Like many people during COVID-19 quarantine, I’ve had my fair share of emotional highs and lows. It was during one particularly low day that I was seeking extra inspiration and decided to revisit some of my favorite books by women leaders I admire. As I skimmed back through Wolfpack by Abby Wambach, I was reminded how much brilliant goodness she covers in just 92 pages—seriously, this tiny book packs a punch!
In Wolfpack, Wambach shares eight “New Rules” for women to “come together, unleash our power, and change the game.” A game that wasn’t designed by us or for us, and whose structure exists to maintain the status quo. Given our current state of affairs—from a global pandemic to apocalyptic wildfires ravaging the West Coast to a reckoning over deeply-rooted racism and social injustice in Amerian society—I couldn’t agree more that something monumental needs to change. And I believe the key to that change is women and girls.
Three out of her eight rules stood out to me in particular. The first encourages us to create our own path. She highlights the tale of Little Red Riding Hood to show how girls are socialized to people-please and stay in their lane, stating: “The message of these stories is clear: Follow the rules. Don’t be curious. Don’t say too much. Don’t expect more. Otherwise bad things will happen. But …every good thing that has come to me has happened when [I] dared to venture off the path.”
This couldn’t be more true of my journey. I spent the first 30 years of my life paralyzed by fear of what other people thought and anxiety-ridden about making the “wrong” choice. It’s why I’m so passionate about helping adolescent girls develop a stronger sense of self and confidence in owning who they are at an earlier age so that they can enter the next stages of adulthood grounded in their ability to make decisions and explore their passions with excitement and courage.
Another new rule Wambach proposes is to “lead from the bench.” She says, “You’re allowed to be disappointed when it feels like life’s benched you. What you aren’t allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench. If you’re not a leader on the bench, then you’re not a leader on the field…Leader is not a title that the world gives to you—it’s an offering that you give to the world.”
I love this take on leadership. It’s more about sharing power than owning power, and about lifting others up, even when you feel down. It asks us to share our unique gifts because we all can lead and positively impact others, no matter the circumstances. And it’s about being a part of a pack who believes in supporting, encouraging, and rooting each other on instead of tearing each other down. If more women could band together with a unified goal of changing the game, our force would be unstoppable.
And finally, her thoughts on imperfection…“We’ve been living by the old rules that insist that a woman must be perfect before she’s worthy of showing up. Since no one is perfect, this rule is an effective way to keep women out of leadership preemptively…When we live afraid to fail, we don’t take risks. We don’t bring ourselves to the table—so we end up failing before we begin.”
Striving to be perfect is uniquely gendered. Because our culture socializes girls to be everything to everyone, we always feel like we’re never enough because we’re working towards an impossible goal. And not only does perfect not exist, whose definition of perfect are we aiming for anyway? Rarely it’s our own vision of what success means to us individually, and that definition is almost always informed by pressures that might not be true to who we are and who we want to be. Perfection is what keeps women and girls from exploring, trying new things, putting ourselves out there, being willing to take risks, and being willing to fail. And failure is where we learn the most about ourselves and how to move forward in life.
So what would it look like if more women and girls forged their own paths, boosted each other up, and threw perfection to the wind? It would look beautiful, it would be radical, and it would change “the game” as we know it.