The Final Obstacle Is Us

Almost every night during book tour, I end up talking about the same subject with my audience. My audiences are pretty much entirely composed of women (though I love you, too, my emotionally-secure male who dare to come to my events!) and invariably there will be a woman in the crowd who will stand up and ask how to get courage to … well, whatever. Courage to write her book, courage to change her life, courage to travel alone, courage to endure her sorrows, courage to leave her toxic relationship, courage to start her own business, courage to stand up for herself.

Now Is the Time for Women

I always begin my response by saying something along these lines—that it is down to us now. There has never been a better moment in human history than right now to be a woman. While there are still huge stretches of earth where the lot of womankind remains trapped in subjugation, the industrialized modern western world is the best environment women have ever had—the best and only shot we ever got at full personhood.

The life that I was offered, in comparison to the lives of my great-grandmothers, is so radically different that I might as well be a new human species altogether. I am a female with biological, political, financial and emotional autonomy. Such a thing was never heard of before. Ever.

Could things still be better for women? Yes, of course, and I fight for that, as we all must. Do we have perfect parity yet? Maybe in Sweden, but certainly not everywhere. Is there still discrimination and stupidity? Sure. Will there always be? Probably. But the fact remains—nobody in the history of womankind ever had a better chance to manifest his or her own life than us, right now.

The Internal Obstacle

Many of the big external obstacles (political, legislative, cultural) have been cleared for us by the great and brave women who came before us. We stand on their shoulders and we should be grateful.

But now we are left to battle the lingering prejudices in our own minds that convince us we are not worthy—not good enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not brave enough. We must battle the residual interior voice that says things like:

  • We are not important
  • We shouldn't raise our hand
  • We shouldn't ask to lead the project
  • We shouldn't run for office
  • We don't deserve a promotion
  • We can't set boundaries
  • We can't have a child alone
  • We can't support ourselves
  • We can't defend our vocations
  • We can't apply for that grant or that graduate program
  • We can’t define our own spiritual and emotional lives
  • We shouldn't speak up and say, "No, let's do it my way."

We must battle the interior prejudice that says we aren't perfect yet, in other words, and therefore we must hold ourselves back.

And while it's understandable that about a billion years of being beat down would keep a woman believing she is imperfect, we really have to get past that obstacle in ourselves. Because I've said it before and I'll say it again: Imperfection never stopped men from putting themselves forward. SO DON'T LET IT STOP YOU. (I don’t say that as an insult to men, either; I like that they throw themselves into the arena of life. I want us to do it, too.)

Get out of your own way, women. It's time. And nobody can do this part for you. No act of Congress (no social or political legislation) can get you out of your own way. Gloria Steinem can't get you out of your own way, and neither can Oprah, Brené Brown, Martha Beck, Hilary Clinton, your uncle's dog, your mother's cat, or me.

Don't wait to be rescued or discovered by anyone, and for heaven's sake, don't wait to be given permission from the principal's office to take full ownership of your own destiny. You’ve got to do it yourself.

Step forward out of your own lingering residual sense of smallness, take up every inch of life that is your blessed inheritance, and start doing your thing. Today.

It's down to us now—down to you. And there’s never been a better moment than right now.

Let’s get on it.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love has been called “a generation’s instruction manual” ( Toronto Sun ). Exploding onto the scene in 2006, the bestseller famously chronicled the year Gilbert spent traveling the world after a shattering divorce. Translated into more than 30 languages, Eat, Pray, Love has sold over ten million copies worldwide. The book — “fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit, and colloquial exuberance that is close to irresistible” ( The New York Times Book Review )—catapulted its author from respected but little-recognized writer to a woman Oprah Winfrey has called a “rock star author.” Named as one of the Best Books of the Year by The New York...Read more