Pockets Full of Vignettes and Gems

Posted April 16th, 2021

I vote for life imitating art.

You know that chicken-and-egg question we’ve asked ourselves throughout time—does art imitate life or life imitate art? I choose art.

I know it’s not a forced choice and that technically we don’t need to vote…but I’m here to take a stand for art.

So often in the sixteen years I’ve been in this business of SheChanges, I have heard people refer to me as a storyteller. I’ve often marveled at that because it’s not something I ever set out to be. And when I think of the word storyteller, I imagine someone entirely different. While I have received this from others as a compliment and have, at times, donned that mantle, it’s never felt like mine.

But I was on a long walk with my dog Max the other day and this other word came to me: vignette.

I stopped right there in my tracks and looked up the definition on my phone to see if what I had in my head was a clear match to the FUCK YES I was feeling in my bones.
 

Vignette | vin’yet |(n)

  1. a brief evocative description, account or episode.
  2. a small illustration which fades in its background without a definite border.
  3. a short piece of writing that is more focused on vivid imagery and meaning, rather than plot.

I learned that while vignettes can be stand-alone, they are more commonly part of a larger narrative.

That’s it. That’s what I do. And from where I sit? That’s also what women do.

Think about it. Women often don’t have time, permission or space to tell a whole story so we’ve adapted over time to communicate in vignettes. Look at the dearth of women writers, producers, and directors in the publishing, film, and music industries and you will see how infrequently we get access to the luxury of telling the whole story from our perspective. Look at the entirety of the narrative that has been written and codified for our world, and you can see exactly how HIStory has shaped ours—from our places of worship, to our places of learning and working.

As bitter a pill as it is to swallow for many, the reality is that women (as well as BIPOC, LGBTQ and all those relegated to the margins of our predominantly white male culture) have been reduced to speaking in sound bites. We have had our voices, perspectives, and experiences relegated to the sub-plot, the supporting characters, loosely referenced or vaguely represented in footnotes.

But here’s the thing: we’re fucking good at talking in sound bites. We’ve had practice in getting a word in edge-wise. And we’re efficient as hell. Who needs the long drone of a meandering story when you can get a quick and pithy picture that you can pop into the pocket of your consciousness?

That’s where the power of art comes in. That’s why it will get my vote every time.

Side note: it’s also why programs in the arts are the first to get cut in budget season, when money is tight or there is a time crunch at play. Power and truth (not to mention heart) live in art. What would happen to our world if that became central to our conversations?

Enter, stage left, the vignette. It’s a powerful, potent and pocket-sized little gem that can travel faster than a tomb. Let me ask you this: would you rather travel through life with a handful of precious gems or a suitcase full of encyclopedias? Exactly.

I’ve often described the people in my life as “grab and go” people. They come screeching in from their travels on two wheels with leaves in their hair or bugs in their teeth, big smiles on their face and a sparkle in their eye. They start their sentences with “So anyway….” as if no time has passed. I am that person, myself, so I get those people. I share their love of movement, their insatiable appetites, limitless curiosity, wild spirit of adventure, appreciation for the road, and openness to giving just about anything a try.

So much so, I’ve come to see my work at SheChanges as being a “pit crew” for these people. I offer a way station off the main drag. I meet them at their window as they pull in, often screeching to a halt, with tires smoking. I hold their gaze and offer them a focal point as they gas up, check the tire pressure and scrape bugs off their windshield. My presence offers them a moment of rest, a patch of solid ground, solidarity and brave companionship on their way from here to there. And when the opportunity presents itself, I offer them inspiration, insight or food for thought in the form of vignettes.
 

This is what I hear on most days when I crouch down at a window in my pit and hold a gaze: “What have you got on __________, Lael?”

These people, intuitively at first, sense that I’ll generally have something of value for them. They can see the glittering gems falling out of my pockets when I make my way to their window, holding their gaze. But what’s more, ours is a powerful relationship built on trust, safety and resourcefulness—and it grows and gets stronger with each visit. They do not give me their power or ask for my own—they meet me at a place where our collective power connects.

Maybe you know this if you’ve worked with me. But I imagine many of you don’t because I work with a select group of people 1:1. You might never have had the experience of me coming up to your window, crouching down with hands on my knees, my face suddenly appearing in yours as I hold your gaze in my way station.

Perhaps you’ve gotten a taste of it from me on stage when I speak. Or maybe you’ve read one or two of my books and have felt that connection with me because my writing feels like a conversation with you.

But what might be possible for our world if more of us had access to a powerful pit crew—in the dark of the night, in heavy fog, or raging winds? That’s what I want to find out.
 

So here’s my great experiment that I’m inviting you to take with me: join me as I work the pit.

I’m going to more fully leverage my abilities to distill large amounts of information, weave compelling and relevant vignettes, and hold a steady gaze for weary road warriors—for a wider audience. I want to give you a taste of the intimacy of a conversation that happens at those windows off the roadways, but without the need to work with me 1:1.

A couple times a month, I’ll be letting you into my heart and my head as I share the gems I’ve gathered recently. I’ll always be honoring the confidentiality of my clients and what we discuss—that’s sacred. But I’ll be offering vignettes to illustrate what I’m observing, themes I’m seeing, things we’re experiencing, and places we’re playing. I’ll share resources I’m using personally and professionally, and will be sharing those I’ve been given by others.

I plan to sync up these connections with you to the moon, herself, harnessing the power of her lunar energy to pull us all forward, together. One email will arrive in your inbox around the new moon and another at the full moon. If you want to receive them, all you need to do is enter your email on the homepage of my website. I’ll be doing these for FREE through the fall as I experiment (and rehaul/relaunch a completely new website!!!), but will eventually be migrating these intimate communications with my audience to a subscription-based model. And I will doing all of this OFF social media.

So here’s a warm welcome to join me in my experiment. Let’s see where it takes us.

Because this I know: we are stronger together.
You know what else I know?
We’re all connected—we cannot do this alone.
We need each other.

I will see you at your window this coming full moon. Forward this to your people in your travels and maybe I will meet them as well. Or not.

But here’s an invitation to join me in the pit with my vignettes and gems.

The (Re)Birth of a Nation

Posted January 8th, 2021

Years ago, as I rapidly approached the birth of my first child, I started to wonder (panic, honestly), “How the $&%$ is this all going to go down…exactly!?” My wise midwife gave me great counsel. She said that nature would run its course. She reminded me that my body was built for this and would know what to do. In the meantime, she suggested it might be a good idea to get myself an art project to occupy my mind as I was waiting for active labor to begin. Giving something for my hands to do would soothe me, she assured.

So as my body dilated and the mild cramps became more regular and significantly sharper, I pulled out my art supplies and I make this sign. which is now 18 years old. Something in me—or my wise body—knew that I would need to focus on the task before me, and to mitigate against distraction by alerting any who came onto the scene that there was something BIG happening—that new life was being born.

 

The sign, quite simply, read: Mother at Work.

 

This morning, as I got texts from clients that read: “What have you got on this, Lael?” my feet took me down to my basement and I started digging through boxes, muttering, “Please tell me I didn’t throw that out, please tell me I didn’t throw that away…” And then, all the way at the bottom of the box, I found it. My sign.

Mother at Work.

Because that’s what I’ve got: A reminder to myself (and instruction to others) that new life is trying to come through a very small opening in a body, which can be loud and messy and terrifying and yes, often dangerous. And yet it happens everyday, all over the world—often without a helpful midwife, a clean hospital, and certainly without an instruction manual.

It’s organic. It’s ancient. And it’s happening now.

I’ll pause here and check to make sure we’re on the same page: you get that I’m not talking about a baby in this case, right? And that I’m using birth as a metaphor for what we’re navigating this very week as a country, when so many people are asking “How is this all going to go down…exactly!?”

 

We are a nation rebirthing itself. We are the mother in labor, breathing hard and bearing down.

 

I joked with one of my clients this morning via text that I had the urge to drive to the nearest border and post a handmade sign that read: “Please excuse our appearance, we’re in the process of (re)contruction.” Because isn’t that what we do when we tear down a bridge and reroute traffic? Isn’t that pretty standard fare when a building temporary inconveniences its patrons in favor of a longer-term service that will benefit them? We don’t stop traffic or close the store—we simply post a sign, put up some drop clothes or mark the area off with orange cones. All of these are visual indicators that “this is temporary…”, while subtly implying “…you’ll thank us later, because it will be even better than before…”

So this? This is the dismantling of what was so we can make room for what will be. This is the tear in the tissues of our most tender place (our nether regions) that rips a wider opening for life to come through.

 

This is, as midwives call it: The Bloody Show.

 

And I will say—as a woman who has opened her body wide enough for two, ten-pound babies to pass through her, and also as a professional who has worked for 20 years with people giving birth to new phases and chapters and endeavors in their lives—it’s really, really, really hard to hold the belief that this is about NEW LIFE coming forth, when you physically (emotionally, spiritually) feel like you’re going to die.

It’s really hard. Damn near impossible. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Once that birth is set in motion, you actually don’t even need to believe in it for it to occur. How many times have you heard stories of teenage mothers that weren’t even aware they were pregnant or hid their pregnancies and then gave birth in the bathroom stall of their high school between math and gym classes?

 

You can be in denial and still give birth.

 

Which brings me to the other piece of magic that found me last night as I collapsed on our couch, exhausted without understanding why and mindlessly scrolling Instagram. I noticed someone new started following me and I couldn’t quite recognize the post of mine that they liked—it felt really old.

So I clicked through and saw a photo of Maya Angelou smiling at me with this quote: “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” My whole body exhaled. And then I went on to read her words:

I’m experiencing some heartbreak with this latest news.
And I know I’m not alone.
I look at my children,
And I find I am holding my breath.
At times, fending off despair.
Blowing on the embers of hope within me,
Pleading, “please catch, please ignite.”
Help us help ourselves.

Again, my body exhaled. I saw the date of this post (June 2, 2017) and marveled at how something three years ago could find me at the very moment I needed it, like magic. And then? My jaw dropped as I realized those weren’t Maya’s words at all—holy shit, they were MINE. I had written that post two and a half years ago, inspired by Maya’s quote, and was reading my own words—how had I not recognized myself? My own medicine?

 

How had I become so distracted from the wisdom that lives inside me?

 

When people ask me what I’ve got these days, when trying to figure out these times and what to make of it, my response generally has something to do with this: The Divine Feminine at work. Because I do believe She’s working hard right now, focused, bearing down to deliver something better that we can’t even imagine exists.

She’s rerouting traffic, she’s posted orange cones and she’s gotten to work. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s inconvenient and yes, even dangerous. That is the power of the Divine Feminine to deliver life, even as so many of us are still in denial that we’ve been pregnant.

She doesn’t need permission. She doesn’t need a brightly lit room and a scheduled surgical procedure to make it happen. Truth be told, she doesn’t even need to hang a sign on the door to explain herself.

She’s that focused on her task—on her mission to bring new life into this world.

So here’s the bottomline: we can put out our hands and catch this new life, we can stomp out of the room and pretend like it never happened, we can marvel at it or we can rail against it. Each of us gets to choose how we’ll respond, so that’s on us to decide now or later. But to some degree it doesn’t matter.

 

New life is coming. Some might even say it’s here.

 

So if you, like many of us, are wondering what actions we can take in this moment, maybe sit with this question: How will I respond to this (re)birth? What will I choose? What role will I assume?

There is room for all of us at this birth, but it’s not over yet so you’ve got time to decide. In the meantime, take note of the homemade sign still hanging on the door. Depending on how you choose to enter, it is both a gracious reminder and a firm caution of a mother hard at work.

 

A Letter To Myself in 2019: Of Course You’re A Racist

Posted December 28th, 2020

Hey there. It’s me, Lael.

I’m writing to you from December 2020 to prime the pump for where you’ll be headed in the next year. This is the letter I wish someone had given me a year ago. I think it might have helped on all those dark nights of my white soul.

So….2020. Here’s the deal: a raging pandemic will sweep across the globe (so get some masks), but believe it or not, that’s not going to be where you put your energy over the next year. I know, I know, sounds crazy, but stay with me here. .

In 2020 you’re actually going to be reckoning with something bigger and something deeper—something you might even think you’ve moved beyond because you’re a “good white person” (spoiler alert: there is no such thing.)
 

You, my friend, are a racist. Of course you are.

Did you flinch a little bit when I said that? Did you pull back—ready to refute, show me all the evidence as to why that’s not the case, or point to others instead? Of course you did. That’s what we do as white people. We spend countless hours—sometimes even lifetimes—tussling about with the “I’M NOT A RACIST!!!” debate before actually getting to the work of dismantling systemic racism in ourselves our world.

And in the process, we just keep repeating the same predictable cycle as good little soldiers of white supremacy—denying, dismissing, disassociating, discounting—kicking the can further up our road and repeating history (with more of the same) as opposed to making history (by choosing something different).

That is our white privilege at work.
That is what white supremacy is counting on.
That is exactly what we’ve been trained to do.
That is systemic racism working exactly as it was designed.
That is what will keep racism alive and well.
And that, my friend, is where we are complicit.

Whether we realize it or not, you and I are a foot soldiers doing the work of system of oppression.

So of course you’re a racist. So am I.

That’s the bad news.
 

The good news is that in 2020 you decide to do something about it.

Having lived a little and learned a LOT in 2020, I thought I’d write this letter to you with some operating instructions that might help navigate all that. Consider what follows to be some field notes, if you will, to reference as you dig in in 2019 and take a hard look at your own behaviors and beliefs as they intersect with white culture and systemic racism.

It’s going to be a stormy year—some will call it a shit show. But perhaps these 11 things listed below can be channel markers to offer you a bearing in rough seas and help to guide you forward on your journey.
 

1. Nothing changes without first acknowledging this (say it with me): “Of course I’m racist.”

Start there. Keep saying it out loud. It will be hard at first and loads of people will run to your defense and tell you all the ways you’re not. Don’t believe them. I promise you the more you say this out loud and publicly, the easier it will get and the more it will pave the way for other white people to do the same. This one sentence is the most powerful tool you have. Use it. And when you look around, feeling self-conscious and vulnerable, and see all those other white people who are content to remain oblivious to their privilege and not engage in the work of anti-racism (I wish I could, but I don’t have time…I don’t have the emotional bandwidth…It makes me uncomfortable…It’s not my fault…I’m so overwhelmed…I don’t know how…) brace yourself, because you’re going to want to get up in their grille fast. And that? That will be a distraction from you doing your own work. Focusing on them instead of working on you is going to be really tempting, because getting judgmental and self-righteous is going to feel a helluva lot easier than getting honest and reckoning with your truth. But start with you. Stick with you. Choose to embody instead of interrogate, radiate instead of confront, and inspire instead of convert.
 

2. Change begins with either getting uncomfortable or getting vulnerable.

Pick one and come back for more. 2020 is going to give you a run for your money—fear will be rampant, unemployment will be high, morale will be low, and there will be a really loud and scary election in the midst of a pandemic. Distractions, excuses, and justifications will all be readily available and competing for your attention. At times it will feel like the whole country is on fire…and sad to say, this will literally be the case out west. But keep choosing to get uncomfortable, and vulnerability will follow as you move closer to your truth. Hear me when I say this: this is a good and healthy thing. Contrary to popular belief, these things will not kill you, they will make you—and us—stronger as a result. If you’re not feeling one of these two things on a regular basis you’re not doing the work of anti-racism. It will be hard and awkward, and I promise you, you’ll feel self-conscious and wonder if you’re doing it “wrong”. These are good signs of learning and being on the move—away from the status quo and toward a better future for us all. Be like Dory, and just keep swimming.
 

3. Racial literacy—it’s a thing.

Your mind will be blown away by all that you don’t know or weren’t taught. You’ll uncover major shit that was left out of “history”—like discovering the existence of a parallel universe. Let yourself be surprised and horrified—because you will be, plenty. You’ll feel like Harry Potter going through that brick wall on platform 9 ¾ for the first time, leaving the land of the Muggles and realizing there is a whole other land you never even knew existed that had been right there all along. Except it won’t feel magical. It will feel embarrassing, shameful and disgusting. And then you’ll get mad—full of rage that it took you until the age of 51 to even hear about it. You’ll look for someone to blame—a teacher, your parents, our founding fathers. This is all part of it. By never questioning or looking beneath the surface of what you were taught, you were complicit in this false narrative. It will be up to you to get fluent in racial literacy because our white supremacy as we’ve designed it relies on you NOT being fluent. The good news is, once you realize this you’ll be like a dog on a bone about it, pulling back the curtain right and left.
 

4. Racism isn’t about Black people. It’s about WHITE people (that’s you.)

It might feel like it’s an “issue” that doesn’t concern you, but you are at the root of it. Your ancestors designed this system—the one our country has baked into it—with you in mind. It benefits you even if you don’t realize it. The only reason it feels like it’s not yours is because white people don’t want to talk about, so it falls on the very people who are oppressed by systemic racism to address it—again and again. You’re a feminist, so think of it like this: violence against women isn’t really a women’s issue, right? It just feels like it because we women have a vested interest in it stopping. It’s really about men’s violence against women, but women are the often the only ones making sure we keep talking about it—because if we don’t, who will? It’s like that. So be the white person who talks about white people’s shit—because it’s our shit that stinks.
 

5. Shut up, listen, and reflect.

Seriously. Put your words away for a while. This will be hard because you’re trained to spout your opinion at every turn in the road. But once you do this, you will be able to hear and see that perspectives and stories (words written or told) in Black voices are everywhere around you. Just take them in like a sponge. And then go back for more. And Lael? They’re right. You don’t get a vote about other people’s experiences and whether or not they are true or valid. They are. They might be different, they might be uncomfortable or hard to hear, they might test everything you believe about yourself or this country, but believe them. Notice and resist the urge to “yeah, but….” them away. Let it be hard. You won’t die of embarrassment or shame. But if it feels like you will, try getting curious about yourself. Curiosity will be your super power here, and will help you move out of shame more quickly and show you how you’ve been trained. Understand how you were baked with the beliefs and behaviors of white supremacy inside you. Mine for the ingredients. Learn your wiring. Familiarize yourself with the foundation on which you were built as well as the roots of the ground underneath it.
 

6. Unmute yourself.

You’ll feel the urge to keep quiet about what you’re learning because you won’t feel ready, good at it, or know enough. You’ll talk about it being a private conversation, and that will be code for feeling shame. You’ll be afraid of getting “caught” not doing or saying something right, and at some point you’ll decide not to saying anything at all. But do it anyway, because to stay silent is to stay here—and complicit. Talk with white people about what you’re learning—share the mind-blowing insights, demystify the “work” of anti-racism by opening the door to another white person. Let yourself inspire others. You’re going to be experiencing a lot of pandemic humor in the next year to get through it, so I’ll put it this way: be a positive contagion. Infect others with a good virus. And? Stay in your lane. You’re going to hear this phrase a lot, and at first you won’t understand it. Then you’ll resent it. This will be your whiteness showing, as you’re taught that you’re an exception and a free agent who controls her own destiny. You’re taught that the whole world is your oyster and yours for the taking. In 2020, you’ll learn just how wrong that is, and worse—the impact it’s had on others. In the coming year, Black Lives Matter will take center stage more than ever before and grab the mic in this moment—as leaders, agenda-setters, and influencers. White people won’t like this, and you will be one of them. But you’ll soon learn that white people have historically just taken things without asking—and you’ll learn how to show up in service without stealing the stage or redirecting attention back to you. This will be a game-changer.
 

7. Practice, practice, practice.

Do you remember when you first started using clip-less bike pedals and you kept falling over because you couldn’t put your foot down to stop the fall? Do you remember when you fell down skiing and people in the lift lines thought you were having a seizure because you didn’t know how to get back up? That. You’re going to feel a LOT of that in 2020 and this means you’re actively learning. Also, you’re going to be noticed falling down and making mistakes, and this, too, will have a purpose. By you doing this work publicly, you will be making it safe for others to try and fall down as well. Resistance, denial and defensiveness are going to try to get you at every turn in the road. Expect it, and do not take the bait. It’s hard at first, but like with anything, with practice it gets easier. And here’s something helpful to remember when the going gets tough: this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is not a one and done sort of fix. Keep your foot on the gas. This will keep you inspired and moving forward even when it’s hard. It will also remind you that any other choice (stopping, coasting, taking your foot off the gas) will support racism (you’ll get a major insight early on that there is no such thing as “not a racist”, only “racist” or “anti-racist”). In 2020, you’ll choose being an anti-racist. Keep choosing it daily. And know that this choice will be the rest of your life, not just a moment in time. That might sound daunting to consider now, but I promise you, it will start to become second nature. Remember when banking became remote with ATMs and then we moved to online? It’s like that—a big deal at first, then the best thing that ever happened to banking, right? Which brings me to…
 

8. Resist the urge to do it alone or privately.

The desire to crawl under a rock will be powerful. Resist it. 2020 will show the degree to which this country is divided (spoiler: KAMALA WINS!), but this will be the year many of us white folks learn the power of pooling together our resources—be it financial power as consumers, learning power as anti-racists, or influencing power by sharing our platforms. We’ll start to share our mistakes and be inspired by our fall downs and get ups. We’ll learn from our fuck ups, failures and mis-steps, rather than burying them. The bottom line is no one will know if you’re not doing this work, but if you do it as a family or with a peer group you will be building in accountability and can process what you’re learning with them. Solve for that. Pull up a chair and have a slice of humble pie. You are not the only white person who didn’t know what you didn’t know. It’s not that you’re stupid, it’s that you didn’t see the water you were swimming in. This, by the way, will be the inspiration for you to create The Beach for white women in your community to gather and do anti-racism work together—and bonus!—as a result, you’ll donate $2,400 to the Loveland Foundation’s Therapy Fund because of all the registrations!
 

9. Holds multiple truths.

Yes, it is absolutely about you and it’s also about the system in which we are all operating. Yes, you are kind and you do harm. Sure, you didn’t mean it and you still had impact. Yes, you didn’t ask for your privilege and you still have it. Maybe you’re not directly responsible for our history of white supremacy and you are contributing to it daily just by existing. Yes, you might be self-aware and you also are blind. Yes, you are smart and you are ignorant. It’s simple and it’s complex. It’s multifaceted and it’s straightforward. It’s right and it’s wrong. See what I’m getting at? Your brain is going to rebel in 2020 with all of this because it won’t be able to reconcile all that you’re asking it to hold. Seek expansion instead of reconciliation. Look for the contradictions, see the paradoxes and feel the tension points. Seek the scary edges instead of the comfortable middle. Seek the yes/and. Drop the habit of either/or. This will serve you well and increase the capacity of your brain and heart.
 

10. Reframe your mindset from despair and overwhelm to hope.

The fact that you’ll be navigating a pandemic in 2020 will make everything seem dire. There will be much fear, lack and hardship. Everything will seem chaotic and you’ll be reminded of how little we humans actually control. You won’t know how to do this at first, and that will be hard because you’ll feel like you’re drowning with no land in sight. But keep looking for ways to switch your mindset from bad to good. Get creative about keeping your eyes on the prize. And remember that you are swimming against a powerful tide of training that has a vested interest in you NOT leaving this comfortable shore of whiteness on which you were born. Many will tell you this is who we are and there’s nothing that can be done. Don’t believe them. Imagine something different is possible for us. Live—and fight— daily for the future of a country in which you could be proud to live. Reach for this lifeline from Valarie Kaur (you’ll come to love this woman and everything she writes…) when you need it most: “What if this darkness we are feeling isn’t the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?…What if this is our nation’s greatest transition?” Imagine something greater than your worst fears—if not for yourself, then for those who will come into the world behind you like your grandchildren. Be an ancestor that leaves the world better than you found it and doesn’t just repeat history.
 

11. Begin anywhere. Just choose something. Anything.

This might seem obvious to say, but I offer it because this will be the #1 excuse you’ll reach for to avoid engaging with this work and feeling what you’re feeling. In 2020, you’ll hear a chorus of (formerly known as) “good white people” start to wail: I don’t know what to do…” and it will conjure images of Gary Larson’s boneless chicken ranch from The Far Side cartoon—only instead of chickens, it will be white people draped limply over corral posts and in pools on the barnyard floor. You will relate, and it will be seductive. In those moments, choose action. Open a book to the middle. Start listening to a podcast in the second season. Insert yourself in a conversation without understanding the context. Support BIPOC owned businesses. Make a donation to an organization that supports the safety, financial security, and freedom for BIPOC. Learn about Black Lives Matter, ACLU legal defense fund, the Loveland foundation, or just Google Anti-Racist. Play with numbers and start counting how many books, movies, Netflix series that come into your home or workplace center black lives? Learn the names of all the innocent Black and Brown bodies have died at the hands of police brutality? How many BIPOC are in your inner circle? Count them, Lael. It’s hard data and will be very revealing. You know how to do this. Don’t wait for an invitation. Don’t wait for the perfect thing to find you. There is no perfect thing. Pick anything. It doesn’t matter what, but don’t be a boneless chicken.

And finally, I’d leave you with this—as a parting gift from the future that you are helping to shape now with your daily choices and actions:
 

There is much joy and vitality that moves in as a consequence of doing anti-racism work.

You might have read this letter and be feeling a bit overwhelmed. That would be natural. It’s a lot of information—a year’s worth of information—to absorb at once, so take a deep breath with me. After all, I’m here at the end of 2020 writing this, living proof that you made it to another year—and an EPIC one, at that! It’s not all heavy and hard and overwhelming. There are many shiny bits of joy, life-giving encounters and deep pockets of fulfillment as you do this work. Tap into this, and you will tap into something bigger than yourself. Hope and a vision for brighter future will be waiting for you as a result, I promise you that.

All my love and some hot coals of inspiration to keep you warm for your journey ahead,

Lael

Women Are “In Position”

Posted April 28th, 2020

Years ago when I first moved to Maine, I was taught how to play cribbage. If you’re not familiar with cribbage, it is a card game with a wooden board and little pegs that mark each player’s points and progress. I am convinced all true New Englanders are hard-wired for this game at birth, but being “from away,” it was as foreign to me as Maine, itself. Little did I know that years later, I would reach for this game as a metaphor for women leading us through these transitional times brought on by the pandemic we face.

My husband first introduced me to cribbage, but it wasn’t until his father, Clyde, played with me one day in their warm Northern Maine kitchen that I started to get the magic that can happen when strategy collides with “getting the cards” at just the right time.

At one point in the game, Clyde paused and examined the board carefully, looking at his pegs and then mine.
 

“You are in position,” he said.

Say what, now? He explained that, at a certain point in the game, it’s possible to predict which player is best suited to win the game. Being the competitor I am, I marveled at how this spry, octogenarian potato farmer was actually excited about the position I was in, seeming to celebrate me and my advantage—as if my “victory” would be his as well.

He went on to explain that when someone is “in position,” there is a level of heightened consciousness that’s needed (okay, so that’s my phrase, not his…) in order to make smart and effective moves. More than being careful or guarded, it’s actually about taking full advantage of every point available to you, peg by precious peg.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot these days as I consider the role women are playing in leading us all through this pandemic—you know, the one we’re in right now. Long before the news started reporting on the early and effective responses women leaders have had around the globe, I felt it in my bones.
 

Women are in position.

I know I wasn’t alone in that feeling either, as the women I work with nationally started to comment about it as well. But more than just a game to be won, this feels like a life or death moment, and the women I know are solidly at the helm, steady hands on the wheel, hearts and minds activated as they never have been before. I heard—and continue to hear—women say this:

“This is our time.”

“The revolution we’ve been waiting for is here.”

“We were born to lead through these times.”

What does this mean? We don’t have a clear answer to that yet. But look around you and you’ll see we’re living our way into that unknown with each passing day, steering our ship through uncharted territory in the darkest of nights with sketchy data to navigate, turbulent waters, and no sight of land ahead just yet.

It’s more than just change—that’s what will happen as a result of this time. Change is about having arrived somewhere, and we are very much in transit right now.

This? This is the time of transition—which is the psychological space of moving from here to there, where big questions and even bigger emotions hang out.

If you think about it, we are living the very definition of transition—that liminal space between here and there, when what you’ve known previously is no more, and what you’re heading into isn’t yet visible.

We don’t know how to be in this space because we are not trained to be in this space, other than to be schooled to avoid it at all costs. We are told this space has no value, and so many of us deny that it even exists, or ,at best, we’re told to tolerate it before moving on.

Think of what we tell a woman when she’s had a miscarriage. You’re still young…you’ll have another baby…
Think of what we tell someone who has lost their beloved. He’s in a better place now…you’ll fall in love again.
Think of what we tell someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You’re strong….you’ll beat this…

These are not bad or wrong things to say—we’ve all said them before with the best of intentions, I’m sure, but they’re not acknowledging what it’s like for a human to move through transition—that space where they are neither here nor there.

She doesn’t want another baby, she wants THAT one. 
He doesn’t care that his beloved is in a better place, he wants him in THIS place. 
She doesn’t want to be stronger, she wants her healthy body back NOW.

Transition is often messy and wild and scary and dark. Which is why we feel so alone at these times.

No one can live permanently in transition because it’s not a pre-determined destination, but a process that unfolds organically. You cannot get your degree in transition (although I have tried), because it cannot be fully understood by the mind, nor can it be explained away by rational thought.

Transition asks us to feel—to let it have its way with us, to let it move us, shape us, reveal to us what our beautiful and tired brains can’t even fathom. To feel it all, is to move through it.

But consider the guides who lead us most through two of the most universal times of  transition. Who do we call upon when we are tired of fighting, in the most pain, desperate or willing to try anything?
 

We call on the women to lead us through transition because they know how to hold space for us to move between worlds.

We call on the midwives to help us bring a new life into this world, and we call on the hospice workers to be with us when we want to support a graceful death. These leaders—many of whom we don’t even know exist until we need them most—are generally women.

In my work behind closed doors with women leaders, we explore how being a woman deeply informs how we show up as leaders—and what we bring to that showing up moment. We talk about our training and social conditioning, sure, but we also talk about the innate skills we possess as women that are somehow embedded in our very being, like DNA. We consider all the things we bring to our work in the world through our being, and how we often dismiss or discount that as noteworthy because, you know, doesn’t everyone possess that ability? We unearth these things that come so naturally to us and feel so obvious—almost like common sense. We entertain that we are in possession of distinct medicine that has somehow been buried beneath our training and cultural conditioning.

What if these skills that live within us as women are the very things that we need from our leaders right now? What if women are not only “in position,” but are also carrying the keys we need to unlock the future for us all?
 

Would that be enough for you to consider yourself a leader, woman? Even without the oval office, the c-suite position, or the microphone?

What would it look like if we could all revel in women being “in position” as my father-in-law, Clyde, did that day in Northern Maine?

Because, after all, aren’t we all merely pegs sharing the same cribbage board?

______________________________________

Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? If you like what you’ve read here, you’re really gonna dig my second book Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire released last November (2019). I go into this and much more in this book that is both a heat-seeking memoir and a fiery missive for women to assume the helm. 

Looking for more inspiration or want to do a deeper dive into your own conversation as a leader? Check out these upcoming events:

Tuesday, May 5th: Lael will be speaking at The Women Of The (Virtual) Chamber

For the first time ever, the Women of the Chamber will be hosting it’s quarterly gathering virtually and will be opening its doors to non-members to register for this FREE one-hour event. Lael will be speaking about what being woman has to do with being a leader, and why that matters now more than ever. She’ll also be fielding questions submitted by attendees both in advance and during the live event. Registration is still open, so head over to Portland Region Chamber of Commerce to get your free ticket now!

SheChanges with Lael: Online Courses are here! 

Coming very soon, I will be offering a suite of online offerings that will enable you to engage with me and my work without ever leaving the comfort of your home. This work has been in the works for a while—and thanks to so many of your for your enthusiastic requests for it—so I’m really excited to finally be putting it out there! First up will be a FREE offering that will take readers (on your own or with a book club) on a deeper dive inside the pages of my book Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire, and I also have courses designed specifically with corporate women leaders in mind, as well as creatives and entrepreneurs. If you want to stay in the loop, be sure to enter your name and email in the sidebar of my website so your on my list and will be the first to know on GO LIVE day!

Women’s Stories Matter—To All Of Us

Posted October 23rd, 2019

Something happened for me at my SheSpeaks evenings of women’s storytelling last year. I didn’t see it coming, but once I did, I saw how it had been there all along.

If you’re not familiar with SheSpeaks, then you might not know that this annual event has become something of a tradition for many women—a heaping dose of good mojo, heartfelt energy, and inspiration delivered right before we all head inside (ourselves, and our dwellings) for the long, dark winter months.

I’ve been running SheSpeaks since 2011, and have brought ten amazing and sold-out audiences together with over fifty-two speakers courageous enough to share their stories with their whole hearts and soul fires. No fancy bells or whistles, no elaborate rehearsals or formal introductions, just some loud or soulful music to get the party started, and women speaking their truth on stage. Just as they are.

But last year, having expanded SheSpeaks to a two-night event—and still we sold out!—I noticed something different: more men came out to be in the audience.

I’ve always been very clear that this is an event open to everyone—not just women—even though only women’s voices are featured on the stage.
 

That’s the idea: showcasing women’s power, perspective, and experiences as valuable, relevant and worthy of our attention.

But last year, as I looked out at the audience—especially on the last night, I saw more men than I’ve ever seen before. It excited me. Not just because I’m the mom to two boys or that my husband’s presence in that audience literally helps to root me both nights I’m on stage (making this event truly a family affair…)—but because more men were literally seeing what it looks like for woman to lead.

See what I just did there? I made storytelling and leading synonymous.

Men came up to me after both shows last year and said things like this:

I’ve never experienced anything like this before…
I had no idea…
What just happened?
I’ve been laughing, nodding, and tearing up all night…
This feels like the church I’ve always wanted…
I didn’t expect to relate to this…
I was just here to support my friend on stage…
I can’t believe I didn’t know about this…
I want to bring all my friends to this next year…
That was the best night ever…
I didn’t expect to feel so welcome here…like I belong

I’ve heard things like this before from men who have attended in the past—men who have quietly approached me after the show, their hand extended, shaking their head in disbelief, wondering why they were drawn to me…to this.

In fact, the first time I ever hosted SheSpeaks, a man came up to me after and said—in all seriousness—“So when are you going to do a HeSpeaks?”

I laughed outright, and I regretted that later. Because I had missed his point, I suspect. While his comment felt rather tone deaf about the entitlement of white men to have a voice and a captive audience, I think what he was really getting at was this:
 

“I want something for men that feels like this…Can you help?”

Sadly, I didn’t know what I know now. Back then I was still a bit bitter from my corporate days and had some harder edges to me. Back then I was still guarding my heart and looking for fight.

But last year? Men were undeniable in the house—not only as a captive audience, but seeming to say the same things in a chorus, not just as a lone voice.

While all this amazingness was unfolding, however, something else was happening that was not so hot. I didn’t know it at the time, but a client of mine later shared her experience—and her disappointment.

Apparently she was in line at the bar during intermission and turned to the woman behind her—someone she didn’t know—to express her excitement about the evening. She said something like:
 

Have you noticed how many men are here tonight?

What my client meant, but didn’t feel the need to say because she thought it was obvious was: “isn’t that different…EXCITING?”

All that excitement came crashing down when the woman she’d spoken to rolled her eyes and said, “I know, they’re totally crashing our party…”

That sort of shit makes my heart break. But I also get it, because at one point at time, I was that woman. I was tired of constantly being surround by men—most of them white—talking to me, about me, on all these platforms. I was tired of not feeling heard and seen. I was tired of not having a space that felt safe or comfortable to me as a woman. And I was tired of not seeing more women on the stage, in the office, grabbing the microphone, or in the spotlight.

So I get it. And yet.

I also know what it’s like to not feel like I belong, to be the one woman in the room, and to feel grateful to have just been invited by a man to join in the conversation. I know what it likes to be included in places where I don’t feel like I belong.
 

Women need to actively invite our men to join us—in our spaces, at our tables, to our gatherings—so we can create change together.

This is what I was thinking about when SheSpeaks wrapped last year.

It’s not about giving men a microphone, having them set the agenda, or asking them to lead. It’s about inviting men to follow our a woman’s lead. It’s about enlisting men as allies and granting them access to the world of women.

How else can we demonstrate what it’s like to be in the presence of a woman leading an audience if we don’t invite men to witness us—to see and feel what it’s like?
 

Leaders are visible, not hidden behind closed doors.

So here’s my challenge to you: invite more men into your world. Let’s show them how we do things as women. Let’s show them what it looks like and how it feels. Let’s show them how alive and vibrant and magic it feels when women feel safe enough to reveal the full wattage of their power—and do it together.

But don’t should yourself over there, okay? I remember how much I craved being in the company of women back when I had no access to it. So if that’s what you’re hungry for right now, than have at it—go nutty, get your needs met with wild abandon, and I will be over here celebrating you.

Just be mindful if you have any of these thoughts, though:

He won’t be able to handle it…
This would freak him out…
He’d feel so out of place….
He’ll probably feel awkward…
He’ll probably say no anyway…
He’s not going to get it…
He’ll just make fun of it…
He’ll ruin it for me…

Check yourself. Is that really true? Or is that just something you’re telling yourself? Have you ever tested those beliefs? Do you want to find out? Do you believe in him? Have you ever told him your concerns? Have you ever expressed how much it means to you—and admitted that you want him to share it with you?
 

Because those things? Those are on us to own as women.

We cannot control what the response or outcome will be, but we can damn sure assume responsibility for extending the invitation.

Now lest you think I’m over here with all this shit figured out, let me offer you a story from my own experience that just happened this morning.

A client of mine let me know that Glennon Doyle will be coming through Boston this Saturday—just three days from now—as part of her Together Live tour. I’m a big fan of Glennon and clearly I’m all about women’s storytelling, so I clicked through to the link, fully expecting to see tickets were sold out months ago.

Happily, there were still some left! And I soon found I was in possession of not one, but two tickets to go to this event Saturday night.

I’ll admit, my first thought was this: What woman do I want to bring with me to this event? After floating the offer by a couple of my badass women, I thought back to my my experience of SheSpeaks and had another thought:
 

I want to share this with my man. This matters to me—and to us.

So I invited him to be my date over text, even though the voice in my head said all the things I listed above….

I didn’t just ask him to come because I couldn’t get anyone else to go with me. I told him how much it meant to me if he would make this event—and my world of women—a priority. And show up to it.
 

His response: I’m in!

Even though he’s tired. Even though, like all of us, he’s been all go, go, go and was looking forward to not going this weekend. Even though he knows he’s going to be in the minority. Even though he might feel uncomfortable, awkward or not welcome.

He’s going not out of obligation or guilt—he’s going because he was asked. And he trusts my invitation.

And sure, he’s an awesome man who was raised by a strong mother and four strong sisters, but still….how often do we underestimate our men? How often do we assume their disinterest and write off their participation in something that is valuable—that matters—without even extending an invitation to them to decide for themselves?
 

That’s on us, women.

So I double dog dare you to join me. Invite your men. Forward this post to the men in your world and see how they respond. Go on record that you’re going to be inviting them to join you in women’s places and spaces more.

Because it matters and it’s time.

Start with SheSpeaks. That event is a great place to start, and people are flying in from all over the country to go to it, but begin by using your own voice today. Use it to actively enlist men as our allies, and see what happens next.
 

Invite men to be a part of our women’s world, and see it as a public service for us all.

______________________________________

Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? If you like what you’ve read here, you’re really gonna dig my second book Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire which will be released on November 15th. I go into this and much more in this book that is both a heat-seeking memoir and a fiery missive for women to assume the helm. 

Looking for more inspiration and want to meet more of your people? Stay tuned for these upcoming events:

Thursday, December 5th: SheSpeaks, night 1 

Five amazing women will be taking the stage with Lael at SheSpeaks to share their stories at this ever-popular annual event! Tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square and going fast, so be sure to get yours early if you want in on it this year!

Friday, December 6th: SheSpeaks, night 2

For the first time ever in the history of SheSpeaks, Lael will be taking center stage for the second evening of SheSpeaks to share stories from her own experience, and will weave together threads from her work with women over the years, as she celebrates the release of her second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire. Tickets are on sale now via One Longfellow Square and are going fast for this special edition night of SheSpeaks.

5 Antidotes For A Rugged April

Posted April 29th, 2019

April seems to have had its way with women this month and was a particularly rugged patch of road to navigate for many—emotionally, physically and spiritually. Limits were tested. Patience wore thin. Bodies were sick and tired. Ugly and rude behaviors surfaced with more frequency. And hope was spotty and threadbare in places.

For some, a logistical shit storm hit hard, and time wasn’t our own..

Others experienced physical blows that took them—or a loved one— out at the knees.

Still others witnessed many WTF moments when behaviors of people they thought they knew went off the rails, and were expressed in unchecked and ugly ways.

Some felt as if everything sort of “blew up” in April—schedules, plans, visions, expectations—even before the ink had a chance to dry on them.

Does this resonate with you or someone you know? If not, good on you, my friend—there’s probably nothing to see here then. But if this feels like I’ve just described your April, then read on ghost rider, and let’s do the final fly by of this rugged April tower together.

What happened in April? That’s the question I’m hearing a lot these days…You know, the sort of experience that has you checking to see if mercury is in retrograde or calling that friend who always seems to know what’s happening astrologically.  The bottomline: I have no idea (although I’m not gonna lie, my go-to resource in these WTF moments is Lee Harris for his monthly energy updates…”Talk to me, Lee…”), and to some degree I’m just happy it’s over.

“In order to get the rainbow, you must be able to deal with the rain.”
Dolly Parton

But before we turn the calendar month to May, I thought I’d pause and offer my take on this and what I’m finding/hearing helps women stay whole, focused and grounded in the truth of who we are as we make our way from here to there.

Because here’s the thing I’m most keenly aware of right now:
 

We need each other, now more than ever.

So if something I share here finds a home in your soul today, have at it, sister. And please pass it along to someone in your orbit. Because most of what I’m going to share with you, I’ve received from women just like you who happen to send it my way. Consider me a feminine transmitter, giving and receiving the collective wisdom that spreads like a magical wildfire among women in my SheChanges orbit.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the Spring Equinox. I know it technically happened back in March, but I’ve come to appreciate the equinoxes more in terms of a season than a number on the calendar. Unlike the Solstices in Summer and Winter, I find the Equinoxes aren’t particularly times of grace, but are a lot more jarring on the senses—especially the Spring Equinox. That’s a thorny little bugger to navigate.

Think of how a spring crocus must feel breaking through the crusty earth for the first time (“ouch, ouch, ouch…OUCH!”)

Think of how it can be sunny and 70 degrees or snowing and 30 degrees….all in the same week (“Wait…WHAT!?).

Think of how frost or snow must feel on tender greens or freshly exposed flowers petals  (“JIMINY FRIGGIN CRICKET!”)

Nature mirrors us back to ourselves, but somehow (time and time again) we forget we are also nature…and therefore natural.
 

Simply put, we are all experiencing transition. Together.

And unlike the grace and surrender that can easily happen at solstices—at the height of summer or the depth of winter—the equinoxes can be a particularly loud and rugged transition, with bumps, thumps and some frost heaves that can have you bottom-out. And this year? It was one of the loudest I’ve witnessed with my clients and have personally felt in a while. Perhaps it’s because we are a microcosm of what is happening at a macro level for our evolution.

It’s like we are feeling the lowercase “t” transition at a time of intense uppercase “T” transition.

No matter where you are in that, here are five antidotes I’ve found to be helpful to ease the transitional effects of April.**

“If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”
Toni Morrison

 

Divine Feminine Oracle by Meggan Watterson

I have been using tarot and oracle cards for years to connect with the divine and help me see and feel what often feels just out of my reach—especially when the swirl of my thoughts kicks up and my over-tired brain tries to “help” me figure things out. Not surprisingly I gravitate to feminine models and images to offer a refreshingly familiar and validating women’s perspective that wasn’t given to me in our history books, cultural messages or religious tombs. This is where and how I remember what has been forgotten and buried (or burned) out of my consciousness, but still lives in my bones. Most recently, Meggan’s oracle deck has been filling and fueling my weary soul, offering me countless images and stories of women that remind me I am not alone, but am following in some pretty badass footsteps—especially when I feel most alone or crazy. One of these fine ladies inevitably reminds me what I know to be true and gives me guidance for my path.
 

The Serenity Prayer

I actually Googled this earlier this week, because for the life of me I couldn’t remember the first half of it (which is extremely telling if you know me at all…). If you’re not familiar with this prayer, it’s most commonly associated with its use with Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs as a means to stay present to each day as it unfolds—and take it one day at a time. Discernment is the key here, inviting us to winnow out what is outside of our control from what is within our ability to change. Simple and powerful. I put it on my fridge this month with a heart-shaped magnet.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

 

Do Less by Kate Northrup

 
I’ve been loving Kate’s latest book, Do Less. I found myself making audible whoops on certain passages as she calls bullshit on this obsession we have with more, better, faster, and offers a refreshing and timely invitation to “lean out” of the systems that are not designed to support life. Specifically, she points to how the systems and structures so many of us find ourselves in were designed by men for men—not women. This has been my life’s work thus far at SheChanges, supporting women aligning around this belief, and then designing change—for herself, for her company—that honors that understanding. Kate writes “women don’t need to lean in to fix the system. We need to lean out so that the systems that don’t support our well-being can collapse and new ones can be formed. And that’s what we’re doing…in droves.”  BOOM! Amen to that, sister. Don’t know what that means to you and your life? She offers fourteen distinct invitations to experiment with doing less, as a means to see for yourself what it’s like.
 

Brene Brown’s Netflix Special

Holy SHIT this is good. I had so many texts from clients the night this Netflix special dropped, insisting that I stop everything and watch it. I finally got around to it on Saturday night—and then again the next night…this time with my beloved. Then I texted it to a handful of my clients. Brene just does it for me, and this Netflix special is just her at her best. In one hour, she weaves together her own stories with loads of examples as well as her research around topics of vulnerability, courage and what life is like for those in the arena. All along the way, she drives home this one beautiful invitation to her audience: “choose courage over comfort”, and seals it with this prophetic kiss: “you do vulnerability knowingly or vulnerability will do you.” She underscores again and again, how much we need each other these days, and how our ability to truly connect—first with ourselves, and then with each other—is the key to… everything. Perhaps the best sixty consecutive minutes of screen-time I’ve invested in along time.

“I’m not going to bullshit you. Vulnerability is hard. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s not as hard and uncomfortable as getting to the end of your life and asking, ‘What if I had shown up?’, ‘What if I had said I love you?’, ‘What if I had gotten off the blocks?'”

Brene Brown

 

She Let Go by Safire Rose

A client texted me this poem the other day and I just stopped in my tracks. I put my hand to my chest and wept. This poem touched something deep and tender in my heart—and felt like a feminine version of the traditional masculine invitation to surrender. It was just so beautiful and powerful and relevant, I have no words…so I’ll just leave you now and offer you Safire’s words as a final tribute to the humble lessons of April.

She let go.
She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear.
She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.
Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice.
She didn’t read a book on how to let go.
She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it.
She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.

She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.
She didn’t call the prayer line.
She didn’t utter one word.
She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…

 

** FYI, none of the links provided are affiliate links. Just me sharing the love with you…just because I can

What She Said

Posted March 12th, 2019

What if I were to call you a storyteller…how would you respond?

Would you agree or would you start Yea-Butting me?

Yea, but not a good one.
Yea, but it’s not like I’m a REAL storyteller.
Yea, but it’s not like I know what I’m doing.
Yea, but it’s not really about anything important.
Yea, but it’s not like anyone wants to hear what I have to say.
Yea, but it’s not like anyone asks me to do it.
Yea, but I’m just goofing around.
Yea, but I’m introverted.
 

YeaBut. YeaBut. YeaBut.

After working through this very conversation with nearly 70 women who have stepped onto the stage for SheSpeaks—a women’s storytelling evening I’ve run ten times now—I’ve heard a lot of YeaButs. I expect them. I normalize them. I actually have come to love them, and you know why?

When a woman says YeaBut to my invitation to SheSpeaks to share her story on stage, sure she faces her fear and her doubt and all those other hairy monsters we have within us as humans. But you know what else she does in that moment?  She touches her humility in that pause. She touches her humanity in that hesitation, and let me tell you, that is often the beginning of a beautiful story.
 

Stories with humble beginnings are some of the best ones in my book.

It is in that pause that she reckons with that question Marianne Williamson asks in her book A Return To Love:

“Who am I to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous, fabulous?” 

You know what comes next, right?

“Actually, who are you not to be?”

And Marianne goes on to remind us that showing up fully as ourselves is, in fact, a deep service to not only ourselves, but the world.
 

Your playing small does not serve the world….We are all meant to shine.

So put THAT in your YeaBut. I know I have over the years—many times. In fact, when I first left the cushy corporate world and started SheChanges I had a whole lotta YeaButs to contend with—the first being that up until that point, I had considered myself “one of the guys“. What the hell was I thinking starting a business working exclusively with women?

So you know what I did?

I painted that quote on the wall in my itty bitty home office that was the first roosting spot for my business.

(Side note: if you know me at all, when I really want to OWN something bold in myself, I either paint it on a wall or get a tattoo)

But back to being a storyteller. And being a woman.

What I’ve come to appreciate in the past fourteen years doing this work with women—and wrestling with my own hairy monsters—is this:
 

Storytelling is a feminine form of leadership.

A story transports—it has the power to take someone with you to another place.
A story paints a picture with words—it leaves images like breadcrumbs for others to find their way back to it.
A story enlists the senses—it asks our whole body (and heart and spirit) to experience it and not just the mind.
A story invites us to connect with ourselves and each other—offering solid ground to stand on in uncertain times.
A story offers a deeply personal perspective—allowing space for differences to emerge and resourcefulness to rise organically.

But you probably know all this, right? This isn’t new information. In fact, a case could be made for this being really OLD information—like ancient, in our bones information.

But if I were to ask you to speak with me on stage at this year’s at SheSpeaks…would you see yourself as that woman I see?
 

The Storyteller.

The one who could take up space on that stage—tomorrow if need be— and lead us forward simply by sharing what’s in her heart as only she can?

Or would you wait until you felt ready?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, and it’s not a trick question. It’s an honest one. An earnest one.

Because as I sit here in the heart of Women’s History Month, I am already eager to hear what you’d say, woman. Not just at SheSpeaks, but on our world stage.
 

Let’s storm the stage. YeaButs ‘n all.


Hungry for specific examples of how women create change with their stories? Every chapter of my next book, Witch Ways: You’re Not Crazy. You’re a Woman. begins and ends with a “She story” that might have you think someone has access to the thoughts inside your head, but rarely say out loud. If you want to read more about what’s coming in that book, where it came from and when it’s coming out, please check out my GoFundMe page for access to five sample chapters read by me via SoundCloud, and updates on where I am in the publishing process. I may be the birth-mother of this book, but you are its lifeblood, so this is indeed a book that is truly powered by women for women. Thank you for all of your enthusiastic support in helping me get this into your hands sooner than later! 

Run, Lady, Run

Posted February 18th, 2019

“I feel like a feral cat pacing back and forth in a cage,” She said.
 
I looked at her and everything about her seemed like it wanted to be wild—her hair, the laugh that exploded out of her in a snort when she was caught off guard, the way her eyes lit up when she talked about taking the kids, getting a RV and hitting the open road.

Wild.

And yet contained by the confines of the life she had created with a great deal of intention to offer her kids the stable base she had never had for herself—emotionally, financially, and physically. She had wanted roots and now she had them. But somewhere along the way, those roots had overtaken her life, and now were feeling like kudzu, possessive and consuming, cutting off the light and air with its dense leaves and thick vines.

No wonder she felt caged in. No wonder she wanted to hack it all back and break free.  Her cat had gotten caught in a jungle of its own making.


It happened in the blink of an eye. One minute she was sitting there by her owner, idly panting and waiting for her walk, and the next minute she had shirked her collar and was looking around wildly, suddenly overcome with the opportunities of freedom.

To be honest, I had forgotten that Lady even existed. Sure, it was spring on our street and we’d all been house bound throughout the long, cold winter, but I’d been living next door to these people for nearly ten years now. How was it that I never saw this dog come outside? Seeing Lady emerge for her walk was like spotting a Yeti, it kind of made you do a double take as you recalled her name and the vague recollection of her being among the four footed residents of our street.

But that warm spring day, while her owner was talking to me about her latest transition to a new school district and our plans for the upcoming school vacation, Lady had somehow managed to slip out of her collar like Houdini. For a moment, she stood, frozen, looking up at the empty loop of leather swinging at the end of the leash from her owner’s hand. What I would have given to read her thought bubble.

And then? She bolted, as if jolted into motion by this great surge of electricity. While we watched, stunned, she zipped across our dead-end street and disappeared into the neighbor’s backyard. Moments later, she came flying up another driveway, tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, and her four little legs a blur of motion. As she dashed by me, I swear I saw the whites of her eyes wide with delight.

Free at last, free at last! Good lord almighty, Lady was free at last.

Her owner, finally recovering from her stupor, started chasing Lady all over the street— through the backyards, up the driveways, across front lawns, down other driveways, up the sidewalks, and between the cars. This woman, the owner, is a highly conditioned runner in her own right, but she was no match for Lady that day.

Lady was making the most of her moment of freedom, and she wasn’t about to be leashed.

When I think about this, isn’t that the way most of us respond when we encounter that sweet moment of freedom? When the collar slips off our neck, and the owner is otherwise engaged? Do we bolt and make the most of our freedom?

Or do we wait for permission—for it to be okay?

Because I will tell you right now, if Lady had waited for permission, it would have never come. And something wise in her doggie heart knew it. So she seized her moment and didn’t look back.

But it reminds me of that famous science experiment most of us learned about at some point in school—the one with the flies in the mayonnaise jar. As the story goes, apparently these flies were kept for weeks, if not months, in one of those jars with the holes poked in the lid. Rather than standing upright, though, the jar was laid on its side. During the first few days, then weeks, the flies would ping against the sides of the jar and the lid to try to escape, which was obviously futile. And then one day, the researcher would carefully unscrew the lid, leaving one end of the mayonnaise jar wide open. And the flies stayed in the jar.

They had been conditioned, you see, that it was futile to try to escape. They had banged their little fly heads against the lid one too many times, so somewhere along the way they stopped trying.

Even when the jar was wide open, and their freedom was in plain view, they assumed they were still trapped.
But Lady didn’t assume jack that day. She saw empty collar swinging, she saw the distracted owner, and she made her move.

Had she waited one moment longer, or asked for permission with her brown little beagle eyes, “Mother, may I?” the opportunity would have passed her by and the jar would have been firmly screwed back on the lid.

But that’s how fast it happens, that split second decision to stay put or make your move. There’s often no time to deliberate, weigh your options or make sure you’re ready. Much like Lady, many of us don’t even have a sense of where we’re going or where we’ll end up as a result. We just figure it out as we go, weaving and dodging among houses and shrubbery, hoping like hell we don’t get caught or hit by a car.

And sure you could say it’s a bit of a stretch to liken a neighborhood dog on a leash to a woman, say, in the corporate world, but maybe it’s not. Maybe you’ve gotten a taste of both the tight leash and the very freedom that Lady experienced that day.

Maybe you know that sometimes all it takes to duck out of leash is to let it slip off when nobody is looking. Maybe you know there isn’t a lid on the mayonnaise jar anymore—and that you could just turn around and fly straight out to freedom.

But here’s the question that keeps many of us leash-bound and jar-trapped:

What would you do with all that freedom? Or more to the point, who would you be with all that freedom?

If you didn’t have the excuse of being yanked around by someone else’s power, if you had to rely on someone else’s to allow you to come in or go out at their will, or if your muscles became atrophied or your wings became cramped from lack of use… would you have the courage to own your own freedom?

Lady did that day. I saw her. My clients do. I see them.

And like Lady did that day, as she made her mad dash across my lawn with her eyes bright and her little doggie grin on her face, my clients are never more alive than when they’ve taken the leap, made the bold decision, or pounced on the opportunity.

Like Lady, they weren’t expecting it, they weren’t ready, they didn’t have their plans fully mapped out, and didn’t know how it was all going to go down. They just saw their moment and they made their move before they lost their nerve. Or the lid when back on.


Intrigued? Want to read more? The above excerpt is right off the pages from the unedited manuscript of my upcoming second book: Witch Ways: You’re Not Crazy. You’re a Woman.  If you want to read more about what’s coming in that book, where it came from and when it’s coming out, please check out my GoFundMe page for more information, access to five sample chapters read by me via SoundCloud, and frequent updates on where I am in the publishing process. I may be the birth-mother of this book, but you are its lifeblood, so this is indeed a book that is truly powered by women for women. Thank you for all of your enthusiastic support in helping me get this into your hands sooner than later! 

The Almighty Point

Posted February 15th, 2019

“What’s the point of doing it if it’s not good?” She asked.

I hear that question so often from clients. Hell, I ask that question so often, myself. So I can appreciate first-hand, how every slight detour or deviation from our “normal” day to day operations are often met with an elaborate vetting system with plenty of checks and balances and hoops to jump through to even give ourselves permission to do it.

At which, point, we’re so thoroughly exhausted from the Roberts Rules of Order in our head, we’ve long-since checked out and given up and crawled deep under the pile of other words that take the fizz out of our ginger ale, like “pragmatic”, “productive”, “valuable”, “good enough”, “worth it”, or my personal favorite “prudent”.

These are all phrases designed to get us “back on track” (who’s track that is, exactly, can be a whole other conversation). Bottomline: we’re off it.

So on that day, when my client asked herself that question, we paused. Rather than barreling through with the assumption there was a point, we actually spent some time actually considering that question—from a place of curiosity, rather than judgment.

She had been trying to carve out some time in her busy life to feed her creativity, deciding that painting was something that she wanted to do more. Except she was noticing she wasn’t—doing it, that is.

It was clear she was hitting something—resistance, fear, overwhelm, or some concoction of all three. Can you relate?

What’s the point of making art if it’s not good?
What’s the point of writing if no one reads it?
What’s the point of making music if no one hears it?
What’s the point of gardening if you don’t grow anything?
What’s the point of fighting for change if there’s always someone who is going to disagree with you?
What’s the point of trying something new if you won’t eventually master it?
What’s the point of slowing down if you will have a pile of work waiting for you when you return?
What’ the point of fresh-cut flowers by your bed if they’ll eventually die and you won’t see them when you sleep?
What’s the point of romance and intimacy if you don’t have an orgasm?
What’s the point of sending a hand-written thank you note, if it’s faster just to send a text or an email? What’s the point of being in a band if you never perform or make money?
What’s the point of giving something if you don’t get credit for it?
What’s the point of having a business if you don’t grow it?
What’s the point of crying if it doesn’t change anything?

What IS the point?

Of beauty?
Of art?
Of pleasure?
Of dreaming?
Of giving?
Of receiving?
Of getting lost?
Of making connections?
Of feeling our emotions?
Of speaking our truth?

Do you see what I’m getting at? We’ve lost our way. Ironically, we’ve missed the point in our feverish attempts to stick the landing of it.

This is the voice we answer to in our society. This is what keeps us in our heads, keeps us up at night, keeps us from trying anything new, scary, or different. This is the voice that makes decisions for us, and this is the judge that we plead our cases before when it comes to desire, pleasure and joy.

And yet our hearts keep beating, and our desire, it just. Keeps. Rising. Wanting.

We’ve lost our way because of our love of the destination, forward progress, the outcome and the return of our investment.

We’ve lost our way because we’ve forgotten that lines aren’t the only form us humans can take. And that there are more crayons for us to color with other than black and white, and maybe a few shades of gray.

We can curve and bend. We can wax and wane. We can ebb and flow. We can rise and set. We can wander and not be lost. We can be present and moving. We can be still and active. We can bleed and not die. We can be silent and engaged.

Women know this all too well, as we are designed to move this way. Naturally.

We are designed to have curves.
We are designed to have cycles.
We are designed to be inconsistent.
We are designed to see webs of interconnectedness.
We are designed to create new life inside ourselves.

But we’ve forgotten that, just like my client did that day.

She wanted to know:

Where am I going with this?
Why does this matter?
How will this help anything?
How is this just not a waste of my time?
What if nothing changes as a result?
What if I suck and people laugh?
What if I’m good and I really am an artist?
What if I can’t stop?
What if I don’t ever want to stop?
What if it makes me cry?
Then what do I do?
What happens next?

Our poor, tired heads…they work so damn hard for us, don’t they?

But here’s the point, beautiful heads:

We’ve forgotten what rapture and presence feel like.

And that is critical to our humanity because it connects us to hope, each other, and this big beautiful blue-green planet we share.

We’ve forgotten how to live from our bodies.

And that is critical because so many of us are sick and tired and something’s gotta give at a time when many of us feel like we’ve got nothing left to offer.

What if it were the other way around?

What if we lived in a world where that values system were flipped, and the “point” didn’t really matter? What if we didn’t give away so much damn power to the “point”? What if the joy, happiness or fulfillment we were seeking, weren’t dependent on being seen, heard, bought or applauded?

What kind of a life would you be living then?

What would our world be like without so many points?

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Intrigued? Want to read more? The above excerpt is right off the pages from the unedited manuscript of my upcoming second book: Witch Ways: The Unspoken Ways Women Create Change. If you want to read more about what’s coming in that book, where it came from and when it’s coming out, please check out my GoFundMe page for more information, access to five sample chapters read by me via SoundCloud, and frequent updates on where I am in the publishing process. I may be the birth-mother of this book, but you are its lifeblood, so this is indeed a book that is truly powered by women for women. Thank you for all of your enthusiastic support in helping me get this into your hands sooner than later! 

The Pattern Of Questions

Posted January 29th, 2019

I don’t know what magic lives in a bathroom, but whenever I’m in the shower I start writing in my head and have my absolute best insights. And whenever I’m going throughout my day with my hair on fire, sometimes the only moment I get to stop — and be with my own thoughts — is when I stop to pee.

Maybe it’s something about water. Or maybe it’s the small, private space reminding me of being in the womb. But there it is. And in case you’re wondering I don’t have some weird fixation on all bathrooms — I assure you I won’t be spending time in yours if I don’t need to be—and I most definitely avoid them in public unless absolutely necessary. No, for me it’s about being in my bathrooms.

Ergo my problem of the ugly and cramped one at my office. It just wasn’t cutting it. So in one of my massive procrastination bouts when I found myself physically spent and damn near brain dead after the release of my first book, I was struck with an idea: I was going to turn that shitty little bathroom into a booth of inspiration! If my clients and I were going to be trapped in there a couple times a day, we were going to be surrounded by a bevvy of images and a plethora of quotes, making it a veritable boon of motivation.

Now if you think about a bathroom, there are two distinct pieces of prime real estate for women (not counting the mirror, because by then I’m all about washing my hands and getting out). The first is the back of the door, and the second is the space right above the toilet paper holder, right? You with me? Ski areas know this, and libraries are also onto this little secret. That’s where they know they’ve got a captive audience.

So naturally I thought long and hard about which of my selected quotes I would put in these two places. I felt a sense of responsibility. After thinking about it, I selected two of my favorites from the lot – the poem Now Works by Danielle LaPorte and The Good Life Project Living Creed (the original, not version 2.0) by Jonathan Fields. Danielle was above the toilet paper, and Jonathan was on the back of the door. And I swear every time I went in there, I felt like they were in there with me — not in a creepy way, but in an ear-whispering, soul connection, kindred spirit way; like I wasn’t alone or crazy in doing this work and saying yes to being on this path.

Danielle whispered insistently from above the toilet paper roll DO IT, Lael….don’t wait a moment longer. I know you’re scared and you can be riddled with doubt, but don’t you dare settle for less that what you know you want…be THAT brave…after all, isn’t that what life is about? Riding it hard and putting it away sweaty!? Whatever it is, Lael…do it NOW. Now WORKS!

Jonathan’s voice was relaxed and quiet, like we were two surfers hanging out together in the ocean sitting on our boards waiting for the next good wave to come along. His was the voice of the philosopher…or the stoner…saying Dude, do what makes you happy…we’re all making this shit up, you know? So if you don’t like what you’re being, tell yourself a different story, you know? Like, we can do that…it’s just a matter of giving ourselves permission and going for it, you know? There are no walls or chains holding us back, those are just in our minds…

I’m realizing as I’m writing these now, that these two are probably as close as I’ll ever come to have a board of directors or an advisory committee. Or even a mentor. I’m that unstructured and informal. Truth be told, I’m an artist. Roberts Rules of Order and Bi-laws will never be welcome in my bathroom.

One day I sat down and I saw this particular line on the Good Life Project Living Creed jump out at me. It read: Genius begins with a burning question, what’s yours? My first response was, “Just one?” It kicked up for me this this envy I have of many people I admire. I once saw a Brené Brown interview in which she had admitted she had never — not even once — watched the TED Talk that made her so famous. The one on vulnerability that went viral seemingly overnight. When asked how that could be, she responded that her decisions are governed by one guiding question, “Does it serve the work?” Apparently, after that massive explosion in popularity of her TED talk, she concluded that watching the video of herself telling that story did not, in fact, serve her work.

Gah! I wanted a governing question so badly in that moment. And now that I was staring at Jonathan Field’s gentle ask about what my burning question was, I was starting to feel like something was wrong with me….like I would never be able to be a gracious host to genius, like I was an unfocussed, unproductive lazy sack of shit who was forever destined to be a classic underachiever. All that is untrue, of course — but I couldn’t help but feel like I was doomed to forever wander aimlessly without something like one of those questions to anchor me. Did I even have a burning question? Why wasn’t I burning?

But if I’m to be really honest — and that’s what we’re doing here, right? — I don’t think I want a governing question to guide me. I don’t want to be burning. I don’t want a hard gaze on any one particular thing. I don’t want to doggedly pursue or ferret out answers to a pointed inquiry. In fact, the more I think about it, I don’t really have much energy around any of the traditional questions such as What, Why or How. Honestly? I kind of don’t want to know the answer to those. They just don’t give me juice.

How is it, then, that I’ve managed to design an entire business around my ability to be curious?

Because what does give me juice is noticing patterns in things — hearing, seeing or experiencing something and being able to recognize an arc that binds them together like a luminous thread. Pulling back from a multitude of data points and inputs and saying, Huh, have you ever noticed that this piece and that piece always seem to be present when that thing happens? It’s what my clients pay me to do every day with them — to help them see themselves in their lives as they’re living into a particularly bold stretch of their journey.

Apparently that’s what creatives do in the world. The performance artist, Amanda Palmer, totally nailed this realization for me when I was reading her book The Art of Asking. She said that the hallmark of artists is that we collect things, we connect things, and we share them with the world. Amanda talks about seeing a leaf as a young child and saying, have you ever noticed that the veins in a leaf look like the back of your hand? She says that sometimes the lights go on in their eyes which made the sharing worth it. And sometimes she’d get laughed at.

That. Is. Me. I think it’s why so many people refer to me as a storyteller — something that I had never set out to become, nor saw myself becoming.

While I don’t believe in having one governing question to guide my life, I can’t help but notice a clustering of questions that has emerged as I’ve been working with women one-on-one and in small groups and large communities over the years. Rather like the subtle rock pilings called cairns that mark trails above treeline or the faded blazes on trees or boulders along a pilgrimage, these questions have consistently appeared over and over to me throughout the years—enough so they form a pattern.

What’s happening to me?
Can I really want this?
What the hell am I doing?
Am I willing to make an ass of myself?
Can we be done yet?

Houston, we have a pattern. And an ancient one, at that. When you consider how a woman grows, births and nourishes another human life inside her body, these questions are often present for her. When you consider falling in love, these questions ring true. Something deep within each of us knows how to be guided by these questions—to see them as markers of movement— and yet…we have forgotten them in our relentless quest for “knowing”.

Inside these questions live our desires—the hopes, dreams, possibilities that inspire us to get out of bed every morning and believe in ourselves and each other, to believe in the power of love, the beauty of our world, and the gift of contributing to our conversation. These questions ask us to unearth and give voice to what lives inside our hearts, so that we might manifest it outwardly as an offering to our world.

Inside these questions live our humanity—the doubts, fears, and anxieties that bind us to each other as humans on this planet, reminding us that we are not alone and independent, but are all connected and therefore interdependent. These questions ask us to reckon with our discomfort so that we can rein in our unchecked egos.

Inside these questions live our humility—our insecurities, imperfections, and organic nature that remind us that we are animals and not machines, and as such are limited, inconsistent, and always changing. These questions ask us to live with the paradox of I’m not that special/important and I am special/I matter.

Inside these questions is a call to action and service—to assume responsibility for the life we have been given, and to get busy living it as an active, creative, resourceful and whole participant, and not a numbed, passive or entitled spectator. These questions ask us to be self-serving so that we may be of service to others.

These are the questions of a seeker, a sojourner, a pilgrim. These are also the questions of a misfit, a rebel, an artist. This is me, and these are the people who gravitate to me.

To be led by these questions requires a boatload of trust and a willingness to hold multiple truths. It also demands that we move in the face of the unknown, feel our way forward, and learn to navigate ambiguity, contradictions and messy terrain.

Notice I didn’t say it requires comfort, skill, patience, grace or a fancy degree? Nope. Those are myths I intend to debunk on these pages.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

The above story is an excerpt from the unedited manuscript of my upcoming second book: Witch Ways: The Unspoken Ways Women Create Change. If you want to read more about what’s coming in that book, where it came from and when it’s coming out, please check out my GoFundMe page for more information, access to five sample chapters read by me via SoundCloud, and frequent updates on where I am in the publishing process. I may be the birth-mother of this book, but you are its lifeblood, so this is indeed a book that is truly powered by women for women. Thank you for all of your enthusiastic support in helping me get this into your hands sooner than later!