We, women in Asia, know from our childhood that women are expected to give of themselves, coexist in harmony and often without being prompted, to be the first to give priority to the needs of others – later these become staples as we put the needs of children, husbands, siblings and parents before ours. It seems to be a global phenomenon for women as Sheryl Sandberg so deftly outlines in her book ‘Lean-In’. Yet, for all of the self-sacrifice, there comes a time and a place when we need the advice ourselves, to be able to put our needs up there too – especially when it comes to building your own business, your own little niche which personifies everything you have learnt, acquired and are good at.
Self-advocacy is a journey that offers tremendous benefit to all women – whether they have chosen the line of entrepreneurship or not. It is also a sort of self-discovery when you can find the 100 different ways of fine-tuning what you are good at, which changes must you make as you go along, which strategies work best and which don’t.
Self-advocacy in itself may be difficult but must be ideally adhered to like exercise. Exercising your muscles is not always the most likable thing but it needs to get done. By constant training, you are able to get a muscle to tone and developing your potential through self-advocacy is no exception.
A great point to start will be identifying your strongest attributes – if you are not sure what they are, you can always ask those closest to you. Once those qualities have been identified, you can build on them. You might even be surprised yourself that you possess so many good qualities you didn’t even know you had. It is good once in a while to look at yourself through others’ eyes because sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves.
Once your attributes have been identified, you can plan the best course of self-training. Which areas do you need to master and which do you need to cut down in order to focus on others? Sometimes we have too many irons in the fire and need to shortlist and concentrate on a few that are the best out of the lot. Sharpening our approach and fine-tuning allows us to excel rather than spread our needs too wide.
Allow yourself to identify opportunities that will empower you – are there new skills that you need to acquire or are there new traits that you can learn about. Take time off to study your chosen field; there are developments taking place almost every day. When you find the time to study these, you are really empowering yourself with up-to-the-minute knowledge. Today, you don’t need specific time slots for this kind of updating. Thanks to technology, you can find most of it online.
Self-advocacy is also about finding that resolve within you to get rid of baggage that keeps you slow. What things do you need to discard and what must you carry towards your next career goal.
Too often, we get hampered by emotional attachments, outdated patterns and other paraphernalia that can slow the progress of our careers. It’s time to prune them down or cut them away altogether.
Find time for others – a busy career will also benefit from finding the time needed for others who matter – your family, your employees, your clients. Nurture the relationships, build on the positive goodwill. Focusing on their needs will help you stay connected.
Invest in yourself; you need to be able to project your image to suit your role, whether as a career woman or an entrepreneur. Buy the kind of clothes you need, invest in a wardrobe that completes the look. You may run a business from home but you can’t possibly go out to meet clients in jeans and a T-shirt. Go for that facial and get a mani-pedi done. When you invest in yourself and take care of yourself, the effort shows in ways you cannot imagine. When you present a well groomed, professional image, you are sending a message to the world about you.
Self-advocacy is an on-going process – you cannot finish one and stop at the other. It is all about continuing with the effort, adding more and taking out what is obsolete or not needed. It is, at its best, a process that will continue to empower and lift you up in your career or your business.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at email@example.com)