In March — Women's History Month — we are honoring the women who have made history, broken barriers, and pushed others up in the face of challenges and gender discrimination. For womankind to have achieved all that it has in the fight for equality and respect, it has been essential for communities to form in support of such common goals. And with the advent of the internet, unique opportunities arose for women to connect on a global scale without even leaving the comfort of home.
Utilizing the internet as such a place for connection and dialogue between women is one entrepreneur named Kelly McNelis, the founder of Women For One. Women For One is an online platform meant to create a global community of women who support each other, and share their truth "to make life happen on their own terms." Through storytelling via a blog, podcast, tool kits, and courses on the website, women of all different backgrounds can inspire one another to take "action that will transform the way they live, love, and learn," and reclaim and embrace their voices. According to McNelis, doing this is the key to discovering your power and joy — and transforming the world in the process. "Story by story, we've grown into a community of inspiration and truth, and with every woman who's shared, others have emerged changed, empowered, and inspired," it says on the website. Through such action and interaction, Kelly hopes Women For One will enable women to lift each other up and evolve into their best selves, and take charge of their own personal growth and experiences.
To form such a global community, McNelis — who is also a published author, mother, wife, friend, healer, and mentor — had to overcome her own challenges. We talked to McNelis to find out how and why she created Women For One, and what she hopes to accomplish through it.
What inspired you to create Women For One?
After experiencing a dysfunctional life (like we all have) including sexual abuse, divorce, as well as the death of a dear friend and blending a family of eight, I realized that I wanted to find my voice within a supportive community. I also wanted to give back to the world from the lessons I had learned. It is my hope that, in continuing to share women's truths and talents, Women For One will encourage everyone to take a stand on the issues that most impact our lives ...
... I had this yearning to create a community where I would discover my own voice and power — and I knew that I needed a community of like-minded sisters to get support around that. I truly believe that you create what you most need to learn, and then you offer that gift to others. I started Women For One because I wanted a forum to express myself, and hopefully, I have offered the same to others. So to me, the ultimate success story is the evolution of that desire into a powerful global community where, no matter how different we may be from each other, all women have the chance to see themselves in each other.
Why was it important to create an all-woman space with all-female staffers?
I didn't initially set out to create a space with all-female staffers, but I absolutely knew that I wanted to create an organization where the values and perspectives of women and the feminine would be honored. There are many men who have the capacity to embody the feminine and to honor that part of their humanity, but honestly — it's wonderful to have women staffers, because we know, without a doubt, that we are representing our clientele. As an organization, we are exploring women's challenges, issues, stories, and experiences, as well as what I call the "new feminine." I define it as a space where both the masculine and the feminine are embraced and integrated. But let's be real — historically, the feminine has been left out and dismissed. So I believe that it's actually very empowering that the majority of our audience, and all of our staffers, are made up of rockstar women who own their lives and bring an amazing number of strengths to the table.
As a woman, did you encounter any obstacles breaking into digital media — a space typically dominated by men?
In truth, I didn't really experience those obstacles. I've always been connected to the diverse world of women bloggers and their communities. I know that the digital space is opening up in a huge way for women, and it is offering us more opportunities than ever to connect and to put forward our visions and truths. To me, the obstacle isn't that digital media is male-dominated, but that the world in general is (and has been for centuries). Personally, as a leader in women's digital media, the obstacle I faced was more insidious: That is, no matter how many strides we have made, we're still playing by the rules set by men. Women continue to feel that we cannot be successful unless we are emulating men. This is not what Women For One promotes. We really believe that in order to make life happen, we must be aligned with our own authentic voices and truths. Through a long journey of self-inquiry and simply trusting my gut, I realized that the biggest hurdles we face are usually self-imposed. And when we break out of those, there is nothing we as women can't do.
Men are generally not asked how they juggle a career and kids, but as a businesswoman and a mother, do you get asked this often? How do you answer?
Yes, I have been asked this question many times! Admittedly, achieving a work/life balance is a constant struggle for women, particularly those of us who are navigating a number of roles in our lives. And let's face it, most women are genius multitaskers who have more than one full-time job: businesswoman, mom, partner, friend, etc. Tapping into the power of clarity and choice has been key for me. I start with getting clear on what my priorities are, stepping back and looking at the big picture of my life, and then making powerful choices that support both my personal life and my business. This can mean saying "no" and setting stronger boundaries. Other times, it's about remembering that I can't be everything to everyone, and I am most effective when I move toward activities that nourish rather than deplete me! Most of all, I try to be compassionate with myself. Women's work is not often recognized (either by ourselves or others), and no matter how much we do, we still feel this pressure to be perfect. But perfectionism only causes us to lose ourselves. So I'm no longer focused on being perfect, but on being true to who I am.
What is your advice for other female entrepreneurs just starting out?
Be sure you have the right team. This means recruiting people with skills and personalities that complement yours: people with a strong work ethic, knowledge, curiosity, passion, and the capacity to be in creative mode while simultaneously knowing how to get things done. And honestly, people who are just really nice, mature, and easy to work with (I learned this through trial and error!).
Know that there is no rush to get to the proverbial finish line. Many of us are conditioned to believe that we need to have everything figured out and make six figures within the first fiscal year of launching our business! That whole idea is a myth. Instead, my advice would be to grab onto the yearning and passion you have right now and alchemize them into fuel for your success in the future. Set clear outcomes and take baby steps toward them because they pay off — literally! Enjoy the process and fall in love with what's right in front of you rather than trying to step into some "perfect" future you.
Check your gut, always. This isn't about simply trusting the intuitive "hits" you get — it's also about connecting that trust to the information that's at your disposal. Put those things together to make meaningful decisions. I think that gut feeling comes from personal discernment, and a lot of us don't take the time to cultivate it when things like business opportunities are flying at us. Take the time to get clear on what you believe and always check your bullshit detector; don't simply take someone else's words or beliefs at face value.
Why do you think it's so important for women to create a global community where they can "share their truth and make life happen?"
I truly believe that when women connect with each other — across all our differences and unique perspectives — we effect change on a major scale. Whether it's nature or nurture, women tend to be community-focused and to take their insights out into the world so that everyone benefits from our collective wisdom. As an organization, Women For One encourages women to connect to themselves and each other. As a global community, Women For One is committed to women of all races, all cultures, all socioeconomic backgrounds, and all walks of life. We also raise awareness on a variety of issues — from poverty to sexual abuse to those magnificent people who are creating positive change right in their backyards — so that all of us can share our stories and inspire action that will transform the way we live, love, and learn. And, from my experience, this kind of nonjudgmental platform is exactly what inspires women to make life happen. In experiencing empowerment and validation in our shared stories, we uplift so many others. Our global community also helps to address the divisiveness that is currently so strong in the world. Women For One is teaching women that when we learn to speak our truth and genuinely listen to other women with whom we might not see eye to eye, we can engage in productive conversations for mutually beneficial outcomes.
Besides story and truth sharing, what are some of the positive things that have come out of the Women For One platform?
Women For One is one of the only communities I've experienced where all women, no matter their race, class, nationality, political leanings are represented and welcomed with open arms. It makes for a beautifully diverse community to navigate — you can be sure you'll find at least one other person who's been through similar experiences, but you'll also have the opportunity to meet and connect with women from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives. In addition, Women For One is honored to offer "Featured Truthteller" interviews with some of the world's most revered teachers and change-makers (including the late Dr. Maya Angelou, Arianna Huffington, and Byron Katie). Additionally, we've created a number of valuable toolkits and courses to support our growing tribe in becoming powerful truthtellers and change-makers themselves.
How can women bring the connections made in this digital space into "real" life?
The Digital Age has truly expanded our awareness and our base of connections, so I think it's important to remember that there are some powerful ideas, thoughts, and relationships coming out of it. At the same time, it can be a struggle to translate the experiences we get from social media and online communities into practical wisdom in our day-to-day life. Women For One places an emphasis on connection by cultivating spaces like private community groups where members of our community can interact and support one another. We also share every story that is submitted to our site via social media, so that our community can comment on each other's stories and connect through their shared experiences, finding real-life support through digital sharing.
There is also a much-needed an emphasis on education — on the power of virtual space in offering us room to explore new possibilities for how we show up in our own lives. That's why we've created a number of hands-on, customizable online tool kits, and courses for our community. We really want women to take our motto, "Make life happen" to heart and put it to use in their personal lives.
What advice do you have for women who are feeling stuck, or unsure of which direction to take their lives?
There's a lot of pressure to make bold choices with respect to things like career and purpose in our lives, and we aren't encouraged to simply sit in the middle of the uncertainty and to get curious about it. We're supposed to just automatically "know." I think it's important to take time to slow down and just be with our emotions, because we can learn so much from them! As women, we are usually taught that our feelings are an inconvenience, but in my experience, they are where our brilliance and authenticity live. When we take time to check in with ourselves to see what's really going on, we might be surprised as to what we find and what is hiding beneath the feelings of stuckness. But in order to fully understand ourselves and what we want, we need to cultivate that patience and that ongoing dialogue with our inner landscape.
I also highly recommend Women For One's tool kit, 5 Keys to Boldly Making Life Happen, which we specifically developed for the women in our community who wanted me to address how to get out of a rut, and work through confusion and stuckness. The toolkit offers an easy-to-use, practical method for turning obstacles into opportunities, complete with exercises and reflection questions. When I create content for Women For One, it always comes from the heart, so I bring in a lot of my own personal journey during the creative process. It's my way of saying, "I'm not perfect and I don't have all the answers, but I've been where you are, so I get it." And to be the friendly, sisterly voice who is there to offer encouragement and support, every step of the way.
Cover image via Kelly McNelis