What kind of person do you imagine when you read or hear these words?
Maybe an audacious babe, screaming indignantly into a microphone? Or someone wearing power suits and Christian Louboutin stilettos - the ones with the red bottoms. Maybe an outspoken badass with sharp one-liners: articulate, eloquent, unafraid of confrontation.
I've lived my whole life trying to be like one of these powerful women.
After all, I consider myself to be a feminist. And aren't I a strong woman, too?
But I wasn't anything like Frida Kahlo or Grace Lee Boggs or Beyonce or even my mother, who founded multiple publicly-traded tech companies in Silicon Valley while raising three children.
These ladies are bonafide badasses. No one can argue with that.
For a while, I blamed my childhood in the sleepy suburbs for making me "soft". Even as I began doing impactful community work as an adult - lifting up young people and their families - I felt terribly embarrassed by my privileged and sheltered upbringing because I believed it had stunted my growth into a mature, resilient, and "woke" person.
Growing up, my greatest discomfort had been getting rapped on the knuckles by my strict piano teacher every Tuesday. Plus, who was I to support these young people whose stories were so different from mine?
I felt even more embarrassed of who I was on a personal level, because I was basically the exact opposite of any strong woman who you'd call "fierce": I was quiet, preferred to be behind-the-scenes, and often thought about my words for days before saying them.
And the more I tried to come up with witty comebacks, the more they got stuck in my throat.
I've always been more observant than outspoken, more about collaboration and harmony than angrily fighting "the man" or whoever. I didn't choose to be this way - I just am.
And aside from the demons in my own head, what did I know about suffering?
Who was I to try and make change?
I grappled with the question of whether or not I was good enough, experienced enough, tough enough, or strong enough to make the kind of impact that I wanted to make on the world. Can a person be strong and soft at the same time? Can a quiet person also be a influential? Can a sensitive introvert also be a badass?
After several years of trying to convince myself that the answer was "no", I've finally gotten bored of my own self-limiting (and frankly, self-indulgent) beliefs. My answer to these questions now is a definite YES.
After all, I am proof that these seeming "contradictions" can exist within one person. And if you're reading this, chances are, you are proof, too.
We are the empaths, the ones who have sharp insight into society, the old souls. We own our more nurturing and feminine approach to solving problems, rather than forcing ourselves to act with masculine aggression.
We are not afraid to go where it hurts the most.
We are the healers.
And I'd like to point out that you do not need to be loud, angry, or have great showmanship to help people heal. In fact, it mostly requires what you're naturally gifted at: listening, knowing what people need even when it's hard for them to voice it, and giving them a safe space to figure out their own shit.
I'd like to paint a more modern, more inclusive picture of what it looks like to be a powerful, strong, and influential woman.
A strong woman can be someone who holds space for others' suffering, someone who remains calm and steadfast even in the presence of tears and trauma.
She does what she thinks is ethical, even if she doesn't broadcast it to anybody else.
She contributes her time, energy, and money to causes that she believes in.
She stubbornly lives her life with integrity, even if no one else "gets" what she's trying to do.
She has the courage to ask for help and to be vulnerable and to share her mistakes and flaws with others so that they might not feel so alone - which, to me, is the scariest thing of all.
She is someone like my dear colleague who gives 110% to her clients and to becoming a single adoptive mother. She's someone like my dear friend who grew up being told she was "too sensitive", but was able to leverage that characteristic into a strength and now does life-changing work as an art therapist. She is someone like an old mentee of mine, who imbued her words with such power because she always said what she meant and meant what she said, no chit chat required.
A strong woman can be someone like you, who is driven to lift others up or make the world a better place, even if you're not sure how, and even if you know it'll be uncomfortable.
So yes, I'm still an introverted, 4-foot-11, understated lady who grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood full of piano lessons and AP classes and critical Asian parents who I'm still scared to cuss around. Not your typical fiery fierce feminist. Not your typical outspoken "strong woman".
I'm also someone who's committed her life to creating health equity and social equity, who holds space for those who feel unheard, who has a vision for the type of lasting impact she wants to make on the world, and who is working on being brave enough to be vulnerable.
I'm someone who refuses to give up hope despite the atrocities on the ten o'clock news, and I'm also someone who sees straight through bullshit. I'm neither an idealist or a so-called realist; I'm a practical dreamer.
That's my brand of "strong woman".
What type of "strong woman" are you?
There are no types.
It's just you, me, and us, doing our best and being our best.
Go, sis! Do you.