We Can Do That: Women and the Pursuit of Personal Fulfillment.


There was nothing revelatory about Glenn Close’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes this year. She didn’t say anything particularly groundbreaking. But the message hit me hard, and resoundingly so, as it clearly did many women in the audience, standing and applauding with glassy eyes.

“Women, we’re nurturers, and we do what’s expected of us. We have our children…we have our partners. But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to follow our dreams. We have to say, ‘I can do that. And I should be allowed to do that.”

As women, we relate to that drive for personal fulfillment. And we know how hard it is to get it.

I know many warrior women. An entire novel could be written about my grandmothers alone: my paternal grandmother “Nana,” a five-foot-tall juggernaut who worked until she passed at 100; and my maternal grandmother “Grammie,” a world traveler unafraid to go anywhere alone, visiting parts of Ethiopia and Russia well into her senior years. Neither one ever censored herself, as far as I could tell  (though, to be fair, it may have been appropriate at certain times to do so). Both were/are women of great passion, intelligence, and conviction…extremists; their qualities not just present but abundant. If you’ve met either one, chances are you haven’t forgotten them.

We’re nurturers. And we do what’s expected of us.

The other women in my life are equally unforgettable. They are women of brilliance, exaggerated work ethic, incredible tolerance, extreme sensitivity. Overachievers and perfectionists, empaths and nurturers, artists and creators and idea-makers, they are spilling out with things to offer the world. They have no shortage of talent or ability – rather, there is so much of it that is dazzling. When women are built that way, it is inevitable that everyone wants a piece of them. And, because a woman is built that way, it is often in her nature to give of herself.

And so we give – to our workplaces, to our partners, to our children, to our communities. We volunteer and we advocate and we support, and sometimes (often?), in the midst of all of this, we forget/lose sight of/don’t make room for giving to the person that most deserves what we have to offer. That is, of course, ourselves.

But we have to find personal fulfillment. 

Fulfillment is an elusive end goal that means different things to different people. Is having/doing it all the objective? I’m still not sure; working 100 hours a week while juggling a family, hobbies, and a social circle sounds more like a nervous breakdown than nirvana to me.

What is clear to me, after years of working with women in therapy (and from my own personal experience, obviously), is that women often pick up the slack wherever we see it, and then tend to ourselves after everything else is in order (of course, some men do this as well). It makes it challenging to dream big or reflect deeply when we’ve spent the whole day tidying and listening and organizing, and preparing and caretaking and accomplishing. There’s maybe five minutes left in the day after all that, and that’s not even enough time to take a bathroom break, let alone fulfill ourselves.

We can do that.

Still, I think that we deserve more, and that in fact we should (gently) demand it of ourselves. Where can we make small changes to allow ourselves to move up on our list of priorities? Can we nurture our own courage enough to take risks that might stimulate, challenge, and delight us? Can we delegate some of our responsibilities to other capable people (coworkers, partners, kids) so our time is freed up to think and create (and finally take that bathroom break)? Can we decide that our own worth and happiness is equal in value to the other people we spend our energy boosting up?

We should be allowed to do that. 

If and when we make the scary choice to rearrange our priorities and move ourselves up on the list, it’s going to require the support of others. Significant people in our lives will need to be willing to help, or at least stand up for us in our choices. Our communities will need to recognize our efforts as brave and important, and not ridicule or dismiss us for being bold or different. While this isn’t always the case right now (just glance at a Facebook thread about the newly elected women to Congress, if you can stomach it), in order for women to seek their own fulfillment, I think it needs to be so.

So, there is still much work to be done.

I’m encouraged by my grandmothers, pioneers in their time, blazing a path forward for the rest of us. I’m encouraged by the increased number of conversations being had on this topic. Personal fulfillment – we can do that – and we should support one another in our pursuits.

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