On my winding journey to becoming the co-CEO of the socially conscious brand Noonday Collection, I’ve learned a thing or two about the importance of creating compassionate spaces — both for myself and for others. You see, it turns out that being a CEO — and a CEO who is also a mother, in particular — necessitates a whole lot of grace. Because the truth is, when you embark on a path that is going to require you to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, you are bound to fail sometimes.
I believe that if we can all learn to create “compassionate spaces” where failure is met with grace, not judgment, we can empower others to live the imperfectly courageous life they were made for. So, how do we go about building this culture of safety and inclusion? Here are five practices that are sure to set us on the right path.
1. Own your story
This one proves to be particularly difficult for women. I was born into a close-knit Texas culture that praised women primarily for their roles as devoted wives and mothers. Growing up, I always felt an internal pressure to follow my mother’s lead — even though I felt more compelled by my entrepreneurial father’s path. My parents never explicitly told me this was the way it was supposed to be; but nevertheless, I struggled with that inner voice that told me I just wasn’t measuring up as a woman.
But eventually, I realized that these boxes I was trying to fit into just weren’t going to work for me. I wanted to be a great mom and a successful entrepreneur. After years of fighting off the voice telling me I wasn’t enough, I discovered that I didn’t have to be an “either or.” I could be an “and” instead. And in my “andness,” I could thrive.
So no matter what boxes you’re trying to fit your story into, I encourage you to think outside of them. Life isn’t made to be lived inside the lines. You can be more than what you’ve always believed you should be.
2. Embrace Vulnerability
It’s easy to get stuck in a thought rut, where one insidious comment from another person changes your perception of yourself. As it turns out, the comments we make to ourselves are often the most difficult to shake. It’s hard to escape from a cycle of negative thought and grow into our own stories until we see our lives through the context of other people. It’s important, therefore, to embrace vulnerability, to share our insecurities, to rely on other people to help shape our thoughts about ourselves. So, don’t be afraid to open up.
3. Be a Safe Place to Land
Along those lines, make sure you position yourself as a person to whom others can confide in. The best way to do this is by bravely choosing to be vulnerable with other people first. By letting others know that you’re someone committed to choosing grace and belonging over judgment, you precisely create the safe, compassionate space so many people, even people whom you may have already felt close to, are looking for. We are all fighting tough battles, and having a friend to fight alongside us can make all the difference.
4. Expand Your Circle of Belonging
Don’t stop at embracing the people you are already close to; expand your circle to include anyone who needs a soft place to land. When you step out of your relationship comfort zone, you will be amazed at how exposing yourself to new experiences and points of view will help you grow in ways you never dreamed possible. This mandate applies both to your next door neighbor and to people in need around the world. Make room at your table, scoot your chair to the side, and find ways to foster real conversations as often as you can.
5. Collaborate, Don’t Compare
The more you focus on your own unique attributes and the positive things you bring to the table, the less you’ll feel compelled to compare yourself to others. Also, the less you compare yourself to others, the less you’ll judge others in general. Society places so many competitive expectations on women, so it’s not surprising that we end up pitted against each other. It’s up to us to consciously interrogate our negative feelings and choose not to define ourselves based on how we line up next to others. And the more we encourage other women and lean on them in turn, the better we’ll be as women, wives, mothers, entrepreneurs, or whatever else we choose to be.
So, how can we press on when we find ourselves reaching for the moon and landing, not among the stars, but on a hard earth floor? The answer lies in creating a softer place to land — not just for ourselves, but for others, too. And when we do that, we’ll realize that choosing compassion and grace isn’t just the kinder way to live; it’s the choice that leads to careers, relationships, and partnerships that can truly flourish.
Photo Credit: Tyler Nix/Unsplash