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.

Know What You’re Worth

Posted May 24th, 2011

Tired of the wage gap? I am. Women make seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by a man who has similar experience, skills and education. Yes the organizational systems, paradigms and culture need to change in order for parity to be achieved, but more and more the conversation also includes an invitation to women to own their role in keeping the wage gap where it is.

The invitation, quite simply, is to do our own research, know our worth, and make the ask. The good news is, there is a whole generation of women entering the workforce that is already doing this. So find a woman who does it well, learn from her and let’s tackle this puppy once and for all.

Perspectives on March

Posted March 31st, 2011

March is the shape-shifting maverick of the lot, taking us to the brink of despair before rumpling our hair like a big sister saying, “Don’t be silly, I was just kidding…” It does little to reassure us, this pat on the head. We’re onto March’s Jekyll and Hyde ways and know better. But March has a way of lulling us into believing again and again. We end up trusting it despite our doubt. With its breaking ice, melting snow, and early bloom poking up through the dirt, we’re served up days of hope in March that melt in our mouths like bitter-sweet chocolate. We stagger outside into the warm sunlight like giddy and grinning moles groping their way into a bright new world with limited vision. Because ultimately, we have faith in March. It may be unreliable and crusty, but March is the only sherpa we’ve got to guide us into Spring. So we follow where it leads and resign to being vulnerable, looking a bit awkward and feel entirely insecure and unprepared. In March, we trust.

An Experiment

Posted March 24th, 2011

Sometimes the answers we seek can be found right outside the window.

A Jump Start is Better Than No Start

Posted March 22nd, 2011

Sometimes a shove is needed where a nudge won’t do. Sometimes, sadly, a kick in the pants is just the ticket to spark some serious change. Sometimes being impatient is a good thing.

I am a big fan of lines drawn in the sand, I admit. They excite me to no end, because they signal a boundary has been set or in some cases, a gauntlet has been thrown down.

There has been much debate about the World Economic Forum’s decision to institute quotas for their most recent annual meeting held in Davos, Switzerland. Frustrated that women make up less than 16% of the delegates, they decided to set quotes requiring a fifth of the delegates sent by their strategic partners be women. A spokesperson for the WEF said the intent was to give a “gentle nudge toward gender parity.”

Many applauded the bold move, even while expressing sadness that it took such drastic measures to ignite some real change. Others were outraged, suggesting the quotes weren’t having any impact and were effectively reducing women’s participation to simply numbers, and detracting from the value they bring. When I asked women on my SheChanges Facebook page, I heard a similar mix of opinions. The overriding sentiment, however, is that the main objective is to get more women at the table. Most everyone agrees that nothing will change if women remain on the sidelines. One women suggested the focus should be on the results produced by the quotas, rather than the quotas themselves: “I think we should not demonize or idealize quotas or anything that [gets more women to the table]. We just need to do it and get them there.”

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of Rework, offers some relevant insight on the power of drawing a line in the sand: “Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or a service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you’re willing to fight for. And then you need to show the world.” They assert that this strong stand of drawing a line in the sand – as radical and counter-intuitive as it seems, actually results in attracting “superfans” – people who will defend your actions and spread the word.

The World Economic Forum drew a line in the sand. And so did Norway in 2002, when it began using quotas to ensure 40% of all board seats were filled by women. And after seeing the results, Spain, France and Britain are following suit.

The general consensus is that the business world won’t see or feel much of a change until there is a 50/50 representation of women and men in the workplace. Until then, the primary jumper cables to achieve more gender parity in our engines are quotas and women’s conferences.

But where my attention goes in the wake of this controversial WEF gender quota is how much rousing discussion and debate it triggered. Sure, there might not have been many more women at Davos this year than in years past, but there it sure sparked a lot of attention. Heads turned and people took notice. Some smoke was created. And where there is smoke there is fire.

Just Like She Said

Posted July 22nd, 2010

I thought it was all my imagination – that feeling that we are on a cusp of huge change or are approaching a tipping point as a society. But it seems I’m not alone. At least there are thirteen grandmothers out there that would be nodding their heads in agreement as I write this.

For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by the Mayan prophecy of 2012. I love how it reminds me of the larger cycle of our evolution. It invites me to relinquish control (as if!), let go and have trust and faith in the natural order of things. The whole notion offers me tremendous hope – a far cry from the doom and end-of-the-world feelings that it has generated in others.

For those of you not familiar with it, the Mayan prophecy foretells of the approach of a signification date (Dec 21, 2012) – one that will signify we have completed a full cycle in our evolution and will begin another. In my mind, it offers a larger framework in which to make sense of all the crumbling – literally and figuratively – in the economy, our environment, our health and the organizations and institutions we have come to rely upon and view as indestructible. In the larger cycle of life, this is the death and destruction that makes space for something new to be born. It was this fascination with the Mayan prophecy and an incredible PBS special on the topic, that led me to the grandmothers.

So here’s the deal. In mid-October of 2004, thirteen indigenous grandmothers “from all four directions” of the world gathered in New Mexico to share their visions, prophesies and healing to inspire others to more consciously partake in the unfolding of our world. “So what?” you might think. Well, it’s really the story of how this group of grandmothers found their way into being a council that grabbed me the most. Apparently, this gathering of wise women from all over the world has been a long time in the making.

Here are some excerpts from the book Grandmothers Counsel the World that explain how and why this is all coming about:

• “The council, which had been spoken of in prophecy and seen in visions since time immemorial, finally emerged in the aftermath of 9/11. The Grandmothers’ participation in the council had been foretold to each of them in different ways. When they were very young, a few of the Grandmothers had been told by their Grandmothers that this was their destiny. All of the Grandmothers had been invited long ago, in a time before time as we know it, to meet at the time of the Great Turning to become a force for peace in the world. Prophecy revealed to each on that they must now share even their most secret and sacred ways with the very people who have been their oppressors, as the survival of humanity, if not the entire planet, is at stake.”

• “All of the Grandmothers who accepted said they knew deep within that they were meant to participate, even if at first they might have felt unworthy…they knew they were being called to action.”

• “The Grandmothers first learned that thirteen was the correct number of council members when tears welled up in Yupik Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein’s eyes as she introduced herself on the first day of the gathering. She handed out thirteen stones and thirteen eagle feathers to each of the Grandmothers, a gift she had been holding and waiting to give for a very long time. The thirteen stones and thirteen eagle feathers had been given to Rita when she was nine years old by her great-grandmother, who told her to give them to the women of the Council of Grandmothers when they all finally met, a council Rita would someday be a part of.”

• “The return of the Grandmother has been foretold for hundreds of years. A vision of the Grandmothers Council has been seen by many peoples, indigenous and nonindigenous alike. The Grandmothers are gathering because, according to the prophesies of many religious traditions, the end of the world as we know it is near. The Grandmothers tell us that balance as a way of living is returning, balance in all relations, including with our Mother Earth. A thousand years of peace is being ushered in for those who will make the necessary changes in their hearts.”

The bottom line is this:

• “The Grandmother of all creation, the One who is the maker of life, the One whom we have forgotten, is calling us. She is not angry with us, but She is sad that we have forgotten who She is. She’s is coming back into our consciousness through prophecy and visions. She is bringing a profound nurturing, a depth of compassion, and a kind of love we not longer remember, but which was strong in ancient times. This pure female energy will awaken men as well as women, through a story we will already know in our hearts once we hear it.”

Imagine that!? Happy sigh. I don’t know about you, but it looks like being a Grandmother is totally where it’s at these days. Want to learn more about the specifics of their vision and prophecies? Read the book. Or just watch the world change. Whatever works for you.