people rushing on escalatorI attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women last week, where 10,000 women, dressed mostly in black outfits with sharp, masculine lines, convened for a day of learning from top-notch speakers.

It was a terrific conference and a very worthwhile day. Yet, I came out of it disheartened. Why? Because what I heard, over and over again, were the voices of women under heavy stress: over-programmed and under the microscope; low on sleep and full of self-doubt. For example:

  • On her path of becoming an actress, Lupita Nyong’o talked about having to slay the three inner dragons of “self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-denial.”
  • Hillary Clinton and Tory Burch emphasized that the demands on working women with families were too great to tackle alone. Each woman said that their success simply would not have been possible without strong systems of support.
  • Author John Gray shared research that shows that, in Norway, which has the world’s best working conditions for women, women are still pumping out 4 times as much cortisol (the stress hormone) as men.  And remember… that’s in the best of conditions. For those who are working in less enlightened circumstances or closer to the survival line, the stress is exponentially greater.
  • Women continue to be unsupportive of each other in the workplace.  As TV personality Cindy Stumpo said, “Women in their 40’s and 50’s are the ones intimidating my daughters at work.  We’re supposed to be helping the next generation, not tearing them down.”

I established Leading With Grit & Grace® to support women in forging a more potent and sustainable form of leadership, where toughness and tenderness work in tandem for everyone’s benefit. But what’s hitting me squarely in the face today is that, while we women strive to treat others with both grit and grace, we often fail to direct that virtuous balance toward ourselves.

Rather, grit tends to prevail. We are ever-striving… to do more, multitask more masterfully, get that next promotion, pick up the kids, and look our best while doing it all. Is this our best and only option – to keep tightening the screws on ourselves to satisfy the external demands and power past the voice of self-doubt?

I hope not. I’m interested in a different invitation. Amid the many external demands pressures we women face, how can we increase the amount of grace that we bestow upon ourselves and each other?  What would it take for each of us to take responsibility to give ourselves the kind of care, attention and compassion that we say we need and want?

If you struggle with this – or if you succeed at this – please comment and share your experience.