions of women all over the world who have the same worries, who wish for happiness for those around them, who practice kindness, who love and are loved, and who criticize themselves when things go wrong.
The past few years have focused much-need attention on the shameful inequalities that still exist for women. Women have mobilized in ways that we haven’t seen for decades. But we still have work to do to take care of ourselves. We need to let go of the voice in our head that many of us learned early in life to keep us second-guessing ourselves, to keep us small. That voice is us.
Let’s change the dialogue that we have with ourselves to the same tone that we would use for other women in our lives. Let’s remember that we, too, need the kindness and compassion that we reserve for others.
We deserve nothing less.
Your sister in health,