Our world needs to change. In the stories of badass women we celebrate during Women’s History Month, I uncovered a key that you and I need to know if we want to make our own lasting impact. Powerful women who left a mark don’t have a superpower that you lack, and they’re not all the same kind of woman. It doesn’t come down to a specific set of traits or having “high accomplishments.”
Rather the commonality in countless stories of history-making women was the willingness to keep going during the mile when no one else is running beside you. Women who change the world all have to risk being the ‘only’ or the ‘first.’
Our world needs intervention at every level, from inside our homes to our most public issues. There’s plenty of history-making opportunities for all kinds of women. But none of us will just wake up one day and put “change the world” on our to-do list and strap on a cape.
Whatever woman you now celebrate and follow had a time she didn’t feel at all like a superhero. She had to press on towards something that others weren’t thinking, weren’t doing, didn’t see, or didn’t like. World-changing comes on the other side of going it alone—at least for a little while.
Last spring, my daughter wanted to play baseball. Not softball—baseball. I didn’t see why not, so I signed her up. Between innings during the third game, she came running over to me in tears. “Mom, none of the boys want me here. They won’t let me touch their bats. They say they don’t want me on the team because baseball is for boys.”
I looked her in the face, and I said, “Sweetie, I feel you. I’ve been the ‘only one’ before too. But look around at all the little girls in this park. They are watching you play baseball. One of them is going to want to play someday too, and she sees you doing it right now! It’s hard to be the first, but you’re doing great. Now get over there, and crush that ball.”
She walked away, and the mom next to me looked at me with tears in her eyes and said quietly: “I wish someone had told me that when I was eight.”
Too many of us have interpreted the moments we find ourselves the “only woman” (especially when our own woman-friends aren’t with us) as wrong, bad, or a reason to quit. I’ve certainly had those moments as a female teaching pastor. I’ve heard the haters. It used to make me shrink back a little because there’s always a voice ready to say, “who do you think you are?!” But women with the power to change history push through those moments, and you can too.
Be on the lookout for one of three types of situations in your life that might just indicate you have the opportunity to “change the world”—no matter how far-fetched you think it is or how many times you hear the voice say, “it’s not going to matter.” These are the situations that world-changers push straight into instead of running away from. I’m willing to bet you’ve got one of these buried inside your life right now.
1. A Unique Passion Some of you have a PASSION that’s unusual or unique. You need to know the story of Bessie Coleman, the first female African American pilot. Every flight school in the U.S. rejected her because she was a woman. She was doing nails until she learned that women could be trained to fly in France. So she went to France to pursue her passion and returned home to become a famous aviator. She spent her life encouraging women to learn to fly (and refusing to come to air shows that wouldn’t accept other African-Americans or women).
You live in a moment of history where you can explore passions once only for men. Go see if it’s a clue to how you can impact others and our world. Don’t bury it—even if it takes you to France.
2. A Unique Perspective You see something others don’t. Maybe you’ve been told you’re crazy. You’ve got a unique PERSPECTIVE on something. So did Virginia Apgar. One of only a few female physicians of her day, she was the anesthesiologist at countless births, where she developed a unique perspective after watching too many babies die. She created what was called a “ridiculously simple” test that now every baby born in a hospital on this planet gets in the first minute of life! It’s called the “Apgar Score,” first published in 1953. Her simple but profound protocol changed neonatology and newborn fatality rates worldwide.
So go on and become the expert. Train your mind and your eyes. Don’t settle for “no one else sees that way” as a valid reason to shrink back from your unique perspective.
3. A Unique Problem Some of you are facing a unique problem. Real problems come up in our lives all the time. A woman professor I know had to be the first to report bullying and harassment from a male colleague in her department. This not-fun-stuff seems insurmountable at first. If that’s you, you need to know the “Daughters of Zelophehad” from the Bible in Numbers 27. Five (unmarried) sisters were in big trouble. Their father died, and the law in Israel forbade women from inheriting property. They brought their case before Moses, advocating for themselves to inherit. They knew the law and argued a case. They believed the truth about the heart of God: He’s a God of justice and mercy. They bet on Him when no one else was going to speak up for them. When we risk being the first (especially when we ask God to show up for us), we are never the last to face this problem. Because of these five women, the law in Israel was changed for all women forevermore.
Your willingness to go after resolution to your own issues may not be primarily to help you. Maybe you are the key to every woman coming after you at work, in your family, or in the world.
The women I admire did not change history because everything worked out in their lives. The women we celebrate this month pushed through the fear and risk of being the only or the first. They didn’t mean to change the world: they just wouldn’t give up their passions, problems, or perspectives because of the fear of going it alone. If you find yourself there, it’s not necessarily a reason to stop. That’s exactly who history says ends up changing the world.