How To Build An Independent Woman

By Nicki Leaper 2021-03-15 15:50:25

I’m showing my age here, but I first claimed my status as an independent woman while mentally best-friending Drew Barrymore in the revamped Charlie’s Angels movie. Aside from learning the associated Destiny’s Child dance moves and getting all Beyoncé (“All the women, who are independent, throw your hands up at me…”), what did I know about being independent? Not a lot in all honesty, beyond having my own car to drive.



However, add on a couple of decades, two global relocations and a specialisation in coaching brilliant women, and I’ve found a few signposts towards independence along the way.


Start on The Inside


There are lots of practical ways you can learn to look after yourself - knowing how to change a lightbulb and put up a shelf are useful skills to have. However, out here, independence is undoubtedly about being willing and able to look after yourself emotionally. So why not invest some time getting to know yourself better?




Self-reflection is an often-avoided task and yet it’s the groundwork from which you build your sense of worth and self-confidence. What do you love about yourself? What’s your favourite part of your body? (When a stylist out here asked me that question, I realised that for me, it’s my collarbone. Odd but true, and it changed the style of t-shirts I buy - which has made me feel more confident.


What are your strengths and your weaknesses? Be honest here. It’s neither time for false modesty nor the avoidance of hard facts. Once you know what these are, build on that knowledge rather than pretending to be someone you’re not.



What are your short, mid and long-term goals? Your overarching vision for your future? What do YOU really want? And what’s your WHY for wanting it?


Invest in yourself. An independent woman knows that she has to take care of herself first because she can’t pour from an empty teapot. This investment can take the form of rest, exercise, training courses, a decent haircut… but fundamentally, it’s about acknowledging that you’re worth it.



Learn to be ok in your own company. Try it. Grab a coffee and a window seat and see if you can sit and “be”, without looking at your phone, for 10 minutes. (Okay, you can start with 5 and work your way up.) If you can be ok with just yourself for company, you’ll never be lonely.


Actively look to get to know yourself better. Online personality tests (research and data-based ones) can help you see yourself from a different perspective, uncovering hidden strengths and new areas of interest - and these discoveries can lead you towards experimentation, engagement and purpose.


Working on Your Independence



For an independent woman, a job is often assumed to be a prerequisite and that can cause issues here due to visas etc. Getting clear on what you want to accomplish in your time in Shanghai should be a priority, for your sanity and those around you.


Shanghai is a city filled with opportunities and I’ve seen women do everything out here; from C-suite positions in global companies, to starting their own businesses, to retraining as Pilates instructors, to taking on Executive Director positions within long-standing community organisations. In many cases (and explicitly from personal experience) Shanghai offers the opportunity to rethink future plans entirely; a change in direction that might not have been possible elsewhere.



Whatever situation you find yourself in, try to pull on your brave pants and get stuck in with any interesting opportunities that present themselves, rather than waiting for someone to call you in from the sidelines. Follow your interests and curiosity, offer your services, ask questions and see where the answers lead you. This will fuel your enthusiasm and independence far more than focusing on what you left behind.


And wherever you do get involved, remember to raise your hand and share your thoughts. All circles can get stuck in what’s known as ‘groupthink’ and your alternative point of view might be just what is needed, opening the conversation up a little wider, allowing for other creative ideas to emerge.


Financial Independence



Let’s cut straight to the chase here. Independence in this arena starts with awareness and understanding. What money do you have? Where is it coming from? Where does it go to? And what are your financial goals whilst here? (Because, if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how can you know you’re on the right track?)


Once you know where you’re at with your finances, you’re capable of making empowered decisions - save, spend, splurge - which in turn helps build self-reliance and increase self-respect.




With your goals in mind, create a budget - but make it as easy as you can. A financial advisor friend put it like this: Know Your Number. Keeping a running tally on your monthly WeChat and Alipay spending will drive you insane, but if you’re aiming for under 100rmb per day for lunch, that’s easy.


It’s worth speaking to a financial advisor out here even if you’re not ‘wealthy’, as getting to understand your money is empowering. Don’t fear it - learn about it. There are lots of female-focused financial blogs and websites, so read up and start talking about money more, with your friends and your family.



One of my favourite pieces of art is the ‘Fearless Girl’ that was installed to face off against the Wall Street Bull. She didn’t stand there afraid. As each of us works to improve our financial literacy, we’ll help to improve the collective financial situation.


Together… and independent?



In this city, disregarding any ‘trailing spouse’ label, it’s worth remembering that you are never just someone’s ‘other half’. Having moved halfway round the world to lean into an amazing opportunity does not mean you need to give up your independence - on the contrary, Shanghai provides the opportunity to strengthen it.




What do you love doing? What makes you smile? Hunt it out and do it, regularly - even if your partner doesn’t feel the same way - because you are the best person to know how to make yourself happy.


Independence here means not martyring yourself for someone else. It’s about being able to stand your ground on what’s really important to you and let go of the stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s about being bold enough to be able to ask for what you want and need.



Quick tip: if you’re feeling resentful about something, see it as an opportunity to make a request instead of simmering away going “I’m fine”, hoping they’ll notice. (They probably won’t.) It empowers you and changes the dynamic. You can’t expect other people to read your mind, so don’t waste your time trying.


Raising The Next Generation of Independent Woman



I was congratulated on the first of my independent women at a Year 1 parents evening. The teacher was keen to let me know that independent girls were a thing to be proud of: they tend to do well, are less likely to give into peer pressure and generally know how to take care of themselves in a healthy, happy way. However, it was going to require me to ‘let go’ of trying to tell her what to do and understand that she learnt best by doing for herself.


She learns by exploring; by being messy, making mistakes, even failing. Children need to struggle and experience adversity so that they can develop grit, tenacity and resilience - all key blocks in building their independence.



Ask the girls in your world questions - big ones - about life, the universe and everything, and give space for the debating of ideas. Hearing multiple perspectives shows how often there isn’t a ‘right’ answer and will help instill confidence in them to raise their voices.


Encourage your girls to try new things, rather than sticking with what they know they’re good at. It broadens their horizons and may lead them to an unexpected interest and can help keep the tendency for perfectionism at bay.


Ultimately, what I hope to give to my daughters is enough wind beneath their wings to fly and a soft bed to return to each night to rest and recover, allowing them to carry on, renewed.



And to the parents of boys (I have one of them too) see above. Independence is a strength worth developing in all individuals.


I Am an Independent Woman


At the end of the day, being an independent woman is a state of mind. It’s about knowing your own mind and your own worth - exactly as you are.


So, with a twist on a Michelle Obama quote: Here’s to independent women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.



Check out our reading list for feminists, here