From an early age, women have foisted on them images of the “ideal” female body, and self-esteem can plummet when they fail to measure up.
But celebrity trainer Holly Perkins says it’s time women stop buying into those societal pressures.
“There’s this perception that all women need to look like perfect runway models,” says Perkins, a leading national weight-loss expert. “They can feel the anxiety building when they are trying to meet someone else’s expectations. That’s when the effort to lose weight or get fit can add to the stresses of life instead of relieving them.”
Certainly, women should want to improve their health, get fit and look gorgeous all at the same time, says Perkins, who recently released a home-exercise system designed specifically for women called baladea (www.baladea.com), with regimens she developed to fuse fitness and wellness exercises.
But getting in shape needs to be something women want for themselves, and not an effort to mimic some airbrushed image on a magazine cover at the supermarket, she says.
Perkins realized several years ago that her clients met their weight-loss goals faster when she created programs that addressed both their fitness and wellness needs at the same time.
They also felt happier about themselves. So she incorporated yoga and other stress-relieving and relaxation techniques into the baladea program.
Perkins offers three reasons why the right fitness and wellness regimen can empower women and emancipate them from society’s image pressures:
• Because looking good makes you feel good. That’s especially true when you’re trying to look good to please yourself and not others, Perkins says. “There’s this sense of empowerment when you exercise, eat a healthier diet and lose weight because it’s what you want and not because of peer pressure or societal pressures,” she says.
Self-esteem rises when you improve your image on your terms, she says, and as a result “looking gorgeous never felt better.”
• Because the science says so. Research shows that stress can keep you from losing weight and might even cause you to add pounds. Even if you eat well and exercise, an excessive amount of stress can counteract all your efforts. That’s why meshing fitness and wellness works so well, Perkins says.
“Stress reduction and relaxation can significantly improve weight loss,” she says. “That allows you to look and feel your absolute best.”
• Because while improving your look, you also become healthier. You will feel amazing not just because of elevated self-esteem, but because your body really is functioning better because of the diet and exercise, Perkins says. Your energy level will rise and “you will feel ready for anything,” she says.
“You can look awesome and you can feel happy at the same time,” Perkins says. “It’s all about letting your true self shine.”
About Holly Perkins
Holly Perkins is a national fitness expert and developer of baladea (www.baladea.com), a customizable fitness and wellness system for women. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), one of the most prestigious certifications in the industry. She believes that making fitness a fun lifestyle is the best way to achieve true change. As one of the nation’s leading weight-loss experts and a highly sought-after celebrity trainer, she has been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers and on national TV shows.
Statistics show there has never been a better time to be a woman. As of 2014, there were almost 9.1 million female-owned businesses in the United States, generating more than $1.4 trillion (yes, with a “T”) in revenue. The percentage of women who are household breadwinners is rising. Young American women are 33 percent more likely than their male peers to have earned a college degree by age 27. And around the world, women hold several of the highest offices in the land.
And yet, in practice, so many of us seem unsettled and wary of using our own power. We’re all too willing to hand it over to other people: our families, our friends, our employers, and more. What gives?
“Too often, women make choices that benefit everyone else in our lives instead of doing what we, personally, are passionate about,” says Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly, who along with 19 other women, cowrote the new book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99, www.drnancyoreilly.com). “We move in directions that take us further from our dreams. We rob ourselves of connections that could sustain us and of relationships that bring us joy.”
This isn’t surprising; after all, centuries (millennia, even!) of socialization have taught women that our primary role is to support and care for others. Even now this attitude is alive and well. (Consider the fact that while women continue to take on a greater role in the workforce, the amount of time we spend on housework hasn’t changed much at all in recent years.)
Well, enough is enough. O’Reilly wants this to be the year you finally stop living by default and start connecting to your passion. It’s your time, just as much as (and dare we say,more than) it is your husband’s, your children’s, or your boss’s.
“For many women, the biggest obstacle to claiming and using our power is that we aren’t completely sure how to tap into it and where to channel it!” points out O’Reilly. “We’ve been so busy devoting our time and energy to everyone else around us that we may not even know what we care about most deeply.”
The only way to figure out what your passion is and to learn how to direct it is to purposefully turn your power up a notch. Here’s how:
Deliberately get uncomfortable. No one ever did anything great by staying in her comfort zone. As anyone who has ever given birth to a child knows, passion is often born of pain! But exploring new territory can be scary stuff, and most of us will avoid it if we can. Unfortunately, by doing so, we also avoid growth. This is why it’s so important to not only push yourself but to engage with others who challenge you, make you think, and sometimes even make you angry.
“The messages that set us on fire are not always delivered in a positive way,” says O’Reilly. “Believe it or not, my own journey toward empowering and partnering with other women began with my high school counselor, who advised me to forget about college and look into secretarial school. Well, that advice ignited something powerful within me…but not in the way the counselor intended!”
No excuses: Start working out. Don’t worry; O’Reilly isn’t going to harp on your BMI, cholesterol, or blood pressure (though those things are important). The fact is, if you feel tired, stiff, weak, or in pain, you are unlikely to take on that next ambitious challenge. The less you do, the less you can do.
“It takes stamina to push yourself out of your comfort zone!” O’Reilly notes. “And besides helping you build up the physical resources you need, exercise relieves stress, helps you relax, and produces the ‘happy hormones’ that keep you strong and resilient. In short, youmust exercise to be at your best. And if you’re saying, ‘I don’t have time,’ well, I encourage you to think about it in terms of loving, respecting, and maintaining the one body and the one life you’ve been given.”
Move to Connecting 2.0. The “connecting” too many of us do is of the “mile-wide, inch-deep” variety. But real connecting is not just about attending surface-level meet-and-greets and collecting hundreds of Facebook friends. It’s much deeper. It requires you to stop wondering, What can I get from you? and start thinking, What can we accomplish together?
This is Connecting 2.0, and making the shift changes everything, notes O’Reilly. How well we can truly partner with other people (especially with other women!) determines our success.
“Women inherently know how to make satisfying, mutually fulfilling connections,” O’Reilly points out. “As you seek out ways to collaborate with other great women, aim for a good mix of social networking, phone time, and face time. And remember, this isn’t all about business. It’s also about building real relationships. Even introverts won’t mind doing this once they see how good it feels to connect this way.”
If you can’t figure out where to channel your power, look to your friends. After years of doing what they think they should be doing instead of what they want to be doing, many women simply don’t know what their strengths and skills are. If this sounds like you, don’t strike out blindly. You won’t get far if you aren’t moving in a direction that’s aligned with your goals and values. (For instance, getting a professional certification in a career field that doesn’t fire you up might make you a better employee, but it won’t bring you closer to living your purpose.)
“Ask your women friends for advice,” O’Reilly advises. “In some ways, they know you better than you know yourself. They aren’t bogged down by your particular routine and worries, and they are in a better position to notice the things that make you smile and that you’re inherently good at. What do your friends admire about you? What do they encourage you to accomplish?”
Practice staying present. How often have you “lost” a few minutes…or a whole hour…or even more ruminating on something that happened in the past or worrying about what might happen in the future? The point is, whether you can’t stop thinking about an argument you had with your teenager or are concerned about how a client will respond to your proposal, you aren’t focusing, creating, doing, or developing right now.
“When you can learn to stay present, you’ll fret less and become more powerful,” says O’Reilly. “And it’s ironic that so many of us struggle to stay present because it really is the simplest, most natural thing in the world. It happens through the senses—all we need to do is tune in to what we’re seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting right now.
“Challenge yourself to notice something beautiful about your surroundings,” she adds. “Allow yourself to feel grateful for it. Gratitude awakens us, and when we’re awake, we can see our opportunities and rise to our challenges instead of obsessing about our barriers and failures.”
This year, do one thing to change the world. When you are able to observe a positive difference in the world because of something you did, you’ll tap into a powerful well of motivation. You don’t have to solve world hunger or found an orphanage; in fact, O’Reilly encourages you to start small. For instance, organize a panel of successful female entrepreneurs to speak to a local women’s group. Start volunteering at a local animal shelter. Or simply start picking up the litter you encounter on your walks through your neighborhood.
“A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama,” O’Reilly shares. “He impressed me when he said that the future of the world rests in the hands of Western women, but we would be able to fulfill this destiny only when we wake up. I so believe this, and I also think the opposite is true—changing your corner of the world for the better invigorates your whole being. It’s an amazing way to access your power.”
“Once you take those first few jarring steps forward and stop living by default, connecting to your purpose will become incrementally easier,” concludes O’Reilly. “You’ll begin to notice other women and men around you who are moving in similar directions. You’ll feel the joy and satisfaction of doing something deeply meaningful. And you’ll want to do more.”
About the Author:
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women empowerment expert, O’Reilly helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. To accomplish this, she devotes her energies to fulfilling the mission of the Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation, which benefits from her writing and speaking services. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website.
Competing with other women is out. Connecting with other women to share ideas, work together on projects, and offer support is in. The changes brought about by the global economy have made collaboration and innovation “must-have” skills, and the great news is that women tend to be naturals at them. And that, says clinical psychologist Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly, is why the women-helping-women movement is really picking up steam.
“We’re making a shift to what I call ‘Connecting 2.0,'” says O’Reilly, who along with 19 other women, cowrote the new book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99, www.drnancyoreilly.com). “It’s more meaningful than the ‘mile-wide and inch-deep’ type of connecting we associate with social media. It’s based on sharing and co-creating, not self-interest. It’s authentic, it feels good, and it works.”
This deeper approach to connecting works so well, in fact, that we are creating an ever-expanding network of resources offering expertise and support to women in business, government, education, philanthropy, and other fields. The idea is not just to advance our careers and make money, but to make life itself richer, more exciting, and more creative.
“This is more than a trend; it’s a movement—and women are loving it,” says O’Reilly. “More and more smart, amazing women are connecting to help their ‘sisters’ live their very best lives. These likeminded women are passionate about making the world a better place—so they are finding one another and building strong, supportive communities.”
The women-helping-women movement is nothing like the phony, self-serving, let’s-exchange-cards-and-move- on networking that most of us hate. Sure, connecting with other women does pay off in amazing ways, but the rewards flow organically from our “feminine strengths” and a genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
You may be wondering, Where do I sign up? The answer is “everywhere.” This is not some exclusive club—it’s open to all women with passion, enthusiasm, and a yearning to live a richer, more fulfilling life and maybe even change the world. But O’Reilly knows you may not be used to thinking this way. That’s why she offers the following tips:
· First things first: Aim for a good mix of online and face-to-face connecting. It’s easy to send an email message, and it’s really easy to like, to share, to follow in the world of social media. That’s why so many women do it. (It’s easy to push a key or click a mouse after all.) And while there is nothing wrong with social media, it’s also no substitute for real-world human interaction. The women-helping-women movement depends on both types of connecting: virtual and face-to-face.
“If you’re burning up social media, consider taking an online contact offline,” she advises. “Tell her you’d love to meet her for lunch the next time she’s in town. Conversely, if you’re proudly ‘old school’ and are neglecting your social media presence, dive in. You really need a foot in both worlds.”
- Join a new group that interests you and really attend the meetings. Make them a priority. It doesn’t matter what activity it’s based on. This may be a book circle or a kayaking club or a community cause. What’s important is that you’re getting together with other women who share a common interest—and that you go to meetings and events often enough to let these strong connections develop.
“It’s the shared passion for the activity that generates the connections,” notes O’Reilly. “And those connections take on a life of their own. You may end up forging alliances, finding jobs, winning clients—even though that’s not the ‘purpose’ for the group.”
- Get on a different team at work. We tend to stick to our comfort zone. But shaking things up from time to time keeps you sharp and puts you in the path of exciting new people. When you work with women you don’t know on projects you’re unfamiliar with, you will learn, grow, and often discover vital new talents and interests.
- Get involved in a philanthropic cause that speaks to your heart. Women who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents, and treasure are the kinds of women you want to meet. They tend to be “other-oriented” and want to make new connections, too. So whether your “cause” is homeless animals, kids with cancer, adult literacy, or clean oceans, get involved.
“I actually met the 19 women who cowrote the book through my Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation,” she adds. “In fact, the book is living proof of the kind of collaboration that happens when women make connections based on their desire to serve.”
- Think about what you need to learn. Seek out mentors who can help you learn it. Let’s say you have a small catering company specializing in weddings, parties, and family reunions. You’d like to expand into the healthcare conference arena but know nothing about the field. You might reach out to someone who plans such conferences and offer to trade services—perhaps cater an upcoming event for free or for a greatly reduced price—in exchange for the chance to learn and get a foot in the door.
“You’re not asking for something for free,” notes O’Reilly. “You’re also bringing something to the table. Who knows: Her clients may love your fresh approach, and it could result in the two of you starting a whole new venture.”
- Likewise, give back to women who need your expertise. In other words, don’t just seek out mentors. Be a mentor to women who can benefit from your knowledge and experience. It’s “good karma” and it can pay off in unexpected ways.
- Take a class. (And don’t just sit there; talk to your neighbor.) Whether it’s continuing education for your job, a creative writing class at the local community college, or even a martial arts training session, actively pursue new knowledge and skills. This will bring new and interesting women into your life—women who, just by being there, show that they have a zest for life and learning.
- Volunteer your speaking services. Yes, yes, you hate public speaking. Many women do. But taking to the podium is a powerful way to get your voice heard, to build up your confidence, and of course to make new connections with those who hear you speak. And there are many civic and service organizations—like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club—that need speakers.
- Handpick five to ten powerful women in your community and ask them to participate in an event. This might be a roundtable discussion that takes place at an industry conference or a community fundraiser, for example. And don’t think that busy, important women won’t have time for you, says O’Reilly.
“Remember, women love sharing stories, best practices, and ideas,” she says. “You might be surprised by how many will say yes.”
- If you’re invited, go. When someone invites you to an event or gathering—whether it’s an industry trade show, a party, or a hiking trip—go if you can. Yes, even if you’re tired, out-of-sorts, and feeling blah.
“Say yes if it’s remotely possible,” advises O’Reilly. “There are always reasons to say no and some of them are good reasons. But overall, life rewards action. Life rewards yes. The more times you say yes, the more connections you will make. The more connections you make, the richer and more creative your life will be.”
- Set a goal to meet “X” new women per month. Insert your own number, depending on your circumstances and personality. Hold yourself to this number (it will help greatly to keep track in a journal or calendar). If you take this metric seriously, you’ll figure out how to make it happen. And while meeting isn’t the same as connecting, it’s the essential first step.
“Let’s say your goal is to meet five new women this month, and it’s the last day of the month and you have two to go,” says O’Reilly. “You can always pop into the spin class at your gym, or maybe go to an open house or political rally. While you’re there, of course, strike up conversations with at least two women and introduce yourself.” Voilà! You’ve met your goal!
While women are naturally good at connecting, it doesn’t happen automatically, notes O’Reilly. We really do have to make an effort.
“Most of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we just don’t make it a priority to connect with other women,” she says. “We really do have to be deliberately purposeful about it. The benefits of connecting with other women are incredible, so we owe it to ourselves—and each other—to make it happen.”
About the Author:
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. She is a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women-empowerment expert who devotes her energies to helping women achieve the lives they want. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website. For more information, please visit www.drnancyoreilly.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.
About the Book:
Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99, www.drnancyoreilly.com) is available at bookstores nationwide and from online booksellers.
By Donna M. Phelan, MBA
Although it is improving, there is an economic cost to being a woman that reverberates into retirement. It results from multiple long-term socio-economic conditions.
The first is that women have consistently earned less than men, and real wages have stagnated. Currently women earn about one-fourth less than men. The disparities are even greater for black women, who earn about 30 percent less and Hispanic women, who earn about 40 percent less (census.gov). The Center for American Progress calculates that over a forty-year career life, that difference may add up to $300,000 for lower earners, $431,000 for average earners and $723,000 for higher earners.
Women are also less likely than men to start their careers in, or get promoted to management positions. A March 2010 Catalyst article in the Harvard Business Review reports that “women continue to lag men at every single career stage, right from their first professional jobs.” Women comprise only 5 percent of CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies. A 2014 Grant Thornton International Business Report survey, featured in the March 6, 2014 issue of Forbes, found that the number of women in senior management has “stagnated” at 24 percent since 2007. This means that most women miss out on the majority of lucrative executive benefits that may help secure their retirement.
An August 14, 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, quoted an Aon Hewitt study, which said that the 401(k) gender gap is even bigger than the gender pay gap. The study showed that the average man’s 401(k) savings was $100,000 dollars. The average woman’s 401(k) retirement saving’s was $59,300 dollars– a full 40 percent less.
Women are more likely to leave the workforce for childcare and eldercare. This redirects their resources of time, money and energy away from retirement saving. It also hinders career progress. Studies by Claudia Goldin of Harvard show that when women reenter the workforce, they permanently lag behind in pay and promotions.
Women who leave the workforce for caregiving also incur consequences for Social Security. Women receive about one-fourth less than men in Social Security benefits, $13,236 versus $17,004. Nearly 30 percent of women over age 65 rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income, a rate that increases with age. The percent of women older than 65 living below the poverty level of $11,670 was 11 percent versus 6.6 percent for men, and 18.9 percent versus 11.9 percent for those living alone. Women who turn on Social Security early for financial reasons permanently lock in a lower lifetime benefit in what may be their only pension.
Women also tend to work in industries that don’t offer retirement plans, so they miss the opportunity for wealth building through an employer match. With women’s average income hovering around $38,345, it is difficult to see how women would have any discretionary income left over for retirement saving.
Marital status is also a factor. Married women fare best, divorced and widowed women next best. Never-married single women incur the most cautious outlook for retirement.
The longevity gap between men and women is narrowing, but women still outlive men, and end up living out their later years alone. Greater longevity is accompanied by larger risk of diminished purchasing power due to inflation.
The many socioeconomic issues facing women and retirement raise concern. What if the old method of trying to save enough for retirement doesn’t work for women?
New strategies are needed if women are going to thrive in retirement. Women should consider working longer in their careers, and part-time in retirement. Women should also consider non-traditional residence sharing – renting out empty bedrooms, getting a roommate, and downsizing. With the savings from reduced housing expenses, women could make financial investments in income-producing vehicles. Women could also turn their hobbies – for which they already have the skills, tools and materials – into profitable home-based businesses.
Women need to understand the role they play in their own retirement and take responsibility. They need to become financially literate and realize they will need income for life. Women need to create stackable income streams to empower their retirement security and meet their monthly spending needs.
Women should also start talking to other women about retirement planning. What are their friends doing to prepare for retirement? What if they got together once a month over coffee to start a conversation about women and retirement? They might discover that they have ideas, talents and resources to share with other women, which might enhance the retirement planning experience and success of a larger scope of women.
About the author
Donna M. Phelan spent more than 18 years at some of Wall Street’s largest and most prestigious investment firms. She holds an MBA in finance from the University of Connecticut, and provides personal financial advice to clients coast to coast. The author of Women, Money & Prosperity: A Sister’s Perspective On How To Retire Well, she has lectured at conferences nationwide on a broad range of financial topics and has published numerous articles on investments, retirement and financial planning. Phelan was formerly president of the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Connecticut state chapter and was active in the Financial Women’s Association (FWA) in New York.