White Women Cake

Posted September 19th, 2017

For most of my life, I have been accused of being angry. I say “accused” because it very much felt like that. Words like vicious, ruthless, and combative would attach themselves to me, and I accepted them, feeling ashamed, like I was too much for people to handle and therefore needed to be really careful with how I show up in the world lest I inflict harm.

I was told to pipe down, just relax, cool my jets, get over it, let it go, pick my battles, and move on. Sound familiar? 

On the playground in elementary school, I used to get in the face of kids who were nasty when the teachers weren’t looking. In middle school, I used to look directly at bullies through my tears and call them out on their actions. In high school, I used to speak up when kids used others as stepping stones (or public punching bags) to make themselves look and feel more powerful. In the corporate world, I blurted out comments when the emperor had no clothes or bullshit was being served up on a platter. As a parent, I did not turn the other cheek when shit was going down.

All of this made me wildly unpopular at times. I was, of course, singled out by the bully when I diverted the attention to me. I sealed the fate of my dorky outcast status in high school. I was tightly managed in the corporate world. And I felt like a pariah at pick-up time from my kids’ schools, sports sidelines and dinner parties. At one point in my mid 40s—when my give-a-shit meter was just starting to go on the fritz—another mother actually cautioned me to “be nice” as  I was walking into a school community gathering.

As a result, for most of my life, I tried to walk this razor thin line between taking a stand (which had me speaking up) and muting myself (which had me playing small). I harbored this secret shame that I was unbelievably cruel and mean and capable of  doing some serious harm. In short, I battled this chronic fear that if I weren’t careful, I would use my powers for evil, not good. I became afraid of feeling angry, and learned it’s best to keep that shit under tight wraps lest I express it outwardly and lay waste to everything I hold dear.

It wasn’t until I started questioning my own beliefs about myself (you know, the ones I had been given and swallowed whole without chewing?), that I started to see there was an enormous gap between the words I’d associated with myself and people’s actual experience of me. Big. Huge. Gap.

When I had a really honest conversation with myself and pulled out the feedback, cards and emails I’d collected from clients over the years to examine the actual comments about my work and people’s perceptions of me, I could finally see what I had missed. It turns out the most common descriptors of me were: warm…big-hearted…make me feel safe..honest…keep it real… inspiring… feel like I can be myself, can say anything…

That was a watershed moment for me.

I realized that somewhere in my youth, I had been called vicious and ruthless or mean maybe a couple of times by a couple of people, and because of its impact, it stuck. I assumed it was true and  never questioned it. Until about 30 years later.

I wrote about this in my book, telling my story of facing and unpacking anger for myself and how I reframed it and, ultimately, reclaimed it. Because you know what lived inside that bundle of shame? My truth, my voice, my effectiveness as a leader, and my ability to affect change. Today, anger, as it relates to women, has been the single most requested topic people want to explore with me during interviews, book readings and storytelling since releasing my book.

Now all this is not to say that I can’t be mean (I can), and that I’m not capable of hurting someone with my words or actions (I do), or that I’m now magically fearless or unfettered (I’m not). My (big) heart still beats wildly in my chest right before I say something out loud that I know will be unpopular, hard to hear or will challenge the status quo. I still replay the video tapes in my head afterward, double-checking myself. Am I mean? Am I blind? Am I delusional? 

But now? Those are genuine questions born out of true curiosity, not out of desire to participate in my own shame. Those questions keep me honest, not small. Those questions keep me humble and connected—living from my heart and my light, not from my head and a desire to hide.

I know I’m not alone, and that helps give me courage. I hear similar versions of the same story from women who make the move, step out, speak up, use their voice, and show themselves. So often those stories begin with being confused, disappointed, concerned, perplexed, frustrated, hurt, and even sad. But you know what’s waiting for us when we dig beneath all that stuff?

Anger. Even rage.

“‘In hard times, filled with hate, look to your highest self instead of getting angry,’ they say. As if my highest self isn’t angry as fuck.” – Andréa Ranae

And here’s the part where anger intersects and clashes wildly with our white women culture. Anger is seen as unattractive, distasteful, threatening and destructive. We are taught from a young age to get rid of it quickly and discreetly, passing it on like a hot potato to someone else if need be. We don’t have a lot of practice being with it, let alone giving voice to it. The result? We kind of suck at expressing our anger at a time when many of us are full to the brim of it, and we could be using that energy to create and lead change.

The bottom line: We white women have some work to do owning and expressing our anger. 

Now let me just pause here and clarify that this is not to suggest that white women are the only angry women. Nor do I mean to suggest that women of color have all that anger shit figured out either. There are plenty of angry women in our world these days, and legions of us are getting loads of opportunity to experience it. What I’m seeking to do—for myself and other white women— is to shine a very particular light in the corner of our white women culture that we don’t often discuss: all that anger we feel and what we do with it.

Because that stuff in our corner? It’s still there, and getting bigger. And if we don’t allow it to exist because we’re uncomfortable (or out of practice, or afraid of not being liked…), we run the risk of it coming out sideways, having it be misdirected, and ultimately rendering it (and us) ineffective.

Ever been dismissed as a bitch, hysterical or an angry feminist? Then you know what happens next. Most of us shut up or get shut down.

But keep all that anger inside, and it rots and festers within us.  I can’t help but make the connection between this unexpressed (in many cases, unvalidated) anger and the state of women’s health. Heart disease. Breast cancer. Depression. What’s that phrase Carolyn Myss, Christiane Northrup and so many others talk about? Our biography is our biology. And when you lay over the history of women and the impact of years of patriarchy? Well now, that’s a pretty rich history that we carry in our collective cellular memories as women.

You know what helps? Practice. 
You know what doesn’t? Shame. 

Why is this important? Because in the absence of doing our own work with anger as white women, we will shop around for others to express that anger for us—like men and women of color or white men. We’ll ask other people to hold the hard stuff we don’t want to be with at a time when many people of color have their arms full of stuff already. There is much to be angry about these days—the injustices, the oppression, the corruption, the violence — and we need all hands on deck if we are to right this ship. Waiting to get comfortable with our anger, be good at voicing it publicly, or having it feel safe is an exercise in white privilege; just as getting self righteous about it is —both actions serve to disconnect and divide us further from ourselves and each other.

You know what helps? Curiosity.
You know what doesn’t? Judgement.

Like many of you reading this, I have been struggling mightily with the anger that has kicked up for me in the wake of our last presidential election. I find I have been working overtime to face and feel the intensity of my anger and use the power of my voice with intention. And yet, many days I am overwhelmed with what I see…how the opportunities…they seem to be…everywhere.

I was sitting with my therapist recently recounting one of them, qualifying it as “not a big deal”, but more of an example of how microaggressions can pile up pretty quickly. I was telling her the story of talking with a man when another man came over and started talking over me, not even acknowledging that A) I was there, or B) I was talking. Without skipping a beat, the man I was talking to stopped listening to me and diverted his attention to the other man. And off they went. I stopped talking and and no one noticed. Or cared. I was fuming but bit my tongue.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” my therapist asked.
“I didn’t want to be, you know… THAT angry feminist,” I responded.
“Why not? “she countered.

Good point. Why not, indeed.

“The patriarchy is so scared of women’s anger that eventually we learn to fear it, too. We walk around as if we were bombs about to go off, worried about admitting how livid we really are, even to ourselves.” – Laurie Penny

Writer Laurie Penny talks about this very thing in her book Bitch Doctrine, exploring why women hide anger, why we fear it and how we can use it to create change. She is clear about the need to distinguish anger from hatred (“anger is an emotion, hatred is an action…”Gloria Steinem has been talking about anger for most of her life. Danielle LaPorte’s latest book explores the notion of “spiritual bypassing” and how “all the woo [can] keep us from dealing with our poo.” Most recently, Tina Fey—in only the way Tina Fey can do—shined a humorous and extremely well-pointed barb on the rage living inside women these days, stirring up a mixed-bag of responses with her “sheet caking” alternative to protest, that would have women yelling at their cakes.

You know what helps? Acknowledging the suckage and trying anyway.
You know what doesn’t? Pretending it doesn’t matter and expecting things to change.

So I, for one, will continue to pull up my plate of anger and sit it squarely in front of me—my version of a sheet cake, I guess. Which means I will get messy with it, make mistakes, make an ass of myself, maybe even offend someone. But you know what? I’ll learn something in the process.  I will have practiced something hard and will suck less at it each time as a result of that effort. I have no intention of stuffing my words down with cake or misdirecting my anger at some shapeless mass of empty carbs, though. And I will try my best to remember this:

It’s not about being nice; it’s about feeling angry.
It’s not about being unproductive; it’s about being honest and showing up.
It’s not about being ready, it’s about being present.
It’s not about feeling safe or comfortable, it’s about being accountable.

And if that doesn’t work, I will hold the image of Tina yelling at the camera with frosting all over her face and her fork flailing around. And if I am so moved, I will lift up my fists full of frosting and make some noise for change — ready or not.

 

Want to hear more stories like this? Check out my Unscripted Evening coming up this September 28th in Yarmouth, Maine. Tickets are now on sale.

 

And if women’s storytelling is your thing, save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks being held at One Longfellow Square on December 7th. The theme is “Life In The Arena” and tickets are on sale now if you’re a planner!

Life In The Area

Posted November 15th, 2016

This is a repost from something I wrote last year. At the time, I was poised to release my book into the world, and writing this helped me to name what I was feeling. A year later, I find myself returning to my own words in a different context, but with a similar intention: To name what I am feeling in the wake of this election. Unlike when I wrote this, what I find myself facing today is not simply an exercise of navigating “what if…”, but engaging in the stark reality “here we are…” 

This is me throwing another rock to create ripples of change — for myself and others. And this is me, still standing in the arena, resisting my familiar urge to fight for change (for like you, I am tired of that stale strategy), and challenging myself to live my life as a prayer — asking myself what that means and how that looks for me today. I am sitting with that actively. And, like you,  I am mustering the courage to find out. 

When I posted this last fall, it received 2,500 hits in just a couple of hours — telling me, once again, I was not alone and had struck a resonant chord for many. Perhaps it will resonate again in the light (or darkness) of a new day. 

Originally posted: 9.25.16

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesMy son and I sat on the couch last night and looked at the proof for the cover of my book. He nodded, and then got really quiet. I asked him why.

“I’m afraid you’re going to get bullied.”

I was speechless. His one comment touched on two raw nerves of mine: 1) the intense vulnerability I am feeling in releasing this book into the world and 2) my sadness that he is growing up in a world that has kids fearing the likely reality – not just for themselves, but for their parents – of being bullied.

I don’t remember being afraid for my parents.

And he’s right. I am terrified. Even as I move forward. Because it is a reality I face. I support my clients in facing down that fear daily in my work, and with this latest creative endeavor of mine, I know that feeling all too well in my own bones.

Here’s the likely reality:

Someone will think what I’ve written is a crock of shit, a load of bunk, or pointless drivel

Someone will call me an entitled white bitch, an angry feminist, or a self-absorbed narcissist

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesSomeone will take offense to what I’ve written and will reciprocate by offending me

I’ll be called stupid, foolish, delusional or a whack job

Someone will say that buying my book is a waste of good money or reading it is a waste of valuable time

Someone will find a typo or a grammatical error on page 46 (to name just one) and will use it as evidence of my stupidity

Someone will say they are disappointed by my book…that they expected it to be better, more, different

Someone will feel the need to inform me of all the nasty and mean-spirited things being said about me that I might have missed

Some of these people will be well-intentioned, but many will not. Because sadly, that is the reality of the world we face. Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk touched on this, pointing out that we have made public shaming a blood sport in our society.

I’m not being dramatic. I’m being realistic. Even as I move forward.

When I think of “blood sport”, I think of gladiators and how they entered the arena knowing there was a strong likelihood they would die. They entered the arena with the intention of fighting for their life in front of a crowd that was hungry for blood to be spilled. I remember a similar sensation when I went to a monster truck rally with my sister, feeling an embarrassingly strong desire for some horrific crash to happen. Blood.

Part of me knows it is in our nature as humans to be drawn to death – we do it every day when we slow down at the scene of an accident: it’s called rubber-necking. But social media has taken this sometimes event and turned it into an everyday occurrence. It’s the new normal.

Brene Brown’s TED talk revealed her own experience with this phenomenon when she first sought to engage us with topics like shame, humiliation and vulnerability. I saw her speak recently to a sold out audience for her latest book tour, Rising Strong. She shared the story that helped me finally get off my ass over a year ago and start to write my book that was inside me.

Her story was about sitting in bed one morning in the weeks after releasing one of her books, and reading – even though she promised herself she wouldn’t do it – the scathing comments on Amazon. She was called fat and ugly and other horrific hurtful things.

It broke her heart, and damn near broke her spirit.

2015-09-25 10.26.30And then, she stumbled upon a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that helped her to see her own bravery – for having the courage to step into the arena and get messy, maybe even fail.

In that moment, she decided she would only take feedback from those who were also in the arena – those brave souls out there with her that were also taking risks, doing something that scared the shit out of them, and doing so publicly – agreeing to have their endeavors (good, bad or ugly) be seen by the masses, and consenting to be vulnerable.

Hearing her story was the catalyst for me saying yes to this book – for me going into the bowels of the arena, taking the creaky elevator up, and stepping out in the bright light, knowing there are most likely lions lurking and ready to pounce.

I want to be one of those brave people – like Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, when she first arrives in the arena with the other tributes, many of whom become allies.

Except I’m not going to engage in a battle. I’m not going fight in the arena – I’ve done that, been there, bought the t-shirt. And I’m tired. It’s an exhausting strategy.

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechangesI’ve decided I’m simply going to be present in the arena – to stand on my patch of dirt and to live my life as a form of prayer. To burn with an intention so bright, I am luminous and able to be seen clearly by others.

A Living Prayer. I write about this in my book, but what I essentially mean by that statement is that I want to live life with the intention – for me, for women, for us all – to be free. To be who we are without all the apologies, explanations, justifications, qualifications, and ramifications.

Because I want more people in the arena. I want a crowd. A village. A party. A revolution.

I want the arena to be where it’s at, and I want the stands for spectators to feel barren and desolate…unappealing to the masses.

So I’m being very public with my experience of writing this book – which includes my process of entering the arena. Brene Brown (and Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Glennon Doyle Melton, Anne Lamott, Danielle LaPorte, Tama Kieves, Christiane Northrup…as so many more) did it for me, so I’m paying it forward.

If you’ve found your way to SheChanges and you’ve stumbled upon this – and read this far – I’m going to take a wild guess that you are poised to enter the arena in some capacity.

So for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Shame doesn’t help
Trying to talk myself out of my fear by telling myself I have no reason to feel it? That is just piling shame on top of fear – a toxic stew for the soul. And yet it’s so seductive, it lures you in without even realizing it, like sirens on the rocks. Here’s how that looks: just this morning, I stumbled upon an interview with Aberash Bekele, a Ethiopian woman who was imprisoned at the age of 14 for three years for killing her abuctor-cum-husband, only to be released, exiled from her country and family, having to go silent about her experience for fear of her life being taken. THAT woman has right to be afraid, not me – the western white woman with advanced degrees and a life of privilege. What right do I have to be afraid? Truth? Absolutely – a solid case. Helpful? Not in the least. Shame silences soul whispers and snuffs out desire. It tells us we are not worthy and have no right to feel what we feel or want what we want. There are plenty of people who will do it for you, and we have no control over that. But what I’m learning is how to catch myself when I am actively participating in my own shame.

Naming and feeling your fear feels counter-intuitive, but it greases the skids and helps you move forward
Wanting something with your whole heart means you run the risk of getting heartbroken. It just does. I sat with a client yesterday who was poised to go after her dream with her whole heart, and had hired me to hold her to that intention. We talked about how “scared” and “uncomfortable” would be her new metrics of success. When we started to drill down to specifics and brass tacks, I saw what I often see in my clients (and have felt in my own bones): paralysis. Fear moves into terror, which has us want to hold perfectly still – not breathing, not moving a muscle, hoping the feeling will recede. But it doesn’t go away. It lingers, and we soon find ourselves stuck and lacking oxygen. This was the case with my client yesterday and when I paused at that moment and asked what she was feeling, she burst into sobs and was unable to speak. What we touched was her fear: what if I do this and I fail? By touching it, we honored it – we made it right, we allowed that fear to come into the light of day and have an audience with us. Which allowed the death grip to be loosened, the breath to return, and the body to relax and feel safe again.

Hang around with brave people
This one is tricky to navigate. What I’m talking about is not the people who necessarily comfort you, but those who inspire you to come out from behind yourself (into the arena). Many times they are in the arena themselves. But more often than not, they are the people that don’t see you in harms way or in danger – they see you on an adventure or a mission. They don’t soothe as much as they agitate, like that cycle in the washer that gets out the stubborn stains. In the coaching world, we call this technique “calling forth” someone – locking eyes, saying “I see you”, and standing fiercely beside them in the face of fear (or doubt, anxiety, the unknown, obstacles…) Brave people are the ones that see life as an adventure to be lived. Brave people have fallen down and would do it again in a heartbeat. Brave people know how to “feed your strengths…pet the tigers…and don’t worry about the amoebas”, as Tama Kieves writes about in This Time I Dance. Brave people love you too much to have you stay where you are. Find them.

Shake it off…literally
Rochelle Schieck, founder of Qoya (although she’s quick to admit Qoya founded her) taught me something so valuable when I attended one of her dance experiences this past summer at Meggan Watterson’s REVEAL immersion at Kripalu. Her premise is that when women dance, they remember they are wise, wild, and free. At some point during this guided dance experience, she tells a story about a gazelle being chased by a lion. She points us back to our animal instincts, when she shares that after the gazelle is out of harms way it begins to shake. All over. Not because it’s afraid, but because it is systematically inviting the fear to exit its body, one appendage at a time. So she has women do that – shaking hands, hips, butts, heads, feet – showing us how the earth is able to receive that fear from us and use it as compost. The result? More lightness, heat, and vitality. Try it. Shake one hand really hard for ten seconds or so, and then stop and hold it up next to your other hand. Notice a difference. Yea. So if you’re feeling scared, nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, overcome: shake.

Ask for what you need
And know that this will change, sometimes daily. This is often the hardest bit for women, because asking for what we need takes us into the realm of feeling selfish, guilty or needy (all variations of the shame theme above). Having navigated this over the last year, I found the muscle I’ve needed to strengthen the most was providing specific direction to those in my life on how I needed them to be with me. For instance, I would tell my husband and sons that I was in a deeply creative hole, and so if I seemed overly distracted or preoccupied, I need them to understand it was because I wasn’t really here in this realm, but was far, far away – deep inside myself. In another example, I told a group of women I meet with regularly that I just needed to give voice to my shame so that it could be witnessed by someone outside myself, asking them to resist the urge to rescue, fix or soothe me in that moment.  What this has required of me is a degree vigilance and self-awareness I didn’t know I possessed. But when I was able to connect my needs to the service I was seeking to honor by writing this book, I was somehow able to become a better wing woman for myself.

Figure it out as you go
The phrase “I don’t know” has become a familiar traveling companion over the past twelve months. In fact, not only am I saying that phrase with more frequency, but I’m also believing it. I never thought I’d get to that point, but it speaks volumes to my relationship to the unknown and the degree to which I’ve had to acclimate to feeling uncomfortable, exposed, and vulnerable. Because the reality is, as my friend Kate has been known to say, “none of us know what the fuck we’re doing.”  I have taken such solace from that over the past year. It’s what has helped me not feel so alone. I used to look at accomplished women and tell myself a story about how confident, supported and fearless they must feel. Then I heard Kate’s mother, Christiane Northrup speak in front of a group of women this summer about how being at the edge is always lonely. Always. With tears in her eyes and a heart full of gratitude, she shattered my perception of her life – having me see that just because she has written countless books, done PBS specials and been interviewed on multiple occasions by Oprah, she was no less impervious to fear and vulnerability than I am. Fear, it seems, is a constant companion at the edge – and in the arena. Necessity is the mother of invention. Feeling fear (and doubt and insecurity) is an prerequisite to figuring it out.

View More: http://melissamullen.pass.us/shechanges

So I will not be engaging in a battle in the arena. I will be living my prayer and inviting you to do the same.

I will be thinking about the wise friend of mine who told me that my job was to throw my rocks into the water – and to stop expecting to see all the ripples it creates.

“Just keep throwing rocks, Lael.” 

I will be thinking about the woman I will most likely never hear from or read about. The one who picks up my book in the middle of the night, relates to something I’ve written, and doesn’t feel so alone as a result.

I’ll be thinking about her.

She will have made my trip into the arena worth every moment.

Want to learn more about being a living prayer?

I’m having a November Birthday Sale of Unscripted, my book
For the entire month of November, I’m celebrating my birthday and the art of creation by selling Unscripted for $19.68 (the year I was born, get it?) rather than it’s usual cost of $34.69.

Make a plan, rally your friends, and reserve your ticket to SheSpeaks for December 8th
If you’re looking for some mojo, some inspiration, some light in the darkness, or some kindred spirits, SheSpeaks is for you. It’s an evening of women’s storytelling I’m hosting on December 8th. This will be the 7th SheSpeaks I’ve held (and it’s generally a sold out event) but the first time that I’ll be holding it since writing/releasing my book. And the theme? A Living Prayer. Eight speakers will be taking the stage to explore that theme with me that night at One Longfellow Square, and tickets are flying off the shelves. So if you want in, make a plan and don’t delay — tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square.

Listen to and/or follow my podcast An Unscripted Woman
If you haven’t checked this out already, this is basically my creative response to requests for an audio version of my book. Each week, I read aloud a chapter of my book in an episode and do a riff at the end about what I’ve learned, noticed, and am aware of since writing it.

Check out the new events I’ve got coming up this late fall/winter on my homepage
My women’s circle is full and will started up last week, but it’s never to early to look at it for next year (seats fill up way in advance!), and I’ve got some new experiences lined up for those of you who are not local to Maine, but might be hankering to connect. Also, the video of my story I told at October’s SoundBites just became available, if you missed that event but want to check it out.

Be on the look out for some of my favorite blog posts to be reposted this month 

Undeniable Perspective

Posted May 6th, 2016

I posted this video on my SheChanges Facebook page yesterday as a nod to my mother who celebrated her 77th birthday this week. I am who I am because of her, and yet — as the video below reveals — our stories around moving into motherhood while working in the workplace are disturbingly similar, despite being separated by 37 years (my mom’s first child being born in 1965 and mine in 2002).

The other reason it felt particularly relevant to share this story is that Mother’s Day will be celebrated by many of us this Sunday. When I think of Mother’s Day, yes, I admittedly think of the heartfelt poems and pictures from my boys that I will inevitably treasure, but I also think of Julia Ward Howe and her Mother’s Day Proclamation.

“Arise all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.”

The operative words there for me are “firmly” and “decided”. Given our political landscape these days, Howe’s message just feels so damn relevant (still) and speaks to the role of women’s voices in shaping our society. That proclamation, written back 1870 to “appeal to womanhood”, for me, is still a very active and alive invitation: Arise.

As I sit with that today — as a 47 year old woman (when did THAT happen!?), a mother of two boys, and a business owner committed to creating change powered by women — I am honestly gobsmacked by how little has changed for women in the workplace when it comes to becoming mothers. And now we can add many fathers into that mix, too, given the desire many men are actively voicing for paid paternity leaves.

In my video above, I reference hearing a story on NPR the other day. The piece was seeking to shine a light on how little air-time was being given to this topic in the presidential campaign conversation compared to the huge need that so many people are talking about on the playgrounds, offices and break rooms at work. I learned that in actuality, paid family medical leave (FMLA) is only available to 27% of employees in the private sector, and for those whom it’s available, only 39% of people actually take advantage because most can’t afford that time off without using paid vacation/sick time to make ends meet (which, sadly, many people also don’t have access too).

So apparently, we don’t have a national plan that allows for us to get sick,  have children, or enjoy time off. Right…. that makes sense.

It seems people need their incomes to survive financially. Imagine that.

When I had my first son, I was one of the lucky 27% that had that paid FMLA (which, as an aside, is really a fancy spin on short-term disability…I remember having to fill out forms that forced me to list where the “accident” occurred and laughing as I wrote “the living room rug”). I also remember being blown-away by the fact that I would only be receiving 2/3 of my pay for that that leave.

Shame on me that I didn’t do my research before I was in that position, but I’m fairly confident the “accident” on the living room rug would still have happened.

When I learned I wouldn’t be getting my full salary, I freaked out. We needed every penny of my income to get by, not just a percentage of it. But I felt like I couldn’t complain or say anything. I mean I was one of the”lucky” ones, right? No denying that – I was (and still am) a white woman with advance degrees working in the corporate world and I had a partner who was also working. We were DINKs (double income, no kids). I had no business complaining that we couldn’t make ends meet. So we sold our truck, used the bulk of my vacation time for the year, and cashed in some of my retirement funds to make it happen. And then we prayed we’d have a healthy child with no complications as well as a labor and delivery that didn’t bring me to my knees physically. That would have messed with our carefully calculated plan.

I was ashamed I wasn’t more prepared and hadn’t seen this coming. I felt guilty for feeling the way I was feeling because I knew so many women had it so much worse that I did. I was lucky. I should have been more grateful.

So I never spoke openly about it. Until now.

Listening to the NPR piece about this “issue” of paid medical leave — when that baby I had is now 13 years old — I had the realization that it has not gotten better for women, it’s actually gotten worse because of the economy and healthcare costs. And in hearing my mom’s story from 1965 of being sent home from work “sick” for being pregnant, I started to wonder what it will take for us to see this as not just a “nice to have”, but an absolute need to survive economically as a country.

Maybe that’s why so many other countries that are way less developed than the United States have mandated it. You think?

When I heard my mom reflect on her experience of being sent home from work that day she made her pregnancy public, I asked, “So were you fired?”

“I’m not sure,” she said “but I got the sense I was done and they didn’t want me coming back.”

Huh. Isn’t that telling (sad, really) that 37 years later, “done” was what I would be called, too — not in a mean-spirited or malicious way…just as a matter of doing business.

So my response to that comment (“you should be grateful…we have come so far”) I hear come my way so often — usually from other women? My response is this:

“Not far enough. Not fast enough.”

This is me rising up with my big heart and saying it firmly. I get to decide how I feel.

And I don’t feel “done” with this “issue”. Not by a long shot.

Running Over My Rabbit. Repeatedly.

Posted June 13th, 2014

rabbit-on-gravel-roadWhen I was in grad school, we were asked to share with the circle of thirty students in our cohort what animal best represented ourselves as a leader. Not surprisingly, as we went around this circle of bright and ambitious working-professional students, there were many fierce and classically top-of-the-food-chain animals offered up: hawk, eagle, falcon, wolf, bear, lion. I started to sweat a little because I knew what my answer would be.

“Rabbit”, I said.

I can still hear the laughter and feel the condescending smirks that came my way in the moment, now twelve years in my past. If I’m not quick enough to catch it, I can still go to shame. Vulnerability inevitably sneaks in under my radar.

Once the snickers subsided, someone was bold enough to comment, “Oh, you’re road kill.”

I gasped and threw up in my mouth a little at the violence suggested in that comment and how it was a metaphor for my experience in this not-so-safe group and, truth be told, being a woman working in the corporate world.

Small. Cute. Ultimately dispensable. A dime a dozen. And easily run over.

I knew I had just done something either incredibly stupid or thoroughly brave in outing myself as a rabbit. A case could be made for both, but that moment – as benign as it seemingly was – I sensed I was at an important crossroads, one that would define and irrevocably alter my course: tell the truth and honor who you are or play the game and stay safe.

I opted for Door #1: Truth & Honor.

I’d like to say that what flowed from that moment was a rich dialogue punctuated by curiosity. It wasn’t. No questions were asked about the virtues of the rabbit (nimble, perceptive, intuitive, creative, fast) with regard to leadership or its symbolism (feminine power, lunar energy, fertility, shape-shifting gender).

I’d like to say I offered up my experience that day as a means to explore how the over-developed masculine energy contained in the group (which incidentally was comprised of primarily women) literally ran over and was, yet again, dismissing, discounting and discrediting any feminine energy contained with us. But I didn’t. I shut the fuck up.

And silently made a note to buy a copy of Watership Down on my way home that night for some much-needed validation.

And there it was. Once again I found myself shying away from yet another opportunity to give voice and value to a feminine approach to leadership. I conceded to the violence implied in the “road kill” comment, and silently wished I had aligned with a Falcon with its sharp talons and beak that could impale a rodent. I might as well have been the driver that made road-kill of my own rabbit, in that I allowed it to die a silent and shameful death while on my watch.

It wouldn’t have been the first time. Rabbits tended to die around me.

I grew up in the country, and it was pretty common to have our old flatulent beagle, Polly, bring a near-dead rabbit to our back porch as twilight approached. So common, in fact, that my sister and I had a standard protocol for this event, lining a shoe-box with a towel, putting the bunny with the punctured head in it to rest, feeding it throughout the night with a dropper, and then inevitably burying it in the morning, giving it the next available number in a long-line of “Thumpers” that came before it. I thought nothing of it at the time, how we brought quiet grace and loving reverence to the never-ending parade of half-dead rabbits in our life.

And then there was the time I tried to repeatedly run over a rabbit I had accidentally swiped while driving on a back-country road in my 20s. Far from a masochistic move, mine was an act of compassion. Or at least an attempt at that. The rabbit I had maimed with my car might beg to differ, as I repeatedly tried to run it over to put it out of its misery, missing it again and again with the skinny tires of my Tercel, sobbing “I’m so sorry!” before backing up and trying one more time. It was awful, and I believe to this day that poor rabbit actually died of a heart attack from terror, rather than its initial injury from my car.

But it wasn’t until I started consulting with an Executive Director at a local women’s organization here in Maine that I reclaimed my rabbit.

Because she was a chicken.

Accomplished, resourceful, scrappy and wickedly bright, this woman readily identified and proudly owned her chicken as her totem animal for leadership. She inspired me. So much so, she made me rethink – and ultimately reclaim – my association with the rabbit. We used to joke – and still do – about taking “chicken and rabbit” road-trips to create some badass positive change in the world. Implied in this joint Thelma and Louise adventure (minus the unfortunate cliff scene), was a fierce and wildly audacious commitment to making change happen, fueled by nothing more than own intuition, wisdom, and irreverent belief that a chicken and a rabbit could make a difference.

I’ve since come to understand  that my on-again-off-again identification with Rabbit is a mirror for my on-again-off-again identification with The Feminine. And here’s what I’ve decided as a result of that realization:

I’m official done with running over my rabbit. No more.

rabbit_1887903bNow, at the age of forty-five, I’ve finally grown weary of the shame, the hiding, the back-peddling and hokey-pokey dance I’ve been doing with The Feminine all my life, qualifying and diminishing it with my humor, making it “cute”, comfortable or somehow soft.

No longer that younger version of myself who sat quietly in the shame of that circle, this is what I believe now:

Being vulnerable does not make you road-kill. It makes you visible, and therefore strong.

Being smaller in size (or number) does not make you less of a force for change.

Bringing compassion and curiosity to conversations is a fierce and strategic maneuver.

Sometimes two people is all it takes to create a critical mass.

Once you lose something dear, and then find it again, it’s yours forever.

So there it is, my lost and found story of The Feminine that began and ended with a rabbit.

You Go First

Posted March 13th, 2013

2013-03-13 12.07.36If we are still discussing this whole topic of gender balance within organizations by the time I leave this earth, I swear I will haunt the halls of corporate America until it is resolved. That is how passionate and committed and, frankly, pissed off I am that we have not gotten ourselves beyond this “issue”. And I put “issue” in quotes because that’s how people refer to it these days. But it’s not an issue, it’s an epidemic that has run rampant for way too long.

I applaud Sheryl Sandberg for her willingness to be a lightning rod for the topic of gender in organizations. And I applaud others like Avivah Wittenburg-Cox , Margaret Wente and Courtney Martin for putting their voices out there so boldly. We should all be so courageous.

We should all have the chops to go first.

So I’ll join them. I’ll be a lightning rod if it means accelerating the snail’s pace of change.

 

It’s a “both/and”, people, not an “either/or”.

If you listen really closely, you’ll hear it. Scratch that, you don’t need to listen closely at all at this point. …just step back and look at the arc of what people are talking about when it comes to gender in organizations. There are two distinct conversations that are happening simultaneously – one is the topic of women “leaning in” and the second is the need for some radical and systemic change in organizations.

It’s an “and”. But for whatever reason, we are wedded to this pathological predilection of discussing it as an “either/or” proposition – either it’s a “women’s issue” or “a man’s issue”, “it’s about women needing to lean in” or it’s about “organizations systematically discouraging women from assuming positions of power”, “it’s about women not raising their hands” or it’s about “about predominantly masculine cultures in organizations that don’t recognize the value women bring”.

You feel that? The tug of war? The finger pointing? The “it’s not my fault, it’s yours” mentality? The “if…then” proposition? The waiting game? The blame game?

No wonder we’re stuck.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox wrote that while “women might hold the keys, men generally still control the locks.” She offers this metaphor to underscore her belief that women should stop blaming themselves for not “leaning in” and suggests that it’s time to “focus on the locks”. I respectfully agree and disagree.

It’s a “both/and.”

Organizations DO need to re-haul and revolutionize their mindsets and systems to better attract, leverage, and retain women. AND women DO have some work to do in order to more fully rise to the occasion.

While organizations have their heads buried in the sands and pretend the emperor has no clothes, we have the perfect opportunity to do our own work as women to further hone ourselves as leaders. Because yes, there are tons of bright and talented women pouring out of our universities, with advanced degrees and insights that will rock our world. But let us not forget that they are often cloaked in the “gender neutral” (at best) mindsets that have us see ourselves as “leaders” (read: “the same as men”) instead of “women leaders”(who might bring different and unique perspectives to the table).

We are missing some essential pride in what makes us different, and that, I suspect is critical to our success. When I watched the PBS documentary, Makers: The Women Who Make America, I was buoyed by the pride I saw in women from the sixties. I envied the way they rallied together, united for a cause, and created solidarity and  sisterhood. The idea to me was both attractive and foreign. And then they featured the Melissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo (one of only 26 in female CEOs in the country) and one of the first female engineers at Google. She’s clearly brilliant, accomplished, and a leader, and yet she also discounts any relevance to the fact that she’s a woman. In doing so, she essentially discourages women from doing the same, discrediting the need to examine gender in organizations and shaming women for their their pride in being a woman, labeling them as “chip on the shoulder…militant feminists” and suggesting that this term had outlived its purpose.

Why should we expect organizations to see the topic of gender as relevant if some of our top female leaders discount it so actively?

Until we recognize the fact that we’re all culpable in this situation – we’ve all conspired to create it, maintain it even (if only through our silence), then we will remain stuck.

And stuck sucks.

Here’s the lightening rod I’d offer up: I think we’re making this entirely too complicated. Because we’re good at that as a society, no? We’re suspicious of anything too simple. So I’m going to boil it down to some key invitations to BOTH sides of the same discussion.

 

A call to women:

Identify with being a woman and a leader. See that you are bringing unique and valuable perspective because of the fact that you are a woman.
We need to start valuing ourselves more – our perspectives, our needs, our ideas, our well being, our financial worth. Period.

We need to get over “not being ready” and push through our own self-imposed barriers that keep us back for fear of not being “enough” (good enough, smart enough, connected enough)

We need to burn our Super Woman capes like women in the sixties burned their bras. This means we need to let “good enough” and “I’ll figure it out” move into the reserved parking spot for “perfect” and “getting it right” and “I’ll do it myself.”

We need to ditch the martyr role. Because really, where has it gotten us except sick and tired? We need to question our own logic of why we need to do something, be something or say something. Amazing things happen when we say no, opt out, and make ourselves unavailable. People might flounder for a bit, sure, but ultimately they will rise to the occasion. Maybe not like how YOU would have, but they will find their way. They will fill the gap you created. But if we don’t create that gap, we are robbing others of their opportunity to shine.

We need to eradicate the word “selfish” from our vocabulary. And while we’re at it, let’s do away with its cousins, “decadent”, “self-indulgent” and “privileged”, shall we? Those words are bastions of shame and humiliation that keep us playing small and prevent us from getting our own basic needs met as humans – like letting our lights shine bright and mighty. We need to get over feeling guilty, ashamed and self-conscious for getting our needs met. We need to see that by keeping ourselves whole we are actually doing the world a service. It’s not “selfish”, it’s service. We are of no use to this world if we continue to run ourselves into the ground, feed ourselves last, and deplete our own resources daily. We need to assume as much responsibility for our own care and feeding as we do for our loved ones and our communities.

We need to increase our capacity to be with failure – our own and others. The fear of being caught failing or falling short or, heaven forbid, letting someone down, has become a ball and chain that keeps us from flying. Embracing it in ourselves will enable us to stop being so critical of others. But each of us needs to go first, and it will trigger a chain reaction which will build a community of support and encouragement among women – courage and the willingness to be vulnerable has that effect on people.

 

A call to organizations:

Incremental change is NOT working. Task forces, committee work, lip service, mentoring, empowering programs, token strategies…none of them are cutting it. We are losing women daily in droves because of our refusal to make more radical whole-scale change. And this will hurt us, and ultimately, it will hurt our economy and impact more than just our bottomlines. We need women now, so get on it. Make it an overnight priority instead of an eventual vision. In shopping for precedents and trying to be moderate and placate the masses, we are delivering watered down versions of what we already have.

We need to get our heads out of the sand and start looking at what the world needs from our organizations. It’s all around us – and it’s not evident, look at how women run their businesses. Not only have the times changed, but the values have changed with them. The workplaces in our organizations are built on outdated notions of what families look like and what they need. And the culture and reward systems within them reinforce those stale perceptions, applauding people for working long hours, sacrificing their health and happiness, and motivating workers and share-holders to sell themselves out to get ahead. We are so off base.

We need to give people what they want from work: connection, creativity, stewardship and health. Read Seth Godin’s Icarus Deception if you don’t believe me. Our needs have changed radically as a society, but our organizations have not changed with them. Ergo the boom of the small business. They get it.

Organizations as they exist today are seriously missing the mark. The win/lose and zero game mentalities that govern them is biting us in the ass. Fulfillment and Profitability need not be on opposite sides of an equation, one taking away to give to the other. Nor ought Individual and Community be on opposing sides, one sacrificing for the sake of the other. We don’t need to sacrifice revenue to increase creativity, nor do we need to decrease productivity as a means to promote stewardship and community engagement. It’s all connected – each piece yields the other and visa versa.

Look at how women run their businesses. Learn from them. Notice that giving back to the community is an integral part of a woman’s business model and not an afterthought or a nice to have. Look at the micro loan programs for women all over the world, and notice how when you give a woman a dollar, she uses it to invest in herself, her family and her community. She SEES herself as part of the whole, therefore she models her business according to that belief.
People want connection not isolation, and that doesn’t happen by simply forcing people to stay in the same building from 9-5 each day. It’s about seeing how we are all interconnected, not just in within each organization, but within the world.

 

You go first.

And I will, too. Be courageous. Be the lone nut and make a movement. You go first, offer people something worth following, and create the tipping point we so desperately need. Now.

When You’re Full-Up

Posted June 27th, 2012

Some days just suck. Sometimes entire weeks suck. You know those times…when nothing seems bright, all you can see is what isn’t done, good, working, right.

All you can see is the ugly underbelly of humanity.

Walking down the street,  you see the pain and worry on people’s faces as they do their best to keep their heads above water in this tough economy. Listening to the news, you hear the predictable drone of politicians playing the game and pointing fingers. Driving by a school, you fear for the state of education. The rain comes down and you feel for the rising homelessness. Go running on a secluded path, and you resent the fact that women still fear for their safety, even in nature.

I had one of those days today. Scratch that. I’m having one of those weeks.

Now here’s where it get’s personal. It’s also the week leading up to my period: P.M.S. For years, women have been discounted, chided, and silenced for the emotions and truth that come as a result of our bodies living in this monthly cycle.

But long ago, women were respected for the power they possessed during this phase of their cycle. They were consulted, respected, and honored for their ability to see things clearly, to speak the truth, and to lead from deep wisdom.

I belong to the latter camp – the one that honors this time for women.

So does Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (among others). She was the one who first gave me the idea that P.M.S. (the pathological classification that suggests women have an affliction of some sort), is more akin to “Pre-Menstrual Strength.” In the five days leading up to the onset of a woman’s monthly cycle, she asserts, women can see things more clearly.

During this time, a woman comes face to face with all that is unfinished or unresolved in her own life  as well as the world in which she lives.

Over the years, I have worked a lot with groups of women around the topic of cycles – especially in the context of living in a society that values straight lines, not curves – and I find the conversation is always met with a huge sigh of relief. Because in that moment, we see the purpose, the function, and the value of that rugged week. We are not weak, overly emotional, and out of control.

We are at the height of our power to affect change.

So that’s where I was this week. I share this not to overly divulge personal information, but to offer some insight into my own process of moving through this time and, in doing so, hopefully reframe how it can be harnessed to be a powerful force for change.

Because, to be clear, that’s what I believe women are being called to do in the world today: Force change.

If you’re a woman reading this, you probably know what I’m talking about. That sense of seeing things and being outraged. Of feeling compelled to speak up, take some action, do something to make it right (or at least better). You also probably get the despair and isolation that can come from taking all that information in.

At some point, you become aware you are just full-up. You’re done. There’s no more room at the inn. You’ve taken in so much that you are literally at capacity.

I was reminded yesterday of how women’s wombs are often likened to a chalice – receptacles and holding tanks for our collective experiences. In processing my experience of being “full-up” this week with another woman, she said, “this is the time when a woman would head into the field and let her blood flow back into the earth” – essentially feeding the earth with her gathered knowledge, wisdom, perspectives so it can better sustain itself.

And while the notion of squatting among my day lilies isn’t all that appealing, getting barefoot in the moist earth of my garden deeply called to me.

It reminded me of that scene from the movie Avatar, where all the Na’vi (the blue creatures with the tails living on Pandora), would gather at the base of the Hometree that held all their wisdom and enabled them to communicate with Eywa (which was not surprisingly a feminine deity) They would sit, plug their tails into the earth at the base of the tree and simultaneously download their own experiences, thoughts and emotions, as well as upload the collective data from the entire community.

So yesterday, feeling full-up and at capacity, I headed for the garden.

While I don’t have one of those snazzy blue tails, I sure as hell have my bare feet. I got right in the dirt and got busy pulling weeds, talking to the plants and letting all that is within me be downloaded into the earth. Somewhere in that process, I got the distinct sense that somewhere in this world, there was another woman – or groups of women – doing the same. And together we were feeding and inputting valuable data into our collective consciousness.

This may not be your cup of tea, and that’s okay. This might be a totally foreign or far-fetched concept to you, and that’s okay too. But consider that your body is infinitely wiser than you might realize and is essential to help heal our world. What if part of our role as women walking this earth, was to help feed this valuable information into society?

What if we weren’t actually crazy, emotional, or out of control, but were onto something significant, valuable and of substance?

So head into the dirt and give it a try. It’s much better than the day lily option.

Bad-Ass Naked Cake Series: The Story

Posted June 14th, 2012

This is the final post in my series of three this week, and it’s probably the most intriguingly obtuse of them all (even I don’t yet fully understand what it means, and this is ME I’m writing about…) So if you have any insights, I’d love to hear them!

For those of you just joining this series, it was inspired by me taking a serious dose of my own medicine. I am participating in a pilot group for my women’s writing experience, designed to take the questions for a spin and see if they hold water (they do). The result is I have been completely backed into a corner by my own writing, and have found the words that flow out of my pen are both comical and electrically charged. I am gaining clarity and a renewed sense of purpose with each word I write.

Here’s how the process works: each week of In Her Words has a theme, and participants are asked  to select one of three questions and write their thoughts on it from three different perspectives: a journal entry, a letter, and a story. The theme I was writing about this week was “Daring.”

If you’d like to read the series in the order it was written to get the full impact, you can check out my journal entry and my letter before reading the story below. It’ll also offer some context for the whole bad-ass, naked, and cake references in the series…

Without further ado, here is my story:

The woman was clearly comfortable in her own skin. Why else would she be naked on the deck of the boat among all the other tourists? She might as well have been alone, for all the attention she paid to the crowd that summer day. She was obvious to them, and that oblivion served as a guide – instructions if you will – to the others to just ignore her nakedness.

No one told the captain or reported her to the harbor master. They just accepted her, neither averting their eyes, nor opening staring at her. She had created a new normal without ever uttering a word. And now she was simply part of the crowd, accepted in the face of all odds.

As the boat pulled out of the harbor, the woman kept her eyes trained on the horizon, in her own world. She seemed to be looking for something, but not in a frantic or desperate way. Just a steady one. She must have blinked, given the brightness of the sun, but it was almost imperceptible, that movement.

As the day wore on, the woman reached for a fishing pole. Without shifting her gaze, she cast her line out and affixed the pole into the bracket on the deck. Then she got another one, cast, and did the same. And again, until there were many poles at work, their translucent lines disappearing into the water behind them.

She continued to stare out at the horizon, this time a small smile playing on her lips.

And then it began. The marlins started jumping, making big arcs in the blue sky and falling back down to the water amidst explosions of sea spray. It was exciting and scary to watch. The fish were massive and the lines were pulled taut. But still they held. It was almost like a choreographed act from one of those sea parks in Florida, except there were no trainers in the water with whistles. And the marlins looked frantic, not tame.

Like wild things fighting for their life.

Well, there you have it. The end of the series. I can feel it in my own body, having written these…there is clearly something shifting, making space for something new to enter. It’s one of the rare moments in life when you literally feel yourself changing, as you are changing.

I’m still churning through my thoughts on all this. But I’m certain of one thing:

There is a bad-ass cake in my future…and I most likely will be eating it naked. Without a fork.

The Bad-Ass Naked Cake Series: The Letter

Posted June 13th, 2012

Ok, so if you’re just joining me in this series, this is the second of three posts that show what it looks like when I take a dose of my own medicine.

I’m part of my own pilot group for my women’s writing experience, In Her Words, so I’ve been doing some “back-you-into-a corner” writing of my own as we take the questions for a test spin.

Again, if you’re new to this series, each week there is a topic and participants are asked to select one of three questions and write about it from the first person (journal), second person (letter), and third person (story). The topic I’m writing on is “Daring”.

Without further ado, here is my letter:

Dear Lael,

Well, look who’s waking up all hot and bothered! Good mornin’ Sunshine, it’s time to greet a Brand New Day!

Remember that quote you love, the one where the devil says when that woman wakes up and puts her feet on the floor, “Oh shit, she’s up!” It’s time to be that woman. You are that woman.

This is not a fluke or an errant dream, it’s your calling.

And it’s right on track. Think about it a minute…for the past six years you’ve supported women in plugging into themselves – to find their voice and listen to it, to trust what it was telling them, and to act upon it. You’ve supported them in assuming responsibility for their own nourishment and you’ve created communities to demonstrate these women are not alone but are, in fact, in good company.

You’ve shined a light on the source of impatience, anger, exhaustion, and frustration and you’ve asked women to create solutions that work for them.

You’ve asked women to be leaders of their own life – the leaders they had been waiting for. And then you gave them tools and encouragement and each other to fortify them.

You’ve insisted on health, fulfillment and courage, showing women that they were even stronger and more capable than they realized. You’ve revealed the depths of their resourcefulness and restored the faith in themselves, their instincts and the impact they are able to have on the world around them.

And now it’s time to unleash the hounds.

Head right into the epicenter of change, and don’t just be content to play at the fringes. It’s hot in there. You are right to be nervous. But you’re onto something and women are going to gravitate to it. You will pull them in, almost by standing still.

This is not a radical shift or departure from who you are or what you’ve done to date. It’s more of who you are that will come out to play.

Expect that you will surprise yourself with your audacity and boldness. Expect that you will feel more vulnerable and less comfortable.

But do it anyway. Do it anyway.

Love,

The Universe

Note to the new reader: if you don’t get why this is called “Bad-Ass Naked Cake”, you might want to check out yesterday’s post to get the full picture. And then be sure to join me tomorrow for the final post of the series.

The Bad-Ass Naked Cake Series: The Journal

Posted June 12th, 2012

When I made the leap to start my own business after eleven years working in the corporate world, I drew this picture. This was the woman I wanted to be. This was me, the bad-ass woman, full of juice and ready to change the world.

She’s my inspiration, my muse. This sticky note is now seven years old and yet it still lives in my notebook, snug up against my business plan.

I am this woman on my best days. But many, many days I am not.

So recently I decided to do something about that.  I happen to be taking the In Her Words 2 questions for a spin recently with a pilot group for my women’s writing experience, and I stumbled upon my muse again. I pulled this sticky out and let her speak to me.

Here’s the deal in this writing experience: each week has a theme (this particular week it was “Daring”). Participants select their favorite of three questions that week, and write about it from three different perspectives – journaling, a letter, and a story.

It’s quite powerful what happens in this process. The pen has a way of ratting you out, spilling your truth on to the pages whether you like it or not. To illustrate what that looks like, I’ll be sharing the three different pieces of writing I did for this week’s topic of “Daring” over the course of the next three days – my journal, my letter, and my story.

If you stay with me over the next three days, you’ll see how all three of these pieces begin to overlay and ultimately work together to shine a light on what I’m “Daring” myself to do…it’s rather obvious.

So let’s begin with my journal entry from that week’s assignment:

I’m talking myself into a circle – round and round I go. I’m onto something big here, a root cause, and I feel like I’m resisting it. I feel like something big is trying to catch my tail and stand on it, but I keep twisting and turning. It’s like a strong fishing line has me hooked and I’m a marlin flailing about on the line.

So what do I need to disrupt? I need to disrupt my expectations that I get it right, my perfectionistic ways. I need to disrupt my desire for comfort, safety and accolades. I need to move forward with ideas before they are fully baked.

It’s time to strip down and get naked.

This big thing has to do with consulting more with women leaders in corporate. It has to do with me supporting women who want to stay in as much as I support women who want to transition out. As I look at my coaching practice, I feel like I have become the go-to person for women when they want to jump ship. But I also want to be that go-to person for women who want to stay and steer the ship. And that scares the shit out of me because I’m a jumper, so who do I think I am to support women in staying!?

I’m tired of dancing around creating the change I really want to create – women leading the way. I want to stand up taller, holding a sign that reads, “Follow me. I’ve got a plan.” I want to light more fires for women leaders, blow on their embers until they are red and hot and then I want to stoke it until the flames leap high into the night sky.

It’s time to stop hiding behind myself and start making some noise among women leaders. No more being quiet, no more being demur or modest or self-effacing. It’s time to kick some ass, cast off the bow lines and see what this puppy can do.

It’s time to stand behind my worth with two feet solidly planted and head held high. It’s time to stir things up, poke some holes, ruffle some feathers, and grab the microphone.

It’s time to stop playing small and pretending that cupcakes are satisfying. They’re not, they’re just cute. They’re just an appetizer to whet my whistle. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and eat cake naked without a fork. It’s time to dig into the main course.

Yikes. I guess that woman on the sticky note is still kicking.

Get To The Good Stuff

Posted May 24th, 2012

I’m heading to a networking event later today and I’m a bit anxious. Not because I don’t know anyone or find big crowds overwhelming, but because I know I’m going to get that question I dread: “What do you do?”

Now I get that it’s par for the course at a networking event, and, truth be told, that’s part of why I avoid them. What has me going tonight is this very cool woman who is the featured speaker. Knowing this town as I do, I’m sure the room will be filled to the brim with some fabulously interesting people, so to be clear the source of my angst is not about the idea of networking, it’s about the way we go about it.

“So, what do you do?”

I’ve never cared for this question, in part because I suck at answering it. I know, I know…I should get over it, I should have my elevator pitch down after six-years as a successful entrepreneur, I should, I should, blah, blah blah. But it’s really not a question I’m interested in asking or, frankly, answering. It’s the question we’re supposed to ask. And I’ve never been good at doing things simply because they’re expected. I’m a bit of a rebel that way.

Here’s what I want to ask (and answer) that is infinitely more appealing:

  • What puts the fizz in your ginger ale these days?
  • What do you want to change about the world?
  • What makes you come alive?
  • What gives you hope?
  • What fulfills you?

But no, instead we ask (and I am guilty of this to…): What do you do? Blegh.

The sad truth is, most of the time I hear that question I giggle (real smooth!) or sometimes groan and roll my eyes (uber professional). When I first started my business, I used to just rattle off this list of things I did (events, services). Over the years I found some key phrases that do the trick, my latest is “I partner with women to create change“, but I’m thinking of changing it to “I light fires for women.” You like those? Meh. They still leave me feeling like a used car salesman, hocking my wares in as few words as possible. I’ve fantasized about introducing myself as a solar physicist, but I’m not sure I could pull it off.

What I really want is a genuine connection. Isn’t that what most of us want? To truly connect?

Because when all is said and done, we are so much more than our jobs. I don’t know about you, but hearing about what someone does can fall flat for me. But hearing why they do what they do or what makes them come alive (or not) in their work? That’s where it’s at for me.

Some of my most powerful exchanges among strangers have happened when we had no idea what the other person did for work – nor did we care. Instead, we introduced ourselves answering questions like, “Who are you?” Try that at your next meeting and see people’s eyebrows go up – first in shock, then deep in thought, then in engagement.

I love the humility and irreverence of putting our “work” in its proper place – not diminishing the value of it, but simply knocking it down a few pegs as a means to give context for the greater picture of who we are. After all, work doesn’t define us, does it? It’s simply one of the many things we do – sometimes we love it, sometimes we just fall into it, sometimes it just pays the bills – but it’s not the entirety of who we are.

An amazing writer I know who is highly accomplished and by all accounts could dazzle people with her work experience, describes what she does like this: “I write and edit stuff that needs to be written and/or edited.”

I want to be that woman who puts her work in its place.

So I’m breaking the rules (this is not new, but I want it on the record). I’m going for the good stuff tonight. Screw the elevator pitch. I trust in my ability to make a genuine connection with people I am meant to meet. Pithy is so 90s. Real is where it’s at for me. And damned if I’m not the only one that feels that way because that’s what my clients seem to be hungry for – a connection that’s got some meat to it, a feeling of serendipity – that we were destined to meet, and a genuine desire to explore why.

That’s where I want to play.