The Myth of ‘Not Enough’

As published in November's issue of Sybil Magazine

As published in Sybil Magazine, November, 2015

(#11 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

It’s all around us – the deafening sound of ‘not enough’. Not enough time, money, expertise, common sense, love… Just listen and you’ll hear someone lamenting that there just isn’t enough.

Sometimes there’s an element of truth in it. Maybe you don’t have enough fabric to make the dress you’ve envisioned, or you just can’t pack three weeks of project work into a day when you or your manager haven’t planned well. But I’m not talking about ‘not enough’ as a unit of measurement, something you need to consider when baking a cake.

I’m talking about a core mindset in our culture that says “more is better” and “there’s not enough to go around.” That shared, unconscious belief would have us scramble to be, do, and have more because of the assumption of insufficiency. That cultural mindset is so loud, noisy and powerful that it’s difficult to see – never mind unhook from. But it keeps us engaged as hamsters on a wheel, addicted to having, doing and being more. And having us feel wrong, bad and insufficient when we don’t ‘measure up’.

The cultural mindset of ‘not enough’ has horrible consequences. In our larger world it justifies decisions that would value profit-making and the stock-piling of wealth over the well-being of people, the environment and the fate of our world. In our personal lives it would have us locked into proving ourselves to our bosses at the expense of our health and our home life. It would have us rack up enormous credit card debt to have that new indispensable thing we think we need. Or constantly building our expertise through new training instead of actually getting out there and sharing our gifts and our message. Instead, we can remain scrambling, anxious and chasing what is always ‘just out of reach’ or ‘what will prove our value’.

The deeper truth is that we’re all blessed with gifts, skills, abilities, relationships and conditions that we often overlook because we’re so busy trying to be, have or do more. Health, time, the capacity for love, the ability to draw inspiration from nature or give to friends in need – all of these are precious forms of wealth.

The good news is that we can unhook from the cultural myths of unworthiness and insufficiency by looking in the mirror and seeing the true value and worth looking back at us. When we stop and appreciate what we have – this moment, this relationship, the learning opportunity of this challenge, we begin to notice the wealth and plentitude we already have in our lives and world.

Whoever you are and whatever the conditions of your life, you ARE blessed. The world does not need you to be, have or do more. It just needs you to get off the hamster wheel of insufficiency and share the blessing of your gifts.

Learning to love your questions

As published in Sybil Magazine, October, 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, October, 2015

(#10 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

Uncertainty – we hate it. Most of the time we associate it with anxiety and confusion. And for good reason. Successful women, or so we’ve come to believe, are confident and sure of themselves. They know where they’re going and how to get there.   They don’t lay awake at night filled with questions about their lives and decisions. They know. Or do they?

We like to be certain. It gives us a sense that there’s solid ground beneath our feet. There’s comfort and momentum in knowing what we’re doing. It brings order and predictability to our lives and the world around us.   So when we’re uncertain, we think there’s something wrong – with ourselves or with our lives.

Let’s face it – the chaos of uncertainty is uncomfortable. It can leave a hole in the pit of our stomachs or make us want to hurl or run in fear. That’s why so many of us learn to over-control our jobs, our lives, our relationships, and our expectations of others. But what happens when life forces us into transition, or when we feel called to grow beyond the safe little or medium-sized boxes of our lives and embrace the wild blue yonder of uncertainty? In those moments we don’t know what lies ahead or how it will change us. That’s part of the attraction and the terror.

Years ago a beloved teacher shared that we navigate best not by what we know, by the fixed stars in our lives, but by our deepest, most insistent and perturbing questions. As I explored this in my work with transformative leaders, I found that this very capacity – to not know, to make friends with uncertainty, and to stay with one’s most profound questions – was indeed the most important guide they possessed. Why? Our questions open the door to what we don’t know, to what we know but don’t want to admit we know, and to the deeper questions (and answers) of our souls.

It’s true that an architect can’t design a building without a clear blueprint, just like we can’t live into our greatest potential if we’re not called forward by a clear and compelling vision. But sometimes our visions, plans, goals, and lives become so fixed that we can’t see the vast possibilities living outside of them. Our questions beckon to us because they contain our barely articulated hopes and our as-yet-undreamed dreams. They offer larger possibilities than certainty would have us believe.   Our questions change us and they change whatever we wonder about.

As the poet Rumi said, ‘love the questions’.   Especially the difficult and persistent ones. They’re the light in you trying to show the way.

The vision you didn’t know you had

As published in Sybil Magazine, September 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, September 2015

(#9 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

What does the word ‘vision’ mean to you? Usually a vision paints a picture of a positive, inspiring future – one that motivates and supports us to be and do our very best. But there’s another kind of vision – the kind we don’t know we have. These visions are shared with almost everyone around us – our parents, teachers, friends, the media, and our colleagues at work. Like the air we breathe they’re so pervasive that we rarely give them a second thought. But these invisible visions can sometimes sabotage our future.

Take our vision of aging.   In western culture the dominant story of aging teaches that we are at the pinnacle of life when we are young. In our 20s and 30s we are at the height of our powers – our beauty, strength, intelligence, focus and productivity. It’s the time we’re most sure of our selves, our capacities and our future. It’s the time we believe in and go for our dreams.

As we move into our 40s and 50s we move into a story of gradual loss, degeneration and decline. We try to preserve our youth and ‘forget’ to celebrate milestone birthdays. As women, we often notice a new ‘invisibility’ creeping in as we struggle to keep the weight off and the wrinkles away.

Then, at or around 65, we retire. For some it’s a welcome time, a time of reward for a life of hard work and dedication. A time to slow down and savor life, to enjoy family and friends, to devote to hobbies or take the trips we’ve longed for. But the general assumption behind the cycle of aging in our culture is that of decline and diminishment. As we age we lose our value as productive workers and are ‘put out to pasture’ to make way for younger, more energetic colleagues.

Illness and death do visit everyone eventually. But research has shown us that the health and potential of our elder years may be drastically influenced by the vision and purpose we hold. When we expect decline, lack of value, and a growing isolation from the mainstream of life as we age, that is what we come to experience. That is the story we live into.

It’s up to us. We can allow ourselves to be defined and limited by cultural assumptions of uselessness, defeat and decline. Or, we can rewrite the story of aging. We can choose to own the unique perspective of our later years and to value this time as the harvest of our life’s experience. We can be role models, embodying wisdom in action. We can choose to act on behalf of what matters to us and to future generations. And in so doing we can live into the vision of becoming a generation of true elders who can change the tide of history.

The Myth of the Early and Late Bloomer

(#6 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)
As published in Sybil Magazine, June 2015.

As published in Sybil Magazine, June 2015.

Is there a ‘right time’ to bloom? The question may seem a little silly asked in this way but it’s at the heart of many of the dilemmas that women have shared with me over the years.

Younger women often believe that it’s too early for them to step into their power. Often they’ll work flat out, hoping to prove their worth to their supervisors. Or maybe they’ll hold themselves back from applying for that dream job because they believe it requires a degree, credential or experience that they don’t have.   And perhaps they just have a vague notion of not being ready because they haven’t paid their dues.

And certainly there’s an element of truth here. We don’t want someone in first year of medical school performing surgery on a loved one. But on the other hand, too many of us waste precious years waiting to be ready. We can waste our lives waiting for permission to step into our dreams, missing the fact that we have unique talents that others don’t have and that, in many dimensions of our lives, we’re already in full bloom.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there are the so-called ‘late bloomers’. They’re the ones who have a sense that they haven’t quite stepped into their calling, full voice or potential and are secretly afraid it might be too late. Often they fail to recognize the many ways they have bloomed throughout their lives. Instead, they focus on the sense that time may be running out and their fear that the last bloom is the only one that matters.

In both cases, it’s ourselves – our harsh ‘inner critics’ – that really are the problem. And a disempowering set of cultural beliefs about success, power and what it means to blossom.

But when you think about it, are the flowers that bloom in May any better or less beautiful than the ones that blossom in June – or even September?  Is the fragrant desert flower – the one that blooms once year at night – any lesser than the geranium that thrives in full sun all summer long? Are perennials better than annuals?

It seems to me that nature offers a profound lesson. In the garden of life there’s no such thing as too early or too late to bloom. We’re all uniquely beautiful and each of us unfolds according to our own inner rhythms. What’s inside of us can be honored, nourished and supported but it can’t be forced or rushed or stuffed into boxes of ‘supposed-to-be’.  What does support us is patiently tending those gardens, and paying loving attention to the unique needs, conditions and roots of our lives.

Unpacking “The Confidence Myth”

As published in Sybil Magazine, May 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, May 2015

(#5 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

Is there a single factor preventing women from owning their full power?  According to some recent articles the answer is yes.  According to these authors the glass ceiling is kept in place by self-doubt or lack of confidence.  But is it?

As a transformative leadership coach, I see the toll that self-doubt can play on the lives, dreams and influence of women.  And I know it’s critical that we each take responsibility for transforming limiting beliefs and for taming over-active inner critics.  But attributing the glass ceiling to a single factor serves to cloud the issue.  In a subtle way, it blames women for their self-doubt.  And, as a result, it helps to keep the glass ceiling in place.   There’s a larger story at play here.  Trying to fix ‘self-doubt’ in isolation is like trying to fix a symptom while ignoring an underlying medical condition.

A few years ago, when hired to teach a university course on The History of Women’s Art, I chose to focus on why so few women appear in art history books.  Often it was assumed that women weren’t bright enough, creative enough, gifted enough, or devoted enough to take their places alongside names like Michelangelo and Raphael.   But as the art historian Linda Nochlin explored in her essay “Why Have there been No Great Women Artists?” the truth was much more complex.

The absence of the female Michelangelo was related to systemic issues – social and role expectations, issues of exclusion, and lack of training and mentorship opportunities for women.  Truth be told, there were plenty of examples of women’s art in the areas where women were allowed to practice – such as flower painting.  Women just weren’t allowed to be members of the ‘Academy’ and so they weren’t allowed to train, practice or excel in the more prestigious areas of art such as history, religious or mythological painting.

We’ve come a long way, thankfully.  Increasingly women are admitted to graduate programs formerly reserved for men.  Women are now doctors, lawyers, scientists and company executives.  We’re contributing to changing traditional workplaces, and are striking out to create our own visionary businesses.  We’re also at the forefront of challenging old models of success and proposing alternate ways of working.  But systemic limitations continue to both support the glass ceiling and to erode women’s confidence.

So when I hear that ‘self-doubt’ is responsible for women’s lack of success I’m uncomfortable.  I admit that it’s up to us to change the limiting beliefs that keep us stuck.  But it’s also time to open up the conversation and look at the bigger picture.  What is the real root of those limiting beliefs?  We need to heal and transform the root, not simply fix the symptoms.

Could Invisibility be a Secret Power?

As published in Sybil Magazine, April 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, April 2015

(#4 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

Nowadays in social media and elsewhere the ‘come out of hiding and step into your power’ message seems to be getting louder and louder. But I often wonder… does this admonishment make us stronger? Or does it offer the message that we have to change who we are, and what we are doing to ‘become’ powerful?

When we see our quiet nature, or our need for privacy or internal time as negative, we buy into the notion that we have a ‘problem’ that needs to be fixed. We adopt another ‘should’ instead of asking who we are and what gifts we possess. We can then become “the woman in hiding,” the shy one “afraid of her own power”, the one who is constantly on the verge of success but “can’t quite make it”.  Instead, we need to stop and question the whole notion that a quality like introversion (or a need for turning inward) is ‘hiding’ – wrong, bad and worthy of shame. And to question the belief that power means being extroverted, ‘having impact’ or being constantly in the spotlight.

What is the truth about declining the spotlight and visibility? Is it the opposite to ‘stepping into our power?’ In the popular Harry Potter series, as he apprentices to become a powerful wizard, Harry is gifted with several secret tools or powers. One of these is the Invisibility Cloak. When he dawns the cloak, he does not lose power. He gains it. He gains the ability to travel great distances without being seen or impeded. He is able to observe conversations without being detected. And it allows him to act on behalf of good in the world without fear of being thwarted by the forces of evil.

Similarly, when we are introverted, or when we chose to remain silent and out of the spotlight, we gain valuable opportunities – to observe, to listen deeply, to gestate, to see the whole, or to quietly prepare until we are ready to speak. As a powerful wizard, Harry doesn’t live his life under the invisibility cloak. But having it and learning to use it wisely gives him an advantage that others lack.

I’m not suggesting that women should hide their power or not speak up. But what I’ve learned is that when we’re judging ourselves, when we label our behavior with words like ‘hiding’, we are fighting ourselves. We are denying and pushing away our unique, inherent power. Whether the fullness of your power stuns like the roar of a lion or mesmerizes like the quiet beauty of fireflies against the night sky, it has its own unique nature, needs and rhythms.

If you are pushing yourself to be more visible, or resisting your ‘hiding’ in any way, I invite you to pause and consider this. What secret powers may your invisibility cloak be offering you?

The Truth About Hiding

As published in Sybil Magazine, January 2015
As published in Sybil Magazine, January 2015
(#1 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

When it comes to sharing our gifts and our wisdom with the world – that is, really sharing ourselves in our fullest brilliance and expression – why do so many women still hold back? As Marianne Williamson has said, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”  But WHY? Why are so many brilliant, talented women – heads of organizations, academics, women launching their own businesses – afraid of their brilliance, light and power?

In the process of helping women claim their unique power and wisdom, and working with my own fears of visibility, I’ve found many reasons we hold back. Sometimes it’s fear of an embarrassing failure, of somehow being ‘not enough’ or ‘too much’. Sometimes we think we need more time to perfect our talents, believing we’re ‘not ready’. Sometimes we’re afraid we’d lose the approval of loved ones if we stepped out more boldly. Or fear what more power and responsibility could cost us – or our families. And sometimes we hold back because of the uncomfortable uncertainty we feel when we step into new roles and territory.

But the fear of our light and power reaches far beyond our personal psychology. It’s buried deep in our experiences of a world that doesn’t always value our unique gifts and perspectives, and in the collective history of women. As gifted helpers, teachers and healers, many of us have learned to hide our most treasured gifts so as to keep them – and us – safe. Safe from possible misunderstanding, ridicule, judgement, and sometimes even violence. The roots of those fears go deep – to the witch-burning trials and beyond.

It’s important to acknowledge our fears and the strategies we’ve adopted to protect us. But it’s equally important to weigh their cost. Dimming down can drain our aliveness, joy and fulfillment. It can dull our relationships, create a glass ceiling on our career success and our earning potential. And when we hide our truth from others, it becomes harder for us to see it too. But there’s an even larger cost. Holding back our light cheats the world of what only we can offer.

This moment of history is asking women to discover our unique gifts, to reach past our fears to our courage and power. To speak and live the messages of our hearts, intuition, and greater knowing. To act on behalf of what is most dear to us. And to support each other – as sisters rather than rivals – as we do it. Releasing our tender gifts into the world can be the most vulnerable act of courage and love we’ll ever take. But as we each step into our unique power, we give others permission to do the same. And thereby birth a new world.