Friends, can I level with you for a moment? I’m feeling sad this week… and tender, with my emotions very near the surface. If you dare to ask me, when I’m having a tender moment, how I’m doing with my nearly-empty house, I might just drench your shoulder with tears.
Last week I got home from the second of two long trips to move daughters to opposite ends of this vast country that I live at the centre of. To suddenly, after twenty-five years of parenting my daughters in my home and holding them close (six of those years as a single parent), have the oldest and youngest simultaneously move so far away from me, especially eighteen months into a pandemic when we’ve spent SO much time together… well… it’s a LOT.
I’m okay with the sadness, though. I know how to hold it and welcome it like a gentle friend. I know how to let it pass through me and remind me of all of the ways I have loved and been loved. It’s all a part of this liminal space that I am now in, learning how to be a different kind of mom, and I know that it’s better to feel what I need to feel than to try to numb or bypass those feelings.
What’s harder to hold right now, though, is what is being added on top of the sadness this week on my return to work… discouragement… and that’s what this post is largely about. (Truthfully, I long to write more about this transition I’m in… and I will… but there are other things I need to speak of first.)
This week when I came back to work, I discovered that registration for our programs is slower than it’s ever been and that has me feeling discouraged and sad and… well, weary. Instead of doing the writing that I long to do, I have to try to cram my brain into marketing mode. Few things drain my energy more than marketing mode. I don’t really have any clue how to switch from “processing a big transition” into “selling seats in programs”, so instead, I’m going to do what I’m good at – be honest with you about what’s going on.
I suspect that part of the reason for our low numbers is this general malaise we’re all feeling after so many months of this pandemic (it was referred to as “pandemic flux syndrome” in a recent Washington Post article), plus a weariness from having to do so much of our connecting on Zoom. But I think there are also other things going on and those are the things I’m ruminating about this week as I contemplate what’s the “next right thing” in getting the word out.
There are some things that I want to keep stubbornly believing but that keep getting tested in moments like these when the work of running a meaningful small business feels burdensome.
1. I want to keep believing that a leader can rest and not suffer any consequences from that rest. (I want to believe we ALL can rest, for that matter.)
I took two months of sabbatical this summer, knowing how badly I needed a rest after the grind of launching a book, building a new business, creating and running multiple programs, parenting three daughters, supporting one of those daughters through complex and scary health challenges – all in the middle of a pandemic. It wasn’t a great time to be away from work, given the fact that it’s when we most need to be selling seats in our programs, but I knew I’d crash and burn if I didn’t tend to myself. (And then what good would I be to the people who sign up for those programs?) I created a lot of content before I left and uploaded it so that it would still get to people’s inboxes and social media feeds while I was away. I hoped that that was enough to still attract people to the programs, but… sales went down… possibly because I wasn’t visible and accessible and “in the grind” of making sales (and because social media algorithms don’t put unpaid content in front of many eyes unless it generates a lot of activity). That’s discouraging, because I don’t believe anybody should be forced to be available ALL the time just to make enough money to pay the bills. That’s capitalism at its cruelest and most exhausting.
2. I want to keep believing that collaborative leadership is better than the cult of personality.
Last year, I very intentionally took on a business partner, created the Centre for Holding Space, and hired an excellent team of co-teachers, because I believe in collaborative leadership and I believe that the best way for this work to be held is in community. Krista and our team members bring wisdom, ideas, energy, gifts and capacity to this work that enrich it and make it much more beautiful than what comes from me alone. However… we’ve had a harder time selling our programs than I did when I sold from my own platform and was the solitary teacher. On one hand, I get that – I’m a known personality and most people came to this work through me and my writing and teaching, so they trust it more when I am at the helm. But… it also feels like there is a misplaced desire to make me into the guru and for me to have all of the wisdom that people need (which feels like a cultural thing, especially in our western culture with its celebrity-worship). There’s a lot of projection and individualism and disempowerment (i.e. people giving their power over to a leader) baked into that and it saddens and troubles me. (I wrote about that in this post about why people start cults.) I am better when my work is rooted in community than when it’s rooted in ego, and I want to keep believing that’s the right way to go. (Note: I am still very present in the programs and you’ll get lots of opportunities to be in conversation with me.)
3. I want to keep believing that meaningful content is more valuable than gimmicky marketing.
I am deeply committed to putting meaningful content into the world, and I keep believing THAT is what will draw the right people to this work (and so far, it mostly has). I refuse to use manipulative marketing language and I will not inundate people with endless emails or try to convince them to buy things they can’t afford. I stand by those values and anyone who’s come to me for coaching or advice on building a business will hear me say what I used to tell my students when I taught public relations courses at university… “The two most important things are to tell good stories and build good relationships.” And yet… sometimes I watch the gimmicky, manipulative marketing tactics fill programs that cost far more than ours and… well, I get discouraged and sad. (For example, marketers would tell me that instead of this post, I should be sending out posts that signal scarcity and trigger your desire to not be left behind – to let you know there are only limited spots available for a limited time and your life will be meaningless if you don’t join, blah, blah, blah. Sadly, much of that plays on our abandonment trauma, and I just won’t do it.)
4. I want to keep believing that work can be meaningful and life-giving AND sustain people financially. And I want to believe in a shared, equitable economy, not one built on greed.
I have never had an interest in being wealthy or being an empire-builder. If I did, I’d still be selling programs on my own and pouring my energy into making a name for myself instead of trying to build the Centre for Holding Space. I do, however, believe that meaningful work CAN provide well for the people who create it and contribute to it so that they don’t have to work so hard in our soul-crushing economic systems. I believe it so much that I’ve been working hard to build something beautiful that will not only sustain me and my family, but also sustain Krista and her family and give meaningful well-paid work to our team. This past year has been a struggle, however, as Krista and I have had to pay for a lot of outside support to build the business and it’s meant that Krista has made almost no money from the Centre and I have made less than I have in several years. That saddens me, a lot (especially the part about Krista, because I love her so much and want her to be well-paid).
5. I want to keep believing that people are ready for depth and not just “self-help pablum”.
On one of our long driving days last week, my daughter and I listened to an audiobook that we thought was a memoir and it turned out to be “self-help pablum”. In other words, it was easily digestible and provided enough nutrients for someone who’s in their infancy in personal development, but lacked depth, nuance and sustenance for anyone further along in their development. I don’t want to denigrate it, because I think it might be the right kind of thing for someone who’s just awakening to a longing for a different kind of life, but I get discouraged about how much of what is available still fits into that category and how often people think that’s enough. This particular influencer has ten times as many followers on social media as I do, and there are many, many others just like her, because that’s what sells and gets attention. It’s a low-risk kind of personal development path because it doesn’t ask you to disrupt anything or see the ways our systems are flawed. It doesn’t expect you to witness your own privilege, challenge your biases, or stand up to oppressive systems. But…I want to keep believing that people are ready for more, and I’ll stay devoted to that belief because I see that readiness in all of the people who show up for our programs.
6. I want to keep believing that holding space is one of the most important skills people need right now.
Like it or not, we are in a time of disruption, unrest and change and we need new skills to meet the challenges we face. In this collective liminal space when so much of our lives are being unsettled by the pandemic, climate change, racism (and all of the “-isms”), political upheaval, etc., we need to learn how to practice sitting with discomfort, how to hold space for ourselves when there is disruption, how to witness our own biases without being buried in shame, how to support each other in times of grief and trauma, and how to be in community even in the darkest of times. When things get hard and complicated, we need less individualism and more community, less reactivity and more co-regulation, less grind and more rest, less hero-leadership and more host-leadership, less competition and more collaboration. We need to know how to hold grief and how to process fear. We need to know how to walk alongside people who are in liminal space. We need to know how to conscientiously disrupt the patterns that no longer serve us. These are all things that we focus on in our programs, and, more than ever, I believe this is what we need to learn, together.
Despite my discouragement in this moment, I have not lost hope or passion for this work. This too, shall pass. (If I gave up easily, I wouldn’t have made it through my first year of self-employment.) I will keep showing up for it, because I believe in it wholeheartedly, and I know that many of you will keep showing up for it too. I am deeply grateful for all of you who join me in this quest for a better way to be in deep connection with ourselves, with each other, and with Mystery.
Let us carry on, because it is the right thing to do.
P.S. If you’re not yet ready to join us in the Holding Space Foundation Program, or you can’t afford it, but you want to deepen your understanding of what it means to hold space, here are a few inexpensive and accessible options:
1. Buy my book, The Art of Holding: A Practice of Love, Liberation, and Leadership. You can also add a deck of cards and/or journal if you want to dig deeper into the practice.
2. Sign up for one of our self-study programs, Holding Space in Times of Disruption and Overwhelm (this one’s “pay-what-you-can”), 52 Weeks of Holding Space, The Spiral Path, or Write for Love and Liberation.