Laying Hands on The Empty Spot

Posted January 28th, 2016

2016-01-12 18.23.31Last week I needed a lifeline. I got one (thankfully) when I reached out to a good friend. Here’s what was going on:

My book, Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer, finally came out on Amazon on December 30th, just getting in under the wire before a new year started.

I say “finally”, because it felt like I had worked and waited an eternity for that moment. I had talked about it, written about it, and eventually grew disenchanted with the whole stale topic, thinking (on my worst days) that the day I was waiting for (“It’s OUT!!!”) would never come. I know in the larger scheme of things that sounds like a gross exaggeration and, admittedly, it is. Books often take years to be born. But I wasn’t operating in the larger scheme last year – I was in my scheme. The one where it felt like an eternity.

But on that sweet night of December 30th, when the last approval had been submitted, the last switch had been thrown, and all the proper fields of information had been filled out, I let out a huge whoop of delight and did a little dance around my house to celebrate.

Elated and prancing about, I told my 13-year-old son that getting that book out of me was an even bigger relief than when his 10 pound body finally slid out of me after six hours of pushing. He kind of winced, mortified, no doubt, by that graphic image, but my whole body broke into a wide grin at that comparison. Because it remembered that sensation and agreed. My body knew what I was talking about.

I was thrilled. Proud. Relieved. And completely and utterly exhausted.

I felt my whole body exhale, as if I had been holding my breath for 16 months and hadn’t realized it. My shoulders started to detach from my earlobes, and the winced-pinched expression on my face started to smooth out a bit, I’m quite sure. Suddenly, there was a taste of sweetness, as if honey and dark chocolate had replaced the lemon and vinegar taste I’d been so used to in my mouth.

Big, long, lush E-X-H-A-L-E. 

But it was also still the holiday season and the beginning of a new year, so there were lots of fresh starts, shiny new intentions and family rituals that bedazzled the turning of the year in our house and my business, like sparkling diamonds glistening on the freshly fallen snow outside.

2016-01-11 08.21.17Texts and emails started to roll in from my friends and clients who had already bought – and were loving – the book I had written. People were posting pictures of my book on Facebook with their babies, mugs of tea and happy, smiling faces next to it.

Smart, accomplished, competent, and discerning women I admired, trusted and respected reached out to thank me for writing what I wrote – telling me that my words and stories had them deep in thought, laughing and crying as they resonated with my experience as a woman, feeling both validated and inspired. One woman even said she was feeling more loving toward herself, which made me weep in gratitude.

2016-01-25 11.42.51Have you ever had one of those moments? When the massive project was completed and met with rave reviews? When the huge event went off without a hitch? When you finally fulfilled the classes and got the degree? When the thing that had consumed you for so long was now behind you – and all that remained was to put away the chairs, sweep up the confetti and turn off the lights on your way out?

Then you know. You know the elation and the deep sense of accomplishment and profound gratitude. You know the huge exhale and the intense feeling of relief, satisfaction, and pride of an effort that was met with success.

And perhaps you might know the void that follows.

Years ago, after the birth of my rather large first baby mentioned above, I went to get a massage. I had gone to this particular woman throughout the entire course of my pregnancy – from the “I think I might be expecting” early days to the “I can’t breathe there’s no room” overdue days – so she had witnessed my body and its changes for a year. On this first massage post-partum, I was feeling a bit tender and lost without that singularity of purpose in my belly – but I didn’t know it then.
2016-01-12 18.18.48All I knew is that I was bone tired, a bit dazed by what had just happened in my body, and stunned by the vast unknown that lay ahead of me. I was also weepy. Very, very, very weepy.

The kind and serene masseuse lay her hands on me, noting that this was the first time in a long time that I was flat on my back. She suggested we might begin with my stomach, seeing that was the source of much activity over the past 10 months. As she put her hands on my belly, which felt mushy and poochy with extra skin, she made a sad face and said,

“Oh… it feels so empty in there now.”

At which point, I burst into sobs. She didn’t know the potency of what she had said – she was young and had not grown a child in her body yet. But her words – raw and uncensored as they were – helped me to name exactly what I was feeling: Grief.

The empty spot in me where something beautiful had been growing.

That’s the image that has been in my mind as I’ve been 2016-01-13 12.51.16traveling about these past three or four weeks since my book was released. The grief for the book that had been my primary focus, my key bearing, and my constant traveling companion for over a year. The sweetness of knowing something beautiful – something I gave life to from inside my body – is now living on its own outside me. And the sadness at having that empty womb – the spot in me that was created by its birth.

It’s a lot to wrap your brain around. 

How do you hold so much gratitude and joy, while also holding a sense of loss? Perhaps you know. Perhaps you’ve been there at the very place I have been standing. Perhaps you know, then, how very easy it is to just get busy.

And that’s exactly what I tried to do in those weeks after the holidays faded and we all got back to the grind of our work weeks and usual routines. I thought* I gave myself some latitude (*thought being the operative word there…) in those first few post-partum weeks, telling myself to be gentle and savor and take my sweet time.

But inside? Inside was a fucking street fight that was getting ugly. A battle between sweet and sour was being waged, and blood was about to be shed.

Marching orders were coming in fast and furious over my wires, like the tick-tick-tick of a Morse Code machine – loud, urgent, and almost indecipherable.

You need to get busy now. 
You need to know where you’re going with all this. 
You need to promote this – get out there and promote this! 
You should go on a book tour!
You should do local book readings!
You should write about your book! 
You need to get out there – hire a PR person! 
Should…! Ought to…! Have to…! Must do…! 
Chop, chop! Tick tock! Time is wasting.
MOVE!!!!

I had responses and answers to all of those commands (“No”, “I don’t want to”, “I don’t feel like it”, “Not now.”), but apparently they weren’t the right ones because the marching orders got louder and just started barking at me in shouty caps. Relentlessly.

2016-01-13 14.06.46My body was giving me such clear messages, but they weren’t jiving with my head. My head was insisting I overrule those messages, but as I started to rest and play and relax more into the expanse of this post-partum time, my body was just feeling so damn good I didn’t want to budge. Even in the face of some really loud voices telling me I was wrong.

And that is why I needed a lifeline. 

I called my friend, a published author herself who, ironically, is now post partum from a baby of the human sort, who has been there, done that, and had come out the other side of it. I told her how I was feeling right and wrong at the same time.

And like the masseuse did that day 13 years ago, my friend gave me the words that helped me touch the empty spot that was actually still very much full inside me.

It was empty from the book that had been living inside me, sure, but now that same spot was quite full from receiving gratitude after its birth.

“The key is digestion. You’re full. Even unacknowledged good stuff will turn to shit if it’s not digested.”

She went on to tell me how “a book is forever” –  a phrase that felt like luscious balm on my soul – and how there was no timeline that needed to be followed, no prescribed steps that needed to be taken. In fact, in a surprising twist, she said she was actually watching me in how I was going about the release of this book, saying that “non-launch launches” are actually the new thing right now (who knew?)

Once I heard this from my friend – the one I trusted, my lifeline for this particular topic – I started to see signs everywhere I looked that were reinforcing that same message. My acupuncturist whom I hadn’t seen in two years felt my pulse and said that my body was incredibly low on resources – specifically my “fluid…which is the home of the feminine energy in you.” I ran out to the car one morning late to work and my car battery had died. My iphone went on the fritz not responding to any of my touches and then just stopped all together. A handful of clients rescheduled, leaving my week feeling expansive and deliciously open.

It was all so clear now. So why did it have to be such a knock-down-drag-out-fight to get me to see that?

I suspect it has something to do with my relationship to “empty spaces”, the void of the unknown, or more specifically, grief. Like a cat in an open room, I freaked out a little with all that openness.

It’s also easier and often preferable to listen to the noise of busy instead of the quiet of empty – I know this from my own experience.

But I also know what’s waiting for me on the other side of that listening:

  • more internal resources
  • more juice for my battery
  • a happier and healthier digestive tract
  • a fully-charged me that’s not on the fritz

So now that I’ve got all that sorted out in my tired brain, the fight in me has remarkably dissipated. I’ve tuned into the quiet urgings inside me, am hot on its trail and am eager to lay hands on it with love.

Thankfully, I’m in good hands. It seems I always was. I just needed a lifeline to point it out.

Life In The Arena

Posted September 25th, 2015

Photo credit: Melissa Mullen PhotographyMy son and I sat on the couch last night and looked at the proof for the cover of my book. He nodded, and then got really quiet. I asked him why.

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

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

I don’t remember being afraid for my parents.

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

Here’s the likely reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just keep throwing rocks, Lael.” 

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

I’ll be thinking about her.

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

My Next New Thing: Food For Thought

Posted June 3rd, 2015

2015-06-03 14.46.09I am always so grateful when a period of intense introspection is rewarded by a sudden burst of inspiration.

Argh…BOOM! Ahhhhh…. YES!

It so good to get to the other side after walking over hot coals (which to be clear, means having myself sit still, “do” nothing, blow shit off, let the house look like a bomb went off in it, make space, get silent, and go inward…) Good times, indeed, let me tell ya. But so worth it.

That was the case for me earlier this week. When I got clear (again) on why I’m here, what that means to me now, and why it matters. But most importantly, it had me arrive at the doorstep of what comes next.

Here is the back story on my “what comes next” moment with myself and what I intend to do about it.

Contributing A Verse

Posted September 10th, 2014

Contribute a verseFour weeks ago, I sat in a stale-smelling, artificially-lit waiting area of Maine Medical center. It was 6:30 am and my first-born child had just been wheeled into surgery.

First child. First surgery.

I was told – first patently, then patronizingly – that I had “no reason” to worry. The arrogant and emotionally-stunted – albeit brilliant, or so I was told repeatedly – surgeon insisted my son’s surgery was a non-event and nothing to be worried about, and attempted to mollify my concerns and questions by recounting his vast years of experience, reminding me that he could work at any hospital in the country. He was that brilliant, that good.

In one fell swoop, this surgeon-cum-God informed me that not only was I wrong to be worried on that cold medically-induced morning, but I was also remiss in not understanding how lucky I was to have him performing the operation on my son. Wrong on two counts, I was.  Yup, we were mixing like peanut butter and mustard on cinnamon-raisin bread.

In the large scheme of things, he was probably right. This wasn’t a big deal, was it? Four months prior, my son had the misfortune of getting a rather large splinter lodged in his foot when he slid across the length of his friend’s hardwood kitchen floor in socks. Unbeknownst to us, a piece remained after the initial extrication, and continued to fester – stubbornly – in the bottom of his foot, a fat and fetid chunk of dirty wood suspended in a large pocket of pus (lovely, right?) So yea, I guess a case could be made for it not being a big deal. After all, it wasn’t his heart or his brain being cut open. He didn’t have cancer. Nothing was broken, really.

My otherwise healthy eleven year old son was having a one-inch piece of wood surgically removed from the bottom of his foot. The foot that I grew inside my body. From scratch. The one that had never been cut open before by a surgeon’s knife.

I get how in the large scheme of things, I ought not to have been concerned. But here’s the thing: that morning in the hospital – and in the days leading up to it – I wasn’t living in the larger scheme. I was living in my scheme. The one where I had the right to worry. The one where worrying was a normal reaction. The one where putting my child under with general anesthesia and signing a waiver that if something went wrong it wasn’t the hospitals fault was a very big deal.

But, sadly, you know what I did when faced with this reaction from the doctor? I allowed myself to be shamed and ultimately silenced. I’d like to say it was unconscious on my part, but I’d be lying and well, let’s just not do that here. Truth be told, I actively participated in stepping down in the face of a bully with a scalpel who was deigning to care for my child, despite his annoyance with me as his unfortunate mother.

I blamed it on my pediatrician, the DO with whom I had entrusted my children’s care for nearly twelve years. The one who listened compassionately and offered the perfect blend of head and heart, traditional and alternative care, listening and counseling. The one who has assured me that I had a right to ask questions and encouraged me to be resourceful and gather information and options until I had answers. The one who validated that it was, in fact, my job to advocate for my child. The one that told me to listen to my instincts. The one who told me it’s not a crazy outlandish notion to want to feel that you can trust someone with your child’s life.

But instead, I got out the flog and started beating myself with it (for shame, Lael!) I told myself I was spoiled and had come to expect too much from doctors. I told myself that most surgeons were like that. I told myself that they had to be that way, and that it made them better when they were not caught up in the emotion of it all. I told myself that I had no reason to complain because there are plenty of parents out there every day with real reasons to worry. It’s all fuzzy to me now, but I believe I even used words like “silly” and “over-reacting” and “hormonal” in this internal rant.

I essentially told myself to shut the fuck up. And I did.

They wheeled my son off for surgery and I sat down in the doughy and stained chair to wait. Resigned, I picked up a newspaper and there was the news that Robin Williams had just ended his life the day before. That was all it took. I burst out into sobs, days of frustration mixing with worry and angst and grief at such a tragic loss. Because you see, like many of you, I grew up with Mork. I moved onto him after the Fonz wasn’t cool anymore. My friends and I actually said “Nanoo-nanoo” and I never did get, but oh my, did I want a pair of those rainbow suspenders. Then, as an adult, I got to appreciate his intellectual brilliance in addition to his artistic talent and timing, marveling at how smart he had to be deliver that fantastic political-cultural-comical shit so fast and furious. It was dazzling. And then he could switch gears and deliver these heart-felt dramatic performances. Mind blowing, he was.

And now he’s gone. And I’m crying.

Fast forward a week, and my son is at home with me, bandaged foot (minus the splinter) propped up on the couch. Admittedly, I used that convalescing time to go on a bit of a Robin Williams movie bender. It was cold and raining outside. We both love movies. I had been holding out watching Dead Poets Society with him, though, because it had been so long since I’d seen it I couldn’t recall if it was appropriate (it wasn’t). And how ironic, with the suicide theme. But it a conversation is sparked for us about education, and how the best moments of learning can feel so amazing – so alive. I play for him this scene where Robin Williams’s character, John Keating illustrates the power of a poem (Walt Whitman’s Oh Me, Oh Life)  to evoke desire, to ignite dreams, to call forth inspired action.

We start talking about his move into middle school in a few weeks and how this new community he was about to enter favors an expeditionary model for learning. I smile, knowing that he’s about to be introduced to one of my favorite ways to learn – the kind of experiences that are electrically-charged, powered by an entire community, shared freely like a productive virus, and entirely memorable. The kind of experience that sneak up and teach you without realizing you’re learning. I start to get more and more animated (frothy mouthed at this point, I’m sure) about how awesome learning feels when it’s charged with excitement, possibility and a sense of adventure.

We talk about that line from Walt Whitman’s poem: “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse” and what that means. The gift of a life. The choice that is ours to make. Daily. The footprint that is your distinct mark to leave on this world. Your verse – a legacy, an impression, a contribution. All yours. For us.

The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

Then I ask him the same question Robin Williams asks his students in that scene: What will your verse be?

As a side note – and an ironic twist of fate – Apple used the voice-over from that same Dead Poet’s clip when they launched their iPod Air TV ad campaigns back in January of this year. Gives me chills watching it. Every. Time. It describes why I do what I do in the world. All those verses just waiting to be written…or not. Frothy stuff.

As another side note, I’m fairly certain most of that conversation I had with my son went over his head. I’m also relatively sure it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. Thankfully, wise and gracious kid that he is, I think he got that impression, too (the frothy spittle probably gave me away…), and lucky me, he didn’t make a big deal about it.

But here’s what I’ve concluded having come out the other side of living that story: it is a big deal.

My verse. And contributing it to the play we are all living.

That’s what I traded in when I told myself to shut the fuck up that morning. That’s what I thwarted when I silenced myself with shame. That’s what I started to give up, to hand over when I trash-talked my instincts and mocked my needs.

My verse. My voice.

It’s not “silly”, it’s honest. I wasn’t being “hormonal”, I was experiencing blatant sexism. I wasn’t “over-reacting”, I was being bullied and feeling invisible.

So thank you, Robin. For reminding me of the gift I – we all, each one of us – have been given. And thank you for reminding me it is – and has always been – my choice as to how I use it. Or don’t. Thank you for making me laugh first, and cry later, which helped me to stand up a bit taller and feel a little lighter. Thank you for asking me – us all – that question time and time again, which serves as a reminder that we can choose to write that verse with each new day.

I know what my verse will be.

Actively Disrupting Normal

Posted August 7th, 2014

Crossroads-tracks-flickrIf I had a file folder in my office labeled “BIG DOINS” it would be bursting at the seams right about now.

Whitney Johnson calls what I’m doing “disrupting myself”. That sounds about right. I first heard her own disruption story at Business Innovation Factory’s annual summit (#BIF7) and something about her strategic and systematic approach to creating change resonated with me. It was brave and badass. Not for the faint of heart. Unlike the myriad of circumstances that can intervene and bump us off course (downsizing, illness, markets crashing, bubbles popping), “disrupting” by her definition is about consciously setting about altering your course with the intention of making space for something new to move in and/or reveal itself.

That’s what I’m doing. Disrupting myself to beat the band.

Most days this has me over-the-moon excited and chomping at the bit. But some days – especially last week, when I was making decisions and pulling triggers – it had me saying holyshitholyshitholyshit. Here is what I know to be true, though. What always helps me to navigate these moments in life – when my toes are curled and gripping the edge in anticipation of taking a leap of faith – is to tell my story.

That, my friend, is where you come in.

I’m going to crack open my bulging file and let you in on what’s going down – and up and over. I want some witnesses. I want to celebrate the abyss I am flying into with wild abandon. It’s what I ask of the audience at my SheSpeaks events…to catch the stories as they are being told, even lived. You don’t need to understand all of it, respond to it, or even agree with it. Just bear witness to it. And do me a favor if you will, and hold me like you love me while I lay it all out. That helps, too.

I’m taking all of August off. Again.
2012-10-06 11.26.26Last year, I made the decision to finance a mini-sabbatical for myself. One delicious month off where I wouldn’t be in the office or work with clients. Far from a personal retreat in Bali, it was more of a logistical stop-gap measure brought about by the fact that we didn’t have camp/childcare coverage for August. Plus, it secretly scratched my Spicoli-sized itch I get nearly every August that tempts me to play hooky (everybody does it…), blow it off (it can wait…), jump ship (you only live once), fuck convention (it’s boring) and chillax in my flip-flops like my life depends on it. Now let me be clear: enjoying this time isn’t what’s hard. In fact, I often joke that if vacationing were an Olympic sport I’d be a serious contender. No, the hardest part is authorizing myself to take it, and trusting that I will have a reason to come back.  Believing that an investment in me is, in fact, an investment in my business. The truth of the matter is, I do. I believe in unplugging and leaves of absence and don’t want to wait for a cosmic 2×4 to need to run interference in my life (again) to make that happen. I know life is short. And my long summer days with young kids, coloring with chalk in the driveway, having water fights and doing delicious amounts of absolutely nothing are seriously limited. So last year, they – my kids were my excuse. This year, I am. Actually, scratch that…this year I realized I don’t need an excuse. I’m taking this month off – August – off again. Period. I am a fierce champion for my clients taking bold and badass leaps of faith fueled by courage and a strong hunch. This is me matching their courage stride for stride. Because I can. So I will see you in September, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed and full of fresh new me-ness.

I’m starting a men’s group this fall. Ready or not.
This one has me throw up in my mouth a little, I’m so excited. For years, I’ve had this idea of forming a men’s group. Unfortunately, I’ve also had a rather loud and obnoxious voice of doubt saying, “you can’t do that, you’re a woman!”. So I waited for someone else to do it. I even approached several men I know about the idea, suggesting what a great idea it would be and offering to help them get it going. Nothing. Nada. This year, I finally said “fuck it” to that loud voice in my head.The Men I Know I raised my hand, called on myself, and started talking aloud to others about it. What I discovered is that it’s a good idea. And a timely one. So today, I’m thrilled to announce that not only have I designed the men’s experience I envisioned, but I’ve met with seven men who are interested in participating and it’s nearly full. So it’s happening. Finally.

I’m writing a book. For real.
For those of you who have been following me and supporting me over the years, this might not be news. But it is. Because although I have talked about it a lot – in my writing, on stage, with my clients – it wasn’t moving forward. It. Just. Wasn’t. I’ve had some promising fits and starts over the past year after I set that intention, but nothing of substance that lit me up enough to morph a daunting task into a I-have-to-keep-going-with-this-or-I’ll-explode experience (the latter is where I do my best writing, by the way). But all that changed earlier this summer. I upped my ante with my own coach, got fierce with my time, and enlisted a KICK-ASS posse of people to be my “batch-catchers”, essentially creating a reason for me to write each week. At this point, I will bow down and kiss the feet of my 12 devoted BCs…without you reading my shizzle weekly I would be a hot mess of constipated words. I would also like to give a shout out to the amazing, Melissa McCarthy and her performance in Bridesmaids, which inspired me to use the phrase “it’s comin’ outta me like lava” to describe my process of writing these days. So. Stand. Back.

And please pardon my absence on this blog, Facebook, Twitter, my monthly Touchstones and all other forms of social engagement while I unleash the hounds, inflate a creative bubble around me, and ride this beast of goodness I’m on until it’s done. It helps to lower the cone of silence as I dig into and make this particular form of art. And yes, of course I’ll still be seeing my coaching and consulting clients as I do this…as well as my women’s circle and my men’s group. I’m only disrupting myself, I’m not completely bat shit crazy.

I’m taking a year-long hiatus from SheSpeaks. Gulp.
Lael Sourcing - Melissa Mullen PhotographyThis was perhaps the biggest decision I made recently. If you’ve been to any one of the SIX SheSpeaks I have held over the past three years, you’ll know that this evening of women’s storytelling I offer is near and dear to my heart. You’ll also know it’s typically sold out in advance, being one of my most popular events. But every time I get off stage from that event, a number of people approach me in person or over email and say, “so when are you going to write a book?” I have been asked, encouraged, and thumped on the back for years, by clients and strangers saying they wanted to read the book I would someday write, which has felt equally awesome and intimidating. In many ways, it was this encouragement that enabled me to make this hard decision to cancel the Winter (Dec 4, 2014) and Spring (May 2015) SheSpeak events. Which I have done. Sigh. Gulp. The five speakers I had lined up for my December SheSpeaks “Swagger” have all graciously and enthusiastically accepted my invitation to join me on the stage NEXT December instead of this one. Hard, hard, hard. But right, right, right. Write. That’s what freeing up this creative space is about. Gathering up that space and creative mojo and channeling it into my book, instead of preparing more bite-sized pieces for the stage. Lawd, I hope this is worth it. My toes are still sore from hanging onto the edge of this one. But somewhere deep in my heart, I thought I heard a deep sigh. And a resounding “yes”.

So there it is. My new normal. Or at least the latest series of disruptions I’m invoking to deliver me to its doorstep. Truth be told, I’ve always thought “normal” was a bit over-rated, preferring to identify with the “Abby Normal” set as per Young Frankenstein.

So scary? Toe-curling? Vomit producing? Nail-biting? Sure. Risk tends to have that effect on people. We’re only human.

But Thrilling? Edge-of-your-seat suspense? Eye-popping excitement? Feeling wide awake to life and how it’s unfolding? You betcha.

That’s me. Abby. Abby Normal. Shaken, not stirred.

Being Raised By A Place

Posted July 27th, 2012

Last week I heard a phrase that resonated deeply with my soul. And in that moment, a large chunk of my life – both personally and professionally – went “click” and just fell perfectly into place.

I was listening to one of the women of my In Her Words writing experience read her selection for the week. She was sharing her most recent realization about her trip to her grandparent’s lake, and how it instantly connected her to her favorite parts of herself. Almost without her realizing it. Like magic.

“It’s possible to be raised by a place” , she concluded.

That’s when everything clicked into place for me and I had a moment of crystal clarity.

I was raised by a place, too.

Way back in the day (’85-’91 to be exact), I worked at an overnight summer camp on a beautiful lake in New Hampshire. I found my way to that camp out of sheer grit and determination. We didn’t have a lot of money back then. My single mom was doing her best to make ends meet, while at the same time managing to make life a marvelous adventure for “just us girls.” We were a rock-star team, my mom, my sister and I.

But when I was 15 I was craving an adventure. I had just moved to a new town and I was having trouble fitting in. I wanted a do-over. I wanted a fresh start where no one knew me. So when my mom was home sick one day from work, I rested the phone on her belly (considerate, eh?) and asked if she could find me and my best friend a job at a summer camp. I had heard tales of summer camps from my mom all my life, and was ready for some of my own. When I came home from school that day, my mom’s fever had broken and she proudly announced she had gotten us jobs that summer.

And that’s how I found my way home…to the place that raised me.

So what if my job was in the kitchen, scraping dishes and running the Hobart? So what if I smelled like rotten milk most of the day? I was 15 and was with my best friend in New Hampshire for the entire summer. That year turned out to be the beginning of an amazing seven-year stretch of magical time, in which I was a counselor, water front director, CIT (counselor in training) director and ultimately, girls’ camp director.

I became me in this place.

I discovered I was a leader. I was given immense responsibility and I watched in utter amazement as I rose to the occasion time and time again. I fell in love many times over those summers – with the place, with the sounds, with the smells, with my independence, with New England, and with a handful of sweet and saucy chocolate pie-eyed boys. This place taught me to believe in myself and to believe in the capacity of others. It taught me the power of community. It taught me what it feels like to truly belong and be part of something bigger than yourself.

Now if you’ve ever been to an overnight camp as a kid or if you’ve ever worked at one as a teenager or adult, you might know what I’m talking about. In reading this, you might have instantly been transported back to that place, and find yourself grinning ear to ear as you’re reading this. I don’t blame you one bit. It happens to me, too.

So it’s no wonder it still makes me smile with gratitude. This place raised me.

Years later, when I created SheChanges and was interested in offering an opportunity for women to come home to themselves, to remember who they are, and to tap back into the most powerful and nourishing parts of themselves, I though of camp and the place I was raised. In 2008, I offered my first women’s retreat, and I called it Homecoming. This women’s retreat of mine, held on a beautiful lake in Maine, is my love letter to my time at Camp Coniston. So whenever anyone asks me how I got the idea for my retreat, I smile and give a nod to the place that raised me.

Its spirit is alive in me. And at Homecoming.

Author’s note: Special thanks to the woman who so graciously granted me permission to use her phrase and share a bit of her story. You know who you ar


Dirty Harry

Posted August 31st, 2010

August plays a mean game of chicken. With September barreling toward us like a runaway freight train, August holds its ground like Dirty Harry in a desert town. “This town’s not big enough for both of us”, August sneers, its eyes squinting at the hot sun as a tumbleweed rolls on by. And September screeches to a halt, idling at a distance and biding its time. Like Clint Eastwood in those infamous Dirty Harry movies, there is something audacious and unapologetic about August. It doesn’t care if there is work to do, plans to make or logistics to coordinate. It doesn’t need your permission or approval. It really doesn’t. With its heat and seductively beautiful days, August squeezes the last days of summer out of us and we are the better for it. We instinctively know that there is wisdom in the mandate of August to resign and resist sneaking peaks at the freight train waiting just outside the town line. “Stick with me, kid”, August says, “it’ll be waiting for you when I’m done.”

Thank You, May

Posted May 31st, 2010

May is the wild child of the lot – you never know what you’re going to get. With a sparkle in its eye, May moves in us and through us and around us with an impish grin, like an annoying wood sprite delighting in our earnest efforts to orient ourselves as we make our way through bright and shiny days, torrential rains, muggy messes and frosty nights. One day we’re sunburned and the next day we’re sodden. May is the trickster that has us swatting at flies and scratching our heads, not sure which end is up. Unsure of how to respond, we find ourselves just running in circles, self-conscious and slightly miffed at the fact that the birds have seemed to figure it out just fine. And that is the pure genius of May: its ability to roust us out of our stupor and get our juices pumping by simple irritation. Like a black fly biting a waking giant, May is relentless about getting our attention and won’t stop until we are clear-headed and running out of the woods for the open air.

A Quiet Revolution

Posted May 27th, 2010

I recently attended a conference for mothers of boys. The keynote speaker, Kate Stone Lombardi, spoke about our society’s deep cultural belief system that suggests boys need to be pushed away from their mothers, lest they become “mama’s boys” (and therefore feminine…which would somehow be undesirable.) She also made note of “an underground social movement that is quietly ignoring those messages” and my ears perked up. This “quiet revolution”, as she put it, is happening because more and more women are simply choosing to break rank with this belief system and were just mothering according to their own instincts. And – here’s the cool part – because they were flying under the radar, not making a big deal about it or announcing it, no one noticed. Or cared. A revolution that can happen right under our noses and in broad daylight? How wonderfully brilliant.

This whole notion got me thinking about change as a way of being as opposed to an event or a specific action. We talk so much about “fighting” and “doing battle” and “going toe to toe” and “head to head” and “speaking out” and how “complex” change is (yada, yada…) it’s easy to understand how we might get lulled into staying put. What if we just lived our way into it – whatever “it” is to you – today instead of merely talking about it? What if we all stopped waiting for just the right circumstances to miraculously appear to create this change? What if profound and revolutionary change occurred in our everyday – or every moment – actions? What if the change you are seeking could begin happening RIGHT NOW? What if it could be that simple?

But wait, IS it that simple? Not necessarily, because to adopt this way of being in the world requires us to authorize ourselves to act on our instincts and our intuition – to be our own green light and not wait for permission or external validation. It requires us to take responsibility and to listen deeply to our own inner knowing and obey it. It potentially sets us up to be different than others, to be judged, to fail, to disappoint ourselves or – worse yet – others. And yet, women are doing just that every day. They are living their way into change. Some we see and some we don’t. But make no mistake, there are quiet revolutionaries among us.

So the question is: Are you ready to break rank and be one?

Full Disclosure

Posted May 26th, 2010

Hi there. It’s me, Lael. It’s been a while. I’ve been thinking over here. And here’s what’s on my mind: I love to write, but the way I’ve been writing up to this point has not been sustainable (clearly) in that my posts are so long and involved, I don’t write as often as I’d like because I’m either A) not ready yet…still percolating on an idea or B) procrastinating…it just takes too much time/thought to get it out. So, I’m trying something new – a grand experiment. I’m going to make more choices (tah dah!) and keep each post shorter, crisper and more focused. I’m hoping this will increase the frequency with which I write and, in turn, will be more engaging for my readers. So there it is. Let me know how it goes for you.