Look I haven’t been to yoga for a week so you’ll have to excuse me, alright? My zen has done a runner. I’m so jacked up on fury right now. Unfortunately, now that you’re here, you’re going to feel the full force of it. You and that almond croissant anyway. I’ve quit trying to stick to my self-enforced two-cups-a-day rule. Now I drink my caffeine by the bucket. And so that I can refill at any time of day I keep our kettle on a rolling boil, which – coincidentally – perfectly describes my mood.
One of my colleagues passed away unexpectedly this week. Someone broke their word and let me down. I’ve got a cold. Trump’s still president. You know. The usual.
And the situation hasn’t been helped by an event for professional women that I attended on Tuesday. Normally, as you know, this would totally be my thing, something I’d willingly give up a night of vinyasa flow for. Little did I know what I’d let myself in for. The pink balloons and fairy lights were deceptive bait. It was like putting Dory in a shark tank.
As soon as I stepped inside I was out of place. I wasn’t tall enough. My voice was too quiet and squeaky to be heard. My clothes weren’t colourful enough or expensive enough or soft enough. Me, the girl who always has a book in her bag, wearing jeans and a jumper, surrounded by the Victoria’s Secret afterparty.
I tried approaching a group of three or four identically airbrushed women holding champagne flutes. Two of them barely glanced at me, the others didn’t even make a pretence of looking my way. After an incredibly awkward few minutes of being the fifth wheel I extricated myself. I walked over to someone who immediately snatched the conversation, talking at me about how she was ‘like, kind of’ amazing. I felt as though I was wearing the invisibility cloak. Minutes into her monologue she spotted someone she knew, someone ‘yeah, like, sort of’ taller and cooler and more glamourous than me, and mid-sentence literally stopped and walked away without a word, leaving me alone.
I felt two inches tall and utterly naive. Who did I think I was, thinking I was good at my job, feeling confident and happy and safe? How wrong I had been.
As we were herded from the bar into the auditorium, though, a switch flicked. Instead of feeling inadequate I felt irate.
The panel of women described 16 hour days, working seven days a week, arriving 20 minutes before the boss and leaving 20 minutes after, as the only way to be successful. One of them observed that she much preferred working under men and the others nodded in agreement – not one word of dissent amongst them. Another described how women can be bitches to work with. Asked when they had first known they were successful, one said that she would never feel that way – she would always be striving for more, never satisfied. They talked about feeling ugly, about cracking under pressure and about not having time for friends and family.
Is this what the success looks like that us women are supposed to aim for?
I could feel a word vomit forming in my throat. As each member of the panel spoke my head shook side to side more and more violently, disgusted and disappointed by what I was hearing. At this event for ambitious 21st century women, is this what we’re supposed to lap up?
Those women might be at the top of their game, but listen to me. Do not let anyone tell you that not spending quality time with your loved ones, that feeling stressed, exhausted, ugly and never satisfied is any definition of success. This is why I leave work on time, sisters. Because I love my work but a successful life is about so much more than working til you drop. Women, we can do better. You can do better.
The last six months have been the happiest of my life. I spend lots of quality time with my awesome husband. I’ve rebuilt my relationship with my sister and made fabulous friends. I unroll my yoga mat as often as I want to and I’m having so much fun at playtime practising handstands. I live by the beach and feel giddy breathing in the ocean, overwhelmed staring at the sunset. At the weekend we hungrily devour the epic outdoors because we are so grateful to live in this stunning country. I work in a job where I do good for the world; I contribute to saving people’s lives every day, which feels pretty darn special. I’m hugely satisfied by my work and my home life. I’m also active in Lean In, a community of real-life, imperfect women striving to be the best versions of themselves. I feel immensely proud and powerful, helping give other women a leg up. I feel beautiful and loved and I love myself.
This hasn’t all come easily. But it was worth all the effort to get here. Sisters, I hope you all feel this good too. And never ever let other women make you feel two inches tall.