When I accepted an invitation to attend the PA Conference for Women, I wasn't sure what to expect but jumped at the chance to attend. A whole bunch of women gathered together to learn from and encourage each other? Sign me up!
I did not know at the time who the keynote speakers were, and was delighted to learn a few days before the program I would be hearing from Amal Clooney and Serena Williams, among others. Among my friends and acquaintances, Serena is a pretty polarizing figure. But watching and listening to her interview with journalist Ellen McGirt, I was struck by how much she has used her fame and fortune to help those who aren't famous and who are far less fortunate. Her philanthropy and advocacy are impressive and inspiring (as is the extraordinary work being done by Amal Clooney, of course).
I gathered a lot of good takeaways from various speakers and breakout leaders that day, but one quote just keeps coming back to me. Serena was asked about how she finds the strength to advocate for herself on and off the tennis court. Her seven-word response has been running through my head ever since.
"I'll never not stand up for me." - Serena Williams
"I'll never not stand up for me. " In spite of the double negative (once an English teacher, always an English teacher), or maybe because of it, I just find that so powerful! Serena looked almost as if she didn't understand the question, as if she believes everyone should be standing up for herself and himself. And after hearing about her advocacy on behalf of so many other groups, it didn't strike me as selfish at all. In fact, I wonder if she's better at standing up for others as a result of being good a standing up for herself?
Too long I've tried so hard to be viewed as nice... I've apologized for my own existence, trying so hard not to hurt other people that I sacrifice my own happiness, opportunities, pay, and time. And frankly, I've looked askance at women who seem to advocate too loudly for what they want, thinking "How pushy! How selfish! How ambitious!"
But that view is changing. More and more, I've been inspired by people who claim their space in the world and bring others along with them. Of course, stop-at-nothing ambition at the expense of others doesn't contribute to society. But neither does shrinking away from your dreams. There's a balance in there somewhere.
Be a role model. Be a space-claimer. Be a stander-upper.