While looking for something entirely unrelated on my blog, I came across this post I wrote two years ago, before my dream of launching my own business became a reality. It gave me a little lump in my throat, and so I thought it was worth pulling forward and sharing with you.
The three young girls I’m raising and the one that I was
On her second birthday, Nikki spent about an hour trying on all of the clothes she’d just gotten as gifts, while the toys got brushed aside. She rarely wanted to ride in the stroller if she had the option of running. She scoffed at anyone who wasted her time with fairy tales or made-up entities like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Now that she’s thirteen, her friends call her the “Tyra Banks” of her group because of her passion for fashion. She dreams of the day her knee heals so that she can run, run, and run some more. (She’s jealous of me when I run on the treadmill – can you imagine?) She’d rather read a biography than a work of fiction any day.
At two, Julie had a better command of the English language than most teenagers. She learned to negotiate (and sometimes manipulate) almost as quickly as she learned to talk, and before long, we couldn’t keep enough books in the house to keep her happy. Now that she’s twelve, she volunteers for every public speaking opportunity that’s available to her, she’s trying to get a student council set up in her school so that students have more of a voice, and she’s almost always lost in a book.
Some of Maddie’s first words were “can you imagine if…” She filled our house with her imaginary playmates and all of the stuffed toys and dolls her sisters had tossed aside. Her favourite game was a fanciful round of “would you rather?” Now that she’s seven, she still plays “would you rather”, writes story books, paints pictures, calls herself an artist, and creates elaborate play spaces for her dolls under tables or chairs. She loves 3D movies and insists that they’re much better when you reach out for the things that come flying at you.
I don’t know how these things will continue to manifest themselves in my daughters, but I suspect some of it will shape the way their lives unfold. I hope that we as their parents have instilled in them enough of a belief that those passions have worth.
In more than one book I’ve read recently, writers claim that “our youthful passions serve as a foreshadowing of our calling or life’s work.” I want to honour the foreshadowing I see in my children, and so (in my moments of attentive parenting) I buy books on fashion for one of them, help another one coax school leadership to consider a student council, and climb under the table with the third and help her spell out the words for her latest work of fiction.
I want to go back to the child I once was and tell her the same things I try to say to my children. “Those hobbies you have? Those things that make you happy? They’re not just a waste of time. They have value. Don’t set them aside in pursuit of a more practical career. Trust them to direct you into your path. Don’t try to fit into the boxes you think you’re supposed to fit into.”
On the bus yesterday, I read “…just scribble your recollections of childhood passions in the margins here.” And so I did. This is what I wrote:
I loved to go places, either on my horse, my bike, or (on rare occasions when our family went on an adventure) in the car. I loved to wander all over the farm and thought of myself as an explorer in the woods. I had a special little hideaway in the middle of a bramble bush that you had to know how to navigate your way through to avoid the sharp thorns.
I was always creating something – macramé plant hangers, doll beds, decoupaged memory boxes – you name it. I learned to sew and was forever digging through my mom’s fabric closet for interesting scraps of fabric. I was happiest when I had a creative project on the go.
I wrote endless journals, stories, poems, one-act plays, or whatever tickled my fancy. My very first drama was a little play my friend Julie and I wrote and performed in our living room as a fundraiser for a mission organization. I wanted to speak and have people listen. I wanted to influence.
I would walk to the farthest field on the farm if I thought that Dad would give me a chance to drive the tractor. It felt like freedom to me, to be able to drive and to be trusted with something that was usually reserved for my big brothers. I thrilled at the little grin my Dad got when he was proud of my independence and determination.
I loved to be active. I would join almost any team or group activity that was available to me. I played ringette, soccer, volleyball, and baseball. I joined the drama club and the choir. I was never a star but I was always a joiner.
I gravitated toward positions of leadership and influence. I was student council president in grade 9. (After that, though, I had to go to the ‘big’ school in a much bigger town. I lost my confidence and didn’t run for student council again until college.)
What would that little girl tell me if only she could? What were the dreams she had that got set aside when bills had to be paid and careers had to be chosen?
I haven’t totally abandoned those things I loved to do. Even in the practicality of life, I’ve usually found some small way of honouring them. But sometimes we believe other voices rather than our own, we follow someone else’s idea of what our calling should be, and we set aside fanciful things for those that seem more pragmatic and realistic.
Somewhere along the line, most of the passions got relegated to “hobbies” rather than “life’s work”.
something that makes things visible or affords illumination: All colors depend on light.
of little weight; not heavy: a light load.
Last week, the word “light” kept showing up for me in what I thought at the time were two different streams. At first there was the stream of light that means the absence of darkness, and then there was the stream of light that means the absence of weight. (Of course, now that I write it down, it seems so obvious, but it took a week of processing for me to finally catch on that I was dealing with one and the same thing.)
The first time light appeared, I was listening to Yolanda Nokuri Hegngi talk about the two years she’d spent in darkness (a story she has written about in her new memoir “Treasures in Darkness”). Yolanda could just as easily have been telling my story. Full of many transitions, deaths, near-deaths, career shifts, and times of great pain, the past two years have taken me through quite a lot of darkness. Every time I thought I was emerging from the darkness, some new shadow would appear.
Yolanda ended her talk by saying “We need leaders who have learned to navigate in the dark.” Wow. I was sure she was speaking directly to me. I’ve learned more than I want to know about navigating in the dark. (Some of you may recall a related post about being called to light a candle for people stumbling in the darkness, just as others have done for me. Yes, callings like that have a way of showing up time and time again, especially when we’re stubborn.)
That afternoon in our leadership intensive, we were invited to write down some intention that we wanted to put our attention on throughout the course of the workshop. In response to Yolanda’s words, I wrote “I am putting my attention on trusting my gift to help people navigate in the dark.”
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” – Matthew 5: 14-15
The other stream of light started to appear around the same time. Our workshop held a significant focus on play – how play can transform otherwise dark circumstances and how we can use play in our leadership to engage people in deeper conversations and shifts. (To learn more about it, I encourage you to read the book Walk Out Walk On that the workshop was based on.) I’d signed up for the workshop partly because I have been yearning for more play in my life (it is, after all, the reason I chose the word “joy” as my intention for the year).
I long for more lightness. I want to carry less weight.
But… after Yolanda’s talk, all I wanted to do was cry. I struggled through the afternoon’s session of the workshop because I thought I’d chosen poorly. I wasn’t ready for play after all. I should probably be in the workshop Yolanda was leading – where tears and deep story-telling were more expected.
Quite frankly, I was fighting resentment and resistance. I wanted lightness, but here I was in a place of heaviness again. The year before, I’d gone to ALIA carrying a lot of pain in my broken heart, and I was SURE that this time would be different. This was SUPPOSED to be the year that pain was replaced with joy.
After the session, I went outside, leaned on a large sycamore tree I’d fondly dubbed “Grandmother Tree”, and I cried. I cried for the pain I was still carrying and I cried for the disappointment. I cried and I wrote, and I let the tree hold me up.
And then, still leaning on the tree, I spontaneously wrote the word “lightness” on my arm.
Shortly after that, when I returned to the main meeting room, I sat down on a meditation cushion next to my friend Brad. He looked at the heavy backpack I was carrying on my back, and at the look on my face, and asked “why are you carrying so much weight around?”
I laughed out loud, knowing the question was meant (intentionally or unintentionally) both literally and figuratively. In my backpack was the weight of all of the story-harvesting I love to do – a big camera with multiple lenses, a video camera, a journal, and various related items. On my face, at the same time, was the weight of my personal stories, heartache, and resentment.
“That’s a good question,” I said, “and it’s funny you should ask, because just now I wrote the word ‘lightness’ on my arm.” We shared a chuckle, and then I promised him that the next day I would show up with a lighter load. “You can feel free to bug me if you see me still carrying this weight.”
After the session that evening, I spent a long time wandering around the beautiful OSU campus looking for the other kind of light – the “absence of darkness” (and maybe the “absence of weight” at the same time). I found it reflected off the water, I found it gently falling on the path in front of me, I found blue versions of it shining from the safety phone posts, and I found it sparkling in the windows of old buildings full of stories.
And when I returned to the dorm, and settled into my room, light appeared there as well. This time, it was the “absence of weight” kind, when a spontaneous jam session started in the room I shared with my friend Ann. When someone with a guitar wandered past the door, I said “come in – nobody carrying a guitar is ever turned away”. And then, before I knew it, someone else showed up with a violin, and a third person pulled out a banjo. It was a beautiful light moment and I took great joy in the fact that I (and Ann) had attracted it into my space. (Light attracts light, perhaps?)
Here’s a little video I took lying on the floor in the middle of the musicians. Appropriately, mostly what you see are shadows, because there was very little of the “absence of darkness” kind of light in the room, but plenty of the other kind.
The next morning, as I dressed, I wondered what I could leave behind to make my load lighter. It was a hard decision, but nearly everything stayed in my room. I decided to trust the fact that others would be there with cameras and videocameras and I didn’t need to do as much documenting as I am inclined to do. (As a matter of fact, by then I’d already found at least one person who was taking exceptional photos and another person capturing great video. I could trust them to harvest as well as – or better than – I could and I knew that they would share.)
In an even bigger leap of faith, I decided to leave my journal behind and trust that something else would show up if there were things I wanted to capture (and doodle about). The only things I decided to take with me (besides the key to my room), were some coloured markers in a small colourful pouch I wore around my neck.
Sure enough, during the very first session, something else showed up for me to doodle on. My arm. I am a dedicated doodler (it’s how I process information), and before long, I was doodling all over my arm, surrounding the word “lightness” with all measure of shapes and wiggles and trees and random words I picked up in my listening.
And… I loved it! I may never go back to doodling in my journal again! You might find me with new doodles on my arm every day – signs that I have been doing some deep process work, connecting with my artistic mind and my beautiful body all at the same time. (Try it! And come back and tell me about it!)
It was a great way of celebrating lightness – by not taking myself too seriously and letting my inner child surface in the doodles on my skin.
Another fun thing that happens when you doodle on your arm is that people notice. And in a place like ALIA, where we are encouraged to be curious, vulnerable, and authentic, they tend to respond in positive ways. Several people asked if they could take pictures of my arm AND one person (whom I hadn’t met before) invited me to participate with her in doing graphic facilitation for the next day’s session. “Anyone who does that to their arm can be trusted to help me co-create at the front of the room.”
Yikes! A doodle on my arm was a catalyst for me doodling on a big piece of paper on the wall in front of 250 people! It was both terrifying and exciting – like nothing I’ve ever done before.
With my confidence heightened, I continued to use my doodling throughout the rest of the week, doodling a learning tree during a session I hosted on feminine wisdom, doodling graphics while I helped a new friend imagine a business opportunity, doing henna doodles on the hands of all of the participants in the workshop I was in to represent their intentions for the week, and doing a whole new doodle/mandala on my arm the next day (that now started with the word “clarity”).
The lightness of doodling transformed my week. (Ironically, it was also a doodle at last year’s ALIA that cracked a door wide open for me and helped me imagine Sophia Leadership. Are you spotting a trend? Now start doodling and see what shifts for you!)
There’s at least one more way that lightness showed up for me last week… During the course of the week, I found myself drawn to several young people who brought incredible energy, vitality and passion to the community. It was exciting to be in circles with them. These are the gifted young leaders we can trust our futures to.
Twice I had the pleasure of being in conversations with women in their early twenties who were wrestling with the big, heavy questions of “what should I do with the rest of my life?” and “how do I use these passions I have to transform the world?” In both conversations, my advice (when it was asked for), coming from a place that surprised me, was “Hold it all lightly. Don’t take your life or your decisions too seriously. Each decision you make will help shape you, but none of these decisions will be ultimate and unchanging. Find a thread you feel called to follow and hold it lightly.”
Wow. I heard myself say those things and I knew I needed to take my own advice as much as they did.
Hold it all lightly. Hold light lightly. Offer light. Pass the light along. Light the way. Welcome lightness. Be a light. Walk lightly on this earth. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Be a light. Be light.
That’s it. Light. That’s what I want, and that’s what I want to offer.
I used to think it was just about offering light in a dark place (because I’ve become so accustomed to the dark and because I tend to take the world too seriously), but now I recognize that it’s that other kind of light as well. The absence of weight. The ability to go through life without letting it weigh you down.
There’s just one more piece of the light puzzle that started coming together last week that I’d like to share…
During one session, I participated in a fascinating circle time in which Thomas Arthur shared his Elementals – photos he’s taken of beings in the world, in which all he does is mirror the image of what he sees to create fanciful creatures from nature that speak to him (and to those who have the pleasure of listening with him). He asked us to choose an image that most spoke to us.
Elemental Goddess, by Thomas Arthur
I chose the image you see above. She drew me to her because of her sensuality and the sense that she is rising from some deep place with a smile on her face.
At first, it looked like she had a yoke across her shoulders, which was appropriate, for someone like me who’d been carrying a heavy backpack and lots of worries and old stories around with her early in the week.
When I looked closer, though, and added the purple shapes to the gold, the yoke was transformed into wings.
Like this beautiful Elemental, I want my yoke to be transformed into wings.
Be a light. Carry the world lightly.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11: 29-30
I wish I could tell you what it feels like
to come to a place where you are understood
and deeply seen.
I wish I could tell you what it does to one’s heart
to know that your passions are shared, celebrated, and encouraged.
I wish I could tell you what it means
to share a space with 400 other women and men
and know that the feminine is truly honoured and welcomed in.
I wish I could tell you how energizing it is
to have conversations that ask for your
deepest questions and vulnerabilities.
I wish I could tell you how moving it is
to be reminded, by the way it is modeled,
that questions are the way to lead change.
I wish I could tell you how it makes your body come alive
when you move around the space with your tribe members
trusting that bodies hold wisdom our minds know nothing about.
I wish I could tell you how it transforms a space
when someone sits down on the floor with coloured markers
and begins to draw your questions and dreams.
I wish I could tell you about the feeling of power
when passionate people move into a circle
and there is no stronger position than the one you occupy.
I wish I could tell you about the tears that fill one’s eyes
when a truly passionate artist/performer
steps into his full beauty with driftwood and glass balls.
I wish I could tell you about the magic
of a brief after-dinner conversation
about stillborn babies and butterflies and our deep women’s stories.
I wish I could tell you all of these things.
But I can’t. Because words are only dim reflections of the truth.
(p.s. I am at ALIA Summer Institute, my watering hole, summer camp, tribal council, retreat, and learning journey all rolled into one.)
photo taken by my talented sister, at thousandwordsphotography.ca
A few posts ago, I mentioned the winding path that one must take up the side of the mountain when the ascent is too steep for the ordinary wanderer.
That metaphor has been ringing so true for me recently, especially in this self-employment journey. Each time I think I’m on the right path, I hit a curve and find myself going in a different direction entirely, never really sure that the path will get me to the top.
When I left my job and started this journey, I was quite convinced that Sophia Leadership was the right path and that feminine wisdom and leadership were the passions that would drive my business. There were so many signposts pointing me along the path – whether it was a horse named Sophia, a fortuitous statue with the word “Sophia” engraved in it, or the amazing experience I had in a circle of women gathered by the lake for our Listening Well retreat.
But then the year ended and a new one began and I found myself feeling restless, knowing something was trying to be born. As it turned out, it was a memoir stretching the walls of my figurative womb, trying to push itself into the light of day. Without totally abandoning Sophia Leadership, I stepped away from some of the passion that drove it to give space for the book to emerge. The book is about my stillborn son and the way that he has been my spiritual guide in my life as I learned and relearned many lessons of surrender.
When the book was in the birth canal, and my primary focus was the labour pains of bringing it to life, I just didn’t feel much like writing about feminine wisdom or leadership and I no longer knew whether Sophia Leadership was the space I belonged. “All I want to do is write,” I thought. “And I don’t want to be restricted by these boxes. Not everything is about Sophia or about leadership.”
So I began to contemplate switching my blog to my heatherplett.com site and making it a more general space about personal growth and transformation and stillborn babies and surrender and LIFE.
But then I hit another switchback on the path. The first draft of the book got done and I started sharing it with a few trusted readers. And as I shared it, I started to realize that it really IS about feminine wisdom AND about leadership, and I really hadn’t switched paths after all.
A few other signs showed up as well. I facilitated an in-person leadership workshop and sat in a circle of people hungry for a new paradigm for leadership, eager to make a difference in the world, and uncertain they have the right to call themselves leaders. They were leaders in search of a guide to point them to the right path.
And then I facilitated an online leadership learning circle for How to Live with your Paint Clothes on, and the same thing happened. An incredible circle of women bravely voiced their calling to leadership of some kind and admitted they were unsure of how to do it and how to work outside the old paradigms of leadership we’re all surrounded with. More leaders in search of a guide.
And then I had an amazing conversation with Bridget Pilloud, and she pushed me kind of hard when I said I was thinking of giving up Sophia Leadership and told me that there is a huge need among women in leadership (including herself in a previous career) for someone to help them see their paths clear to a place where feminine wisdom is honoured and accepted.
Last but not least, Sophia spoke to me in a bookstore. It was one of those restless days when I couldn’t find a book to settle the angst that had taken up residence in my heart. I was wrestling with my wandering tendencies, and the winding path and wondering WHY OH WHY I couldn’t just settle into an ordinary easy path like other people. There were relationship things going on as well that reminded me of my tendency to be an outsider, always on the edge of the circle when others are smack dab in the middle having all the “easy” fun.
Flipping through an art magazine, I heard Sophia whisper “you are called to the edge.” Bam. Just like that. A proclamation that answered so much of my angst and unsettled feelings. “You are CALLED to the edge. This is not an accident.” I’m not SUPPOSED to be in the centre of the circle having easy fun. I’m not SUPPOSED to be one of the people who get called to seemingly easy and straight paths. I’m meant to be out here on the edge.
I am an edge-walker. I am most myself when I am at the edge of the circle where I can serve as witness both to the things going on inside the circle and those happening outside. I am a leader whose vision of what’s ahead on the path helps direct the people at the centre who have less clarity. I help people feel safe because they have a sentry at the edge. I serve as scribe, witness, and facilitator for the people in the centre because I am less attached to the gravity and ideas that pull everyone to the centre. I watch for dangers and I help people avoid them. I follow new ideas and new paths because I know the people in the circle need them.
The particular edge I am called to live on is the edge called Sophia Leadership. I feel more and more certain of that. Bringing feminine wisdom into leadership is edgy, difficult, and not always popular work, but the people in the centre NEED this work. Everywhere I look I see more and more leaders in search of a guide/mentor.
When I walked out of the bookstore, I felt simultaneously like a great burden (of unknowing, doubt, uneasiness) had been lifted off my shoulders, while a whole new burden of responsibility and calling had been added. But the burden was not mine to carry alone – Sophia God was there carrying it for me.
The clarity has carried me through to today. The top of the mountain is becoming a little more visible as I round this latest switchback. I’m not sure how “edge-walker” would play on a business card, but I know what it means to me, and that’s what matters.
In the spirit of being an edge-walker and guide, I am offering new services and clarifying some old ones. Thanks to the roadsigns, there’s more clarity to them than anything I had on this website before. Perhaps one of them will resonate with you. If you need guidance, or if you feel a similar call to the edge, I would love to work with you and serve as your guide.
You can find the buttons for these services on the right-hand side of this blog. Or click on the one that appeals to you below.
(By the way, I am totally in love with the photo my sister took at the top of this page. On my face you can see that perfect mix of seriousness with a hint of a smile, angst with a hint of devil-may-care, and strength with a hint of softness that makes me who I am, standing out here on the edge.)
I’m not a mommy-blogger for a few good reasons. I don’t think I’m particularly competent at parenthood (aren’t we all just feeling our way in the dark?), and there are a lot of other things roaming around in this grey matter that I’d just as soon write about as parenting. While I take great delight in my three daughters, I’m not one of those moms who gives up all else for the sake of her children (nor do I think that’s particularly healthy for mom or kids).
Today is an exception, though. I’m going to blog about my kids.
Last night, I was curled up on the couch when a lovely thought occurred to me. “My three children are all blessedly happy at this moment.” It was a good moment and I had to bask in it while it lasted.
The oldest daughter had just returned from a rugby game and was riding that post-game adrenalin high as she demonstrated some of the plays for her dad and I.
The second daughter is off on a French exchange program in Quebec, and though I didn’t speak with her last night, I can only presume she was happy based on all of the conversations I’ve had with her so far. (There was pure joy in her voice after visiting Old Montreal.)
The third daughter was taking great delight in some new art supplies (thanks Connie!) and was making art in her new journal.
Fierce athlete, curious explorer, and imaginative artist.
That doesn’t paint the whole picture of those three girls, but it certainly gives you a clue about what makes each one unique.
I didn’t mold them into these things, nor did I put any particular effort into helping them find these particular paths. I just did two simple things – I gave them tools and permission. The tools weren’t particularly expensive. Just rugby cleats, art supplies, and a suitcase. And the permission? Well, that was just a matter of deciding a long time ago that I was going to be okay with watching them choose their own paths, whether or not they seemed like the right paths to me.
I think this goes way beyond parenting, though. I think it’s got everything to do with leadership too. Give them tools, give them permission, and set them loose on the world. It’s what leading with your paint clothes on is all about (which, by the way, could also be called “parenting with your paint clothes on” because there are so many parallels).
And it has everything to do with self leadership and self care too. Give yourself the tools. Give yourself the permission. And set yourself loose.
If you love to paint, when was the last time you bought a new paintbrush or tube of paint? If you love to write, why not invest in a beautiful journal and trust that your thoughts are worthy of a good home? If your body loves to move, why haven’t you bought yourself a good pair of dance shoes or running shoes?
And when was the last time you gave yourself the gift of an afternoon to do these things you love to do? Are the things that bring you joy at the bottom of the list after all of the other priorities you have to get to? Stop doing that. Seriously. Give yourself permission.
It’s pretty simple, really. It’s the only way you’ll find your path – give yourself the tools and the permission.
One of the things I’ve learned in my self-employment journey so far, is that almost every day, often several times a day, I have to ask myself “why not me?”
“I wish someone would compile the ideas of a bunch of people who’ve given some thought to feminine wisdom. WHY NOT ME?“
“There are lots of people who could benefit from a deeply personal book about losing a stillborn baby but gaining a deeper spirituality. WHY NOT ME?“
“There’s an amazing conference coming up and they could really use a little help with their social media promotion. WHY NOT ME?“
“Somebody should teach leaders to think a little more like artists. WHY NOT ME?“
It doesn’t come naturally, this question. My default position is to think “surely someone else is more competent at it than I am. Maybe once I’ve read a few more books or taken a few more courses, or had a few more things published – THEN I’ll be ready to take on this task.”
We limit ourselves, don’t we? We assume our ideas aren’t smart enough, unique enough, or educated enough. We think we need a masters degree before we have a right to speak with authority. We think people would be better off hearing from the REAL experts – you know, those with agents and books on the best-seller list.
And then there are the fear gremlins – the voices that whisper “but if you get a book published, people will think you’re showing off” or “what if you teach a workshop about thinking more like an artist and there’s a REAL artist in the room who tells you that you don’t have a clue?” or “what if you offend someone who’s chosen a different path than yours?” or “what if your family and friends start thinking you’re too big for your britches and they reject you?”
And yet… there’s a burning deep inside that says “your wisdom is worth sharing. Your ideas have merit. You’re smart enough for this calling.” And then there are the people who take the time to say “your words make a difference. Keep it up. I need more of what you have to offer.” And you realize that whatever it is you’ve been given to share is worth sharing, even if you only share it with a handful of people. And that it’s not about you, it’s about surrendering to what the Divine asks of you.
And every day, you make a choice to look into the mirror, smile at the fear hidden behind your eyes, and say “Why not me?”
p.s. Want to get more practice in saying “why not me?” Check out Playing Big by my friend Tara Sophia Mohr. I just know it will be amazing!