When we read about the lives of the most successful women, we feel inspired, but we may, ultimately, think that their level of growth and success is beyond our reach.
But by demystifying the essence of leadership, we can begin to see that we, too, can be exceptional leaders. Having researched the lives of an international group of visionary women for my book, Pioneers of the Possible, I now see that these women were indeed extraordinary because of a set of traits they all had in common.
Pioneering women, or women who are able to rise and lift themselves to greater heights, are what I call “everyday mystics.”
Many of their unique qualities fall in the realm of spiritual and personal attunement, which allows them to be both great visualizers and actualizers.
Five principles that can help us along the path to becoming an everyday mystic and visionary leader:
1. Pursue a Vocation, Not a “Job”
Successful women who have excelled in a particular field are primarily driven by a sense of quest, a search for meaningful experiences that transform them and enlarge their sense of self. These women, however successful they may be, did not set out building a career or “having a job,” per se. A job is what we do to earn money to meet economic demands. But a vocation (from Latin vocatus, meaning “calling”) is what we are called to do with our life’s energy. It gives us a sense of direction more than just meeting a goal.
In a survey conducted in the 1980s, it was noted that successful people, regardless of vocational field, defined themselves unconventionally. They referred to their functions rather than a trained specialty. For example, a physician described herself as a teacher, and a teacher described herself as a futurist. Thinking of ourselves in terms of our functions rather than a specific job title allows us to relate to work on a transformative level, which corresponds more naturally to our ever-changing needs. Those who full-heartedly pursue a vocation will attest that their path was never straight, but a series of unfoldings that activated yet another facet of the developing self, which is what our truest self demands of us.
Another pioneering woman, Wangari Mathaai, the first African woman to win the Noble Peace Prize, had aptly noted,
“Throughout my life, I have never stopped to strategize about my next steps…You raise your consciousness to a level that you must do the right thing because it is the only right thing to do.”
Her key to success was that she was less concerned with career tracking and more interested in responding to what was most engaging and relevant in her work.