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Linda Tarr-Whelan's picture

You can make a difference in 2010 to open up opportunities for our children – and ourselves – to move as far as our talents and passions take us. Often, unnecessary obstacles seem to stand in the way, like old-fashioned and outdated styles in the workplace, make our lives more about juggling than balancing. Keeping all the balls in the air forces us to make hard choices between what is good for the family and what is good for a career. It can leave us feeling like change is impossible.

I’m convinced it doesn’t have to be this way. The impossible to imagine – a country where we actually value both raising a family and climbing up the career ladder – can become inevitable when we harness the unique experience and talents of moms. Personal action – the Power of One – is as essential as advocacy to get from where we are today to where we want to be. The beginning of a New Year is just the time to get started.

It isn’t difficult or time consuming. Instead, with the Power of One, the small things each of us can do in our everyday lives to open doors or provide ladders for another mom really adds up. As part of the solution, you’ll feel better, too by lending a helping hand to boost someone else’s spirits and confidence.

Reaching for our dreams takes confidence. Unfortunately, that is in short supply for lots of women – young and old alike. When presented with an opportunity, my research for Women Lead the Way revealed, women frequently wait for someone else to ask us, rather than step up. Somehow we feel that we’d really need more education or experience to take the next step and succeed.

Lack of confidence in our abilities, ideas and styles is an internal barrier to achieving the kind of world we want to see. The evidence is in: when more women move up in business, more workplaces have family-friendly policies. When we reach the tipping point of 30% women at policy tables, more attention is paid to priorities like education, health care, flexibility and child care. You can help someone else feel ready to throw her hat in the ring for a different job. It’s not hard.

I live in South Carolina and went to the local grocery store one day. In front of me in line was a really obnoxious woman. She was loudly berating the clerk because the store did not have a certain product. She was truly “over the top.” When this customer finally left, I told the cashier, “You did a great job with that woman. She was tough, but you were totally professional.” The clerk took a deep breath and said, “What did you say?” I repeated the compliment and she said, “Thank you so much. I’ve worked here for seven years and no one has ever told me I did a good job.” The simple and sincere remark may have helped this woman see herself in a better light.

Did someone help you along the way? Can you pass it on? The popular best seller, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, tells how a young white Southern woman in the 60’s wants to be a writer, but doesn’t have a clue on how to begin her career. In desperation, she writes to a big New York publisher – so big that an answer is really unlikely. Amazingly, one of the editors takes the time to say, “P.S. If you are truly serious, I’d be willing to look over your best ideas and give my opinion. I offer this for no better reason, Miss Phelan, than someone once did it for me.” Skeeter Phelan goes on to work with the black maids to tell their powerful story of raising the children and running the households in Jackson, Mississippi without the respect and dignity due them.

Traveling from Vermont to Texas and North Carolina to California on my book tour for Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World has given me a chance to visit with women of all ages and backgrounds. Their lives – and yours -- are full of stories of the Power of One, the person who gave them a chance to succeed or how they mentor another woman or provide a young girl with the confidence to take on new challenges. Pass it on starting now. If we start with the Power of One – and work together – we can change the world.

Linda Tarr-Whelan is the author of Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World (Berrett-Koehler, 2009). She is a Distinguished Senior Fellow with Demos.

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