Seeking Freedom: The Quest for Self-Expression

The 4th of July conjures visions of freedom, but what kind? Women leaders often are seeking full self-expression above all else. This is why.

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Seeking Freedom: The Quest for Self-Expression

Happy Independence Day!

The 4th of July in the United States brings obvious thoughts about freedom.

But what does freedom really mean?

The men and women who founded the US were concerned about many kinds of freedom, including the freedom of religion and the freedom from taxation without representation. And we all know from the Boston Tea Party which was more important. 😊

Today, as women leaders, what does freedom look like to us?

After listening to the stories of so many women in my podcast and interviews for my books, I hear a subtle, yet distinctive theme about freedom:

Women leaders are often looking for freedom of self-expression.

I’m guessing that longing applies to most women. I know it applies to me.

Self-expression – the true representation and communication of one’s personality and individual traits.

But many women leaders feel that they don’t have that option, especially not in a corporate framework.

One woman leader shared a story not too long ago about advice she had received from a mentor. She was told that the most important thing that she could do to be effective as an executive was to never let the men remember she was a woman.

Yes, that’s a true story!

How’s that for stifling self-expression?

Another woman revealed that she felt judged for being a working mom and an executive, as if the two are incompatible. She became reluctant to talk about her children in front of her executive colleagues, forcing her to leave a whole vital chunk of herself outside the workplace.

I hear story after story of women who feel like they must hide big parts of themselves to fit into corporate roles and environments.

That’s not healthy or productive.

We all know that.

Yet, walking on eggshells is often what we are taught to do as women.

“Don’t rock the boat.”
“You’re too much.”
“You’re too aggressive.”

I know you’ve heard one or more of these admonitions or something similar.

The thing is… all that stifling of our voices and our expression is eating away at our hearts and souls.

I see it in the eyes of the women I talk to every day.

Girija Kaimal, Professor of Art Therapy Research at Drexel University shared this in a recent article about self-expression:

Even our ancestors in Indigenous communities all around the world intuitively knew that self-expression was essential to emotional health and social connection.
Girija Kaimal, The Conversation, 20 June 2024

We talk about wanting healthier workplaces.

We talk about emotional intelligence.

We talk about wanting meaningful work.

As women leaders, that doesn’t mean just listening, which we are inclined to do. It also means being heard.

It doesn’t mean that others have to agree with us or share our views, but we want to be able to express those views not suppress them. Too often, when women leaders do express themselves, they face repercussions. Study after study shows that.

But as Ms. Kaimal points out, freedom of expression is a basic human need.

To circle back to the US founders and the freedom they were seeking in creating a new nation, many of the initial immigrants to the Colonies were people who wanted freedom of religion.

And religion, in its own limited way, can be a form of self-expression. It’s one way we express our spiritual nature.

So, maybe what the founding fathers and mothers were seeking is not so different from what we are searching for today.

The freedom of true self-expression.

More and more women are embracing this quest and seeking companies and organizations where they are supported in their self-expression. That many women’s networking groups are flourishing is proof of this.

Yet, it still takes a brave woman to transcend the need for approval and acceptance and learn to embrace full self-expression.

And it’s a process.

So, on this 4th of July (or whenever you’re reading this), I challenge you to consider your self-expression.

Is it a freedom you seek or one you already have?

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