I don’t remember the question that we were supposed to discuss at our table group, but I remember where it lead us. One of the women at the table was the newly appointed head of a women’s program at a university. She was wrestling with where she needed to lead the organization after the departure of its founder.
She’d had an a-ha moment that week and had come to realize that what was ironically missing in the program was a truly feminine approach to leadership. It was modeled too closely after traditionally masculine styles and needed to evolve into something new. I think it was during our conversation that she had the even deeper realization that she had, in fact, been hired because her background in engineering made her well skilled at thinking like a man.
What she said touched me in a place so deep I didn’t even know it needed touching. “Yes!” I said. “YES! That is a systemic problem! I see it everywhere! It’s the major flaw of the feminist movement – that it poured so much of its energy into getting us access into men’s role and teaching us to adopt men’s wisdom and leadership styles that it forgot about what it SHOULD have put energy into – raising the value of women’s voices, women’s roles, and women’s wisdom and leadership styles.”
Spilling out beneath my words were so many memories of the times I’d tried to introduce things like “feeling checks” into staff meetings, or clay molding into annual visioning exercises – the many times I’d intuitively felt compelled to introduce a more feminine style of leadership. BUT almost all of those times I’d been met with so much resistance that I’d simply given up and fallen back on old models. Oh, I could write a book about the times when I let the fear hold me back from what had always come so naturally. Too many times I saw those things dismissed as frivolous, or “just a silly girl’s ideas”.
During the course of our conversation, something rather magical happened. I don’t think I realized just how magical it was until it was done. There were markers at our table and a paper tablecloth. As I so often do when I’m sitting in a meeting, I picked up a marker and started to doodle. The man at the table asked “can I add something to your art work?” and I said “oh certainly!” And then, with a gesture, I invited our other two tablemates to join in the fun.
It seemed innocent enough, but it was transformational. Soon, we were all animated and energized in both our conversation and our art-making. Each of us added our unique flare to the tablecloth and each of us built on something the other had done. At one point – though I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it – the man at the table tried to put a square black border around the area where we were making art. Something bubbled up from within me and I resisted, scribbling all over his border as he drew. The other women joined and soon we had spilled over the border into every direction. Defeated, but with a good sense of humour, the man happily added to the “outside the box” art. (To be fair, at another point, I ruined a sun that the man was trying to create by prematurely drawing a line around it.)
By the end of the discussion, we’d filled the whole tablecloth with art, and we’d helped the leader of the woman’s program realize some of the steps she’d need to take when she got home. On top of that, I think each of us at the table had a unique a-ha moment that emerged from both the art and the conversation.
Mine didn’t fully evolve until later. I knew that something significant had happened, but I didn’t at that point know just HOW significant. Some day I think I will look back at that collective doodle art and remember that it represents the moment my life changed.
Because, my dear friends, that moment was the culmination of so much wrestling, so much thinking, so much struggle to find my focus, my truth, my place of belonging. Remember the necklace metaphor – how it wasn’t the struggling that untangled the necklace but the slipping from my hands and dropping to the floor? Well I think that moment was the “dropping to the floor and untangling my truth.”
What am I talking about? I’m talking about THE VERY THING that I’ve been grasping for. For years now I’ve known that my greatest energy comes from sharing wisdom – through facilitating workshops, writing, public speaking, etc. – about the things I’ve learned about creativity and leadership. I’ve known that somewhere in all of that lay the nugget that would lead me into the next phase of my vocation. Only… I couldn’t seem to find the right shaped nugget to fit me. It all seemed too general, too vague – too unfocused. I thought I found a few times, but it never felt quite right.
And now, after a week at ALIA, and especially a remarkable moment of doodling, I have clarity that I’ve never had before. The purpose that is evolving for me is TO TRANSFORM LEADERSHIP THROUGH FEMININE WISDOM! There it is! Bringing more creativity, compassion, art, soul, and holistic truth to leadership. AND helping those people who think their feminine passions and gifts – art, spirituality, motherhood, body wisdom – do not make them qualified for leadership recognize that the world needs them to help in its transformation.
It’s simple and yet it makes so much sense. Look around you – wars, oil spills, climate change, oppression – isn’t it clear that we have a leadership crisis on our hands? Isn’t it clear that the old models aren’t working anymore? It’s time for a new model and I believe that new model includes a much bigger space for feminine wisdom. I’m not saying that all the male leaders need to be replaced by women – I’m simply saying that both men AND women need to learn to trust their feminine wisdom more.
It’s an idea as old as the Bible, and yet as often forgotten and marginalized as so many other truths in the Bible. Sophia. Wisdom. FEMININE wisdom. It’s what Solomon wrote so many sonnets about. It’s the feminine wisdom of God.
THAT is the power I’ve been called to stand in, the wisdom I’ve been called to share. It’s time to get busy sharing it!
How will this evolve? I’m not quite sure, but I am excited. I know this… I am not really “fumbling for words” anymore. This is something new and it will need a new space. Maybe it’s “leading with your paint clothes on” or maybe it’s “sophia leadership” or maybe it’s something else I haven’t thought of, but I’ll be spending the summer thinking about it and hopefully by September something will have emerged.
Hang on for the ride, because it will most definitely be colourful and exciting!
I am excited beyond words about the trip I will take to Halifax next week to attend Authentic Leadership in Action. I have been to a lot of conferences, retreats, and workshops before – some good, some bad, and some indifferent. This one, in addition to the fact that it feels like conference/retreat/workshop all beautifully intertwined into one entity, feels like it just might have the capacity to blow the lid off “good” and plop itself comfortably into the rare category of “very good”.
I know it’s not right to judge a book by its cover (or count your chickens before they’re hatched), but there is something about this one that feels uniquely like “going home”. All of those other conferences/workshops/retreats felt like they intersected with one part of my brain or responded to one part of my “professional development plan”, but this one… well, it feels like it’s something new. Something that’s willing to spread its arms out to me and wrap every part of me – body, mind, and soul – into a comfortable embrace.
How do I know this already? Well, for starters, they speak my language. They talk about things that matter deeply to me – leadership, transformation, authenticity, compassion, justice, and creativity. For another thing, they don’t just TALK about these things, they embody them. Imagine going to a leadership conference that starts every day with mindfulness meditation? Or one that offers a sea-kayaking trip as an option? Or one that includes art and theatre and aikido?
It’s brilliant, and it makes SO MUCH SENSE, but it’s OH SO RARE. There are still so few conference organizers who have figured out that they should do anything more than offer you a bunch of academic talking heads (with perhaps a networking event or two thrown in for good measure).
I am excited, but you want to know a little secret? I’m nervous. Even a little bit scared. It’s not that I’m worried I won’t enjoy it – it’s just that I’m pretty sure that it will challenge me, shake me up, and call me to something BIGGER.
Recently I talked about the Pheonix Process that Elizabeth Lesser describes in Broken Open. Well, the little person inside of me – my scared little ego – is terrified that this conference is going to call me to BLAST OUT of the flame, with my colourful wings flashing toward the sky and RISE UP into something new. Something bigger. And something freakin’ scary.
I don’t know what that is yet. And here’s the bottom line. Here’s the little question that keeps niggling at me.
Am I worthy?
Am I really worthy of a bigger calling? Am I really ready to do something more bold? Am I willing to give up things (and possibly relationships) and risk the life I have for something scary and unsure? Am I willing to be authentic to my calling, make myself vulnerable, open myself up to the world, and then take the slings and arrows that will probably come with that?
What if I AM called to that, and people think I’m showing off? What if I stumble and fail and people say “well, if you didn’t think you were such a big shot and you’d just stuck with the old wings that were perfectly serviceable without being all flashy, maybe you wouldn’t have come crashing to the ground?” What if the naysayers say “well, we never thought you were that bright to begin with, and now you’re just making a food of yourself?”
Like Pema Chodron says (in The Places that Scare You), it all boils down to fear. Fear of who we are. Fear of what we’ve been called to become. Fear of what people will say of us.
Last year, I made a video about fear. Some of you will remember it. I think it’s time to watch it again. I think it’s time to add a new chapter.
“When I am fearless, I will believe that I am worthy of what the Creator is calling me toward.”
(Oh, this is a little bit freaky… I just realized that the kite that my daughters are flying toward the end, where it says “I will soar…” looks like a Phoenix!)
Yes, it’s my birthday. It is with great relief that I say good-bye to last year and usher in a new one. Last year seemed to be the year of “refining” and in my experience, refining is rarely fun. I’m ready to move on!
The beauty of turning 44 is that you’ve reached an age where you care less and less about how silly you might look. Some day I’ll probably wear a purple dress with a red hat! 🙂 Or a Mardi Gras mask to work. (Darn – I wish I’d thought of that today!)
As a way of ushering in a new year, I want to make a new commitment to myself, and I’d like you to join me! Please raise your right and repeat with me the pledge of the Sisterhood of the Burning Bra:
As an esteemed member of the Sisterhood of the Burning Bra, I hereby commit to doing my best to do the following:
- commit to the fire the old stories that serve no other purpose but to shackle me
- listen more carefully to the wisdom of my body and honour it when it sends me signals related to hunger, fullness, rest, and movement
- not listen quite as carefully to the negative voices in my head that are usually lying to me
- giggle with glee when I feel like it
- make a confession when I have wronged someone and then believe that I am forgiven
- lean on my sisters around the circle and trust that they will offer compassion, wisdom, and courage
- let myself be guided into the place of power that the Creator makes available to me
- stand up more boldly and say “NO!” when people try to shovel unnecessary guilt on my shoulders
- wiggle my toes in the sand and be moved by the sense of touch
- honour the other sisters in the circle and offer them my giftedness
- dream really crazy big dreams
- not allow fear to hold a larger space in my life than it deserves
- wear Mardi Gras masks (or silly hats or mismatched socks) once in awhile, just for fun
- gently forgive myself for the times when I fail to live up to these commitments
- hold occasional rituals where I burn symbols of the things I want to let go of
Thank you for being in my circle! (And by the way, I welcome all brothers into the circle too! Some of you are my best allies and I don’t want to leave you out!)
For a couple of related posts, check out my guest posts at Square Peg Reflections and at Blisschick. I’m delighted to have been welcomed into their spaces on this special day!
My birthday is coming up on Thursday, and since my dear friend Michele is throwing a little celebration in my honour tomorrow night (if you live close enough, YOU are welcome – at least, if you fit the “ladies only” profile), I’ve decided that this year I’m going to celebrate a whole BIRTHDAY WEEK instead of just one day! Yes, I’m feeling horribly narcissistic about the whole thing, but I figured I’ve done a fair bit of sacrificing in the past month or two, so it shouldn’t hurt to have a little balance in my life. Giggle.
Seriously though, I feel like this birthday week marks some pretty big growth for me. Those of you who are regular readers will know about some of the big challenges that have forced me to plunge a little deeper into my heart to find out just who it is that resides there and what the source and shape of her strength is. When we open ourselves to it, challenge and struggle will usher in growth and acceptance, and that’s what I’ve seen happening in my own life.
There have been some pretty significant breakthroughs for me in the last two weeks, in my relationship with my body, my relationship with my loved ones, my relationship with food, my relationship with the divine, and my relationship with the core of who I am created to be. As I wrote a few months ago when I was recovering from surgery, I’ve been feeling like a caterpillar who has to give up the life she knows, commit herself to the cocoon, and wait for the transformation to come.
I just learned recently that in the cocoon stage, caterpillars actually break down completely into a gooey gel-like substance that has no resemblance to either caterpillar or butterfly. We have to give it up – whatever we believe ourselves to be – in order to emerge into the beautiful creature we are meant to be.
It’s true, isn’t it, that we are never finished growing? I feel like a sculpture that is forever being molded in the Sculptor’s hands.
There’s a bubbling energy in me this week that feels a little like what the butterfly must feel when she has the dawning awareness that it’s time to break out of the cocoon. I feel strong in ways I didn’t expect to feel strong – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve been running, biking, praying, doing yoga – and a bunch of other little things that feel like they are helping me step into a new strength. The beautiful life-giving thing about it is, the more I step into this strength and share it with people around me, the more it is returned to me in affirming ways – like a lovely note from a cousin who’s heading out on a solo trip to the Grand Canyon and says it was partly inspired by what I write on this blog!
A month ago, when Marcel was in the hospital, I began to describe myself as a warrior because of the battles I had to fight as his advocate. And in a few weeks, I’ll be in a workshop at ALIA about “leaders as Shambala warriors”. I’ve never really thought of myself as a warrior before (maybe it’s my pacifist roots), and honestly, I often doubt myself as a leader because of some of the struggles I’ve had in this job that usually end up leaving me feeling like a failure. But something is shifting, and I’m trying to step into whatever it is that’s emerging.
No, this week is not about “look how great I am”. It’s more about “there is something powerful in what God is shaping my life to be and I want to celebrate the way I’m growing into it”.
Tomorrow night, our little celebration will include a bra-burning ceremony to mark the transformation to my body (through breast reduction surgery). In a strange and unexpected way, the surgery marked a turning point for me – a moment when I finally gave myself permission to want a new story for my body. It’s all been part of the metamorphosis process – letting go of old stories I tell myself and embracing new truths and new possibilities. I have learned to love myself in a new way since I let go of the weight that was cut off. I have learned to treat my body with new respect and gratitude (thanks in part to Geneen Roth’s book) and I am slowly becoming healthier for it. (I realize that might sound a little twisted – having plastic surgery to learn to love yourself – but it’s working for me.)
What I would really love is this… even though you might not be able to make it to the celebration tomorrow night, I’d be delighted if you would consider marking this week with me, on your blog, on Twitter, or just in the privacy of your own home.
Here’s what I’d like you to do… have a virtual “bra-burning” party! No, you don’t have to burn your bra (unless you want to!), but think of some old story you’re telling yourself about who you are (who you’re supposed to be by other people’s standards, what limits you, what you’re lacking, why you’re a failure), and burn it! Write it down on a piece of paper, light a candle, a lantern, or a big ol’ bonfire and BURN THAT SUCKER! Let it go! Give it up to the fire!
Do it in honour of my 44rd birthday, but more importantly, do it for you!
And take pictures, ’cause I’d love to see all that burnin’ energy!
There are knots trying to untie themselves in my stomach. Big decisions trying to get made. Big ideas trying to find space to grown. Big worries trying to overshadow those big ideas. Big questions. Big doubts. Big and dangerous transformation trying to happen.
The other day I tweeted: “Holding this phrase in my heart today: ‘In the fullness of time.’ When the time is right, the shift will come.”
Honestly, though? I suck at “the fullness of time”. I’m really, really impatient. When I decide I want to take a certain path, I want to take it NOW, not six months from now when the timing is better. You’d think I’d have learned this lesson by now, after so many times in my history when I’d wring my hands hoping for something to change IMMEDIATELY and then – when it changed at a later time and turned out in a better way than I’d even dreamed – I’d realize “oh THAT’S why it was better to wait”.
But, alas, those lessons seem to be lost on me whenever I’m chomping at the bit waiting for a new story to unfold. Like an unruly child, I squirm and shout “Now! I want it NOW!”
I’m not quite sure what this post is for. No great wisdom or revelation here. Just the wrestlings of a restless soul.
BUT… if I were to write myself an advice column, I would tell myself:
1. Change is inevitable. Embrace it, dance with it, but don’t try to rush it.
2. Slow down. Transformation takes time. The cocoon will be broken open when the butterfly is ready to be released. Break it open sooner and the butterfly dies.
3. There is a force greater than you at play in the world. Trust it. Spend time with it. Let the Spirit hold your hand and whisper in your ear.
4. You have good friends who understand things about the world. Share your secrets with them and they may just whisper words of wisdom you didn’t let yourself believe to be true.
5. There are lessons to be learned in the waiting. You NEED these lessons. Take time for them.
6. Sometimes you need to let things go – some really GOOD things – to step into a new story. Don’t worry, you’ll find new things in the new space and they’ll probably be just what you need for the person you’ve become.
7. Be gentle with your family. They may not understand what you’re going through. But they want to see you happy.
8. Sometimes, the people who love you the most are the ones most resistant to seeing you change and grow. It’s probably because they want to keep you safe.
9. The “road less travelled” sometimes has scary shit on the path – monsters and falling trees and huge crevices – tread carefully, but don’t give up. It’s still the right path.
10. That ugly feeling of restlessness and worry and doubt and angst all balled up in the pit of your stomach? This too shall pass.
Now if only I were good at following my own advice!
Not long ago, I wrote about how Maddie loves to build magical worlds under the dining room table. Recently I found her there, lying on her back, staring up at the bottom of the table. When I asked her what she was doing, she said “oh, I’m daydreaming. I have to do it here because Madame doesn’t let me at school.”
Now, I’m a big fan of daydreaming, so I told her to go ahead and do it at school – just hide it by pretending she’s reading! (I got away with that many times when I was in school! I still do!)
Well… what do you think I did this morning? I climbed under that table, where Maddie has her boxes, her magical stool, her stuffed toys, and now her Little Lovely painting from Connie at Dirty Footprints Studio, and I daydreamed! Because what’s a better way to spend a morning when you’re still hiding in your cocoon waiting for your energy to come back?
About five years ago, I worked my way through a book called The Path, by Laurie Beth Jones. Laurie believes in daydreaming too (though I think she calls it “visioning” – a grown-up version of the same concept). She suggests that you sit down and write a vision for the future, a fairly specific “day in the life” of the person you dream of being in five years. She says that in her experience, a lot of people who do that kind of visioning end up very close to what they write about – maybe not in five years, but somewhere along the way.
Yesterday I pulled out my five year old daydream. There are a few parts of it that have come true – like the part about my husband coming home after teaching in his first classroom and feeling good about having gotten through to at least one student. He’s finally got a full time teaching job and I don’t remember when I’ve seen him happier. It’s a pretty tough school, but he’s in his element, helping inner city kids realize the value of education.
There’s a big part of the vision though – the part that’s mostly about MY dreams as opposed to my husbands – that hasn’t been fully realized yet. If I wrote another “five year vision” it would probably contain essentially the same thing. It’s the long held dream of making my living as a full time writer/speaker/consultant.
It’s closer to coming true (now that Marcel has a full-time job), but I’m not quite ready to quit my job yet. I’m not in one of those “just putting in time to bring home a pay cheque” jobs, so it’s not one I have to run away from. A few of the blogs I read are about people who are excited about quitting “the man” and launching their own businesses. Well, I wouldn’t really be quitting “the man”. I did that six years ago when I left a secure, fairly high level job in federal government for non-profit. For me it would be more like quitting “the woman” – by which I mean the marginalized, impoverished women who are being supported by the incredible organization I work for.
I keep wrestling with it, in fact. There are times when I can hardly WAIT to walk away from a 9-5 job and sink my teeth into a life of writing, speaking, traveling, and teaching leadership and creativity workshops. But then there’s that little voice that pipes up and says “Hello!? Remember how lucky you are to have a job that gives you such a great opportunity to use your gifts in leadership, creativity, writing, etc., that fits so well with your passion for justice, and that lets you travel to some of the most interesting parts of the world in search of a good story and photograph.” And lately I’ve been excited about the new staff I’ve hired who bring lots of great energy and ideas and who are a pleasure to lead. There’s a lot of exciting potential going on that I would be sorry to leave.
The truth is, though, when I lie under the table and daydream, that old familiar dream comes back to me every time. I’ve got a book (or two) published; I’m traveling to conferences and retreats to speak to people on topics related to leadership, beauty and justice, and leading a creative life; and I’m writing, writing, writing.
The past six years at my job have been truly incredible. I’ve stretched in incredible ways, I’ve met some of the most amazing people in the world, I’ve slept in a tent on a farm in a remote part of Kenya, I’ve held hands with a young teacher with a beautiful soul on a tiny island in India, I’ve taken incredible photos all over the world, I’ve gotten to write lots of stories, I’ve learned more about leadership than I could have imagined possible, I’ve lead film crews through Ethiopia, India, and Bangladesh, and I’ve been reminded time and time again that some of my greatest lessons come from my failures.
I remember six years ago, when I first got the job, I said to a friend “this job will stretch me” and I couldn’t have been more right.
I don’t know for sure when the time will be right to leave this work I love. I’m not really in a rush. But I can’t let go of the idea that the past six years have been preparing me to step even more fully into my calling. The possibilities are endless, and I’m ready to ride the wave wherever it takes me.
What about you? I’d love to hear what would be in your daydream if you sat down and wrote about a day in the life of the person you want to be in five years.