Mind

Life lessons we can learn from 5 strong, inspiring women

When faced with personal challenges, sometimes advice from successful women who have overcome their own struggles is the empowering pick-me-up you need.

By Bronte Chaperon

When we trip over, be it in our career, relationships or personal endeavours, it pays to have someone offer a few words of wisdom.

Not throwaway clichés like 'everything happens for a reason', but real, thought-provoking words of hope that inspire you to try again, work harder and keep at it.

It's these words that make us want to be better versions of ourselves; they help us understand that when we try and fail, we are still learning, growing and becoming more resilient women. They inspire us to try again.

Advice like this also teaches us we're not alone in our struggle for happiness, success or love. And when we hear strong women open up about moments in their life when they've overcome challenges, it helps us get a handle (and some perspective) on own struggles.

Jacinda Ardern once said to Noted, "You can be empathetic and have steel", which perfectly (and very concisely) sums up what it means to be a woman these days: you can have moments of weakness and warmth - these are not bad things in life or business - and you can also have nerve and strength.

When confronting personal failure, it can be easy to shut off emotionally and feel discouraged from trying again: 'I didn't get that promotion, I'm never going to move up', 'I'm just one person, I can't make a difference' or 'I'm swearing off men forever'. But this type of thinking is absolute and unhelpful.

We want to celebrate the women that let us know it's okay to trip and fall, to feel hurt and vulnerable, and then draw knowledge from those failures and get back up and try again. These women encourage us to break the glass ceiling without sacrificing our warmth - which is exactly what we need; women helping women be the best they can be.

1. Michelle Obama

So much more than 'Barack Obama's wife', former First Lady Michelle Obama is about as strong and wonderful as they come.

Michelle has been a wonderful influence for women and knows a thing or two about integrity and perseverance. While she was First Lady of the United States (breaking the glass ceiling as the first African-American FLOTUS) she had to overcome racial bias and hurtful comments made about her in the media.

Speaking live in 2017 to The Women's Foundation of Colorado, Michelle said the glass shards that cut the deepest were the attacks that meant to hurt.

"Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won't see me for what I am because of my skin colour.

"Women, we endure those cuts in so many ways that we don't even notice we're cut," she said. "We are living with small tiny cuts, and we are bleeding every single day. And we're still getting up."

Despite the attacks, she accomplished a lot during her time as FLOTUS. Michelle addressed the childhood obesity epidemic, launched Joining Forces with Dr Jill Biden (which provides support to military veterans and their families), and advocated for women's rights, among many other initiatives.

The lesson here? Ignore petty personal attacks from people who don't matter. Work hard to make a positive difference in the world, and don't let nay-sayers or unkind people hold you back. Nastiness often says more about the attacker than those they're putting down. This is a good chance to show some class and dignity by rising above the pettiness.

Our favourite words of wisdom from Michelle Obama:

  • "When someone acts like a bully, you don't stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high."

  • "Failing is a crucial part of success. Every time you fail and get back up, you practice perseverance, which is key to life. Your strength comes in your ability to recover."

  • "I would tell my younger self, take risks. Don't be afraid to fail. Don't worry about what other people say."

  • "Success isn't about how much money you make, it's about the difference you make in people's lives."

  • "You have a bad day, you go to bed, you wake up, and you work a little harder."

2. Jacinda Ardern

When Jacinda Ardern welcomed baby Neve Te Aroha into the world, she became the second woman to give birth while in power.

Ardern showed women (and men) everywhere that a woman 'can wear two hats' and work just as efficiently when juggling a job and motherhood.

"Lots of people juggle a lot of things in their personal and private lives, and I'm not unusual in that," she said.

"Plenty of women have multi-tasked before me, and I want to acknowledge that."

But we're not just proud of the fact Jacinda is showing the world that women needn't sacrifice their career to start a family, it's her passion for women's rights in the workplace. Before announcing she was pregnant, TV presenter Mark Richardson asked Jacinda about her baby plans - and her response was incredible. Jacinda said it was "totally unacceptable" to say a woman should have to answer questions about starting a family in the workplace.

"It is a woman's decision about when they choose to have children, it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job, or have job opportunities." Hear, hear!

You have rights as a woman and don't need to answer invasive questions about whether or not you want to have children. Employers are not allowed to discriminate based on whether or not you have children, are expecting children or are of childbearing age. The decision to have children is up to you to decide - not your boss, not your family and certainly not people who don't know you very well. And for that matter, if anyone asks you when you'll be getting married or when you'll be giving your child a sibling, tell them it's none of their business - no one should ask such personal questions.

Our favourite empowering quotes from Jacinda:

  • "It's a woman's decision when she chooses to have a family, it should not be something that's raised when her future career prospects are speculated on or even if she enters into a job opportunity or an interview."

  • Speaking to Forbes, Jacinda has said: "There are ways to turn self-doubt into a positive, constructive thing. It makes you work harder. It makes you ensure that you are always well prepared and one step ahead of everyone else."

  • She also said to Forbes: "Never feel like you have to tick all of the boxes on everything to be able to feel like you can do a job. I have heard it said many times before and it is so true. If you sit and wait to feel like you are the most confident person in the room you are probably going to be left by yourself."

  • "The last thing I think you should do is try to undermine someone's right to have their say."

3. Oprah Winfrey

Where do we begin to list all the wonderful things Oprah Winfrey has done?

Oprah has previously opened up about her difficult childhood, turbulent relationship with her mother and her struggle to enter the journalism industry (she was fired from her first hosting gig), but Oprah is still a loving and charitable person.

She has donated millions of dollars to charity, including The Angel Network, and her own two charities The Oprah Winfrey Foundation and The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation. She is also a supporter of Free The Children, an organisation that aims to build schools for children in developing countries and Project Cuddle, a charity that rescues hundreds of babies from abuse.

The lesson here? Despite how others have made you feel and the injustices you've been dealt, be kind and treat people well. Choosing to end a cycle of negativity and hurt means you're strong enough to rise above it. And treating others well - even though you've been emotionally burned - is an incredibly cathartic and freeing thing to do.

Our favourite inspiring thoughts from Oprah Winfrey:

  • "I would like to thank the people who've brought me those dark moments, when I felt most wounded, betrayed. You have been my greatest teachers."
  • "The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams."

  • "Turn your wounds into wisdom."

  • "Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not."

  • "Only make decisions that support your self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth."

  • "It makes no difference how many peaks you reach if there was no pleasure in the climb."

4. Maya Angelou

Those unfamiliar with Maya Angelou's work as a poet and civil rights activist, may recognise some of her most profound and insightful quotes. However, Angelou was much more than a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer - she used her voice to draw attention to important social issues.

Maya tackled issues such as racism, marriage equality and economic justice (think: fair wages for workers and housing and healthcare for all Americans).

She also worked with Martin Luther King Jr on the 'Poor People's Campaign' before he was assassinated and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former president Barack Obama.

Angelou was open to others - no matter their race, sexuality or gender, and she spent her life trying to fix injustices in the world. We could all stand to take a page out of Maya's book and be more accepting of others and respectful of our differences.

Our favourite Maya Angelou quotes:

  • "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."

  • "I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision."

  • "We need much less than we think we need."

  • "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."

  • "I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one."

  • "Determine to live life with flair and laughter."

  • "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

  • "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

5. Audrey Hepburn

Now To Love has previously written about Audrey Hepburn and her incredible approach to life that resulted from her difficult upbringing.

The talented actress lived in Holland during World War II and was very malnourished after the war ended. The food and medical relief she received from charity organisation UNICEF may've helped her realise the importance of helping others.

"I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II. UNICEF has a wonderful long arm, trying to reach the most wounded, and UNICEF works in a marvelous way to help people retain their dignity," Hepburn has said.

"There is just no question that there is a moral obligation for those who have, to give to those who have nothing."

Audrey went on to be a very charitable person and spent much of her later years raising awareness of third world problems and volunteering in poor communities in Asia, Africa and South America.

Whether or not you believe in karma, the lesson here is obvious: if you have the ability to help others, you should. Not only is being charitable good for your own wellbeing, it helps make the world a better place. You have no idea how much your generosity and support may mean to someone who is struggling.

Our favourite Audrey Hepburn quotes:

  • "I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles."

  • "For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone."

  • "If my world were to cave in tomorrow, I would look back on all the pleasures, excitements and worthwhilenesses I have been lucky enough to have had. Not the sadness, not my miscarriages or my father leaving home, but the joy of everything else. It will have been enough."

  • "It's that wonderful old-fashioned idea that others come first and you come second. This was the whole ethic by which I was brought up. Others matter more than you do, so 'don't fuss, dear; get on with it'."