Lung Capacity

Posted May 19th, 2020

When I was in high school, I went through the rigorous process of becoming a lifeguard, learning water safety, rescue skills and the basics of first aid, CPR and how to mobilize someone in the event of a back injury.

It made sense that I was drawn to this, even as most knew me to be a runner. Water, it seemed, was my first home. My mom used to call me a fish because once I got into a lake, it wasn’t easy to get me out. I was born to be in the water.

The following year, I went on to get advanced certification in Water Safety Instruction (WSI), which would allow me to teach others how to become lifeguards.
 

Little did I know how much this training would come in handy during a pandemic.

One of the grueling feats we had to do in order to pass our WSI exam was to swim the entire length of an Olympic-sized pool underwater using only one breath. I don’t know if you have every tried this, but holding your breath for that long, while simultaneously propelling yourself underwater from one end to another is….challenging. Not impossible, but damn close.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that underwater swim these days as I’ve read the headlines, heard the “let’s return to normal” drumbeat start up, and felt the impatience of “enough already” with quarantine fatigue setting in.

I feel like we’ve all been collectively holding our breath, doing our best to propel ourselves through this time underwater—only without the advance lung capacity training, no concept of how long the pool is, and little to no comfort with being in the water, let alone swimming under it.

I still remember that panicked sensation of “I’m never gonna make it” in my body back then, when the only thing on the line was a failed WSI exam.

But this isn’t a test. This is the bloody show. The real deal. The live stream.

Thinking back to that moment, I realized the only way I could hold on for that long is because I knew exactly how many underwater pulls it would take to get me to the end. I also knew how best to push off from one end of the pool to get a good glide going. I had practiced it to the point where I only had to exert physical effort to get me through the second half of the pool—a long glide, then a series of highly efficient pulls I knew by number.

And still the panic near the end, always, as my brain picked up the little red hammer and cracked the pane of glass, sounding the emergency alarm.
 

Is that where we are collectively? Almost out of breath, panicked, hammers poised to crack the glass?

As I was thinking about my experience at the pool, I was reminded of a story I read in Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. You might of heard this story before, as it seems every culture has a version of the seal skin or selkie woman who had lived on land for too long.

As the story goes, this woman whose natural habitat was the sea, fell in love with a man who lived on land. Because their love was strong, she agreed to leave the sea, shed her seal skin, and live with him on land for a period of seven years. In that time, she learned to breathe air and walk on the ground, eventually giving birth to a son.

After her promised seven years, she asked for her seal skin back and was denied it by her husband who had hid it from her. He was that desperate to have her to stay on land forever. She started to panic, feeling her skin dry up, as her eyes lost their shine and her hair grew thin. It was her son, finally, that stole into the night to find her hidden skin and return it to her.

I’ll never forget reading the passage where she slipped back into the water, thinking of all those summers I spent by a lake, slipping into the black water like it was my home.

Indeed, Dr. Estes writes about this very moment as “homing”—when we finally return to ourselves and our essential nature.

Maybe that is why I’m so keen on women leading us through these transitional times. This is nothing new for me, as my business is now fifteen years old, but the energy I’ve been feeling in my woman’s bones—indeed our collective bones in this SheChanges community—feels like it’s heightened, intensified, built to a crescendo.
 

Women are poised to take us home.

Something in us knows how to do this—without the training or certification proving it. We just know what needs to happen when panic sets in and staying on dry land is no longer an option.

Because, in the story, the seal woman doesn’t just take herself home, she takes her son as well.

“She took the boy’s face in her hands, and breathed her sweet breath into his lungs, once, twice, three times. Then, with him under her arm like a precious bundle, she dove into the sea, down and down and down, and still deeper down, and the seal woman and her child breathed easily under water.”
 

All it took to return to the deep ocean and remember we could breathe underwater as well as on land, was the love of a mother and the trust of her son to follow her lead.

I think about this a lot these days. Because we’re not in a temperature controlled, chemically chlorinated pool anymore with lane lines to divide us and clear stripes painted on the bottom to show us the way forward.

We’re in the big, blue ocean now and it is as wild as it is deep.
______________________________________

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:
 

Ignite with Me for FREE: My Online Courses are here! 

My first online offering, Ignite with Me, was arrived today to the dashboard of all those women who pre-registered for it a couple of weeks ago. I had a BLAST putting together this five-module course that enables you (or your bookclub) to go for a deeper dive inside the pages of my second book Ignite: Lighting the Leader Fire, and is chocked full of new content, discussions, videos and exercises to take the concepts of the book and apply them to your own life— all without ever leaving the comfort of your home! This work has been in the works for a while—thanks to your enthusiastic requests for it—so I’m really excited to finally be putting it out there! It’s not too late to register (did I mention it was FREE?), so come on in and join us!
 

My talk at The Women Of The (Virtual) Chamber on May 5th

If you missed the actual event earlier this month, you can catch the replay of my full talk along with the Q&A at the Women of the Chamber quarterly gathering. It was the first virtually one of it’s kind, and I was really blown away with how many people came out for it—I’ve never quite felt energy like that in a virtual setting before. My talk was all about change powered by women—specifically what being woman has to do with being a leader, and why that matters now more than ever. If you’d like to check out the replay, you can find that over here at Portland Region Chamber of Commerce Replays

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!

Power: Pure And Simple

Posted October 11th, 2019

I have this dream, and it begins with changing the language we use as women to describe ourselves—or any people, really, outside the construct of the white male narrative we’re all living in.
I have this dream about the word “empowerment” fading to obsolescence….
Instead of reading articles, seeing conferences and discovering entire organizations framed around “empowering” or “empowerment”, they would simply be about our POWER—the EM would be gone. As in:

Women’s POWER
Black POWER
LGBTQ+ POWER
Indigenous People’s POWER
POWER at the Margins

Do you see and feel how subtle that shift is? What happens in your body when the “EM” is taken off? More to the point, I wonder what your mind says about that? Does it get loud, noisy, start to “Yea….but…”, get defensive, annoyed at me because I don’t understand and have missed the point? Does Siri shout at you that she’s recalculating because we’ve dodged the satellite and have left a government sanctioned road?

Are we okay with the word “power” just as it is?

These are the places I play with women, and what gets talked about behind closed doors more often than you might realize. The women I know are irritated by this word “empower”. It doesn’t work for us, it seems, and I’m starting to get louder about it. For many women, it feels like it’s a word we’re told we should want—and when we actually don’t want it, we somehow feel like we’re in danger of getting voted off the island.
What if she’s already feeling empowered? Is she free to admit that to you or is there something wrong with her? Does she have to shrink or lie to fit in?
Is this how we might inadvertently be holding each other back as women? I think about these things.

When have you seen a leadership conference or a New York Times bestseller about “men’s empowerment”?  How often do we applaud corporate initiatives dedicated to exploring how we can “empower men?” Exactly. Because men’s power is presumed to be present already—so no one feels the need to talk about it.

But what if men’s power—specifically white men’s power—were exactly what we needed to be talking about?

Consider this: What if there were entire conferences, magazines, and books dedicated to “men’s disempowerment”? Can you imagine what the reaction to that might be from men and women alike? And can you imagine how bitter and resentful men might be if others profited financially off of this? Weird to even consider, right?
But isn’t that exactly what we’re getting at when we’re focussing on empowerment for women (and others, like people of color and LGBTQ)? We’re talking about our need to reckon and respond to the entitlement, centering, unchecked privilege, abuse and corruption of white men’s power…

See what I’m getting at here? We’re talking about our power in relative terms—relative to white men, that is. We’re talking about power as if we weren’t all born with it inside us already.

We’re not really talking about the root of the conversation: white men’s power.  So here’s my latest hunch: “empowerment” is actually a white man’s word…

What if the word “empowerment” was a tool of the Patriarchy—to keep it functioning?

Our words matter. They shape our reality. As a word nerd who actively plays with things like this, and as a midwife to badass women, I actually have loads of stories and evidence now that tell me I’m not alone. I hear and see the reaction women have to this word “empowerment” everyday in hushed tones behind closed doors.

I’ve always hated that word…
I’ve never understood that word…
I’ve never related to that word…
I never identified with that word…

“Empowerment” subtly points us to something “out there”, and suggests someone need to hold space for it to emerge and be turned on. This word suggests the POTENTIAL for power, not it’s presence.
POWER is undeniably and ALREADY here. There is no “getting”. It doesn’t need to be “given to”. It affirms it’s existence and gets down to the business of honoring, celebrating and expressing it.
Which is a wholly different conversation to have than searching, wondering, strengthening, and waiting—for our power to be discovered or emerge.

Women have not misplaced our power. It’s right here inside us. It is the source, in fact, from which every person was born.

What I’m talking about here is subtle and could easily be dismissed, but it’s distinct and important to acknowledge. Some might read my thoughts about this, hear my humble invitation to simply use the word “power“, and say it’s the same thing—the intention is the same, I’ve missed the whole point, and I don’t understand. And that’s okay, we can agree to disagree here. “Empowerment” is, after all, the sacred cow of women’s language—it’s everywhere and entire industries hold it as the holy grail.

But I’m old enough to know that my body doesn’t lie to me—and it doesn’t rise at the sound of that word, it waits. I trust her truth.

What I do know for sure is that women are more hellbent than ever on rising up. We’re no longer waiting—and this is good, and awesome and timely. My invitation, however,  is this:

Let’s leave our “em” at the door, and travel a little lighter as we rise with power.

______________________________________

Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? Feel free to let me know if you’re on this slip ‘n slide with me. It feels good to hear from you—especially as I haven’t been out here much because I’ve been finalizing the manuscript for my second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire (due out November 15th!!!) 

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.

Getting Naked With My Truth

Posted May 18th, 2019

There are days I am convinced my entire life is strung together with a series of movie clips and soundtracks—connecting the bits of insights and moments of clarity in such a way that they literally reveal the breadcrumbs that have moved me forward.

That was the case the other morning when I woke up with Cher’s voice in my head yelling “SNAP OUT OF IT”. You know, that scene from Moonstruck, where Nicholas Cage’s character has just professed his undying love for her? Yea, that one.
 

SNAP OUT OF IT! (smack)

My eyes flew open as I, indeed, had felt like I’d been slapped across the face that morning by…what?

Would you believe me if I said the Divine Feminine?

I can’t blame Her, actually. Because in the days and months leading up to this moment, I’d been dragging ass a bit (gross understatement)—using the long, cold winter in Maine and the lack of ANY visible signs of spring as excuses for not doing anything…or having hope. I had been, as Brene Brown says in her most recent Netflix special: “engineering small” in an attempt to not look at or feel what was finding me. Because the truth is:

I’d been feeling in-between—no longer here, but not quite there—for so long I’d made it a bit of a home.
I’d been feeling overwhelmed, annoyed, and as my mom used to say “full of piss and vinegar”
I’d been feeling rage at the system, the government, our culture, and the assholes running them.
I’d been feeling righteous and full to the brim of vitriol—choosing to point out any and all examples of overt racism, homophobia and sexism.

Everything just felt wrong.
 

Are you catching the operative word there: “FEEL” (in shouty caps)?

These are the moments I’m so very fortunate to work with women. Because I hear their stories every day, and in them I often recognize my own. Which has me feel not so alone—or crazy, or just plain wrong.

This is especially evident when I do my work with women groups because our individual voices amplify to reveal the undeniable truth of our collective, that has it feel like it’s bigger than just us—but belongs to us all. There is an audible sigh that can be heard in these moments, when you hear another woman give voice to something that you’ve only heard up until that point in your own head.

Alice Walker talks about how this being the “magic of women” that can only be understood by being in a circle of women. I once hear Meggan Watterson describe this perfectly. She said something about how you can do this work alone, but when you do it in the company of other women, it’s like being on a slip ‘n slide—remember those?

That slip ‘n slide experience came to me late in life—probably because I spent the first 35-40 years resisting anything to do with being a girl, woman, or remotely feminine in my full-court press attempts to prove I was, in fact, “one of the guys.” But then if you’re reading this and know me at all, you’re probably familiar with what happened next.

It led me to the door of SheChanges nearly 15 years ago, when I started honoring my hunger for the circle of stones energy and tapping into the magic of women—starting with my own.
 

So why was I still feeling like I needed to SNAP OUT OF IT?

Why was I still engineering small when I knew better?

A clue to this came the night before Cher woke me up yelling in my head. I had just run the fourth (of six) read-alouds for my women’s writing experience In Her Words, and had listened as this group of five women from all over the country shared pieces of their writings (journal, letter, story) from that week’s theme of “Choosing”.

I lost count, but I believe the word FUCK was read-aloud nearly forty times in the short time we were together over the phone that night.

We laughed about it, joking that the theme that week should really have been “fuck.”
 

FUCKETTY FUCK FUCK! WHAT THE FUCK?

Why does it feel like we’re moving backwards?
Why do so many of us feel so undervalued and invisible?
Why does everything feel so hard—like it’s a game we’re being asked to play but can never win?

I’ve sat with these questions myself over the last fifteen years of working with women, and I realize I’ve been approaching my thoughts on the matter a bit….delicately…rather diplomatically. Or, as Rebecca Traister writes about in her (amazing) book Good and Mad, I temper my truth with humor and sarcasm—which might get me a good laugh, but can water down the potency of my soul fire fury with a liberal dose of my self-deprecation.

That’s me, carefully masking my natural sledge-hammer self.
 

Apparently She’s dangerous.

Because, you see, that’s how I look playing the game—by being myself in carefully-measured doses.

And that, my friend, is why Cher was bellowing in my ear, just days before the full moon in Scorpio (my sign…) this month.
 

SNAP OUT OF IT!

I got up that morning—the skies still gray and the incessant drizzle still coming down on the ground in a Maine that was struggling and slow to make its way out of winter. I still was tired, I still was filled to the brim with piss and vinegar, but I felt like the last of my excuses had fallen out of a hole in my pocket when I got up that morning. And I didn’t want to pick them up again. I felt…inspired. More clear.

As I walked to work that morning, I had something else in my head—this time a song by Sia…Come on, come on turn the radio on, it’s Friday nite and I won’t be long…I found I literally started STRUTTING down the cobblestone street, singing out loud:
 

‘Til I hit the dance floor, hit the dance floor, I got all I need…

I smiled, as I remembered something a client had forwarded me on Instagram not too long ago:

“You should give a fuck. You really should. But only about things that set your soul on fire. Save your fucks for magical shit.” 

This weekend’s full moon in scorpio, is apparently an invitation to look at our deepest desires and the secrets in our hearts—a time to accept or uncover a deep truth we have been carrying. As a scorpio myself, I’m not entirely surprised it had its way with me—but combined with Cher’s Moonstruck wake-up call, it acted like a one-two punch to my soul.

So here I am, writing to you under the light of a full moon in scorpio, getting naked with my (whole) truth. These are the fucks that set my soul on fire—the ones I’ve been secretly saving for magical shit. Truth be told, these aren’t new to me—I’ve just kept them inside for too long. And I want them out.
 

Here is what I believe with all my heart and soul under the light of this full moon.

I BELIEVE women are the ones that will save us from ourselves right now.

I BELIEVE the world which men have made isn’t working, and that we’re getting diminishing returns on the same masculine values.

I BELIEVE men as are exhausted as women by “the way it is”, but honestly don’t know any other way to be other than what we’ve all been taught.

I BELIEVE the blessing of our times is that the levels of exhaustion, righteous rage, and dis-ease among women will unearth our innate resources.

I BELIEVE women will be the ones to integrate and intersect the whole of we are, rather than dividing us further into either/or.

I BELIEVE women are leaving toxic organizations in droves because they will be the ones to help us craft new, more vital models for how we work.

I BELIEVE that “toxic masculinity” is not solely about men, but exists in women as well—which means our collective healing begins with each of us.

I BELIEVE women of color have been leading us for years with little to no credit, and that white women are only recently arriving at this party.

I BELIEVE that rebalancing our world and our planet must begin with an infusion of the feminine, before it can be re-integrated with the masculine.

I BELIEVE we are hungry for the leadership women can provide, but it will require radical and revolutionary change to create that opportunity.

I BELIEVE white men will be asked to increase their competency and comfort with being uncomfortable—de-centering themselves.

I BELIEVE white women will be asked embody more fully all forms of the feminine—fierce (anger), power (voice), self-authorization (source).

I BELIEVE we have it in us to c0-create this next phase of our evolution—but it’s going to require incredible of amounts of bravery and compassion.

I BELIEVE this is happening now—whether we’re ready or not.

All of my work with SheChanges has consciously—and unconsciously, I’m sure—supported these beliefs of mine over the past fifteen years, but I don’t know that I’ve ever actually STATED them as plainly as I have in the light of this moon.
 

This is me snapping out of it.

This is me not playing the game.

This is my sledge hammer self undiluted.

This is me getting naked with my truth.

______________________________________

Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? Feel free to let me know if you’re on this slip ‘n slide with me. It feels good to hear from you—especially as I’m getting ready to publish my second book, Witch Ways, which is chocked full of more women’s stories and pulling-back-the-curtain reveals on the specific ways women are leading change—that don’t normally get talked about in the light of day (or the light of the full moon).

Or better yet, if you ARE a fan of my work and are out there cheering me on, please let me know you’re with me by making a contribution to my GoFundMe campaign that will support me in putting this in your hands sooner than later. Any amount would be most appreciative, and would go a long ways in helping me to know I’m not alone, but am backed by a large and robust pack of women #wolfpack. 

Click on this link or simply scan the QR code below to make that happen. Thank you! 
https://www.gofundme.com/shechanges-book-2-powered-by-women

And stay tuned for these upcoming events if you want to meet your people:

Thursday, June 13th
I’ll be speaking about why women leave organizations at Disrupt HR in Portland. VERY excited for this one!

Thursday, September 26
SheChanges Leadership  Summit for Corporate Women— save the date, details to come!

 

What a 16-year-old girl and fishing for marlins reminded me

Posted April 3rd, 2019

“Our house is on fire”, She said quite plainly. 

That was Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who spoke to hundreds of world leaders at Davos back in January of this year.

She then went on to say that now was the time for us to speak clearly, and that’s when she really let it rip:

“Adults keep saying ‘we owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is.”
 

BOOM! Drop the mic, Sister.

Did you say shit like that to an audience of world leaders when you were 16? Me neither. But the reality is, we are now living in a time when our children are feeling the need to step up and get in our faces as adults—to call us out on our adult bullshit.

Our house IS on fire, Greta. This is true. Thank you.

This is exactly the same energy I was tapping into writing my second book, Witch Ways: You’re Not Crazy, You’re a Woman. I didn’t PLAN on tapping into that full-throttle, but it just….came out. My bone-marrow truth hacked up like a hairball. Which had me feel rather nervous, because shouldn’t I be a bit more diplomatic, careful, or measured in my words? It wasn’t until I heard Greta’s speech, that I got the full power of it in my bones.
 

Nah. Because our house IS on fire. Why mince words now?

My truth came in the form of marlins. I know, it surprised me, too, when a story flew out my pen one day about a woman on a tourist boat fishing for marlin. Did I mention that she was naked? And me? Not being an angler or remotely comfortable with public nudity, I never quite understood where that story came from, what it was about, or why it found me. Until I wrote the entire manuscript for this second book of mine and then found myself hacking it up like a hairball of truth that wanted to be center stage.

I talk about Greta’s words and her courage in this latest episode of An Unscripted Woman—and use this as a backdrop for talking about urgency and not waiting any longer to act. I also read the story about the naked marlin fishing woman that set my hair—the one that is now an author’s note at the very beginning of the manuscript that is now (happily) in the hands of my editors.

And here’s what else I talk about that might be of interest—especially if you’re feeling the urge to speak clearly, call bullshit on our excuses, and take action:
 

How the hell do you stay rooted and naked when the house is on fire?

Here’s what I’ve got on that that. Have at it, my friend. And join me in the fire.

P.S. Here are the links referenced in this episode:

In Her Words w/SheChanges
www.shechanges.com/experiences-for…ing-experience/ (please note: this experience is now full for 2019)

Witch Ways: You’re Not Crazy, You’re a Woman
www.gofundme.com/shechanges-book-…powered-by-women

Layla Saad
www.meandwhitesupremacybook.com/

Greta Thunberg at Davos
www.theguardian.com/science/video/2…-at-davos-video

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! 

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! 

Pebbles In My Shoe

Posted July 7th, 2018

Someone once wrote about me in an interview, observing that “it seems she never stops thinking, considering, fitting pieces together.” That woman got me, she did. She described how I move (“she talks with her hands and her arms, radiating exuberance…”) and didn’t seem surprised to learn that I was always writing in my head, jotting down notes to myself mid-sentence and had my next three books already fleshed out.

A former colleague once commented that I had lots of “pebbles in my shoe”, which perfectly summarizes what that experience is like for me. I do my best to walk around “normally”, but until I actually pause, and jot down the things in my head or talk them out, they are just going to rattle around in there messing with my gait, slowing me down and distracting the hell out of me. So a long time ago, I learned it’s best to just stop and grab those pebbles as I feel them.

I used to be self conscious about this, even apologetic—like I was “too much” and needed to temper who I was and dole out bite-sized pieces of me lest others choke on my excess. I tightly guarded this ability of mine to weave together concepts and words because it wasn’t hard for me. And wasn’t anything worthwhile supposed to be hard? Was I cheating, somehow, thinking I could make a living doing something that flowed so naturally from me?

And then I heard these same phrases come my way time and time again.

Just say something…anything…
Whenever you talk, I always get something out of it…
You’re a master storyteller…
Your stories on stage are the ones I wait for…
I get inspired just listening to you...

For years I batted those comments away, doing my best to graciously hide behind excuses of it not really being about me, not being anything special. In fact, I cringed a bit even sharing them with you now. Many times, upon hearing those comments,  I would diffuse the substance of what someone was saying with humor or by making light of myself, saying I just a dork at heart or a bit of a freak that way.

That was me, playing small.

I was afraid of seeming “all that” and being arrogant (because humility is one of my most treasured values).

I was afraid people would think I was full of myself and narcissistic (because come on…look around you…it’s an epidemic)

I was afraid people would say “who the hell do you think YOU are up there saying that…?” (because I am honestly still figuring this shit out along with you)

I think it’s a thing women excel at, dimming or hiding our light.

So often I hear women talk about “playing big”, and that phrase always makes my heart break a bit. Because aren’t we all BORN BIG to begin with? It’s not something we learn or acquire or “play”, it’s something we are born with inside us. It’s not any one thing we do, it’s something we are. But so often our circumstances and life experience train that out of us…so much we “play small” and believe that big is something way outside of—or beyond—ourselves.

Sadly, this concept seems to only apply to women. How often do you hear a man talk about wanting to “play big”? Exactly.

Gradually though, over the years—of my life and in my business—I’ve started to see that it’s actually selfish of me to hold all that light in me inside. Gail Larsen, an amazingly talented woman who supports others in expressing their stories, asserts we are all born with what she calls “original medicine” —the gifts and talents you and you alone possess that, when expressed, are medicine to others. Her invitation: Bring it. Give it. Share it.

I watched an absolutely incredible interview of Oprah Winfrey by the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she said her biggest fear used to be that others would think she was full of herself. Now, she admits, she sees it as her job.

To be full of myself.

That is my job description, quite literally. Because who else’s job might it be, if not mine? I sure as hell don’t want that to be society’s responsibility. No, I’m the best fit for that position, thank you very much.

Most recently, this sentiment was punctuated for me when I watched Abby Wambach deliver her amazing commencement speech to the women of Barnard College this past May. She told the story of being coached as a teenager by Michelle Akers, a powerhouse professional soccer player who was so intent on coaching, she had inadvertently forgotten to actually play during a scrimmage with these girls…until a light switch turned on inside her and she ran back to her goalkeeper and said

GIVE. ME. THE. EFFING. BALL.

At which point the goalkeeper did, and she blazed through Abby’s entire team and scored. And then she went back and demanded it again. And again, she scored.

Abby shared this story as an invitation to the women of Barnard College—and wolfpacks of women all around the globe who have seen this speech since—saying, “Women. At this moment in history, leadership is calling us to say:

GIVE ME THE EFFING BALL.
GIVE ME THE EFFING JOB.
GIVE ME THE SAME PAY THAT GUY NEXT TO ME GETS.
GIVE ME THE PROMOTION.
GIVE ME THE MICROPHONE
GIVE ME THE OVAL OFFICE.

Photo credit: Ginger Soul PhotographyTHAT is why I am committed to get out of my own way and unapologetically let my fullest self shine. I have that intention each time I step onto the stage in front of the audience at SheSpeaks, my evening of storytelling in December, knowing that I need to walk my talk because I ask the women who join me on stage each year to do the same.

And THAT is also why I created ISpeaks, an unscripted evening of storytelling I have with just me—an event where I let lose all the pebbles in my shoe that have been giving me pause for thought, irritating the shit out of me, or grabbing my attention, weaving together the things that might have been on the cutting room floor from SheSpeaks (or my book), conversations that seem most relevant, or resources that have me and my clients talking or thinking differently.

Because honestly? I could do that all day long, weaving together the bits and pieces of thoughts and ideas swirling in my brain. Honestly, that doesn’t feel like work to me—it’s actually a relief to get it out. And bonus—having now held SheSpeaks eight times and ISpeaks four times, I know that when I can allow myself to be full of myself in public….its never my worst fear, and is generally my best medicine.

And that’s where it’s at for women, right? Being of service. Sharing our medicine.

I see it all the time when I’m working with a woman. If she can start to see how what she desires most will actually be of service to others…well now, she’s unstoppable. She turns into a force of friggin nature. If she can see that she’s actually being miserly with her medicine…well now, she throws open those cabinets with wild abandon and starts doling it out more generously and with less preamble or apology.

Talk about a win-win situation. Connecting with service is often all it takes to flip that switch that has her demanding the effing ball.

So I’m going barefoot on July 12th at ISpeaks, but I’m bringing along my shoes filled with pebbles. Because I’ve got ’em and am happy to share.

 

 

Want to hear more stories and reflections like this?

Join me on July 12th for ISpeaks: An Unscripted Evening With Lael in Yarmouth, Maine. Advance tickets are on sale now and will save you $5. I’ll be speaking to some of the biggest pebbles in my shoe these days and will be touching upon many threads and themes of my upcoming book Witch Ways: The Unspoken Ways Women Create Change. My first book, Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer is chocked full of stories like this, too, and will also be on sale at that event.

 

And if you’re a fan of SheSpeaks or want to be…

Save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks, which has now been expanded to be a TWO DAY event, featuring the stories of 10 different women (5 each night) over two days: December 7th & 8th at One Longfellow Square in Portland. Tickets will go on sale —and go fast!—this fall, but save the date now to set the intention.

 

White Women Cake

Posted September 19th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was a watershed moment for me.

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

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

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

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

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

Anger. Even rage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good point. Why not, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Life In The Area

Posted November 15th, 2016

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

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

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

Originally posted: 9.25.16

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

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

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

I don’t remember being afraid for my parents.

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

Here’s the likely reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just keep throwing rocks, Lael.” 

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

I’ll be thinking about her.

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

Want to learn more about being a living prayer?

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

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

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

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

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