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OPINION: The power of vulnerability

Last week at a Women's Day celebration I was invited as one of two speakers to talk from my heart. As an introduction, I chose to read out some situations from which I have learnt and asked the buzzing room of lady listeners to see if we had anything in common. As I purposefully read out the statements, the room grew calm and still.

Among the options were "choosing to live and work in South Africa", "sitting in the back of a police van during the struggle days", "dealing with an illness threatening your child's life", "single parenting", "being a working mom juggling part-time studies, business travel and young children", "a financial challenge", "an extramarital affair", "cancer or depression", "the early death of a parent, child or partner" and "hiding a political fugitive in your childhood bedroom for weeks as he fled the security police".

I reversed an opportunity and asked the ladies in the room who had not been impacted by one or more of those events in their own lives to raise their hands. The room was silent, all hands in laps or on the table top. I knew I was in the right place.

You'd agree there were many varied options. We spent a terrific morning listening, connecting on a human level and sharing experiences in one-on-one or huddled chats.

I chose to share those stories because the biggest lessons I have learned as a woman is that we don't allow ourselves to be vulnerable often enough, even though it is probably the most powerful place to be. It is where you can reflect, feel and make choices for yourself.

We also seldom tuned into our authentic selves. Mostly we are tuned into the roles we chose or got channelled into. As little girls some of us were encouraged to be better and different to who we are AND different and better than other little girls. I was graced with parents who missed this chapter in the guide book and my three younger sisters and I were raised equally. We were enough as we were and as we weren't, not in relation to anyone. That didn't make us celebrities, astrophysicists, nuns or world leaders, but we are sure we were valued as young women by our parents and ourselves. We were free to fail, succeed and have some fun as long as it was legal and in the broad strokes of the family values we were taught. This foundation stood me in good stead for all the life that dropped into my path by the time I was 27 and definitely now as a mother of a daughter.

I am horrified (with a capital "horri…") at the things young girls have to face and deal with, most of which has to be unlearned and reframed at home. It is exhausting for my daughter, her three brothers, her dad and I. All young girls in our circles of influence can benefit from our commitment to them being the best they can be in relation to who they are now and what they want for themselves and their lives. They are not their friends, they are not their circumstances, they are not what happened to them, and they are enough.

After the Women's Day breakfast, for hours as they cleared the table clothes from the venue's dining room, women ambled over to talk with me about what I has shared with them. What they shared with me was heart breaking, gut crushing and familiar. The situation most of these women wanted to share and talk about was the devastating impact of an extramarital affair.

Some of my daughter's friends have boyfriends. They are "in" relationships. My lesson to her and all the young women who pass our threshold is that they must grow to love themselves before they can think of loving someone else romantically and intimately. It is not a conversation I planned to have with her at 12. If we don't prepare our daughters while they are in a very uncertain time of their lives, tweenhood, that it's ok to feel and talk about what they feel, we are setting them up for low self-esteem, seeking acceptance outside of themselves in other people.

Heartbreaks are part of life and you are never ready. With hindsight and healing, I am bemused that I went through those flames, but it is possible. It becomes part of your story, it doesn't have to become who you are.

Finding out about an affair is a crack across the nose. By the time he passed away tragically in a car accident two years later, we had cried, fought, blamed, forgiven, reconciled, been to therapy and healed our way through to creating a new future.

Twenty years later I still feel the swirl of its destruction when people share with me their stories. It is like we form a circle of known and unknown pain. This week I met wives and mistresses and I felt for each of them. We can't change other people, we can choose who we are in our world. Let's choose courage, let's choose happy, let's choose busy and let's choose wisely. It's not out there, it is in us.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn