This year's International Women's Day theme is "Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world", with a particular focus on women in leadership.
When we think of women in leadership, it's easy to consider women such as Taiwan's President Tsai-Ing Wen. It's easy to consider Angela Merkel, still kicking ass after all this time in Germany. And who can forget Jacinda Ardern? It's easy to consider women in prominent positions.
What are the qualities of leadership? What are the qualities female leadership in particular that often gets overlooked?
When I think of leadership, I think of selflessness. I think of "pouring from a full cup", and I think of those that set an example, day in day out. I say this because of where I am right now in my own journey called life. These are important things to me right now.
Growing up in Taiwan, I almost hated the idea of selflessness. Mostly because of how engrained it is in society, and how hard it is to find out the clear line where selflessness becomes detrimental to the self.
Selflessness is almost a competition in Taiwan. Who can give up the most? Who can sacrifice the most? And when that sacrifice is being made, over many years, I see the bitterness that comes with sacrifice. I see people from all walks of life become bitter, hardened, angry with the world because of the sacrifice that they have had to make, for the greater good, and not feel like they got anything back for it.
That's another reason I hate selflessness. The idea that because I am selfless, I therefore have to be rewarded. This reward part is the reason many people do things, and not just in Taiwan. The very expectation of reward, we seem to forget, negates the exact sense of selflessness and sacrifice that we are trying to create.
So what is good selflessness? How are female leaders selfless?
This sense of "the greater good" is something that really needs to be examined in this context. What is the greater good, how does it work?
The greater good, this collectivity value, is what has helped Taiwan through the pandemic. The fact that we all wear masks everywhere we go in public, the fact that we take care to disinfect and keep things clean, those are all for the greater good.
We put aside the discomfort for ourselves so that we can protect everybody else. That's why when we had an "epicenter" back in January, only 20 people were affected.
When female leaders make decisions, they are, for the most part, for the greater good. They can think of things that others (read: men) wouldn't. They can take better care of the greater good. And here is the caveat: they don't do this for praise, for the hope of getting something else out of it later. They recognize that this is, by as many accounts as possible, right.
Pouring from a full cup
This is perhaps one of the hardest things for women to do overall. We are so engrained to be selfless, that we forget sometimes it's OK, or in fact necessary, to be selfish.
Selfish has such a negative connotation, and over the next decade, I hope to see that decline. Why? Because everybody needs to be selfish in order to function. Everybody needs to take time for themselves in order to function inside of the social realm.
I say this, because as an introverted extrovert, I often have this dilemma. There are some days where I all I want is just to be alone. I don't want to talk to others, I don't want to interact, and I don't want a million and one distractions. I just want to be. By myself.
Just like in quantum physics, the very nature of observing actually changes the way particles behave. The very same way I behave differently when I'm being observed. And I know this because I used to do things, imagining I was being observed so I would act differently than if I were alone. I might have farted, picked my nose, or slacked off. But the thought of someone in the room with me made me act differently.
There are many different ways to "fill your cup", and it'll take practice to figure out how you do it. There will be times that things work well for you, and other times when you need to switch up your repertoire.
One thing I started doing recently was to make a playlist called "sound of Arna". It absolutely filled me with joy to be able to put together a comprehensive playlist of songs that I felt had a piece of my heart stored inside of them, and even now, a few weeks on, I'm adding things to the list or taking things off as I go. It fills me with joy when I'm listening, because even though the playlist is now almost 6 hours long, I know that whatever song is going to come on next is going to excite me in a totally new way.
Meditation has proven to be very fruitful for filling ones cup. Journalling too. But it doesn't even have to be so straight-laced. If it's watching a movie alone, having a nap, reading a book, spending time with your kids... whatever it is that makes you feel fulfilled, calms you down and gives you joy-- that is what fills your cup.
All females, regardless of their leadership status, should be finding time to do this. Even mums-- especially mums.
Setting an Example
I have a set of values that I live by, because they are what drives me, motivate me, and keep me going when times get tough.
I ask myself, "if everyone lived like I did, if everyone acted like I did, what would the world look like?"
If I'm honest, some days, the world would look pretty freakin' lazy. The dishes wouldn't get done or I would forget to do my laundry. I wouldn't give myself enough time to work and watch too much Netflix-- if everyone in the world was like me on those days, we wouldn't have enough Netflix to watch!
Because ultimately, it is not my responsibility to make sure others are nice, or follow the rules, or heck, even change the world. But it is my responsibility to myself. Because whether you believe in Allah or Karma, your good deeds will come back to you tenfold. Not in the sense that you can count the money you spend come out, or in the nice things that people do for you, but it will. If you trust in that-- the bitterness melts away. The expectation stops haunting you.
And when expectations, bitterness, and anger falls away, we start seeing more of ourselves. We start seeing more of the smiles, the joy, the passion that comes from deep within us. We're able to live fuller, happier lives.
And that's what I want for women. That's what I want to see in our leadership. That's what I want for everyone.