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?

Stop Trying to Shine!

As published in Sybil Magazine March, 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine
March, 2015

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

Can we shine or excel through an act of will?  Yes, intention, desire, and commitment are important. But our light never shines because we decide it should, because we tell it to, or because we ‘manage’ it into being. It shines when we get out of our own way and allow it to shine.

Think about what happens when you ‘try’ to do something important, something beyond your comfort zone. Maybe it’s writing a report or a speech, creating a program, or completing an important project. What happens? Perhaps you sit at your computer, looking at a blank screen. You fidget. Get distracted and check your email. Maybe you zone out for a while. Or get up and pace. Sooner or later, you get frustrated. You get up and make yourself a snack, or make a phone call, then come back and read what you’ve written. Annoyed, you delete everything. Maybe you tell yourself to forget it, to come back tomorrow and you start over again. Or maybe you ‘forget’ to come back at all.

When this happens, we know we’ve come up against a block or ‘resistance’. But what do we really know about this state of mind that we struggle so hard to overcome?   Our thinking mind may try to dissolve a block through the force of will, or by telling it what to do. But we can never push our way through our resistance. Trying to cajole or drive it away only makes it stronger.

Resistance asks something different from us. It asks us to stay put, to put aside our judgements, and to practice compassion.   Resistance asks us to be curious and ask questions. To ask what the block looks and feels like. To wonder what it wants and what function it might serve. It asks us to listen to its messages – to notice if they’re kind or brutal, or whether the block is asking a question or wisdom we might need to hear. Resistance asks us to know it intimately – to track how it arises and disappears. Whether there’s a pattern behind it.

Often we don’t stop to ask these questions. We only know that we feel frustrated. And, squirming away from our discomfort, thinking it’s ‘wrong’, we try to will our block away. But if we are willing to touch the block, to feel it, see it, touch it, and listen to it, resistance opens up into something else. Something we don’t expect. Something that feels more like ease, flow, expansion and light. Something that gives us access to our brilliance and higher capacities. The moment we relax into the experience of being blocked, we can bring the light of awareness to what we are doing. Resistance dissolves when we stop resisting it.

Healing ambivalence about power

CTH-logo-BTRMany healers, change agents and transformative leaders have a deep ambivalence about power and stepping into it.  In this radio interview I talk about some of the sources of this ambivalence and how it can hold us back in our missions to create a better world.

The core message is that redefining power in our own terms is crucial in claiming the ability EACH of us has to make a difference.

Thanks to Susan Jacobi from ‘Conversations that Heal’ for this interview entitled “How do  you use your power?”  You can listen to the replay here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/conversationsthatheal/2015/02/11/how-do-you-use-your-power

Why is ‘Shining’ a Daring Act?

COVER FEB. 2015 SIBYL MAGAZINE

As published in Sibyl Magazine, February 2015

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

Shining our full light should be second nature. It’s what we did when we were newborns. It’s what we do when we’re relaxed or ‘in our element’ – whether that’s horseback riding, hiking trails, or when we’re in love. During those times we radiate joy, happiness and comfort – with ourselves, with others and Life. But for so many of us, shining becomes limited to rare occasions, those special weekends, holidays or times when we’re with our closest friends, rather than our everyday state of being.

We lose our light gradually as we accommodate to the needs and demands of our world, first to our parents, then to our teachers, and later to our supervisors at work. We hold back parts of who we are in order to stay safe, to fit in, to please others, to avoid conflict, to get ahead and earn a living.   Accommodation isn’t bad. It allows us to negotiate unfamiliar situations and helps us meet our needs for love, safety, belonging and more. Often, it’s the price of admission to success at school, in the workplace, in our homes and community.

The problem is this. As we put aside more and more of our true needs, values, desires and capacities it’s easy to lose or forget who we are in the process. We can end up identifying with the image we present to the world, the person our job or others want us to be, rather than the person we truly are. Or we can live our lives chasing a definition of success we don’t really believe.

A turning point in my journey was surfacing a hidden belief – that it wasn’t safe to be truly, fully visible.   Speaking with other women, I soon realized I was far from alone. Buried deep within is the fear that if we allowed ourselves to be truly transparent, we could risk our safety, security, success, and the support and nurturance of those we loved. It’s an ancient archetypal wound that many women carry – the fear that our tribe could abandon us to die us at the edge of the village if we dared speak our truth or be who were truly are.

But there’s a deeper truth. As the Earth and our world face unprecedented dangers and challenges, our old comfort zones and identities only offer the illusion of safety. There’s a larger definition of safety at stake. The future of our world asks women to own our full brilliance, to live by our most cherished values, and to speak our deepest truths. To live, speak and act not only on our own behalf, but for the entire web of life.

Shining our full light can entail risk and enormous courage. But fearing and refusing our brilliance can pose an even bigger risk.