Making Room To Read In March

Posted March 1st, 2016

1277701_781042271906915_6341253550155768305_oDo you remember that book you read when you were little that just lit you up inside? Maybe it had you not feel so alone because you related to the main character. Maybe you felt inspired because you read how the character overcame unsurmountable odds and grew stronger as a result. Maybe entirely new worlds opened up before your eyes, having you touch lands and cultures far different from your own.

I bet you still remember that book, don’t you? 

I do. It was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. I still remember the feeling of finding her in the pages of a book, like I’d stumbled upon a fictional best friend and soul sister. In many ways, Pippi was everything I aspired to be – loud, audacious, and fiercely independent. She questioned authority and rules. She  told marvelous and colorful tales of her adventures, and it was never quite clear or mattered which ones were real and which ones were made up. She marched to the beat of her own drummer, had a pet monkey and carried her horse. Meeting Pippi on those pages was like encountering the favorite parts of myself that I wanted to embody more fully.

Pippi is the one who turned me on to reading. And made me hungry for more.

It was this memory of being lit up as a young reader that made me burst into tears this weekend. It was this memory – and my deep gratitude for having experienced the power of books – that helped me finalize a decision I’d been wanting to make. Let me explain.

When my book Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer was released at the end of last year, I set the intention of donating the proceeds from a particular month of sales to benefit women and girls somehow. I’ve done things like this before and it always feels good to plug me (and by extension, the entire SheChanges community) into the greater good. Philanthropy, at its core, is about our love of humanity. But to be honest, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve organized my community around a gift. And after a really intense year of writing, editing and re-writing something that was so deeply personal (an inherently privileged opportunity), I was hungry to shift that inner focus to the larger world and give back.

I had my sights set on March as the month I would donate sales since it’s Women’s History month, but as the days in February flew by, I still wasn’t finding the organization that grabbed me as the best fit – and let’s be honest, there are so many organizations doing so much amazing work in the world, it’s almost overwhelming to choose just one.

Until I found it on Sunday.

rtr_logo_color_largeI stumbled on the Room to Read site after doing a search for organizations that buy books for girls. Like finding Pippi way back when, I felt lit up by this organization that is all about creating world change by educating children – specifically by focusing on literacy and gender equality. Reading about the work they do in Asia and Africa (programs, libraries, publishing, and working with educators) literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes because it was giving voice to a desire that lived right at the center of my heart.

Philo+Anthropy = Love+Humanity 

Ergo my tears (I was moved) and my decision (I was committed) to donate 100% of the proceeds of my book sales this March to Room to Read. My 13-year old son happened to be coming down the stairs while I was coming up them, wiping away my tears. We stopped in the middle and he asked me if I was okay. With fresh tears and a happy grin on my face, I said:

“I found it! I found the organization!” 

And I told him the story I just told you. He got teary-eyed and wore a happy grin, too, as we felt the electric juice of a sound decision swirling around us.

But I can’t do this alone. Just making a decision isn’t enough. Our action is. So here is my heartfelt ask of you.

March is Women’s History month. And you and I have benefited from the ideas, efforts and 2016-02-28 12.21.11gifts (time, talent, and/or treasures) of countless brave and courageous women before us who tirelessly created change, opened doors, and fought for the freedoms that many of us take for granted today.

Let’s rally and give a gift this month to pay homage to all those women who have come before us to pave the way. And let’s give it to all those girls who are growing up after us. Let’s work together be a link in the chain of women.

Let’s give a nod to our history and a boost to our future as women.

If you’re with me, here’s how I envision this looking:

For every sale of my book in the month of March, I will donate 100% of the royalties I receive as the author to Room to Read. To be clear, each time I sell a book, I receive $15.16. So if 50 copies of my book are sold, we will have raised $758 that I will donate on our behalf to Room to Read. If 100 copies are sold, we raise $1,516! How cool would THAT be!?

I know a huge number of you have already purchased Unscripted, and I’m so very honored and grateful. The response to my book has truly been overwhelming and has touched my heart. To those women, since many of you have read the book and know what it’s about, I’d ask you to consider buying it for another woman in your life. Surprise her with a gift from you in honor of Women’s History month and know that when you do, you’re not only loving up another woman, you’re also giving a gift that will support literacy and gender equality in education for girls in Asia and Africa.

If you have been meaning to buy the book, but have not yet had the chance, now would be a great time to make the purchase. As I floated this idea out there with some women, I’ve heard many of you say this would feel deliciously good to do, even though you have a pile of other books in your “to read” stack. And as you invest in yourself, know that you will also be making an investment in a girl’s education in Asia and Africa.

So are you with me? 

I’m so excited to make this happen, but I can’t do it alone.

We can do this. Together. Always.

So let’s do it, shall we?

Let’s put our philos into gear and make some anthropy history!

Love and gratitude to you.

A Love Letter To My Mom

Posted November 1st, 2012

Forty-four years ago today, at 11:33 am, this woman and I made a rockin’ team. Working together, we brought me into the world. And I am so very grateful. So rather than tell her how much I love her, again, I thought I’d go public with my gratitude to her.

And write her a love letter.

The day my mom brought me into the world was the first of many, many, many special mother-daughter bonding moments we’ve had. But today, on my birthday, as I feel so very loved with all the calls and best wishes from my family and friends and clients, I feel a mountain of gratitude to her for making all that – for making me – possible.

So thanks, Mom.

Thanks for calling me everyday on my birthday and telling me the story of my birth – even in those college years when I was still sleeping at 11:33…

Thanks for showing me your stretch marks on your belly and grinning your big proud grin, telling me they were reminders of one of the best days of your life…

Thanks for telling me again and again that the nurses in the hospital said they had never seen such a happy mother as you…

Thanks for taking one look at me and saying, “That’s not a Julia…” and choosing to name me Lael instead.

Thanks for your courage to nurse me despite the shame and contrary advice you were given..

Thank you for continually pointing to your two daughters as proof that your first marriage was worth it because of us…

Thank you for making my childhood magical and safe and nutritious, even though you never had that yourself…

And most of all,

Thank for your showing me what a mother is…so I could turn around and be one myself one day.

We rocked it, Mom.

And we still are.

So here’s to you! And me.

On my birthday.

Love,

Lael

PS: I know you’ve never liked this photo of you, but it’s one of my favorites…so thanks for that, too (even though I didn’t ask first…)

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.

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.

Seeing Is Believing

Posted July 8th, 2010

I have this sign on my fence – strategically placed so that I see it multiple times a day. I see it when I pull into my driveway. I see it out the window when I’m coaching clients. It’s that important. In many ways, it represents the belief on which my business – no, really my life – is based.

Sure it’s a bit rusty and dented, but you would be, too, if you were a cheap piece of metal from the Christmas Tree shop asked to endure the rugged Maine winters, only to be knocked off your cheap nail time and time again when an overly-zealous child slams the adjoining gate a bit hard. But I still see it.

That sign has stood the test of time and so has my belief.

Magic is amazing when it just appears before you – manifesting seemingly out of no where and delighting us with feelings of serendipity and mystery. But calling in magic. Drawing it down to you like the moon pulls the tides? That takes moxie. And guts and courage, sweat and faith. And, if you’re lucky, a hearty tribe of like-minded people that believe in you.

This week has been filled with examples of that sign. And that is worthy of pause and celebration. This week, I’ve witnessed women taking sharp intakes of breath and finally walking over the threshold of their dreams they’ve brought to reality. I’ve shared in the excitement as women have handed in their resignation letters, reinvented their marriages and said YES to themselves for the first time ever. Without guilt or looking back. All of them have referenced magic.

They are believers. And I am honored to call them my clients. Here’s to having moxie.

The Woman in the Mirror

Posted May 20th, 2009

I had a terrifying experience last year (well, relatively speaking…). I encountered myself and didn’t recognize me – at all. In that split moment, I felt so many conflicting emotions – shame, pride, an acute sort of dislocation from myself and a renewed commitment to improving the accuracy of my self-perception.

Here is what happened. I was in the midst of leading my biannual women’s retreat, Homecoming, last October and I came upon a group of women. One woman was talking in a very animated fashion about this other woman she knew – a woman that clearly had made a positive impression on her. She painted a picture of this amazing woman, rattling off all the qualities this woman possessed and all the things she had juggled and had accomplished. As I listened in, I became entranced about what I was hearing. I wanted to know her. Whoever she was, I was convinced we would be fast friends. I didn’t even know her and yet I admired her. Finally, unable to bear the suspense any longer, I inserted myself into the conversation, asking, “who is this woman?”All five women in the circle stopped and stared at me and then smiled, looking at each other. “Lael, it’s you”, the woman said. My jaw fell open and I was speechless. I recovered from my shock quickly, laughing at myself for having been caught in such an awkward bungle. But that experience made a lasting imprint on my nearly 40-year old soul.

While I was still mulling over this experience post-retreat, I came across a blog entry from the amazing Jess Esch that felt like it tapped into the same vein that was pulsating through me.

There once was a wonderful, magical woman
who people looked upon with envy and admiration.
People thought their lives would improve tenfold
if they could be more like her.
But the magical woman’s mirror was broken.
She did not think she was special at all.
We are taught to see the best in others.
No one tells us to look inside ourselves
with the same intention.
I think that is sad.
It makes me wonder about the sun.
Does she know of her beauty?
The joy she brings?
The majesty emanating from her core?
Or does she envy the moon?

Both of these events had me retreating inward, convinced that this was my unique experience. Besides, how do you engage in a conversation in which you share how impressed, nay in awe, you were in hearing a description of yourself? It just doesn’t happen easily. But I was wrong. This is not just about me. In telling my own story, I have learned this is a common experience we share as women. Simply put: we don’t see ourselves clearly. I would wage a bet that we only see pieces, and often not the best ones, that create kind of a hodge-podge impression; a far cry from the big, bold and beautiful expression that complete strangers often experience of us.

What’s going on here? Why is this the case? I must admit, I don’t fully understand it (after all, it’s my stuff, too, right?), but I sense it’s really important. It feels like it’s a key that might unlock so many different but related dynamics in women’s lives: our tendency to diminish or underestimate our value (financial or otherwise), our reluctance to ask for help when we need it most, our resistance to stepping up, standing out and playing BIG (however that looks to you), the various health issues we tend to face as women (depression, heart disease, breast cancer), the competition we engage in with other women. A big fat key.

So what IS the cost of not seeing ourselves as others do? One theory I have is that we might come to rely more on other people’s perceptions of us. Do you see where this might lead? Needing approval? Wanting to be liked? Making decisions based on what other’s might feel or want instead of from our own inner wisdom? Playing it safe instead of taking a stand?

Another theory I’m playing with is how it directly relates to the wage gap we face as women. There are countless books (see Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation) and research (see http://www.catalyst.com/) that implore women to “make the ask” and instruct them on how best to do it. If we don’t see the full picture – the full impact – of what we are bringing, don’t we run the risk of selling ourselves short? Or trusting in someone else’s assessment of what is “fair?” Yikes. I’m beginning to believe this is one of the most universal ways we give away our power as women – by not taking responsibility for calculating our own worth. The irony is that women are known for being quite shrewd and savvy with money. After all, women make over 80% of the household buying decisions from groceries to cars and everything in between. So no excuses.

Another piece of the puzzle clicked into place for me during a conversation at one of my most recent circles for women leaders. The topic was “stepping up and standing out” and – BLAM! – out came the theme again of not fully seeing or appreciating ourselves. The new piece for me was how this was all tied up in our notion of “the ego”. Specifically, our fear of it. There was this palpable sense of not wanting to be seen as too confident, too knowledgeable, too assertive, too (insert your own fear here). In this circle of women, we discussed that our default antidote to mitigate these concerns was to either diminish (“it really wasn’t a big deal..”), disclaim (“this is probably a crazy idea…”) or distract (“it was actually the team’s idea…”). What is it in us that prevents us from saying, “I did this!”, “I’m right” or “I’m worth this?”

For my part, I’m practicing some new behaviors. I’m nodding more as people share their experiences of me. Sounds like a simple thing, but I’m a blurter – I tend to sweep away the words of any compliments or praise while they are still being spoken. And before you catch me in a contradiction (about relying on others’ perceptions), let me assure you that my nodding technique is simply a trigger for me to ask myself, “is this true for me?” and then notice how it feels to recognize myself more clearly. To own myself – who I am, what I bring and how I show up in life – more fully. I am nodding myself into awareness.

I’m also saying “you’re welcome” more. As a mother, I am vigilant about teaching my children to acknowledge, receive and give thanks. But now I’m aware of the oft silent sibling of “thank you”….”you’re welcome”. Saying this gracious phrase signals to me that I have taken in and received more information about myself, for myself. Again, it may sound simple, but try it out. I wasn’t aware of how often I smooshed other words around that phrase, effectively burying it.

Finally, I’m practicing putting a period at the end of my statements. In my graduate program, I had the privilege of having this amazing professor who gifted me with the practice of putting a period after a statement. Up until that point, I was unaware of how often I would let my sentences straggle to a conclusion or taper off. Worse yet, I would diminish the impact of what I was saying by, once again, letting my message get lost in a cascade of other words. I remember watching her pinch her pointer finger and thumb together – as if she were literally picking up a period – and place it in front of her to signal she was done. Period. It got my attention then and I’m hoping to use that technique to get my own attention now.

My main message is this: fix your mirror. Don’t have one? Find one. Clean it off. Get one. Give yourself that much respect – you deserve to be seen by you. You are worthy of clear and enduring admiration, so be the first to get in line to witness yourself in all your glory. We owe that much to ourselves – and the world – as women. Period.