EDITOR’S NOTE: South King Media Founder/Publisher Scott Schaefer serves on the Board of Directors for the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce.
By Andrea H. Reay
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Highline Heritage Museum asked the community “How would you define a strong woman?” I have been thinking a lot about strength lately and, like so much during the pandemic, I have found myself adjusting my definition.
The idea of women’s strength has many sources, and we are often pushed and pulled between living up to our expectations of ourselves and those society has placed on us. We should focus on our careers, we should focus on our families, we should be able to find balance, etc. The truth is it is hard. The stories we tell ourselves and that run through our thoughts challenge us every day.
As a working mom, I constantly must choose one priority over another, and I know I am not alone. As a young professional, I was fortunate to have an amazing female mentor. From my perspective, she had it all—successful career, happy family, and more — and I often asked myself, how did she do it? How was she so strong to be able to shoulder so much responsibility? And not only shoulder all that responsibility, but make it look so easy?
When I asked her how she did it, she laughed and said she came from a long line of plate spinners. She explained that juggling priorities for her was like spinning plates. Sometimes plates did fall and break, but the trick was knowing where and when you could allow one to fall and, in dealing with the consequences, knowing how to pick up the pieces. This image really struck me and has been a profound metaphor that allows me to better identify strength and find balance in my life.
We stand on the shoulders of so many that came before us. For me and my daughter, that “long line of plate spinners” helped to pave the way. I think of how my grandmother, in 1940s Los Angeles, became a nurse because “women can’t be doctors” and how my mother, in 1970s Seattle, took a job at a department store instead of utilizing her political science degree because “women don’t hold high political positions.”
But, today, I can tell my daughter that she can be a doctor or a politician or anything else she sets her mind to because of those who came before her. That is a tremendous comfort to me, knowing that strength comes from our shared history and experiences and that no one is ever truly alone. True strength is possible because we draw from and contribute to a shared history.
Strength also comes from being vulnerable. Sometimes mistakes happen – we drop literal and figurative plates throughout our lives. How we manage those failures, learn, and pick up the pieces is how we build strength, both in our own capacity to grow but also in our network as we learn to reach out and ask for help.
Living through this pandemic and helping to navigate small businesses through all the tumultuous challenges has shown me that true strength has more to do with imbibing resiliency, asking for help, and connecting with the community than it does with rigor or independence. We pride ourselves on our independent spirit as Americans, but the irony is that what makes our country and community strong is our ability to connect with one another. We are truly stronger together.
This article was written by Andrea H. Reay, President/CEO of Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce, “A voice for business, a leader in the community.” Seattle Southside Chamber has served the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila since 1988.
For more information about the Chamber, including a full list of member benefits and resources, please visit their website at www.SeattleSouthsideChamber.com.