After Kelly McNelis’s divorce, she took a good, long look at the “lot of lifetime” she’d lived, which she describes as “dysfunctional.” Instead of letting her memories — memories she says she’d become numb to, including sexual abuse, a chaotic childhood, and struggles with body image — drag her down, she decided to let them empower her. “I realized that there was great value in fully owning my story and my ‘messiness’ [and] my raw vulnerability,” McNelis says. “I also knew that there was something important about modeling what it means to own your story.”
In an effort to do just that, McNelis — who started her career as a nonprofit consultant in the education industry — launched a blog focused on highlighting women worldwide who were pursuing their dreams and doing amazing things. Just six months later, she realized there was a demand for a larger network fueled by her messages of sharing and connection, and an expanded Women for One (WF1) was born.
“Women in my community were asking for real, raw experiences and truth from other women,” McNelis says of her decision to turn her site into a global community. “After interviewing many powerful changemakers in the world and highlighting so many other amazing stories… I realized that I wanted to find my own voice by sharing more of what I believed is true for me and other women.”
Today, WF1 is a thriving community of “truthtellers” who are encouraged by the network’s landing page to “love [their] messy brilliance and make life happen.” WF1 has 61,000 Instagram followers, 407,000 Facebook fans, and 14,000 Twitter followers. The site’s “Stories” page features high-profile truthtellers including Arianna Huffington, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Glennon Doyle Melton. More than 500 truthtellers (and counting!) have shared their stories — reflections on everything from grief to entrepreneurship, books to philanthropy — on WF1. The community also has a podcast, which features oral storytelling.
The word “messy” is a regular theme on Women for One, as well as in McNelis’s story. As the author of the forthcoming book Your Messy Brilliance, she wants women everywhere to connect over their authentic, non-linear (AKA messy) journeys, rather than their ultimate destinations.
“Your messiness is the total truth of who you are — the good, the bad, the ugly,” McNelis says. “Your brilliance is your true genius, which you can only uncover by diving into the messiness and accepting every single aspect of who you are. Your messy brilliance is your greatest asset precisely because it leaves nothing out. And when we fully embrace all parts of ourselves, we discover our power.”
McNelis believes that women everywhere can be better empowered and celebrated when they get real with each other through sharing their full stories (even the messy stuff). This is especially important, she notes, given how isolated the modern world has become.
“When we get together in communities that deeply honor the power of our stories and individual truths, we also take our power back and claim our voices,” McNelis says. “We can recognize, own, and release the stories that grip us a little too tightly and step into new ones that uplift us.”
Prospective truthtellers can submit their stories directly to WF1 — anonymously, if they wish. The site’s editorial team responds within 24 hours and offers feedback to the author to ensure they feel confident with the finished product when it goes live. WF1 seeks diversity and inclusivity of all kinds and encourages healthy disagreements.
“The truthtellers of Women for One are encouraged to share the wisdom that they have gained firsthand from their life experience, which frees them from their stories and allows them to move forward in their lives while claiming their gifts,” McNelis says. “The journey to [freedom] can be messy, but I believe that we can do anything if we trust in ourselves — one story, voice, and woman at a time.”
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(Photos via Kelly McNelis, Women For One)