A company changed an internal policy this week. This happens, I’ve been responsible for developing and changing policies lots in my career. They never hit the front page. This time it’s newsworthy though. This time it’s Yahoo and the policy change has stimulated the ‘women’ question.
Basically, if you work for Yahoo, then you don’t get to work from home anymore.
Jonathan Fields is someone that I keep a close eye on. His blog is always informative and inspiring and he primarily writes about personal development, entrepreneurship and a bit of marketing. His background is as varied as New York Lawyer to Yoga Studio owner to Author. He does shit. Lots of it. And it’s good.
Uncertainty came out a couple of years ago and I think I hardly have a page in this book that I haven’t underlined at least one sentence. I’ve recommended this book with good results to a number of male friends as I think the logical and scientific approach Jonathan takes, means that he can communicate concepts that would normally be considered more “woo woo” in a grounded basis that is easy to absorb if you have a bit of skepticism around some of this personal development stuff. The research that he has pulled together is fascinating just in itself.
His breadth is wide in this book – it goes from delving into what uncertainty is and what it does, through to building connections with others, training your brain and really looking at your fears. The examples he uses are fantastic; there are real life people he refers to that you can google and connect with in many cases. It’s an easy read as well; it is so interesting that you keep turning the pages until all of a sudden it’s past midnight and the book you picked up to read 2 pages before you drifted asleep, has your motivated and awake, full of curiosity.
This is not just a book with ideas and examples, it is full of tools that might just be life-changing. You can access a sample of this here.
Ultimately it is a keeper for me. It is a book I have pulled off my shelf several times when I wanted to brainstorm or come up with new ideas for work I was doing. I must admit, I’m a Jonathan Fields fan and I am inspired by the work he does as well as the role model that he is.
Simon Sinek blew me away with his book Start with Why and you could probably even attribute his work as kickstarting my thinking to a different level in relation to purpose. If you haven’t come across his book yet, the below Ted Talk is a fabulous introduction to his work. His model is simple (I like simple) and it utterly resonates and gave me a framework to play with both personally and for my business. I will write more on his work in the future, but for now, just watch.
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your own potential.”
Last time I wrote about the macro, the wider landscape, the external, our western business paradigm. This time I am heading into the micro, my observations and thoughts on work and vocation spoken from my truth, from my journey.
What is work? It goes deeper the more I embrace it. Work enables me to provide for my family; from the basics of food, clothes and shelter, through to opportunities and experiences for my children. It is the caring for my family and the creation of a home for them to flourish and grow in. It is an exchange of energy – when I value your gift and your offering to the work, I am willing to give my work in exchange for yours (what is money but a way of making this energy exchange a little simpler and more flexible). And most importantly, my real work is my journey through my inner landscape; my path in discovering who I am, who am I meant to be, and how do I serve this world with my unique potential. So this can be expressed in a vocation in the world, work filled with meaning and purpose and unique to me.
And this isn’t easy for any of us. For that small number of people who never lost that inner guidance and knowledge of who they are and how they are meant to share their gifts with the world, there is at least 100 others who either long to know what it is they are meant to do, or have settled into something less, made a compromise with themselves and quite unconsciously decided to follow the tried and true, societally accepted wide paved path, even though at times a small instinct gnaws at them asking, is this it.
I think Joseph Campbell’s concept of creating our own path is a powerful image of the courage it takes to go deep and find the work you are meant to do. And for me as a mother, wife, artist and business owner, stepping courageously into my own path is frightening, without the security and approval of the known, of the big wide path I am leaving behind.
Our societally acceptable view of work is all around money, earning potential, respectability and power. If your work doesn’t involve earning money because you care for your children, or you have chosen a path that doesn’t fit within the framework above, your work can be negated, even scorned. A recent article in The Listener talked about women who were educated but chose not to work, as being lazy and basically sitting around doing nothing and wasting their education for the detriment of the country. Statements such as that only strengthen the lack of value placed on any woman (or any man for that fact) who choose to care for others at times of their lives or are choosing to create a work life that sits outside the traditional paradigm.
I know for myself that often my journey along this path is a lurch, I try and balance the demands of family, work and vocation and often fail miserably. Right now while I write this in the late afternoon, the dishes from breakfast still sit upstairs on the bench, the mountain of washed clothes waiting to be folded is about to require an avalanche warning and there are at least 50 things on my to do list that aren’t going to get done. Sometimes I look longingly at that big wide path and long for the easier route.
For me, motherhood is part of my path. As I am mother to 2 children and step-mum to another, I can’t compartmentalize that part of my life from my inner or outer work. The inner work feds what type of mother I try to be. The outer work has to work with the physical challenges and requirements of raising children. It is all connected, it is one path that I am trying to forge. I do think it is hard to be an enlightened being when you are a parent of small children; I wake early, I meditate, underline and absorb passages by wise teachers. Then an hour later I am a harangued mother trying to get school bags packed, homework done, lunches made, kids dressed and teeth brushed. That’s what I mean about the lurching. And when you are struggling through the undergrowth forging your own path, you are going to get pricked by those prickles.
Joseph Campbell also talks about following your bliss. And I hear him, I so get him, I believe it, but it is so damn hard just fitting in trying to find and uncover your bliss when you don’t feel that you have an hour to yourself. And I think there is where lies one of the biggest barriers that we have as women in finding our path, our work, our vocation. But we put that barrier there ourselves. We so easily martyr ourselves and sacrifice our needs for that of others and our family. I am finishing this last paragraph in the early evening and I have two tired whiney children. I really want to finish this piece of writing tonight as otherwise I won’t be able to come back to it until the end of the week. It would be easier to close the laptop and give into the whininess. But instead I am fending off the whines and giving instructions in between sentences as damn it, I am going to honour myself and my writing and my work and vocation and finish this now! And on that note, I will, and continue with my path and all the twists and turns and prickles, but also the joy of knowing that I am on a journey to be who I am meant to be in this world and create the work and vocation that I was born for.
“In today’s society, women oppressed by hero myths see only two choices: Be the helpless princess sobbing for rescue, or be the knight, helmeted and closed off in a cubicle of steel, armored against the natural world, featureless behind a helmet. Only men or those who act like them, with business suits and power lunches and strategy charts, will succeed.”
– Valerie Estelle Frankel
I have had enough.
For over 13 years I have lived much of my waking hours in the corporate business world. I have built my career within in, made money from it, gained skills and experience within it. Yet throughout this time, what I saw again and again, is that my “feminine” gifts and qualities must be repressed and hidden if I wish to “succeed” within this western business paradigm.
I am not talking feminine as gender; rather I follow Dr Jung’s insight in that both genders possess psychological characteristics that are both feminine and masculine. Typically women have more feminine characteristics and men have predominantly masculine characteristics. Another way to visualize this is the Yin and Yang symbol. We need both sides together for balance and each side has a component of the other. And that is a paradox that does not play out in corporate business.
More and more I see how our dominant business model does not honor or even hold the space for the feminine psychological qualities. Because the large corporates provide most of the employment opportunities for people within the western world, it has created the dominant paradigm. So we have competition or collaboration; facts or intuition. There is no room for both (imagine facts and intuition). And with this comes imbalance. We see the result that this imbalance has had with the impact on our ecology and environment – a business paradigm that has valued power and force at the expense of the natural world.
And this hurts people (let along our beautiful earth). I have had the conversation with the man who shares with a wry smile that his children don’t run to greet him anymore when he gets home because they are so used to him not being there. I have sat with the woman, 6 months pregnant, in tears, because her manager tells her she isn’t showing enough commitment as she has cut her hours to 9 per day instead of the 11+ expected. She asks me “How can I come back to work once I have my baby?” I can’t answer her. I see the women passed over for store management roles because the regional manager states “they’ve just got married and will be having babies soon”. In my early career I was asked to create a Diversity Strategy. I did and as part of this undertook an analysis of pay by gender. Without exception, for every level of role, women were getting paid 9-10% less than men. I shared the results and was told to destroy it as “it would be career limiting” to raise this any further (I left soon after – my choice).
And even the recent appointment of Marissa Mayer to the role of CEO at Yahoo was overshadowed by her pregnancy announcement and her decision to take 2 weeks parental leave. Instead of acknowledging her brilliance and gifts that have enabled a 37 year old to be offered a CEO role at a Fortune 500 company (she is the youngest CEO in that group), instead there were judgments on her family status; from that she proved that women “could have it all” through to the judgment that she was putting career ahead of family. In my mind, until we have more pregnant CEOs and Chairwomen, we are not going to shift to a more balanced paradigm.
I do have hope though, appointments such as Marissa Mayer while she is pregnant is a good thing. She hasn’t been written off for such a role because of her pregnancy. And I see the incredible growth of small businesses that have used the World Wide Web as a springboard to create community and vocation. Recently I came across figures that said between 2010 and 2020 there will be an additional 3 billion people online. That creates a huge space for the use of the Internet for business and connection. I follow entrepreneurs (both women and men) who decided that they needed to create a different paradigm of work and vocation and that inspires me and brings me hope and helps me to articulate how I wish to grow my business.
In my mind the old model, the one that honors only the masculine qualities of drive and competition must die. We have used this model to compete with the natural environment and I can tell you we don’t have a chance of winning that one. In my background in human resources and organization development, I have seen more talk around values, collaboration and engaging people with meaning and purpose. We still have a long way until this becomes the way most big business does business, but the new leadership theory books are speaking more and more around sustainability and engagement.
My hope is for a business paradigm that fully embraces the paradox of masculine and feminine and strives for balance. That this balance permeates the way we live our lives, the way we interact with our world and our natural environment. That my daughter doesn’t step into a corporate world that doesn’t honor who she is and tells her that she needs to change to be successful. That my son can honor his emotions and his desire for connectedness while he still brings his masculine gifts (and boy he is competitive). That business is seen as an enabler of societal prosperity and growth rather than a profit-driven force which benefits the few.
Because I like business, I believe we can change the world for the better through business. So I will play my role, balancing my paradox of being a self-employed entrepreneur who does a component of work within the corporate model, doing my piece to speak my truth, honor my way of conducting business and demonstrating to my children that we can create a new way.
Some fun coming up in just over a week. My lovely friend Julia Dungan and I are going to hold a class here in Auckland at the Glendowie Community Centre and have a pile of fun with art and creativity.