She wore red, bright exuberant red, signaling an outward confidence she did not really feel inside, as I soon learned during a conversation with her. She was an adult learner in my class, returning to school to retrain after many years of learning through raising a family, running a household, teaming up with her husband in business, doing volunteer work. Her verbalized struggle to gain self-confidence brought tears to my eyes because the story is all too familiar, and as a woman, I can relate, having had gaps in my own employment.
As women, we choose to have children, a very biological need, it seems, and yet, this choice often comes with a sacrifice of a woman's self-esteem when she chooses to stay home and raise her children. Eventually she feels the need to change, to return to the workforce, to get back her own life. They come from all walks of life, women starting over, transitioning from one way of living to another--usually making the big, bold step from dependency to self-empowerment. It's amazing to watch these women accomplishing their academic goals, achieving career success in the face of such self-doubt and fear. They self-actualize and ultimately realize that they are worth it (they always were, in fact!), that someone will indeed pay them to accomplish the very tasks they once took for granted as homemakers and unpaid volunteers.
It is not about fixing these women; it is about working with the very baggage they have--the multitude of skills, experiences and expertise they have acquired as women so used to multitasking. They have succeeded in raising children, assisting in or downright managing family businesses, organizing community events, and generally doing so for little or no money at a time when women still purportedly make 65 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts! And most baffling of all is that these women fail to recognize the immense contribution of skills and knowledge, however unpaid, to our society! They enter a career program with lots to give and not yet knowing it because for so many years their participation in anything has not been remunerated or even validated.
The real test is when we come to the job search process, a course where these women build resumes of their abilities, skills, knowledge and experience. We talk about what constitutes experience and how to reflect this in their resume. And it is a daunting task for these women who have so skillfully organized their families' schedules and lives, fund-raised for their childrens' schools and balanced household budgets, to name but a few of the imminently transferable skills they possess. Their resumes begin to take shape as confidence grows with the bridging of new learning with old knowledge.
And then they flourish…slowly at first, subtly, yet consistently these women hone old skills, transfer previous knowledge and get back into the swing of school learning. They follow all the steps in designing a new plan for their lives and they ultimately create their success, like a butterfly unfolding from its cocoon. I witness this transformation in the student now working at Bell Canada, holding top sales in her team; she glows with self-assurance when she visits the new group to talk about her success. And I see it in another student who excitedly calls to tell me she has just found her dream job; she moves from social assistance to a healthy weekly paycheck from an employer who feels grateful for her skills and experience. The many colors appear slowly, subtly, until red dawns and glows brightly. The self-confidence that often comes from achievement begins to form from inside, glowing outward. The red outfit really fits, representing what this newly recreated, self-made woman now feels. She takes wing and flies forward from the program and toward self-empowerment. She can now wear any color she pleases for the real color is on the inside.
To all my students: you are achieving the light within you to the degree with which you believe in your own power. Let the light shine from within, as Shakti Gawain says, for it is this light that will guide your path, not the light of someone else's beam. Create that light for yourself, not asking permission, but taking the lead, for it is this lead that you own and that guides you forward. Wear RED!