In recent weeks, I’ve had a few people whose work is growing and who want to be prepared for more growth ask me what advice I’d give them from my experience of having a blog post go viral. A year and a half ago, my blog post about holding space went viral. So many people visited that my website crashed once and threatened to crash another time. There continue to be viral spikes now and then when someone with a large following discovers and shares it. By now, I would estimate that around 3 million people have seen that post either on my site or on other sites where it’s been shared (especially Uplift Connect). It’s been quoted in books and journals, it’s inspired videos and other articles, and it’s been plagiarized more than once.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that experience and what I learned from it. It really was life-changing and it’s taken my work into a deeper and more focused place. It has opened remarkable doorways for me, brought in lots of new clients and speaking engagements, and allowed me to travel to some interesting places to do interesting work. Now, a year and a half later, I’m working with an agent to grow the ideas that started in that blog post into a full-length book.
Yes, that post has been a great blessing and a dream come true, but it has required great sacrifice of me as well. The fall-out from that post has brought me to the brink of burnout more than once. It has exhausted and overwhelmed me. It has changed relationships and has sent me into therapy. It has placed a burden on my shoulders that I wasn’t always prepared to carry. Sometimes hundreds of emails fill my in-box, each one of them a request for some energetic output on my part.
At first I was going to write a “what I wish I’d known before it happened” kind of post, but truthfully, I don’t know if I would have done much differently. Even in the really hard spots, there were lessons to learn that couldn’t have been learned without some struggle. So instead, I will give you some of my stories and lessons and you can make of them what you will. Some of these are related to business growth and some are related to personal growth – I really can’t separate the two because they are so blended in what I do.
- There are few things more vital than good support. Because my business hadn’t grown enough, I was running a one-woman show before my post went viral, doing everything on a shoestring budget. I didn’t have a good hosting plan for my website and I didn’t have anyone with the technical capacity to support website challenges. I was self-taught and relied on the inexpensive hosting package of a big and impersonal business. That was a nearly fatal flaw. When the traffic increased exponentially, the big and impersonal business kept threatening me with menacing emails about the fact that I didn’t have enough capacity in my hosting package, but weren’t responding to any of my requests for support. When my website crashed, they completely ignored my repeated requests for urgent support for more than 24 hours. Finally, a website super girl stepped forward, stayed up all night, and rescued my site from disaster. It was running again (now hosted by her) by the time I woke up in the morning. I now pay a fair bit more for web hosting, but that’s a monthly bill I pay quite happily for the peace of mind it’s brought me.
- Having a lot of good content and programs already available helped immensely. I’ve been blogging for more than a dozen years and had several reasonably-priced programs available on my site (ie. Mandala Discovery, The Spiral Path, and Lead with Your Wild Heart) which meant that new visitors could engage with my work and invest in it right away. I know I could have done better if I’d had a savvy marketer working with me, but I did alright, given the circumstances. I am grateful that the viral spike happened far enough into my business development that I could support it and it wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan success. That meant that, in the early days when not many people were showing up, I had to be faithful to the work and believe that it had meaning, continuously creating whether or not people were paying attention.
- The internet has created a market where people feel they are entitled to free content and advice. While I am grateful for the income that this post brought in, it is also true that far more people came looking for free support. This is not a critique of those people (I’ve done the same thing myself on occasion, though I try not to anymore), but it was amazing to me how many people reached out for free advice on everything from parenting to palliative care to marriage to business development. Because I love to engage with people and have built many beautiful relationships online, my first instinct was to respond to every one of the emails I received and often that meant giving out free advice. That is exhausting and unsustainable. I had to learn how to create better boundaries for myself and I had to practice letting people down for the sake of my own health and well-being. Now, a year and a half later, I have finally hired an assistant who is managing that flow and helping me to protect my energy.
- I can’t over-state how important good self-care and healthy boundaries are. I’ve always considered myself to be fairly good at self-care (I take lots of hot baths, go on lots of long walks, step away from my work regularly, journal and make art often, have some really supportive relationships, etc.) but I realized with this experience that the bigger my work and audience gets, the more intentional I need to be about self-care and boundaries. In working with a therapist, for example, I realized that I still have a long way to go in terms of honouring my body and protecting my energy while I make myself available to more and more people. I’ve been working on that this summer.
- People are looking for more depth than we sometimes expect – don’t dumb it down. I work in some pretty deep and sometimes dark places. I talk about grief, shadow, conflict, race relations, vulnerability, etc. That’s not the kind of work that one would normally associate with “going viral”. And yet, I’ve found that my audience shows up when I take the most risks in going to those deep places. My blog post started with the death of my mother and it included a definition of holding space that is fairly intense and doesn’t fit with some of the more New-Agey or Law-of-Attraction type understanding of holding space. And yet, that is clearly what people are hungry for, because they keep coming. Far too many coaches and writers write from a more shallow place (“do these ten steps and you’ll have a rich and happy life”) and they might get rich from it, but I don’t think it’s feeding the real hunger in the world.
- Fame is shallow. It’s the real work that matters. Sure it’s flattering that three million people have seen my post, but I can’t dwell in abstract numbers or I risk getting lost in ego. To me, the real work is in the circles that gather in my workshops, the individuals who sit across from me in my coaching sessions, or the people who engage with me when I speak at conferences. Last week, I held space for a powerful and intense ceremony for two people who are launching a beautiful new movement into the world. Sitting there in the grass, bearing witness as they took a metaphorical journey into the work that calls them was as good as my work gets and it is a great privilege that I get to do it. I don’t ever want to forget that.
- Not every audience is worth spending my energy on. At the beginning, it was flattering to be invited to do radio interviews, etc., but I learned fairly quickly that if my gut was telling me it wasn’t the right audience, I should pay attention. More than one interview fell flat because the interviewer really didn’t understand my work and didn’t know how to ask good questions. I walked away from those interviews feeling drained and frustrated. Since then, I’ve been more selective in what speaking engagements or interviews I’ll agree to. I’ve also become somewhat suspect of online summits where a lot of speakers are doing free webinars, especially when there has been little thought to the diversity of the speakers. I would only agree to one of those if it was just the right invitation and just the right intention around what it’s offering. It’s not true that “all PR is good PR” – sometimes it drains your valuable energy and/or links you to products and organizations that don’t fit with your values and integrity.
- There are great risks involved in taking your work to a deeper place. There’s a Bible verse that says “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” That rings true for me in this work. I feel that I have been given a great gift and great responsibility in doing this work, but it is also requiring much of me and I can’t take that lightly. In order for me to be doing this work with integrity, I have to be willing to peer into my shadow and address my own shame and discomfort. Some of the emails I get, for example, are negative and attacking. Sometimes I need to ignore them and stand in my strength, but sometimes I need to accept what is truthful in them. And always I need to be resilient enough to return to the work and remember that it’s not about me.
- It is, ironically, harder to build real relationships when lots of people know who you are. This was rather unexpected for me, but I’ve noticed that people respond to me differently once they know that I had a blog post that went viral. When I’m at conferences or other public gatherings where people know my work, they assume I’m the expert or teacher and they approach me that way, assuming I know something that they don’t know. Some have read a fair bit of my work already, so I am automatically at a disadvantage, not knowing anything about them. It’s new territory to navigate, and it hasn’t kept me from some beautiful experiences of deep connection, but it definitely shifts the initial connection in a relationship. Sometimes this is okay (it allows me to maintain some boundaries), but sometimes it leaves me feeling a little lonely when everyone else is connecting on more equal playing field. I remember a similar thing happening when I first stepped into management – I was no longer privy to much of the office chit-chat that helped build relationships among staff.
- Only do this work if you’re prepared to have your life shaken up. One of the most significant results of this deeper personal work that cracked open for me when I started writing about holding space was that my 22 year marriage unraveled only months after my post first went viral. That wasn’t accidental timing. The post, and my resulting work, caused me to see that I wasn’t living in integrity. While I was busy teaching people to hold space, I was in a marriage where neither I nor my husband knew how to hold space for each other. We were pretending we did, but we really didn’t, even after years of trying. The viral blog post made that even more apparent, when I started looking for deeper emotional support than he knew how to give. I knew that, in order for this work to grow, I had to be honest with myself and step away and also release him to what would support him better.
- The outcome is not my responsibility. This has been my mantra since the early days of my business when I was stressing out about whether anyone would read my blog or pay for my offerings. After the discouragement of canceled workshops (due to low registrations) and ignored blog posts, I had to remind myself that I am called to this work and will continue to do it whether three people show up or three million. I am responsible for showing up and doing this work with integrity and commitment, but I am not responsible for the numbers or what people take from it. When I get caught up in numbers or people’s responses, it messes with my ego, my work suffers and my voice gets weak. When I stay in the work and write and teach what I’m most passionate about, the right people show up and I get to do beautiful, meaningful work.
- Nothing is worth more than my own family and health. This work is gratifying and humbling and I breathe a prayer of thanksgiving every day that I get to do it. But no matter how many people visit my blog or come to my workshops, I would walk away from it all if that sacrifice were ever required of me for the sake of my daughters or myself. There are only so many balls that a person can juggle, and I know which ones are glass. I love this work, but I am not a slave to it.
If this resonates with you, please share it with anyone whose work may be growing. I often wondered, while I was in the middle of it, where to turn for help and support from someone who’d been there before me. I found some of that support along the way and I want to offer it to others. If you’re growing your work and need coaching to help you stay grounded, check out my coaching page. If you’re just beginning to dream of what your work is in the world, you may benefit from Pathfinder: A Creative Journal for Finding Your Way or The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.
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In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As the founder of the Greenbelt Movement, she mobilized thousands of women to plant millions of trees across Kenya. Besides planting trees, she was instrumental in freeing political prisoners, protecting women’s rights, and creating a more democratic election process.
I knew some of these things about Wangari Maathai, but before I read her biography, Unbowed, I had no idea just how much she’d had to struggle through nearly every step of her journey. For starters, her husband divorced her because she was “too strong-minded for a woman” and he was “unable to control her”. From then on, in a patriarchal society, she was forever branded as obstinate divorced woman who didn’t know her place and shouldn’t be trusted.
That didn’t stop her, though. She felt strongly compelled to work for the environment and for women’s rights and so she stuck with it through multiple imprisonments, repeated death threats, and almost every obstacle possible. For most of her adult life, she was fighting a corrupt government that wanted to silence her. When nobody would rent office space to her organization because they’d become too controversial, she opened her small home to a staff of eighty. When the death threats became too plentiful, she went into hiding but refused to stay silent. When mothers were protesting the unjust imprisonment of their sons, she slept with them in a church for months on end. When the government was fostering conflict between tribes, she met with them in secret to try to bring them back to peace.
What compelled her to do all of that? She had a PhD and a professorship – she could have chosen to live out her days as a mild-mannered professor. Why did she risk her life again and again for what she believed in?
She simply couldn’t see any other way to live.
“Many people assume that I must have been inordinately brave to face down the thugs and police during the campaign for Karura Forest. The truth is that I simply did not understand why anyone would want to violate the rights of others or to ruin the environment… What people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don’t see danger. Because I don’t see danger, I don’t allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear. If you don’t foresee the danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.”
I was thinking about Wangari Maathai this week as I coached my clients. Many of my clients also feel compelled to do hard things. One is preparing to run for politics, even though she knows it will be the hardest thing she’s ever done and she will get beaten up along the way for being an idealistic woman. Another is studying to go into the ministry, even though she’s already butted her head repeatedly against the patriarchal church and faces a double whammy of discrimination as a disabled woman. A third is determined to finish a book that’s taken her twenty years to write, even though she’s over seventy and has every right to take the easy road at this stage of her life. Still others are advocating for human rights, following non-conformist paths into work that nobody understands, and daring to heal from abusive pasts.
What makes these women do what they do even though they know it will be hard? When I ask them this question, they usually just shrug and say “I just feel like I have to. It doesn’t feel like I’ll have a fulfilled life if I don’t at least try.”
For those of us following a path to authenticity and our own calling, there will invariably come a time when we find ourselves compelled to do really hard things. When that time comes, we know that if we don’t make the choice to go through, something inside us will die.
It might be the risk of quitting a job or ending a relationship or walking away from an opportunity or standing up for justice or caring for an autistic child or giving up our material goods or fighting a broken system or protecting the oceans or planting vegetables or writing a book or becoming a poet. The hard things in our lives might not seem like hard things for others, but for us it takes all of our courage to stay the course and face the fallout.
Why do we do it? Because we have no other choice. Because something inside us compels us. Because we don’t want to die unlived lives. Because, like Wangari, we choose to focus on the solution and not the obstacles.
It’s a little like natural childbirth. Once your body decides it’s time to go into labour, you have no choice but to go through. When my second daughter was born, close on the heals of the first, the first labour pain brought back a rush of memory of how hard it had been the first time, and I said out loud “I change my mind. I’m not having this baby!” But I really didn’t have a choice. This baby wanted to be born and my body knew it had to let that happen, no matter how hard it was going to be. And when the labouring has done the work of opening the cervix, and the compulsion to push comes on, there is nothing our minds can do but follow along on the course the body feels compelled to take.
And sometimes we feel that compulsion to do the hard thing even when we know the outcome is almost certain failure. We still have to do what we have to do, or we die. When I was told that my third baby had died in utero, I didn’t know how I’d find the strength to go through what my body had to go through to birth him. How can one go through excruciating pain without knowing there is a hopeful outcome?
And yet… I found the strength. I had to. My body gave me no other choice. And it turned out that what the social worker had told me was right… “The birth will be hard, but there will come a day when you won’t regret going through it, because at least then you will know that that this baby is real and you have a right to grief him.”
Sometimes we do hard things even though we’re pretty sure they’re doomed for failure. Wangari Maathai has been instrumental in planting millions of trees, but in the time those trees were being planted, just as many were being cut down. One might wonder whether the end game was worth the struggle. And yet, she simply knew she had to do it. Because it was the right thing to do.
Another woman who does that in our country is Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party. She knows that, every time she gathers a slate of candidates to run for election, there’s an almost guaranteed certainty that all but one or two will fail. And yet she keeps doing it. Because it’s the right thing to do.
In her book, So Far From Home, Margaret Wheatley talks about those people who just keep doing hard things, even though they know the pain of repeated failure.
“My great teachers these days are people who no longer need hope in order to do their work, even though their projects and organizations began with bright, hope-filled dreams. As ‘the blood-dimmed tide’ of greed, fear, and oppression drowns out their voices and washes away their good work, they become more committed to their work, not because it will succeed, but just because it is right for them to be doing it.”
And so, we strap on our boots and prepare to do the hard work. Because it is right for us to be doing it. And we know that even a painful joy is better than no joy at all.
Note: If you are seeking your path through the hard things, you might find some support in The Spiral Path which starts on Monday.
I often use labyrinths in my retreats and workshops, and until now I’ve either used what’s available onsite, or I’ve created them with string, mowed them into grass, or made them out of dried leaves.
This weekend, I finally made a portable labyrinth that I can carry with me.
When I shared the result on social media, several people asked for details about how I made it. Here’s how:
1. Since canvas can be quite expensive, I looked for a less expensive alternative. At the local Home Depot, I found painting drop cloths that were 4′ x 20′. They worked well because they’re fabric on one side and plastic on the other so that they absorb the paint without soaking through to the floor. Plus they’re fairly light weight for easier transport. (They cost $22 each, so my total investment was $110, since I had all of the other materials on hand.)
2. I wanted to make my labyrinth approximately 20′ x 20′, so I bought 5 drop cloths and sewed them together. They’re hemmed along the long edges, and at first I was going to seam-rip all of the hems, but that was far too tedious, so I just cut off the hems (losing a bit of the width, but I was okay with that) and sewed them. Tip: I had access to a large space for my labyrinth creation (a church floor), and I recommend doing the sewing in a fairly large space too. It’s bulky and a little awkward.
3. Once the dropcloths were sewn together, I drew the outline of the labyrinth with chalk. I started by measuring where my centre was and making a chalk mark there. Then I placed a paint can at the centre and tied a long string loosely on it to use as a giant compass/protractor. Tip: Make sure the string is loose enough on the can so that it rotates as you move around the circle.
4. I wanted to make a 5-path version of the Chartres labyrinth. To figure out how wide my paths should be, I started by making the largest circle (to within a couple of inches of the edge of the canvas) and then making the centre circle (large enough that three people can comfortably stand in it). Then I measured the distance between the centre circle and the outside circle and divided it by 5. It came to 17.5 inches.
5. Shortening my string each time, I drew the concentric circles.
6. From there, it’s a matter of drawing the horizontal and vertical lines and then erasing the parts of the circle that aren’t needed. As you’ll see in the design I used, the horizontal and vertical lines all connect circles, so you need to pay attention to which of the circles you’re connecting, and then measure the same width as your path (17.5″ in my case) from that line to know how much of the circle to erase. Tip: The chalk marks are easy to brush away with a household brush (I used a pot scrubber).
7. Once I had the chalk lines in place, I started painting. To keep it inexpensive, I used some leftover acrylic house paint for my lines, which worked great. I painted on the inside of each chalk line to keep it consistent.
8. For the width of the lines, I simply painted as wide as a small sponge brush. The edges of my lines are not very precise, since it’s hard to attain precision on fabric without driving yourself crazy, but I decided I was fine with that. It might have worked to put painters tape down, but that seemed like a lot of extra work to me (and I only had the space for a limited time) and I wasn’t sure how the tape would work around circles.
9. After the paint had dried, I decided to touch up the edges a bit with a thinner brush. It took a fair bit of extra time, but I liked the more solid line, so it was worth it.
10. I let it dry for about 12 hours before folding it. It might have been a good idea to leave it longer, but the space was being used the next day so I needed to move it.
The hardest part of the whole process was all of the time spent (about 8 hours) crouching on the floor. By the end of it, I had a hard time unfolding my body! Stretching during my breaks helped, but I could have been more diligent.
I didn’t know how much launching Lead with your Wild Heart would change my life and my business, but it has, dramatically. Interviewing the incredible members of my wisdom circle, researching, writing, and teaching this program have taught me more than any course I’ve ever taken or ever created.
In shamanic language, this feels like my original medicine – the gift I’m meant to contribute for the healing of the world. In helping women (and, in the future, possibly men) get closer to their wild hearts, I am becoming intimately familiar with my own. (The next offering will begin in May, and I expect there will be in-person offerings to come as well.)
The seeds for this course came to me one day last summer when I was wandering in my favourite woods. There are often deer in those woods, and I have such great reverence for deer that I always stop to pay attention when I see them there. Often I follow them deeper into the woods.
One particular time, I almost missed the deer that was standing completely motionless about ten feet from the path on which I walked. The deer was watching me, and when I stopped on the path, we stood locked in a visual embrace for what I think was about ten minutes but what felt like an eternity.
I walked away from that encounter with the profound sense that the deer needed me to understand something that I’d been missing before. Further along the path, it came to me. “I need to create a program called Lead with your Wild Heart. I need to teach women how to get reconnected again.”
The deer invited me back into the wild – back to my wild-hearted trust, wild-hearted love, and wild-hearted courage. Those are the things I now share with the incredible circle of women who have gathered for this program.
Sometimes my coaching clients lament that they are not very good at planning or goal-setting, and I tell them “Maybe you don’t have to be. Maybe you just need to be good at wandering in the woods and listening for the wisdom.” You won’t hear that in business school, but my best ideas have almost always emerged when I’ve found time to be silent in nature.
The deeper I go in this journey, the more I understand what it means to be wild again.
To be wild again means that:
- We are connected with the earth, the wind, the deer, and the trees.
- We are connected with each other in a deeper way than our culture encourages.
- We trust that which is primal and wild in ourselves and we offer our most natural gifts to each other.
- We trust that which is primal and wild around us and we honour the wisdom of creation.
- We remember that we are stewards and citizens rather than consumers and conquerors of this earth.
- We dare to weep when we are wounded, laugh when we are joyous, and touch when we are in need of each together.
- We reclaim the circle and gather around the fire, sharing our most vulnerable, wild stories.
- We dare to plunge the depths of our wild hearts and honour what we find there.
- We sing and dance, trusting both our voices and our bodies to be expressions of the sacred.
- We are courageous warriors, serving the cause of all that is good in the world.
- We dare to believe that the world is a good place to call home.
sharing stories and stitching prayer flags at a recent women's gathering
I talk a lot about stories – how important they are in helping us find collective healing, how transformative they can be in encouraging us to dream of a new world, how much they connect us to each other and give us courage.
“But what IS a story?” the students in my Creative Writing for Self-Discovery class pushed back a few weeks ago. “How do you define it? You’ve made reference to the story arc and conflict and plot, but we still don’t know the ‘rules’. How do we figure out whether or not something we write fits the definition of story?”
“Next week,” I promised, and then went home and started brushing up on my definition of story.
When I incorporate storytelling into leadership and personal growth workshops, I purposely leave my definition fairly vague. “A story is simply your account of how things happened. It can be as simple as helping people see a new possibility by telling them ‘when Jim did this last week, it made his daily routine much easier.'” But this was different. This was a group of creative writers who want to master the craft of writing short stories – whether simply for their own enjoyment or for the possibility of getting them published some day.
I did what any teacher would do – I went back to the tried and true definitions from back when I was getting my English degree. I typed up a lovely list of story elements for my students – setting, plot, conflict, character, point of view, and theme. I found a helpful diagram of the story arc that demonstrates how a story moves from routine, through the inciting incident that changes everything, through rising tension, to the climax, and ultimately to the denouement (resolution). I defined the protagonist as the main character and the antagonist as whatever source of conflict arises from the inciting incident which the protagonist must conquer before there is resolution. As I prepared my notes, I had flashbacks of my literature professors (all aging white men, incidentally) drilling it into our impressionable mines that “unless there is conflict and some kind of climax and resolution, THERE IS NO STORY!”
It was all good material that my professors would have been proud of… BUT… it didn’t entirely satisfy me. Something was wrong. Even though it was the kind of handout that would have gotten me an A in my university literature classes, the twenty plus years of wisdom I’ve gained since didn’t quite jive.
Then, while reading A Passion for Narrative, something jumped out and shook me out of my complacent regurgitation. You could say that it was my “inciting incident” where everything changed. It was this quote from Janet Burroway:
“Seeing the world in terms of enemies and warring factions not only limits the possibilities of literature, but also promulgates an aggressive and antagonistic view of our own lives. Further, the notion of resolution is untrue to life, and holds up perfection, unity, and singularity as goals at the expense of acceptance, nuance, and variety… Birth presents us with an alternative model in which there is a desired result, drama, struggle, and outcome. But it also represents a process in which the struggle, one toward life and growth, is natural. There is no enemy. The “resolution” suggests continuance rather than finality. It is persuasively argued that the story as power struggle offers a patriarchal view of the world, and that it would improve both stories and world if we would envision human beings as engaged in a struggle toward life.”
WAIT JUST ONE MINUTE! There’s a different way of defining stories? There doesn’t need to be a protagonist and an antagonist and the struggle doesn’t need to be AGAINST someone or something?
Something new in me woke up. Perhaps more truthfully, something old and primal in me was re-awakened. Suddenly it all made sense, and my storytelling wisdom lined up with my exploration of feminine wisdom.
We’ve been telling too many patriarchal stories! We’ve been letting our old white male university professors convince us that that’s the way it HAS to be! We’ve been conditioned to believe that our stories are not real stories unless there is an evil force to overcome. We’ve sat through hundreds of movies, read thousands of books, and listened to a million children’s stories that have all lead us to believe that there is conflict that needs to be overcome and that the only way to wrap up the story is to tie up the loose ends into some kind of (usually artificially constructed) resolution.
We don’t have to tell those kinds of stories anymore. In fact, the world needs us to start telling NEW stories – ones that are modelled on birth, where there is still a struggle, but this time we are struggling TOGETHER to bring about something new. There is no enemy. And the endings don’t need to be resolved, but rather they leave us at a place of continuance, growth, or just a whole lot of new questions for us to sit with.
This is so much bigger than simply a Tuesday evening creative writing class. This new way of engaging with story is about a new way of engaging with our economy, our religions, our communities, and our earth. It doesn’t have to be about competition anymore. There doesn’t have to be an antagonist in our stories. We can all be protagonists in the struggle together, birthing something new and ending not with a resolution, but with a step into the next story.
It all made sense to me when I read that quote, because THIS is what I feel most called to bring to the world – a new way of telling stories, a new way of walking through struggle, a new way of engaging with each other, and a new way of sensing the future. This is a new story that is actually more like an old story finally being reborn. Patriarchy does not have to rule us anymore. The old stories don’t have to control the way we see the world. We can usher in the Feminine. We can “shake the world with a new dream“. We can redefine ourselves as artists. We can build a new sacred economy. We can lead with our wild hearts.
It’s not easy letting go of the old stories. We’ll experience a lot of pain and resistance along the way. We’ll have to stand up to those wise old university professors and say “we respect your version, and it may have worked in the past, but we’ve got a new story to tell”. We’ll have to stand up to big business and say “you’ve created a lot of good products and you’ve allowed us to live in privilege, but it’s time to stop all this production and birth a new future.” We’ll have to challenge our governments and say “we’ve appreciated the way you’ve let us use our natural resources for our own ease and comfort, but it’s time to stop seeing Mother Earth as the antagonist in this story.” We’ll have to interrupt our meetings and public forums, move the chairs into circle, and say “thank you for leading us in the past, but we have a new way of gathering now and we believe it makes a difference when our chairs don’t mirror a hierarchical view of the world.”
This is what Lead with your Wild Heart is all about. I’ve gathered a Wisdom Circle of people who are willing to share the ways in which they’re learning to tell new stories, and together we’ll be “shaking the world with a new dream” – a dream where there are no enemies, we struggle together, and the end looks more like a set of new questions than a resolution.
I really hope you’ll join me and the other wise women who are starting to gather.
Ten years ago I was lost. I had just returned to work after my fourth and final maternity leave, and I was completely miserable. Not only was it hard to leave my baby every day, but I was in a job that didn’t sustain or inspire me. All it did was drain my energy every single day. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for tears to flow on the way home from work.
Five years earlier, I’d taken my first leadership job in the government and I took to it like a duck to water. I loved the challenge and I loved my team. I was inspired and energized by the opportunity to provide them guidance and unleash their creative potential. I had an eager and talented young staff and we worked together beautifully, finding creative ways to communicate and commemorate the sacrifices our veterans had made.
At the start, it was good, but then things started to go wrong. For one thing, I started to internalize some of the messaging I was hearing at leadership workshops and from leadership mentors. “Keep your feelings out of leadership.” “It’s about control and moderation, not about passion.” “Don’t let them see you vulnerable.” “Use your head and ignore your heart.”
For another thing, I stepped away from that first job to take one that offered higher pay and more security. Unfortunately, it was all wrong for me and the environment was toxic. It was a science environment where most of the leaders were in their roles because of their knowledge of science rather than their leadership abilities or their understanding of people. As a professional communicator, I was usually the only one at the management team table who didn’t have an advanced science degree. In an environment that valued left-brain logical thinking, there was little space for my right-brain, intuitive, heart-based approach to leadership.
I felt lost – like a foreigner in a foreign land. If this was what leadership entailed, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a leader anymore.
And then one day, I started to explore a new way of looking at leadership (that was much closer to the way I’d intuitively lead when I’d first started) and it felt like someone had offered me a lifeline. I can’t remember whose work I discovered first, but three writers started to show up on my radar screen – Christina Baldwin, David Irvine, and Margaret Wheatley. All three wrote about authentic, community-based, vulnerable leadership. They inspired me to lead from a place in the circle, live simply in a complex world, and turn to one another. (I am deeply grateful that in the years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to attend workshops with all three of these incredible teachers.)
Not long after that, I left the government for non-profit. It was a job I loved, but it was also one that challenged me in more ways than I’d ever been challenged before. Every leadership ability that I thought I’d gained and every principle I thought I valued was put to the test. I led a national team that was mostly full of fiercely independent people who didn’t really want to be lead. I was emotionally abused, I had a lawsuit filed against me by someone who felt she was wrongfully dismissed, I witnessed more than one emotional breakdown among my staff, and I had to deal with multiple conflicts and miscommunications between staff. It was a good place to work, but it was hard and I often felt very much alone. I was floundering and there was nobody to talk to about it. I searched for a circle of other leaders who might serve as my support system, but I found none. The best I could do was have regular coffee dates with my friend Susan who understood my challenges and was always a good listening ear.
When I finally left that job to become self-employed, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was to serve women like me who knew they had a calling to be in leadership in some form or another (whether at the boardroom table or the kitchen table) and needed someone to support and guide them. I tried to do that from the beginning, and I briefly offered a program called “How to Lead with Your Paint Clothes On”, but there was something holding me back that I had to work through first.
The truth is, there were some failure stories that were getting in the way of my calling to support other emerging leaders. There was the story of my last year at the non-profit, when I was so burnt out that I was mostly ineffectual as a leader. There was the story of the ugliness of the lawsuit (that was never resolved, by the way), and the difficulties surrounding that relationship. There was the story of the pseudo-coach who’d blasted me for my unprofessionalism when I responded emotionally to a staff member’s suicide threat. There was the story of the many attempts I’d made to build a unified team out of independently-working people spread across the country.
Every time I’d think about offering a leadership program for women emerging into leadership, I’d get blocked by the gremlins that told me “you failed at leadership – what gives you the audacity to think you could teach people?”
And yet, the memory of the lifeline I’d been offered in my most lost place kept propelling me forward. I knew that the woman I was ten years ago desperately needed women like me to serve as her guide – women who’d been through the challenges, admitted her failures, had a few glorious moments, and learned from her mistakes. I knew that she needed someone who would encourage her without judging her. I knew she needed to be given permission to lead with her heart and not just her head. I knew – more than anything – that she needed someone to say “You’re okay. You’re enough. You’re on the right path. Don’t give up.”
This summer, I had the privilege of co-hosting a beautiful circle of 44 women at the annual Gather the Women gathering, and I walked away inspired once again by the need this world has for more women to gather in circle and offer their hearts into the service of transformation. After asking the women to share stories of courage, I knew that the most courageous thing I could do would be to more boldly and confidently step into the role of guide for women emerging into leadership.
Finally, after two years of self-employment, I am ready to offer the thing that’s been tugging at my heart for years – a personal leadership program for women emerging as changemakers, artists, visionaries, storytellers, and edgewalkers.
It’s called Lead with your Wild Heart, and it comes directly from my wild heart to yours.
First and foremost, it’s about redefining leadership. I believe what Margaret Wheatley says, that “a leader is anyone who is willing to help, anyone who sees something that needs to change and takes the first step to influence that situation.”
This program is for you if you’re imagining a better future for yourself, your community, or the world. It’s for you if you feel something nudging you to step into your courage. It’s for you if you’re the lost young woman I was, stuck in a corporate world that’s eating away at your soul. It’s for you if you’ve been wounded by a patriarchal model of leadership and you need healing and encouragement. It’s for you if you need permission to follow your heart. It’s for you if you’ve been longing for a program that honours ALL of who you are – body, mind, and spirit.
I offer this humbly, admitting that I have made mistakes and that I still have much to learn in my journey. Because I still have much to learn, I have invited a number of wise, wild-hearted friends to share their stories and wisdom with the participants of the program as well. I’m honoured that a long list of willing guides (including some people who’ve been my own teachers) have stepped forward and agreed to have conversations with me that will be recorded and made available as part of the program. Follow the link to find out more.
I hope that you’ll consider joining me and/or share this with other women you know who might need it.