28 May, 2008

We Can Do This, Ladies

Can you hear it? At first I thought it was my imagination or perhaps wishful thinking, but now I’m absolutely certain: it’s a rally cry. A call to the women of the world to move to action.

I’m hearing it in so many different arenas – economic, political, spiritual, organizational. It gives me the impression of being in the bottom of a canyon, the way the sound reverberates off all the walls so it’s impossible to locate the exact source of origin. It’s all around us. It is us. I’m left with that out-of-body sensation that as I am witnessing this sound, I am also part of it; making it happen, that deep, resonant vibration reminding me I am connected to something greater than myself. Despite what I hear in the news or read in the paper, I intuitively sense it is a great time to be a woman in this world.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, a Jungian analyst and author, refers to this reverberation as “a wisdom whose time has come” and harkens us back to the two previous times American women have changed our world – the suffragette movement and the women’s movement. Malcolm Gladwell, author and social scientist, describes this notion as a “tipping point” and reminds us that major transformation can occur through seemingly mundane and everyday acts. Dee Dee Meyers, author and former press secretary for Clinton, calls women to step up and “rule the world”, not because women are the same as men, but “precisely because [we] are different.”

We are different. Let’s celebrate that and start bringing those differences to bear in the world around us. Let’s snap the old masculine measuring sticks for power, performance, and prestige over our collective knees and focus on what we know deep down inside of us. Let’s not waste time defining ourselves in relation to men or the masculine, but rather honor and obey (yes, I said O-B-E-Y!) our instincts as women and honor the feminine wisdom within all of us.

Doesn’t the time feel ripe? In her book, Urgent Message From Mother Earth: Gather the Women, Save the World, Jean Shinoda Bolen does not mince her words in calling us to action. She points out that even the men in today’s world are recognizing the need for women to take the lead and invites us to feel the “stirring below the surface of our collective consciousness” that is gathering momentum.

So are you ready? Seriously. Are you? This is not a time for shrinking violets or patent social graces of deference, modesty, or coyness. This is about standing up and being seen by all – even in the face of your own uncertainty, messiness, or (yikes!) failure. Marianne Williamson calls to me daily (some days louder than others…) from my office wall where I’ve posted her famous quote: “Your playing small does not serve the world”. Lest I forget.

So let’s get over ourselves. There I said it. It’s not about being arrogant, egotistical, self-centered or selfish. It’s also not about being delusional, a feminist or even remotely ready. It’s about time. It’s about stepping up, taking a stand, choosing to stay in the conversation(s) that matter to us and using the powerful voices we were given to unleash the collective wisdom that is bubbling up within us.

If you’re anything like me, you worry. I’ll admit it: I’m a chronic worrier. I worry when other people don’t worry – how sad is that? So I get that stepping up and taking a stand can be a thoroughly lonely if not downright terrifying act. I catch myself quelling my own instincts much of the time because I am second guessing myself and wondering if I know enough or am astute enough to warrant opening my mouth. So some days, sadly, I don’t. I wait and I watch. My moment comes and goes as I diligently try to learn more so that next time I am ready! Next time I am more prepared. Next time I have the courage to step up and take my stand. And lead.

So what is your “enough” quotient? Get clear on it. Then get over it because that day will never arrive. If, like me, you are waiting to “know enough” about any particular topic or issue, you are most likely a life-long learner and as long as the earth continues to turn on its axis, you will never deem yourself to “know enough” because there will always – ALWAYS – be more to learn out there. So get over it.

What about your “next time?” When will that be? Do you see how passive that invites us to be? Waiting for the “perfect” entry point, the “right” time to pounce or the “best” place to make your move as a leader?

If I sound all “tough love” on us as women leaders, it’s because I, too, am in this space of waiting, being poised, and never feeling quite prepared for or (dare I say) competent to step up and be the leader I know myself to be. And anybody who knows me will tell you that I am entirely impatient, so you can imagine how this situation has my kettle at a full boil and shrilling loudly over here.

So are you with me? We’ve got some paradigms to shatter for ourselves and a bunch of new stories to write. Among other things, we will be called to reconcile (fancy word for “get over it, already!”) our relationships to power, money, and anger. We’ll have to break that nasty perfectionist habit and ramp up on our risk-taking tolerance. Suze Orman, as she explored the notion of women and money in her most recent book shared her confoundedness and then concluded, “we can do this, ladies.”. In that spirit, I truly believe – and history will back me up on this –we can do this. We can lead the world to a better place. We can answer the call.

Start today. Don’t wait. Don’t worry. Don’t look back. Just open your mouth and trust that wisdom will come out. It’s bigger than any one of us, but it begins will every one of us. It doesn’t have to be some earth-shattering notion or a profound idea - the best ones usually aren’t. Keep it simple, but do it today. However you choose to step up as a leader – in the big or the small everyday ways – do it publicly, proudly, and with conviction. Spare us the apologies – that’s really about your need, anyway, right? Let your actions serve as inspiration to the women – and the world – around you. My talented artist friend, Jess Esch has inspired me along this path with the creation of her t-shirt emblazoned with the simple message “This Is How I Change The World.”. Whatever I am doing as I wear that t-shirt – consciously or unconsciously– I am reminded that I am in the process of changing the world. It can be that simple. And profound.

And on those days – and we all will have them – when we feel small and whiny, we would do well to remember the words of some great leaders who are are with us in spirit cheering us on: Ghandi saying, “be the change you want to be in the world”; Martin Luther King, Jr. saying, “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step in faith”; Soren Kirkegaard imploring us, “leap and the cliff will appear.”

It’s our turn to leap. Are you with me?

01 May, 2008

Letting The Wind Be Your Ally

Years ago, I was introduced to the phrase “blowing the stink off” and it stuck with me. At the time, it was in reference to the engine of a car – getting it out on the highway and opening it up so that the gunk and grime that had accumulated from its around-town usage could be cleaned out of the system. The idea was to do this periodically so that the engine would perform better, last longer and generally “run cleaner”. From experience, I will say the effect benefited both the car and the driver. Over time, the practice of “blowing the stink off” has become a regular ritual and has demonstrated its practical applications way beyond the scope of my car.

At its core, this practice is an invitation to cut loose, shake out your feathers, and let wind and gravity cast off anything that is dragging you down, holding you back or otherwise clogging your system. We all have them – the barnacles that somehow attach themselves to our hulls or the bugs that get pasted to our windshields, whether they are persistent "shoulds", annoying replays of scenarios or interactions or perhaps lingering regrets that are really minor in the grand scheme of your life. The bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter where they came from or how or when they attached themselves to us – it’s that they are here now and they’re ugly, unnecessary and tend to hold us back because of their excess weight and “drag”. They are just parasites along for the ride – YOUR ride.

Just imagine how free and easy your ride might be without them. If you were to blow the stink off every now and then, how might your journey be different? Consider this: if you have come this far with the barnacles attached to you, imagine what you will be capable of or how far you would go if you were to clean the junk out of the trunk – to get rid of the back-seat-driver sort of stuff that slows you down, distracts you from the scenery and causes you to burn more gas.

Sounds wonderful right? You might be thinking, “it’s not that easy…you’re making it sound so simple.” Maybe. But what if it were that easy? What if we could cast off our barnacles or blow off the bugs by going out on the open road and just revving our engine up a bit – and letting the wind and gravity be our allies? Ever make your way onto the highway and watch what happens to the bugs that are desperately clinging to your windshield? What happens to them as you pick up your speed? Gone! At least most of them are. Sure, you might still have one or two that hold out – just as you have one of two issues or habits that will take a bit more elbow grease to remove; I’m not denying that. My point is this: for the majority of bugs, you don’t even need to turn on your windshield wipers to cast them off. In this way, perhaps you can increase your visibility and clarity without much effort on your part.

Personally speaking, I have a number of ways I like to blow the stink off - my own stash of methods that are tried and true and have endured the test of time. Sometimes I run - the leave-your-lung-in-the-parking-lot sort of runs that are so foreign to my 39 year old body. Probably one of my most relied upon methods involves popping in some rockin' music, cranking up my car stereo as loud as it goes and singing my heart out. The boom-boom of the bass and drums as my voice merges with Aretha, Annie Lennox, and Eva Cassidy has easily and effortlessly dislodged even the most tenacious of my barnacles. There are also occasions that involve other people - like crazy dancing to disco with my five year old (we call it "getting our ou-oos out") or going on a roadtrip with some of my best girlfriends and howling with laughter as we share our thoughts about life and tell our women-tales. Regardless of which one I choose, they all rely on two factors: loudness and laughter. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

We are a society that thrives on struggle, toil and sweat. We work hard. We even play hard. So I recognize that this simple (dare I say “fun”?) way of blowing off our stink can be a radical move for people. But what if it were just that easy to lighten the majority of our load, but we resisted the notion because we were taking ourselves (or the barnacles and bugs) too seriously? For some, blowing off the stink can be a terrifying proposition because it means letting go or saying goodbye to those things you have come to know so well. It means stripping down and being seen by yourself and others for who you really are. It might make you feel vulnerable and naked. Ultimately, it signals that you are taking responsibility – when it is just us, there is no one to blame or distract us. No excuses.

Of course you are absolutely entitled to cling to those particular barnacles with which you identify and are not ready to part ways with – those tough items stuck firmly into our front grills or perhaps worn as a hood ornament – I’m not suggesting you go cold turkey. What I am inviting is some curiosity and experimentation: how many bugs might fly away on the open road if given the chance?

Whatever your particular vehicle you are in at this phase of your life – an ocean liner, a mini-van, or an ice cream truck – ask yourself if it’s time to blow the stink off. Gather some friends or maybe go it alone, but find a stretch of open road that calls to you and open it up – let your particular engine do what it loves and watch as the bugs, barnacles and excess luggage get carried off by the wind. Smile to yourself as you look in the rear view mirror and see what you’ve left in your wake. Above all, have fun with it and notice how free and easy it is to travel without it. There will be plenty of opportunities to struggle and sweat later. Dare to let this one be easy. See what happens.