Beth & Diane after building a leaf labyrinth together
Back in October, I had the pleasure of spending 4 days in a circle of powerful, warm, funny, wise women. We listened to each others’ stories, built a labyrinth of leaves, cried together, laughed together, ate together, dreamed together, and plotted ways of changing the world. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt like I was wrapped in the warmest hug of feminine support.
Even though I’d never met any of the women before, we were able to create an incredibly loving and energizing environment. This circle of women continues to meet periodically to offer each other support over the phone lines. I feel very, very blessed to have them in my life.
This is not the kind of feminine relationships you hear most about in the corporate world. No, we’re more likely to hear of cat fights, gossip, and “bitches” who do anything to protect their own interest. Some of that is true, and some of it isn’t. I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. I believe that the part that is true is largely due to the fact that there is incongruence between corporate culture and the most instinctual way for women to relate to each other. We haven’t found a way to bring our feminine wisdom fully into the boardrooms and cubicles (and frankly, our feminine wisdom might very well abolish both boardrooms and cubicles).
One of the greatest beauties of the circle/story retreat I was at in October was the range of ages and life wisdom of the women in the room. The youngest was a medical doctor who hadn’t yet reached 30, and the oldest was into her 70s. We had all archetypes – maidens, mothers, and crones – represented in the room, and it was a beautiful thing that reminded me of the best kind of community.
It was a particular delight to me to have such beautiful older women present – women who fully embodied and embraced the “crone” archetype. Beth and Diane in the photo above are two of those women. Wow! These women are amazing! Their energy, wisdom and pure delight in the world continue to inspire me these many months later. They didn’t try to hide their ages behind layers of make-up or plastic surgery as the fashion industry has convinced many women to do. They celebrate who they were, dance in the leaves like phoenixes rising from the flames, and share their wisdom and strength in the most generous way I have ever seen.
How I wish they could live next door to me and I could sit at their kitchen table whenever I need a boost of courage!
Yesterday I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Diane (whose face you see above). Even over Skype, Diane sparkles with energy and love. I adore her. She teaches Reiki, leads women’s circles, has a labyrinth in her back yard, builds sweat lodges, and does all kinds of amazing things in support of other women. She has become one of my most treasured mentors. I can’t tell you what it means to have a cheerleader like Diane who absolutely believes that I am on the right path and will do anything she can to help me along that path. If she believes that I will succeed, how can I not?
Qualla with her birthday cupcake
On the other side of the coin, I too have had the pleasure of becoming a mentor to a younger woman who sparkles with energy and love. Last year, when I was at ALIA, I met Qualla Parlman. We spent her nineteenth birthday kayaking off the coast of Nova Scotia, followed by a delicious barbecue on the dock. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her at ALIA (as we weren’t in the same sessions), but since then we’ve gotten to know each other better online and I absolutely adore Qualla and I would do anything to help her succeed. She is an emerging young leader who’s learning to trust her feminine wisdom and I just know she will do big things in the world. I am honoured to be a companion on her journey.
It’s the way of women, isn’t it? The true, natural, instinctual way of women – not the way we have been socialized to become (or to believe we are). We are meant to support each other through the generations and across the generations. We are meant to find wise women who will teach us the ways of the world, and then we are meant to BE those wise women and offer our wisdom generously and without apology to others who need it.
Who are your wise women, and to whom are you offering your wisdom?
“The purse strings of the planet are held by men. The greatest expenditure: global military spending at $900 billion. In 2003, according to the Women’s Environmental and Development Organization, the estimated funds needed to look after basic human needs were as follows: to provide shelter, $21 billion; to eliminate starvation and malnutrition, $19 billion; to provide clean safe water, $10 billion; to eliminate nuclear weapons, $7 billion; to eliminate landmines, $4 billion; to eliminate illiteracy, $5 billion; to provide refugee relief, $5 billion; to stabilize population, $10.5 billion; to prevent soil erosion, $24 billion. The estimated annual total budget for human needs, $105.5 billion vs. the actual global military spending, $900 billion. Imagine how differently women with maternal concern might manage the “family budget” now spent by the nations of the world.” – Jean Shinoda Bolen, Urgent Message from Mother
It’s time, women (and men who embrace their feminine wisdom).
Time to stop letting our leaders spend so much money on weapons when what we really believe in is caring for Mother Earth and her children.
Time to stop letting it be okay for little boys to grow up socialized to fight and win and never show their emotions.
Time to say “it is NOT okay to run through the streets of our cities and destroy things because your favourite team lost a game that has become much too violent and leads you to believe that violence as a response is okay.”
Time to tell our politicians to start building communities instead of polarized enemy camps.
Time to honour sustainable growth over excessive production and consumption that rapes our earth.
Time to let kindness become as important in the corporate world as competition.
Time to rise up and be leaders and stop letting old leadership paradigms hold us captive.
Time to quit apologizing for our wisdom and ideas.
Time to let our fierce love change the planet.
Time for courage.
Time to place some of the power of the purse-strings into women’s hands.
In micro-credit programs in developing countries, it’s a well known fact that if the money is placed into the hands of the women, there is a much greater probability that the children will get fed, the community will be looked after, and the money will be paid back when the loan is due. What if we extrapolated that wisdom and did the same with the $900 billion currently invested in military spending?
We’ve waited long enough. We’ve watched too many things break our hearts. We’ve seen too many of our sons and brothers die in needless battles. We’ve let too much oil spill into our oceans. We’ve been patient with too many testosterone-driven government decisions. We’ve cried over too many little girls sold into sex slavery.
I’m fed up. You’re fed up too, I know it. It’s time to act. Time to make bold moves.
Time for Sophia leadership.
Note: I feel a fire burning in my veins, and I know I need to act. This is my calling – to serve as a catalyst for emerging leaders learning to trust their feminine wisdom – and I need to start doing more about it. This is urgent. We can’t sit around waiting for someone else to right these wrongs and shift the balance. We ALL need to act. With this in mind, I’m planning to offer something I’ve been meaning to launch for quite some time now – a Sophia circle. It will be a gathering place for women who feel their fierce feminine rising up and calling them to claim the name “leader”. If this feels like the right fit for you, leave a comment or send me an email with any ideas or thoughts you might have on it. I’ll be unrolling the details in a few weeks, when I come home from ALIA.
my daughter, my artist, my leader
As I prepare to travel to Columbus for ALIA (Authentic Leadership in Action), I find myself playing with the word “leader”.
Who are the leaders of the world? What do they look like? What makes them unique? What makes us want to follow them?
For a lot of us (especially for women), the word “leader” is a huge block. It feels like too much. Too bold. Too cocky. Too self-assured. Too “I don’t have my OWN shit together – how can I possibly lead other people?”
I’ve heard every excuse in the book. Heck – I’ve USED every excuse in the book. “I’m not smart enough. I don’t have enough knowledge in this subject area. I don’t know how to motivate people. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not confident enough. I don’t like having people depend on me. I don’t know how to fix my own problems – how can I possibly fix other people’s problems? I don’t want people to think I’m too big for my boots. I’m in too much pain.”
We let those limitations block us, because we’ve accepted the wrong paradigms for leadership. Ask any circle of people to name leaders in history or in their own lives, and they’ll talk about people like Nelson Mandela, Obama, Mother Teresa, or the executive director of the organization they work for.
Well no WONDER we get intimidated by the word leader if that’s our paradigm! Very few of us will ever be THAT kind of leader. The world only needs a few of those.
Until they’re coaxed, NOBODY in the room will mention the first grade teacher who opened the world of language for them, the guy who swept the floors in the gymnasium with a smile on his face and a kind word for everyone, the little girl in the playground who made sure everyone got a turn on the slide, the drummer in the high school band who wordlessly kept everyone on beat, or the waitress at the local coffee shop who listened to their stories and made them feel heard.
I’m on a personal mission to bust us all out of those old paradigms of leadership. I’m on a personal mission to make you see the leader in the janitor, the drummer, the waitress, and yourself.
Let’s ask ourselves some new questions.
What if the leader is the person who:
– asks the right questions, instead of knowing all the answers?
– remembers that play is the best way to learn?
– makes a lot of effort to make other people feel seen and heard?
– believes in the power of crayons and dance shoes?
– invites people to wander through possibilities instead of looking for the most direct path?
– creates a container where our feelings and ideas are safe?
– delights in the opportunities that arise out of mistakes?
– invites our bodies and souls to every gathering along with our brains?
– celebrates curiosity?
– believes that the collective wisdom in the room is greater than her own?
– intuitively understands when to say “stop” and “rest” and “walk away“.
– trusts that the most beautiful things often grow out of failure?
Sit with these questions, and then ask yourself “if I can hold this new paradigm, can I then call myself a leader?”
At ALIA, leaders of all shapes and sizes learn about leadership from jugglers, painters, aikido masters, dancers, jazz drummers, meditation teachers, dramatists, doodlers, floral arrangers, etc., etc. The incredible tribe of people who gather at ALIA believe that leadership lessons come from everywhere, and every person in the room holds some of the wisdom. It’s an awe-inspiring experience to sit in a large circle of paradigm-shifting leaders and know that your wisdom is welcome there.
Which piece of the wisdom do you bring to the circle? And what is stopping you from bringing it?
Note: If this new paradigm for leadership excites you, challenges you, or affirms you, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on. The first learning circle has drawn together a fascinating group of people and I look forward to gathering the next one soon. (Dates to be announced.)
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.)
Before and after the leadership workshop that made me cry (and laugh) I got to hang out with a bunch of young feminists this past weekend. I was too old to participate in the ReBelles gathering, but I could at least volunteer and be inspired by their energy and passion. I worked at the registration desk and the merch table and I served some delicious vegetarian chilli to a bunch of hungry (and wet) feminists who’d come out of the rain after marching on the streets.
I was there for three reasons.
1. I wanted to be inspired by their passion and commitment and was hoping that some of their energy would rub off on me. I think we all have a lot to learn from those younger than us and I was open to the learning.
2. I feel a calling to be a mentor and supporter of young women leaders in the next generation and I want to do what I can to encourage them as they step into their own leadership and power.
3. I know some of the organizers and I am quite fond of them.
Though I wasn’t allowed in the workshops or plenary sessions (they were quite intentional about maintaining the space for women under 35 and I respect that choice), I got what I wanted out of the experience and I’m glad I went.
The truth is, I’ve been discouraged lately by what our generation is doing with feminism and I think it’s time to turn things around again.
As I said when I created Sophia Leadership, on my “About Sophia Leadership” page, the feminist revolution opened doors for women – doors that lead us into the houses of power. We became leaders and politicians and educators and business owners, but to do that, we had to learn to think and lead like men.
The post-feminist movement helped women tap into our sources of power – our spirituality, our creativity, and our intuition – but we didn’t take those things into the houses of power with us. We were mostly busy making the connection between our heads, hearts, and bodies in our own spaces for our own benefits.
We so enjoyed the freedom that the feminist revolution earned for us that we started spending most of our time focused on ourselves, buying all the self-help books we could find, going to all the yoga and spiritual retreats we could afford, and justifying all the choices we made to pamper ourselves instead of being in positions of servitude as our mothers had been.
What we forgot, however, is that along with freedom comes great responsibility.
I firmly believe that it’s time for the next step in the women’s movement. Now it’s time to merge what we learned in both the feminist and post-feminist eras and make some BIG changes. I suspect that it might be the next generation who will do the bulk of the work of ushering in a new era of feminine wisdom, and so I want to support it where I can.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we – the over 40 crowd – have an excuse to go back to our insular world of self-care and self-focused spirituality. Our young leaders may be the ones with energy and they may be the ones to do the turning, but they need us, their mentors, wise women, sages, and crones.
They need us and we need them. I was so glad to be part of a mutual benefit society this weekend.
And here are a few of the things the young feminists taught me:
1. Make your work, retreats, and gatherings accessible to everyone. Instead of gathering with only the elite who can afford spiritual retreat centres, find ways to prepare simple meals, host people in homes, charge on a sliding scale, and make sure the emerging leaders from poor and marginalized groups can afford to participate.
2. Be intentional about including only ethically produced and purchased food and products – things that are gentle on the earth and that weren’t produced by under-paid labourers in faraway factories.
3. Combine art and body movement workshops with political/advocacy workshops. Find ways of blending them in ways that are uniquely feminine.
4. Dare to be passionate. March in the streets. Write manifestos. If things need to be shaken up, SHAKE THEM AND DON’T APOLOGIZE!
5. Be intentional about creating spaces for those you’ve gathered, and don’t apologize to those you’ve excluded. But then honour those who support you from outside that circle and hold a feast for all to celebrate together.
6. Bring in wise women as elders, honour them and let them advise you, but do not let them run the show if you have people in your group quite capable of organizing gatherings.
7. Make the space as safe as you can for emerging leaders, by doing small things like asking the rental facility to ensure the guards on duty while you gather are all women.
8. Don’t leave until you have some clear action items and then follow up to make sure there is MOVEMENT. Don’t let people simply go back to their homes with warm fuzzies forgetting their commitments to positive change.
I’m done with writing goals. Good-bye. Good riddance.
I used to write them faithfully – at least once a year and sometimes in between. A lot of smart people told me that they were good and necessary and vital to my success, and since I have a habit of listening to smart people, I not only wrote them but I told other people to write them too. (After all, I wanted people to think I was smart too!)
But I’m done with goals. I’m kickin’ them to the curb. Because they’re not the most effective tool in my tool kit.
You want to know what works better than goals?
Yup. You heard me right – questions work better than goals.
Here’s a short section from How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on that explains why…
To get stuff done, ask good questions.
We have all been taught the value of effective goal-setting, but rarely have we been taught the effectiveness of curiosity. Research has shown, in fact, that curiosity and openness help us get MORE accomplished than determination and goal-setting do.
Three social scientists once conducted a series of experiments to determine which was more effective, “declarative” self-talk (I will fix it!) or “interrogative” self-talk (Can I fix it?). They began by presenting a group of participants with some anagrams to solve (for example, rearranging the letters in “sauce” to spell “cause”.) Before the participants tackled the problem, though, the researchers asked half of them to take a minute to ask themselves whether they would complete the task. The other half of the group was instructed to tell themselves that they would complete the task.
In the end, the self-questioning group solved significantly more anagrams than the self-affirming group.
The researchers – Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois, along with Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi – then enlisted a new group to try a variation with a twist of trickery: “We told participants that we were interested in people’s handwriting practices. With this pretense, participants were given a sheet of paper to write down 20 times one of the following word pairs: Will I, I will, I, or Will. Then they were asked to work on a series of 10 anagrams in the same way participants in Experiment One did.”
This experiment resulted in the same outcome as the first. People primed with “Will I” solved nearly twice as many anagrams as people in the other three groups. In follow-up experiments, the same pattern continued to hold. Those who approach a task with questioning self-talk did better than those who began with affirming self-talk.
My nine-year-old daughter Maddy figured this out before I did. (Or perhaps I had it figured out at nine too, but somewhere along the way I let smart people convince me otherwise.)
Not long ago, she started her first journal. “Mom,” she said, “I’m going to call it ‘A lifetime of questions.'” And then she proceeded to write pages full of all the questions she has about life, leaving blank spaces after each question in case she finds the answer and wants to fill it in. Sometimes she shares her questions with me and sometimes she doesn’t.
The other day, she was waiting in line at six in the morning to audition for The Next Star, a TV talent show that’s like Canadian Idol for kids. After the original giddiness had worn off, she plopped herself down on the ground, pulled out her journal, and started writing her questions. She didn’t show them to me, but there’s a pretty good chance at least one of them was “will I be the Next Star?”
The answer to that question was, unfortunately, “No” (she didn’t make it past the first round of auditions), but if you ask me, she’s a pretty big star just for having the guts to do all the research about how and where to audition, practice her songs relentlessly for weeks on end, get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, wait in line for five hours, and then march off alone into an audition room full of strangers (I wasn’t allowed to watch) and compete against kids who were mostly a few years older than her – all at the risk of failure. (One of the first questions she asked me afterwards was “Mom, can I take singing and dance lessons so I’m more prepared next year?”) That little girl is a hero in my books!
So I’m taking the lessons I’ve learned from Maddy and those researchers, and I’m living a lifetime of questions.
Remember that black canvas I painted when I was in the depths of despair over my long surrender? I decided to fill it with a bunch of hopeful questions.
I’ll let you know what the answers are when I find out!
Note: For this and other unconventional wisdom about how to take a more unique and powerful approach to life and leadership, check out How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on. There’s still room in the learning circle (along with the fascinating people who’ve already joined) and we’d love to have you!