One of my favourite sayings has always been the adage, “This too shall pass.” It was something I could repeat to myself whenever I was going through a challenging time in my life, and it would always help me push through. It was a strong reminder that no matter what kind of pain or discomfort we encounter, it is never permanent. In fact, the only thing permanent in this world is impermanence itself.
While this notion of fluidity can be uncomfortable, and even unsettling at times as it applies to everything – even the good – it is also incredibly empowering. It means we have the power to constantly change and even reinvent who we are, to gain new knowledge, skills and perspective. In that sense, we live in a constant cycle of death and rebirth.
We have all had to lay versions of ourselves to rest in order to be reborn into who we are today, but one could argue that women have had to do this even more. In order to progress, we have had to forge new paths on a daily basis where there were none before. The systems of success that are in place today were not originally built for us. Thus, by default, to be successful as a woman in today’s world requires an imaginative attitude and an innovative approach to the pre-existing and often archaic structure. It also requires a thick skin.
Change, just like birth and death, is uncomfortable. It forces us to tear down the walls of our comfort zones and to reassess everything we have taken for granted. But just like birth and death, change is a crucial part of being in this world. It’s inevitable. It happens to all of us, both on an individual level and on a mass scale, and whether we like it or not.
As a businesswoman who built her career first in the United States and then in the Middle East, I’ve experienced my fair share of change – both on a personal level and on a larger scale. I’ve experienced criticism as well. While my colleagues understand the value that I bring to the table and are incredibly supportive, I still feel as though I have to work harder and smarter to prove myself to the outside world.
Whenever a woman steps out of the boundaries that society has constructed for her, she will inevitably be challenged. The concept of a powerful woman whose trajectory defies the norm can be difficult for many to wrap their heads around. Her worth, validity, and even her capabilities in her work are scrutinised with suspicion, resulting in reductive and cheap explanations as to how she was able to get where she is. And yet a man who rises to the top in a similar fashion is more often than not lauded as a maverick. His success may be applauded where hers is put under a microscope; the legitimacy of his work is assumed where hers is questioned.
I would argue that this is not due to a black and white paradigm of sexism, although this would be an easy explanation, but rather because, at this point, we are simply more used to his story than hers. We have more examples of his in our history books, in our movies, and in the world around us. Yet hers, while not unorthodox, is still perceived to be – to some extent – an anomaly. But thankfully this is changing.
So to all the women out there, if I were to convey one message, I would like it to be that no matter where you come from or how hard you work to get there, there will always be those who support you and those who try to discount your credibility. I urge you to keep going. You deserve to be where you are because you have a vision that others do not. You are the best at what you do. And if you want to wear heels while doing it, that’s just the icing on the cake.
From Harper's BAZAAR Arabia March 2020 Issue