Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, 2017 is likely to be a year unlike any we’ve ever experienced. America has never been more divided, and many people are feeling alienated and anxious. We can’t deny that hatred, cynicism and misunderstanding are present, but we each have the power to transform them. The author and anthropologist Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Let’s make 2017 the year we commit to strengthen ourselves in five key areas, so that collectively, we can create a world where we can all thrive, not just survive, during the coming year.
Cultivate a Strong Body
We all need strong bodies because physical strength helps to ground us. It helps keep our immunity high in times of stress so we don’t get sick. Exercising regularly, getting good nutrition each day and making sure we get sound, restful sleep gives us the energy we need to thrive and successfully manage stress and fear.
The Practice: Move your body for a half hour or more at least four times each week and for a minimum of fifteen minutes every day. Walk the dog. Use a treadmill or an elliptical while you’re reading or watching TV. Run. Swim. Play basketball. Do Yoga. Just MOVE. Get good nutrition every day. Say good-bye to fast food. Make sure you’re consistently getting at least seven hours of sleep each night and be mindful of how much alcohol you ingest.
We all need strong bodies because physical strength helps to ground us.
Cultivate a Strong Spirit
The poet Rumi said, “Come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love.” That’s what building a strong spirit allows us to do.
The Practice: To cultivate a strong spirit, dedicate time each day to communing with your higher power, whatever form that takes for you. Some do this through a regular practice of prayer or meditation. For others, it’s being in community with fellow seekers, spending time with family or communing with nature. A strong spirit can also be cultivated through a regular gratitude practice. Create whatever ritual that enables you to come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love.
Then dedicate at least ten minutes each day to that practice. Think about ways that you can demonstrate compassion in the world and pay it forward, then take those actions. A strong spirit will help you keep your wings in the air and your feet on the ground, especially when you need it most.
Cultivate a Strong Mind
The mind is a powerful instrument and we have far more control over what we think than we credit ourselves with having. In this “post-truth” age we’re living in, we must be vigilant about what we choose to consume. The old saying, “garbage in, garbage out” couldn’t be truer.
The Practice: To cultivate a strong mind, take in things that feed you such as inspirational stories, great literature, blogs, or movies that inspire you or give you hope about the world. Calibrate how much news you listen to, how much time you spend on social media, how much media you consume. Stay informed, but don’t allow the media to dictate your life or your mood. Every day, set an intention to be good to your mind by being careful what you feed it. Fill it with things that help expand what’s possible, rather than things that cause you to contract or live in fear. Start your day with an inspirational book, a TED talk or a blogger you follow that gives you hope. Know when it’s time to say “no” to more news, especially when you’re trying to go to sleep.
Cultivate a Strong Community
We are all connected, and especially when times are challenging, we need people we can rely on for support. People are reaching out to one another and are willing to be allies for groups of people they may have never considered before. If we’re ever going to come together again as a country, we need to learn how to reach out, engage in dialogue, listen and seek to understand those with different opinions and experiences. Building a strong web of community and support is crucial, because at the end of the day, we are all in this together.
The Practice: Reach out to two or three friends and plan to get together at least once a month and be available by phone as needed. You can also volunteer to host a circle through groups like Dream Corp’s #lovearmy, which are designed to help us support one another and work across differences. If you have skills to volunteer, find a place to give back and pay it forward in your community. If you have kids, take them with you to volunteer at a local food bank or charity nearby where they can also make a difference.
Cultivate a Strong Character
Our moral courage reflects our character. These times call for us to be both brave and resolute. We need to know what we stand for and what we’re unwilling to sacrifice, regardless of the cost
The Practice: Spend an hour this coming weekend reflecting on your most deeply held values. Write them down. Then spend time thinking about how you can put those values into action every day, at home and at work. Also, give thought to what ethical lines you are unwilling to cross, no matter the cost. Then each day upon waking, set an intention about how you’d like to show up in the world in a way that is aligned with your values and ethics.
Then do your best to fulfill it.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."