Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with two women, one a new acquaintance and one a long-time client, as they grapple with owning and claiming their full power and the power of their work. They shared a common problem with all of the women I work with – they believed what other people told them about themselves instead of looking inside and believing themselves.

How does this happen? Here’s a description I’ve heard many times from many women: I’ve spent my entire career justifying my existence, fighting for space, and becoming successful in a company or organization that doesn’t want me there. I’m just one more diversity hire.

Silencing your power to affect change.

“They don’t want me there.” That explains so much doesn’t it? When we move through and work in spaces that don’t want us, we become smaller. Our spirit is crushed, and we forget the very things that make us powerful.

Oh. Wait. That’s the purpose of that hostility – sexism, bullying, harassment, prejudice, bias – isn’t it? To shut us up. To silence the power that threatens (it doesn’t threaten, it promises) to overturn the systems that privilege one kind of person over another. And, really, is there anything more dangerous than an empowered woman?

Yeah. I didn’t think so.

Break the chains.

So, my mission as I worked with these two women with widely disparate life experiences was to help them break the chains that held them in limbo – unable to move forward and an unwillingness to stay where they were.

Why me? My genius, my greatest gift is seeing others in ways they can’t see themselves. Then I push, shove, and accompany them as they accept the powerful person I clearly see in them.

Perhaps you’ve read my post, I See You, where I validate women’s experiences, including their experiences working inside misogynistic systems, doing their best work regardless of the disrespect, implied privilege, and pettiness of those systems.

Validation is one of the tools I use to break women out of their chains. Validation is critical because so much effort is targeted at convincing women that what they see and experience isn’t real. And, if it is real, it’s not that big a deal.



Validation is particularly important in marginalized communities – women, people of color, gender non-conforming, you name it. It’s important because when you are marginalized, you second guess everything you do. Then you hold yourself up to some standard or measure that was created for someone totally different from you. And, usually, that person that represents the standard was the beneficiary of unspoken privilege.

My job and my privilege is to call bs on that. It’s to label and name privilege, misogyny, bullying, prejudice, and bias as the crippling forces being exerted on “the others,” the people that don’t look like or act like those in power.

Free from the noise.

So, as I sat with one of the women, a woman of color, I told her that she was doing what she was put on earth to do – connecting families of children with disabilities with the resources they need to flourish. That her work was uniquely hers and her point of view and passion for her work were exactly, particularly what the world needs right this minute. That she didn’t need to work inside the system in a regular job. That her mission would lead her where she wants and needs to go. We went through all the explicit and implied messages she’d received around her work, including those from family and well-meaning friends, and dismantled each one.

After about 15 minutes of this, she looked at me and said “You freed me. You broke the chains that held me captive.” Now she’s ready to speak up and out in new ways – free of the noise that says she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Because, let me tell you, she knows exactly what she’s doing. And it will change systems of oppression for families and children with disabilities.

Different day, same problem.

I worked with another client this week, finishing up her résumé and cover letter for her dream job at an organization dedicated to addressing the systems that hold women back. And I encountered exactly the same problem.

She struggled to own her accomplishments. She struggled to elevate her understanding of her connections to the level they deserved. She almost outright rejected the power of her personal story.

This is a very accomplished woman. She’s respected in her field (by women in the field and some of the men) and has had repeated visibility at the national level. She works in the most misogynistic and white-male forward industry I can think of. And she was succumbing to the labels those privileged men had pasted all over her – mediocre, not special, not worth listening to (even though she delivered unprecedented results), not a leader.

You are valuable just as you are.

Listen to me. Your worth is not determined by external forces. Your worth is determined by that fire of determination and achievement that lives inside you all day every day.

When people shove you aside and marginalize you, that means you are a threat to them. Which means you’ve accomplished your mission. You are changing the conversation and the people holding the power are scared. So, they double down on making you feel small.


Instead, claim your value. Rewrite your narrative. Talk and write about your fraught journey to earn success in a company that is hostile towards you.

You may wonder how I moved my client to that space. That sentence about justifying her existence in a place that didn’t want her? It became the first sentence in her cover letter. It was so hard for her to put it there. She told me it was too intense. I responded by asking, “Too intense, or too personal?”

It was too personal. It was so personal and vulnerable and real that it felt threatening and scary to put it out in the world in a letter. Which was exactly the end goal of those people who were determined to undermine her and crush her spirit. If she couldn’t speak her truth, they had successfully silenced her power.

Vulnerability = Power

Here’s the thing. The most powerful thing any human being can do is to be vulnerable and honest with other humans. It lets others know they’re not alone. It lets them know you have their backs. It breaks through the programming, messaging, and crushing of spirit that women experience every day. It says, “We are doing hard things, and we will keep doing hard things.”

Here’s the other thing. Being vulnerable and honest by sharing your truth is the only thing that will free you, that will break the chains.

The truth will set you free. Every time. And it will help you free others.

I see you.

I’m here for you. And I’m determined that you can speak up, be rewarded for exceptional work, rise to the next level, and be cherished and appreciated for all of the things that make you, you.

I see you. You are powerful. You are smart. You are worthy. You are priceless.