Written by: William D. Anton, Ph. D., Founder of CEO Effectiveness

It’s not what you call me, but what I answer to. ~ African Proverb

woman-41891_1280Last Wednesday was National Woman’s Equality Day. Many impressive comments have been offered about woman’s equality by distinguished women in history. One of my favorites is by Marlo Thomas: “One of the things about equality is not just that you be treated equally to a man, but that you treat yourself equally to the way you treat a man.”

This profound comment captures the essence of one of the limiting factors in all human relationships irrespective of gender. The quality of the relationship you have with yourself is the upper limit on the quality of the relationship you can have with others. That being said, there is no question that the trauma of artificially narrowed roles, limited opportunities, and unfair expectations have added unequal burdens to women in addition to the daunting challenges faced by both sexes.

A historical consequence of the unequal treatment is that both women and men have been polarized into limiting and rigidly defined gender roles. In reality, men and women are more similar than different and to become their truer self each must find the courage to embrace the daunting task of self-realization. Unfortunately, it is primarily their differences that have been more susceptible to defining men and women than their similarities. Nevertheless, many women, and men for that matter, have chosen to accept more limiting self-definitions. All of us have developed beliefs and constructed mental models early in childhood. These are often linked to lingering feeling s of powerlessness and unworthiness. Problematic is that we routinely apply these early belief systems broadly throughout our adult life.

In commenting on woman’s equality, Alice Walker made the following observation: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” This is an excellent way of summarizing the cost of holding on to early mental models and beliefs too long.

But both men and women have a profound responsibility to transform their limiting beliefs and become more self-aware. But, they mustn’t stop there. They must be willing to use greater self-awareness to forge a path to their truer self. This is the truest liberation and may be a life space where women enjoy a distinct advantage. Louise McKinney expressed this well, “The purpose of a woman’s life is just the same as the purpose of man’s life – that she may make the best possible contribution to generations in which she is living.” You cannot offer the world what you haven’t discovered and grown comfortable with in yourself.

Those who resign themselves to arbitrary rules are like those who negotiate life with primitive and unchallenged mental models of themselves. They define themselves too narrowly and cheat both themselves and the world of what they could potentially offer. This is beautifully expressed by Marianne Williamson, “And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Never forget that re-discovering our unrealized potential is everyone’s first responsibility. In the words of Barbara Sher,

“Doing is a quantum leap from imagining.” To be equal does not mean you have to be the same.