The theme of Women’s History Month this March is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence.” Recognizing women who have championed these values throughout the years is important as well as understanding how everyone can make their own mark.
The roots of WHM trace back to the first Women’s Day on February 28, 1909, when New York’s Socialist Party celebrated the one-year anniversary of the garment worker’s strikes when thousands of women marched for economic rights.
Fast forward to the 1970s when feminist activists lobbied for a “Women’s History Week” to underscore that many American women’s contributions were largely left out school history books. President Jimmy Carter proclaimed March 2-8, 1980, the first national Women’s History Week.
Congress later established Women’s History Month in 1987 to remind us that “Our History is Our Strength” by promoting women’s history with a focus on education, empowerment, equality and inclusion of women.
Most Americans can now readily name women pioneers such as Harriet Tubman, Sally Ride, Susan B. Anthony, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Jane Austen, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, Amelia Earhart and many more. It’s easy to appreciate how these women have influenced and changed history. Women like these inspire others to leave a positive mark on history, but many may also feel insignificant and not know where to start.
How do we make a positive difference for others and our world? We can start by looking at commonalities between people recognized as influencers in their fields.
What I have discovered is that influential people understand their purpose. Many of us struggle with knowing our true purpose. If you are unsure of your purpose, I recommend starting with exploring your values. I do this by thinking about what I want people to remember about me, such as: “She cared about others,” or “She had great organizational skills.”
Next, determine your passion by discovering what pulls at your heart strings or makes your gut unsettled. It could be protecting children, eradicating poverty, preserving the Earth, feeding the hungry, ensuring equality, curing a disease, or virtually anything else where you want to see a change.
Now that you’ve explored your values and passions, reference them to your story and experiences. Where have you seen your values and passions play out? Where were the missed opportunities? How have your experiences influenced your values and passions? Doing this makes the issue personal and allows us to empathize with others going through similar situations.
If you or a loved one survived cancer, that story and experience can feed your passion to find a cure or provide services to cancer patients and their families. If you’ve wondered where your next meal will come from, that can raise your empathy for those currently struggling and lead you to start a neighborhood food bank.
Once you have uncovered your values, passions and experiences, it’s time to explore your skills, talents and gifts. What are you good at and how can you use that to influence those things for which you are passionate?
Maybe you excel at organizing, so you can volunteer to stock shelves at a food pantry. Maybe you have a large social network, so you can hold a fund raiser to help foster families; maybe you are a gifted writer, so you can write an amazing article that brings awareness and stirs a call to action for an issue.
Your personality will play a part in this as well. Are you a behind-the-scenes or leading-the-charge person? Do you draw energy from others, or do you need to retreat to charge your batteries? Whatever your skills, talents, and gifts are, use them to make a difference in whatever capacity you are able. It does not have to be anything grandiose; start small within your comforts and abilities.
Finally, you’ll want to explore your networks and relationships. Who do you know that shares your passion? Who in your networks can connect people based on needs? Find those people with whom you can share ideas and who can champion your endeavors and provide constructive feedback. Discover what talents and skills they possess and are willing to share to help attain your vision. None of the women mentioned above accomplished their feats on their own; they each had a network of people who listened, were passionate, and willing to offer their skills to make a difference.
Your purpose is a culmination of your values, passions, skills, talents, experiences and story. Whether or not you end up in a history book is inconsequential. Maybe you’ll change the world through becoming the first female Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force or President of the United States. Perhaps you’ll change one person’s world, like feeding a child at a homeless shelter who will later discover the cure to Leukemia.
What I do know is each one of us, woman or otherwise, has it within us to make a positive mark on history. What will yours be?