'We must be fearless, which is the word I think of when I think of you'
This morning, I received a text message from a colleague which reads, "We must be fearless, which is the word I think of when I think of you." I was honored and humbled, and also floored. Fearlessness was something I see in the women around me, the women I admire, but never in myself. Her pay-it-forward message made my day and also had a profound impact on the way I saw myself.
What a gift.
'There is nothing like being in the presence of a woman who is comfortable in her own skin'
Anyone who has read my articles, met my friends or been involved in my mentorship program knows that when it comes to women, I have a type: I love those of the badass variety. For me, there is nothing like being in the presence of a woman who is comfortable in her own skin, knows what she wants, what she brings to the table, and encourages, inspires, challenges and positions other women to be their best selves dominating their best lives. Those are the women I love to work with and be around, and they exemplify the woman I want to be.
'These women exemplify the woman I want to be'
Working in digital media offers me enormous access to amazing women on a daily basis, something I am deeply grateful for. Though the industry is fiercely competitive in terms of job availability and advancement, I have found that most of the women I have met and worked with do not view one another as competition to be feared or "beaten", but instead are respected as colleagues who challenge one another as a part of a collaborative effort. We live in a world with a media that perpetuates the idea that we, as a whole, are a group of jealous and judgemental bodies who cannot walk into a boardroom without secretly sneering at one another's fashion choices or how much cleavage is being shown in the outfit beside her, but this has never been my reality, mainly because I won't engage it.
'Look at your bosses and colleagues as inspiring women with wisdom to share'
Yes, there are women (and men) who have given me dirty looks and tried to "steal my thunder" but there are many more who have shown me (and others) respect and support and have offered me firsthand insight to what that feels like to be supported as a person and a professional. As the digital world is a small one, there is a heavy reliance on one another for profiles, articles and cross-promotion. This means a collaborative approach is the only one that will work in the long run. When you look at your bosses and colleagues as inspiring women with wisdom to share instead of worrying how their success and happiness steals from your supply (it doesn't, btw), opportunity for growth, stories, creativity and knowledge become abundant.
'I knew there was something deeply healing about writing but it never occurred to me that I could do it for a living'
I believe my love of strong women stems from the loss of a weak one early on. My own "mother" was a woman who was unable to love or care for me, and she left me as an infant with my father, a violent ex-felon who created an environment typical of those controlled by drug-addicted batterers. In such homes, there is no room for self expression which meant that I had to scream out in silence. I did this by feverishly writing down everything inside of me and then tearing up the paper and tossing the pieces in the garbage bin outside of my home. I knew there was something deeply healing about writing but it never occurred to me that I could (or would) do it for a living.
'I found pieces of the mother I wish I had and the woman I ached to be in dozens of strong women around me'
My father's behavior shined a spotlight on the need for self expression, and it goes without saying that my mother's abandonment left me with a deep void. I spent all of my childhood and most of my life longing for a mother's love and acceptance, as well as her protection and guidance. As an adult, I realize that this longing sent me on an exploration for her replacement and never found one. Instead, I found pieces of the mother I wish I had and the woman I ached to be in dozens of strong women around me. From Diana Vreeland and Madonna to badass friends and inspiring colleagues, my loss allowed me a beautiful gift: I was able to notice the strengths, beauty and fearlessness in the women around me. When I would tell them what I saw, most were as floored as I was this very morning. I always wondered how they could be so oblivious to something that radiated so brightly from them.
'These women who made me the woman I am today'
It was these women who made me the woman I am today. It was a woman who suggested I apply to journalism school and another who helped me fill out my applications. A female professor became my mentor and introduced me to magazine journalism. My best girlfriend in college helped me get my first apartment in New York and a female boss at at Asset Management company who overheard I wanted to be a writer who introduced me to the woman who would assign me my first piece in Women's Day. The lady who sat next to me at that job sent me the link to the comedy site that hired me and led me to my first agent and first book. My current role as the Editor-In-Chief and Social Media and Content Strategist at Preston Bailey Designs came about due to a female colleague of mine suggesting me for the role. As a result of this, I now have ability to mentor young women through my mentorship program which I am proud to say has helped 85% of its graduates find subsequent internships or full time jobs.
'When we approach one another with respect, curiosity and a desire to mentor and be mentored, we keep the doors open'
Do you see the link? When we approach one another with respect, curiosity and a desire to mentor and be mentored, we keep the doors open. We move past coming together only to "fight" against outside forces and become part of an important and life-changing community and movement.
Who knows, maybe someday a young girl will see that I achieved something as proof she can too?
This was originally posted on Women Shift Digital.
Brenda Della Casa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Badass + Living, Preston Bailey Designs' editor-in-chief and digital content strategist, as well as author of Cinderella Was a Liar. Check her out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @BrendaDellaCasa.