My grad school acting teacher gave these instructions to our class one Monday morning during our first year:
“So the exercise is that you’ll stand up in front of the class, I’ll set a timer for 2 minutes, and you will tell us how you feel from moment to moment. That’s it, stand there and say ‘I feel____ and when that feeling changes say ‘Now I feel___’
One by one my eight classmates and I went through this process of standing alone in an emotional fish bowl.
Some people cried, some people laughed, some got quiet, some got loud. Some people jumped up and down. Most people did all of these things – and everything in between – in the space of 2 minutes.
When it was my turn to take the floor, my heart pounded. I reported to the group,
I feel nervous
A few seconds passed, then a new thought:
Now I feel scared
Now I feel stupid
Now I feel alone
Now I feel okay
Now feel silly
Now I feel sexy
Now I feel embarrassed
And it went on like that for 120 seconds.
I didn’t die.
Surprisingly, it was thrilling to name whatever came up. Identifying a feeling out loud seemed to make way for the next feeling to emerge. Amazing. I could physically sense emotions moving through my body and being released into the ether once I labeled them.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this exercise was like exposure therapy for feeling my feelings. All of them. The good ones, the fun ones, the weird ones, the stressful ones. There was no time to evaluate the merits of a particular feeling, only time to announce it. It came up and then it fizzled out.
Feelings don’t want to hang out forever. They want to be felt and then let go.
Feelings themselves are neutral. No feeling is “good” or “bad” in and of itself.
Yes, feeling delighted may be preferable to feeling afraid, but the certainty that I can experience both of those sensations and still be okay is phenomenal. The feeling is never me – I am the one that goes through it and is left intact on the other side.
So many of us have been conditioned to avoid certain feelings. Taking cues from our parents, or our kindergarten teacher, or the zeitgeist, we tell ourselves it’s not okay to be furious, or jealous, or insecure, or proud, or overwhelmed, or victorious. Not only is it not okay, it’s dangerous and could lead to your ruin or the ruin of the people you love.
We tell ourselves we don’t want to feel those things anyway, because they’re not “productive.” But often the desire to avoid unwanted feelings makes us manipulate our lives in strange ways. The fear of feeling keeps us from living. And ironically, avoiding The Feels pretty much guarantees they will stick around…inside your body.
When feelings come up (the fun ones and the not so fun ones), challenge yourself to acknowledge them without judgement. Regardless of the specific feeling, believe that you have the capacity to get to the other side. This is how we learn to trust ourselves.
If you’re not afraid to feel anything you can do anything.
Several years ago I was looking for ways to support myself through an uncomfortable transition. I was at the very beginning of my entrepreneur journey, and I wasn’t sure if I had the goods to go the distance. I felt like I was on the precipice of growth and change, but I couldn’t put my finger on what would help me move forward. I didn’t know how to activate the energy that I felt.
I asked one of my mentors for advice. She suggested that I create mantras for myself – short phrases that captured how I wanted to feel about my life – and spend some time with them every day. Did I have to say the phrases out loud while I looked in the mirror? Nope. She encouraged me to just hold the statements in my hand in the morning while I had my coffee and looked out the window.
The advice I got was easy and actionable. So I did it.
I wrote my ideas on card stock. I decorated the cards with washi tape (which gives me so much joy), and I spent one or two minutes looking at the cards most mornings.
At some point I stopped. Not consciously, but the practice just faded away after the better part of a year. I forgot about the cards completely.
Recently, I rediscovered these affirmation cards in a zippered pouch of a seldom used pencil bag.
Reading the cards, I was floored; I was different version of myself when I wrote those words down. I genuinely thought I was lazy and unfocused. Now, those mantras which felt like crazy, idealistic notions were completely ingrained.
I AM confident and capable.
I AM a woman of purpose.
I DO have faith and gratitude.
Mantras and affirmations get a lot of flack in pop culture, and I understand the resistance. It can feel silly or vulnerable to give messages to yourself. The reality though, is that we use mantras and affirmations whether we intend to or not. Usually they skew toward the negative, but the conversation is always happening in our head. Getting specific about how you want that conversation to go is a powerful way to rediscover your authentic voice.
Writing down a thought isn’t mystical, it’s pragmatic. Claiming a small piece of real estate for your idea is one of the most practical steps you can take to make that concept a reality. Even when the idea is about shifting something intangible inside yourself.
What outlandish, audacious, and out-of-reach thoughts are you shying away from?
What would happen in your life, in your career, if you really believed those thoughts? How would feel and speak differently?
Take the risk to write those thoughts down, then commit to connecting to them regularly. It only takes a few moments a day to transform your thinking.
When the Netflix series, The Crown, begins, Elizabeth is leading a relatively quiet life. She’s married and has two young children. She knows she’ll become queen eventually but assumes it won’t happen for many years. Then suddenly, she’s dropped into the epicenter of politics and diplomacy: she’s been crowned Queen of England far sooner than she ever imagined.
At first, the Queen is out of her depth in nearly every conversation. She’s constantly in rooms full of men—politicians, royal family handlers, dignitaries—who don’t take her seriously. Even though she is the Queen, these men conduct business in front of her without ever asking for her input.
Elizabeth doesn’t feel she can contribute to the discussion because she doesn’t have the same education as these men. At one point she confesses to her mother, “I just feel like I can’t hold my own in the room.”
Perhaps you’ve been in a similar situation at some point in your career. You feel like you’re set up to fail because you’re completely on the outside and unequipped.
Maybe you’re “bad with numbers” and now you have to create your department’s budget.
Or, everyone else on your team majored in computer science and you studied drama (I’ve been there).
You’re great at doing pitches to small groups, but now you have to present at a conference.
Whatever you’re experiencing–you didn’t expect it would be this way. And you want to disappear into the ground.
The Blame Game The stakes are high, and Elizabeth has an epic case of imposter syndrome. She doesn’t believe she has what it takes to actually BE the Queen. Nothing in her life prepared her for this, and when the Queen realizes that she’s received a second-rate education, she’s furious.
Elizabeth confronts her mother and asks why she was raised so poorly and never taught about current events or important issues in school. Her mother shrugs and mutters something about how Elizabeth should play to her strengths, intelligence not being one of them. Ouch.
Are you making someone else responsible for your present situation? Wherever the fault may lie, fixating on the past or blaming others is not the key to changing the circumstances. Analyzing what could have been can eat up a lot of time and emotional energy without helping you get any closer to what you actually want. By all means, acknowledge your anger, mourn what you might have missed out on, and then put your attention on moving forward as quickly as possible.
Get to the Heart of the Matter So, what does Elizabeth do next? She doesn’t resign herself to blending in with the wallpaper for the rest of her reign. Instead, Elizabeth identifies her desire: she wants to “hold her own in the room,” but she doesn’t have a grasp on world history or current affairs—yet.
So she hires a tutor.
Even literal Queens need professional help to be their best.
Slowly but surely, Elizabeth gains the confidence to make herself seen and heard in those stuffy rooms. She gets the education she needs to hold her own, and she speaks up and steps into her authority.
If you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, out of your depth, or lacking confidence, there are people who can help you find what you seek. You can take an online class, watch a YouTube video, or find your version of a “tutor” to get the skills you need.
If you think you’d benefit from working one-on-one with a coach to develop your confidence and leadership skills, sign up for a free discovery session with me. All you have to do is answer a few questions.
Whenever you’re confronted by the challenges life throws your way: remember to be like the Queen.
I heard this phrase during a guided meditation recently and it caught me off guard.
“Say hello to your body” the facilitator prompted the group.
“Say hello to your breath”
Such a simple and refreshing invitation.
That’s what it means to check in with yourself.
In the same way you would greet a friend walking into the room, you can bring your attention to your very own being – your physical presence, your breath, and your thoughts.
I cannot emphasize the power of this practice enough.
When you live in a society where you feel unseen, unheard, unvalued – for any reason – you are at risk for internalizing those beliefs.
Quickly “They don’t see me” turns into “why don’t they see me?” turns into “I’m not worthy of being seen” turns into “I’m invisible.”
The evidence of your value is not reflected Out There. If you seek it there you will be sorely disappointed.
If you want to be seen and heard, you have to see and hear yourself first. And often.
Whatever is going on inside of you, wants your attention. You can ignore that prompting or you can engage, and listen.
There are many reasons why it can be difficult to hold space for yourself. It’s not always convenient. Uncomfortable emotions may come up, you may have to pause your regular activities. There may be an outpouring of the very feeling you wanted to avoid.
Even so, returning to yourself is worthwhile. Critical.
Don’t let the steam build up.
You can avoid thinking about the pressure, but you will still experience it. And so will everyone else you interact with.
The more you tend to yourself, the easier it will become, eventually it won’t be an event at all. Just something that happens regularly. Maybe even something you cherish.
Over time, you will come to recognize yourself from these encounters. Your voice and your perspective will not be a mystery to you.
Your understanding of who you are and what you are on this planet to do will be more familiar to you and more resonant than whatever They Say.
If you’re not sure how to be with yourself, that’s okay.
Find a moment to be still. Then, say hello to your body. And say hello to your breath.
At some point in my early thirties (not until my early thirties!) I realized that if I got married, whether I adopted my spouse’s name or not – I would never really have my own name.
I have a strong connection to my heritage as the descendent of people who were enslaved in this country. My people are the women and men who found their ways out of oppression through sharecropping, domestic work, and migrating to a better life in the West. My people are the men and women who created unprecedented opportunities for their children and carved out a black middle class in Bakersfield, California, where there was none before. I’m tied to them through the stories that circulate in my family and the old photographs that surface from time to time, and the facial features I can recognize across the generations.
The connection is not in the name.
My last name, Williams, belonged to my father, and my grandfather, and my great grandfather – a man I’ve never known, and a man my great grandmother did not choose to marry or raise her child with. Not too long before that, the name belonged to a slave owner (indubitably a man) somewhere in Georgia. Most likely. The particulars are vague because the records only go back so far.
So even if I “kept” my maiden name throughout my life, was it really mine to begin with?
When I met a man that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and we got engaged, this philosophical and largely theoretical question about last names came sharply into focus. For me.
Whenever I told a woman that I was getting married, pretty quickly the question of whether or not I would change my name came up. This question was never posed to my fiancé about his name. Except when I asked him.
“So…what are you going to do about your name?” friends, acquaintances, the grocery store clerk would inquire. At first I thought I would stay a Williams. That alone felt like a small victory of some kind (in the ongoing saga of Malika vs. the Patriarchy). It felt like a modern choice. Independent woman. Assured. But it also lacked something.
I can’t ignore the fact that I want to be an exclusive member of my own family name club. I want monogramed stuff. Probably not towels, but maybe a sign on the mailbox? I want to be known as a collective. I want to share a last name with the person of my choosing.
So my thinking evolved. Maybe we could both be Williams-Anderson, or Anderson-Williams? I could compromise on the order.
I brought the idea to my partner. He was skeptical. “Anderson-Williams is a lot of letters…” I didn’t disagree. He said he was happy for me to stay Williams and he would remain Anderson. He said he liked his name, especially the way it anagrams to “A Random Nerd Wanders On.”
It’s worth mentioning that my beloved has the exact same name as his late father. He’s not just an Anderson, he’s an Anderson II. Bearing his father’s name has an emotional significance that he didn’t necessarily want to detach from.
The simplest way forward was clear: we could both keep our established names and leave it at that.
But what about the monogrammed goods? And children?
“So, our kids would be Williams-Andersons, right?” I posed…a little desperately.
I couldn’t imagine being outnumbered by Andersons in my own home. No way. If there was going to be a family name club under my roof, I would have to be a founding, named, member.
My fiance grimaced and raised the Too Many Letters Issue again. He believed that having a cumbersome last name could cause a lifetime of irksomeness for our future critters (as we fondly refer to the yet-to-exist children).
I rolled my eyes. It works for Brad and Angelina’s children! They’ll be fine!
He pushed back – and where would it end? If the critter had a hyphenated name, and they married someone else with a hyphenated name – would the grandkids be double hyphenates? The Anderson-Williams-Jolie-Pitts?
Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the grandkids’ last names. They’ll have to cross that bridge when they get to it. But this was definitely a sticking point for my future husband.
“Well, we could make up our own name.” I tossed into the conversation casually, half-heartedly. His eyebrows went up and his head tilted to the side. “Hmmm…maybe so…” he mused.
Then, we didn’t discuss it again for 3 months.
People continued to ask me what I was going to do and I’d give a short recap – “basically – I said that either we both change our names or neither of us do, but I want the kids to have my name too, but Norm doesn’t want their last names to be too long, which I don’t think is really a thing, but maybe we’ll come up with a new name? But we haven’t talked about it in a while, so probably we’ll just keep our own names…”
The inertia of making no decision was building momentum. I knew that if I wanted us to come to a resolution, it was on me to bring it up again before the wedding. Or, we could table the issue all together until the first critter arrived.
It’s not really my style to table anything though. So, we hashed it out again. In many ways, my partner had more at stake in the arrangement. My family expected that I might adopt a new name at some point in my life, but Norm’s change would come as much more of a surprise. Fortunately, my partner likes to be surprising.
Another tidbit that informs this conversation is the fact that as a couple, Norm and I both love naming things. We have our own language – that we use daily- with dozens? hundreds? of words and phrases made up and strung together from our experiences together. We enjoy words, we delight in whimsy, and we’re excellent (in our own estimation) at finding the right combination of syllables and sounds to convey a concept.
Based on both of our concerns, values, and a little bit of research, a new reality emerged. The clearest choice was to make our own name together.
And so we did.
There was a voracious period of brainstorming. Anything was fair game to consider. Anything was fair game to veto. Tilapia? Nope. Wilder? A combination of our existing names. Interesting, but Norm knew someone with that last name from a previous job…so no.
Ultimately, we settled on a word that has a deeper significance and represents something we want to be known for – in the way we relate to one another, and in the way we relate to the world at large.
The word is latin, and is a gerund of the verb “to love.”
There is still work to be done to fully become Amandis. The decision to change our name is not without a significant investment of money and time (to navigate the bureaucratic maze of legal documentation) for me and my partner. But we wholeheartedly believe that it’s worth it.
At the beginning of this journey I feared I would have to give part of myself up, or quiet my instincts about what I desire for my family. That couldn’t be further from my experience. Now, I am more clear about who I am and the future I am creating as a married person in an equal partnership. And remarkably, as Malika Amandi, I have become more myself than I’ve ever been.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word expert as “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.”
Part of The Center for Women’s Voice mission is to give women the tools they need to stop flying under the radar in male driven industries, so that they can contribute at the highest level.
Many of the women I work with strive to become experts in their field. They want to be known as a thought leader – someone whose ideas are respected and sought out.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s call this Reaching Expert Status.
The funny thing about Reaching Expert Status is that it’s largely subjective. What defines the moment that you go from highly skilled and highly competent to expert? Different people will give you different answers. I believe it’s the moment when you can confidently say that you know what you’re talking about in a given area. Maybe you know what you’re talking about because you’ve studied said subject in school for many, many, years. Maybe it’s because you have a lot of professional experience. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.
Reaching Expert Status can feel elusive and unobtainable. Often there are systemic factors at play limiting career growth (hello sexism, racism and every other ism), but sometimes…sometimes…we are the ones holding ourselves back from becoming experts. Owning what you know can be uncomfortable and counter-cultural, but consider who wins when you don’t step into your authority.
The patriarchy wins. The mansplainers. The people who claim that it’s impossible to find any qualified women to hire for their conference/writers room/board of directors/tenured faculty/whatever.
Seriously. Let’s put an end to this.
If you feel like you don’t have what it takes to Reach Expert Status, here are a few myths that might change your mind.
Myth #1: It’s Binary It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that achieving Expert Status is a binary paradigm. It isn’t. There isn’t a finite point in time when you change from being “really good at X” to “official expert”. Perhaps there’s a specific moment when you realize this, but the process is a continuum.
You are going to continue to evolve and grow. Owning the fact that you’re an expert, doesn’t mean you won’t keep refining, sharpening, and expending your skills.
There may be an exact day when you receive a PhD, or pass the bar, or board exams, or whatever – but those are all external milestones affirming something that is already true. You know your stuff.
Myth #2: It’s out of your hands Speaking of external milestones…many women believe that they are not an expert in their field until someone else recognizes them as such. I disagree.
YOU are the authority on what you know and how valuable that knowledge is. Others will take notice based on the way you present yourself and the way you regard your own contributions. They may have their own opinions and that’s okay.
If you are waiting for someone to notice you, you may be waiting for a long time.
Myth #3: It’s arrogant to call yourself an expert The Oxford English Dictionary defines arrogance as “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.”
The key here is “exaggerated.” Be honest about the impact you’ve made and what you’re capable of.
Do you have a PhD or masters degree? Have you worked in your field for the better part of a decade? Multiple decades? Have you mentored or trained other people? Have you received professional awards? Do you get paid for your opinion (about anything)? Do other people seek out your perspective via interviews, panel invitations, guest speaking opportunities? If any of these things are true, then owning your expertise is a completely accurate expression of your skills.
Do not hide your light under a bushel. Downplaying your accomplishments will not serve you or the world you want to live in.
Myth #4: Labels don’t mean anything anyway This is what we tell ourselves to justify whatever ambiguous or unpleasant situation we’re in at the moment. In my experience, this line of thinking indicates that I am settling in some way.
You don’t have to like labels, but it’s naive to pretend that they don’t contribute to the way we’re perceived and the way we perceive others. Labels are important, even as a reference point for ourselves.
Whether or not you acknowledge yourself as an expert influences everything from negotiating a salary to setting boundaries about how you spend your time at work.
Myth #5: It’s a destination, and I’m just not “there” yet This myth is more sneaky version of Myth #1. It’s true, there are certain fields that require a specific credential – it’s unlikely that you will become an expert in neurosurgery without following the prescribed path laid out for neurosurgeons. But could you imagine a new neurosurgeon saying “oh, I’m just starting out – I’m not an expert yet.” Nope.
By the virtue of the time she’s put it in, she gets to claim that status. That doesn’t mean she knows everything there ever was to know about neurosurgery. She will continue to grow and develop her expertise over time. And that’s okay.
Reaching Expert Status isn’t a destination, it’s a designation along the way.
Go for it already If you’re waiting until you become an expert to do the thing you really want to do in the world, I urge you to stop waiting. The external validation that you want may come late, or it may not come at all. In the mean time, the world is missing out on the important work that you’re meant to do. YOU are missing out on the fulfillment and growth from pursuing that work. The becoming is in the doing. In my expert opinion, you’re ready now.
On Saturday morning I heard fireworks outside. I’ve gotten very used to fireworks, but 8:30 am fireworks seemed odd. I knew something had happened. I turned on the news and heard The News. The election was called for Biden.
My partner was on a work call at the time so I took in the information alone. I went on instagram – and shared my unsorted feelings with the internet. Then, I called my mom. As soon as I heard her voice, I fell apart gasping and crying. She asked me what was wrong and I said “I’m just overwhelmed…and relieved.”
Some people reacted to the news with celebratory shouts, dancing in the streets, and honking their car horns. Other people – like me, reacted with tears, heaves, and shaking.
Have you seen the movie Captain Phillips? Tom Hanks plays the stoic captain of a cargo ship that’s overtaken by pirates who take him hostage and kill his shipmates. Throughout the film Captain Phillips is calm, pragmatic, cooperative. In the final swell of the film, the pirates are executed and Philips is abruptly extracted from the ship.
In a very powerful portrayal by Hanks, the next scene reveals Phillips in a holding room, sobbing uncontrollably. The response to moving out of sustained survival mode isn’t joy. It’s shock at the absence of immediate danger.
I didn’t realize how much I had been holding in over the past week, and over the past four years. Staying outside of your feelings is a survival tactic in and of itself. I know this – I just didn’t know that I was doing it.
So, on Monday morning, I am still in process – as are many of us.
I launched The Center for Women’s Voice in the wake of the 2016 election and the disappointment, frustration and urgency it stirred up in me. I was particularly moved by these words from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech:
“And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance an opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”
Four years ago exactly I shared Clinton’s quote on social media along with the following reflection:
This is the exhortation that I take to heart the most today. I’m not a little girl, but the little girl inside of me has had this thought in the form of a question for too long. At the age of 9 years old I wrote in my journal, “I’m black, I’m fat, I wear glasses, and I’m a girl…that’s four counts against me.” I have no recollection of what inspired that thought, but it was a statement of observation and not sorrow.
WE HAVE TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE FOR THIS GENERATION OF WOMEN.
Women and men have to both agree and advocate that women and women’s rights are worth protecting. Women and men have to both agree that sexual assault and predatory behavior towards anyone is unacceptable. Women and men have to both agree and communicate to our daughters, wives, partners, nieces, children, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, selves, that women are as valuable as men. No matter what.
How can we be unified when half of the population is not respected?
On Saturday, Kamala Harris said in her acceptance speech:
“…while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”
This message has more teeth now than it ever has before.
I am still in process, but I know we are in a better place than we were a week ago, and four years ago.
I’m grateful for the work that I get to do alongside women who are changing the narratives in their lives and in the world.
I am grateful to you for supporting The Center for Women’s Voice in this vision.
Candice, a client of mine, was leading a work retreat with a collaborator, John. Candice came into the multi-day session with clear goals, but it turned out that John needed something else, and took up all the space. Initially Candice was willing to be flexible to support her colleague, but as the retreat went on, she became a de-facto facilitator for John’s process. He was taking up all of the space, and Candice’s needs fell to the wayside.
Halfway through the retreat, Candice knew that she wasn’t moving the needle on the collective objectives that she was responsible for, but it felt like it was too late to change anything, she’d just have to pick up the pieces later at the office. She felt confused and resentful about the whole experience.
Can you relate to this scenario?
The Shit Show
You are in charge. You are responsible for setting the tone. You have a vision for how this meeting/retreat/shoot/product launch will go. Then, as time passes, things are not going according to plan.
Not only aren’t things going to plan, but they seem to be gaining momentum in a completely different direction.
You may believe that you’ve failed. The event isn’t even over yet, but it might as well be, because who can stop this train now?
You’re living the situation as it unfolds, but you’re also looking at it from the outside as if it’s a historical reenactment with a fixed ending.
So maybe you check out all together. Or maybe you just go with the flow. The flow isn’t headed anywhere you want to go, but at least you’re moving…and you can recover and analyze lessons learned when it’s all over. Right?
The Downside of Going With The Flow
Going along with something that isn’t working for you is one of the worst feelings in the world. If you are having this thought during the meeting/retreat/shoot/product launch that you are running – there is still time to speak up.
Sure, you might say something and things continue down the same disastrous path, but what if you say something and THEY DON’T? You might actually have the ability to change the course of this event. The question is, Are You Willing to Disrupt the Flow?
Once you’re aware of the issue internally, you can say it out loud. Yes, it will probably be awkward.
In Candice’s situation this could have looked something like, “Hey John, I want to check in about our workflow so far. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about X. We need to figure out Y and Z before we leave, so I’m going to switch gears to move the conversation in a different direction.”
This type of interruption creates an important shift: Candice is no longer leaving the trajectory of the retreat up to chance. John may accept the re-direct, or he may pushback, but now there is an expressed awareness of the dynamic. The disaster is not just idea in Candice’s head – it can be managed out in the open.
Next Level Leadership
Getting the right people in the room, setting the agenda for a meeting, designing a winning event, establishing the purpose of the gathering – these are all key factors leaders need to consider. But using your voice as a leader is also about the way you respond when shit hits the fan.
Do you have the courage to be honest with yourself about your vision in light of the reality taking place before you? Will you take responsibility for addressing the gap between these two stories? This is next level leadership badassery.
Events, conversational dynamics, brainstorming sessions – can all take on a life of their own. That is not a result of poor leadership, it is a result of life. If you are aware that things are going off the rails, then you are on the precipice of Major Leadership Moment. Take the risk to talk about what’s happening in real time and assert the desired outcome. Even if things don’t change, you will earn credibility and trust by acknowledging the situation.
Recently I walked among the ginormous creatures that make up Sequoia National Forest.
Naturally, communing with large trees got me thinking about my Voice.
I made several observations.
1. There is a connection between gravitas and size. Undeniably.
2. All of the officially identified trees with plaques that I saw, are named after men or masculine concepts (“Patriarch” for example). Sigh.
3. The trees take up so much space, and there is still room for all of them.
4. Size can be intimidating, powerful, beautiful and awe-inspiring at the same time.
5. The trees are not striving or shrinking – they are exactly the size they are, growing steadily, and the size they are happens to be quite large.
As women, we are conditioned to not take up space. Don’t take up too much space in the chair, don’t take up too much space in the conversation, don’t take up too much space in the relationship.
Just enough space is very hard to accomplish. And hard to define. So instead, we hedge our bets and go for less all around to avoid the label of being “too” anything.
Our culture requires us to make this trade-off all the time.
If your body is large, kindly work like hell to make it smaller. If your voice is big, we need you to bring it down several notches. If you’ve got big ideas for your life (or your workplace), you’d better keep them to yourself.
If you want nice things, you’d better scrimp and save (instead of making more money). If you want to be in a relationship, it’s best to wait for someone to pursue you. If you want to change your life, you should get approval from everyone you know first.
To maintain the status quo, please contract yourself, tread water, and fade into the background.
What if we lived in a world that encouraged us to be less like objects to control and more like Sequoia trees?
Be the size that you are; there’s no such thing as “too big.”
Grow at your own pace.
There is plenty of space for all of us.
You can be powerful and beautiful at the same time.
Things would be so different.
I am leaning into this tree with my hand extended in an attempt to absorb these ideas.
Maybe you’ve tried to level up through a management training program but found that it didn’t speak to your experience.
Maybe you work in an industry where the concept of a management training program is non existent.
Well, I have good news: You can cultivate your own leadership development practice.
I’ve guided women through this process, and I’ve seen that creating your own growth path is a powerful way to own your leadership. This process works in every industry, and I’ve coached women who work in entertainment, education, public policy, journalism, business, Silicon Valley, and the nonprofit sector.
The heart of my coaching is based upon The D.I.R.E.C.T. Approach, whichis a do-it-yourself technique that you can use and carry with you wherever you go.
The D.I.R.E.C.T. Approach
The first step toward owning your leadership is defining your position. What are you in charge of? Be as specific as possible to clearly identify what you’re responsible for—and what you aren’t! Really drill down with your inquiry: What’s the scope of your role? What can you do in your position that no one else can do? What is your domain?
Next, bring your role into conversation with who you are. What do you offer to make this position uniquely yours? What do you want to be known for? What are your strengths, and where are areas you could grow? Whose leadership do you respect and admire?
Research and Reflect
Think back to the exceptional leaders you’ve known or worked with – not just in a professional setting. What set them apart? What are the behaviors and actions they took? Maybe someone inspired you by handling a tough conversation with honesty and integrity. Maybe someone delegated tasks with confidence (instead of shouldering others’ responsibilities). Also consider the less-than exceptional or downright terrible leaders you’ve interacted with and ask the same questions. Become a student of leadership and mine your own experiences for lessons and principles.
Now that you’re a student of leadership, get involved! Take workshops and seminars that interest you. If you’re having trouble finding a workshop that sparks your curiosity, consider searching in other industries—leadership and management skills often translate beyond specific fields. Conflict resolution, negotiation skills, management techniques, are all areas you could investigate to start raising your leadership know-how.
If you’re not getting leadership experiences through your work, or you’re in a freelance industry where opportunities come around on a contract basis (hello filmmakers!), then start putting yourself in contexts where you are leading and managing others. Volunteer to lead a committee for your alumni group, dive into spearheading that fundraiser for your kid’s school. Or initiate an endeavor of your own. I’m not advocating for taking on free work just for the sake of it, but if you have an opportunity to strengthen your skills and raise your comfort level with being in charge—then take it.
When you’ve named the specific traits and behaviors you want to be known for as a leader, commit to living those values each day. Get clarity on your values and identify which ones you’re ready to commit to deeply.
There’s a temptation to be vague or to implement all your values at once. But the more specific you can be at the outset, the better you’ll be able to live your more important values and pivot as needed. Consider what the value means to you and what behaviors will embody that value. Put your values into writing, and keep them somewhere where you can see them every day.
Talk (to Yourself)
The voice in your head is as important as the voice you use to speak out loud. When you are in a high pressure situation, you want your inner voice to support you—not sabotage you. Which of these messages sounds more familiar: “Yeah, I’ve got this!” or “I’m in over my head; I don’t belong here.”? It’s up to you to foster the supportive voice you want before you’re in the heat of the moment. Work on developing your mindset through meditation, a spiritual practice, mantras, inspiring podcasts and literature, or whatever form of mental hygiene connects for you. If you’re not sure what connects, start experimenting.
The D.I.R.E.C.T. Approach can help you create a leadership development practice that works for whatever industry or workplace you find yourself in. If you’d like more personalized support, working one-on-one with a coach is a great way to tackle your own unique challenges and values in leadership. Many women find it helpful to have a sounding board and emotional support system in place as they move through this journey. If you’d like to see what coaching is all about, sign up for a free discovery session by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hitting reply to this email.