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.
“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso
This week I’ve been playing around with concepts of creativity and possibility and what it takes to create an environment that enables innovation and new insights and ideas to be fostered and birthed. I ran a mini-workshop on ‘the creation of possibility’ on Wednesday and in this I spoke about how easily children play and create and how as adults, we define ourselves as “creatives” or “not creatives”.
So when does that change? I look at my children who create and play effortlessly. When I was experimenting on them over the weekend (in prep for my workshop), I gave them a roll of masking tape each, a pair of scissors, a roll of aluminum foil and a couple of packets of straws. For three hours solid they were at the table creating; everything from a pyramid to machines to microphones. And they kept going back to the table over the following day and continuing to create until I finally decided I better clean up on Sunday night otherwise my kitchen table would still be covered in inventions.
The wonderful Sir Ken Robinson talks about how our education system educates creativity out of children. And I understand how it has gotten this way. I also understand that we are unlikely to be able to teach and foster creativity if we consider ourselves as not being creative. It’s also about having the tools and time to play as well and honoring the importance of play in learning and growth.
I believe we are all immensely creative and that may manifest in a variety of ways. I bet that right now even if you don’t believe you yourself are creative, that there is something you do that other people look at and go wow. Whether that is cooking, baking, writing, whatever. But please, don’t negate your essential nature as a creative person. Trust and remember that when you were 5 you considered yourself an artist, writer, rock star, whatever. And you haven’t changed. That is still you.
So how can you create today?Read More
“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.Read More
“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.Read More
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.Read More
When I was 17 I found a new home. One that felt almost too good. I craved it when I wasn’t there, and when I was there I finally felt that sense of belonging that I had been looking for in my life to that point.
It was the stage in the wooden school hall at my high school. And the context for this was a high school production of a musical rock version of Macbeth (yes I know – slight oxymoron).
I was First Witch. I spoke the first line in the show and even now, close to 19 years later I can still feel the anticipation and the readiness and power I felt building along with the smoke from the dry ice and the music while I waited for the right moment to open the show. Even rehearsal was a joy to me; while others moaned, I counted down the minutes and would have gladly rehearsed every minute of every day. I had finally found the place that I wanted to be.
A couple of months later, high school had finished and while I waited for university to start, I found out that there was to be a local operatic society production of Les Mis. I knew I had to audition. I still felt heady after my experience as First Witch and I absolutely and passionately wanted to go for it. However High School musicals are on a slightly different level to a more professional production. Needless to say I didn’t really know what I was doing and didn’t really prepare and that 10 minutes of auditioning was the most humiliating moment of my life to that point. I remember trying to slunk out as unobtrusively as possible and bursting into red hot tears of humiliation in my car as I drove away…fast.
And I’ve never been on a stage since…..
I remembered this story a couple of weeks ago as I was running a seminar with a corporate client on Mindsets. I based this on the fabulous work of Carol Dweck (if you haven’t read her book and you manage, teach or parent – please run get it now). She brilliantly shows the difference between the growth mindset (I can learn, I can figure it out) and the fixed mindset (I either have it or I don’t, talent is fixed) and how this impacts your life, backed up by tons of research. Depending on your mindset, it affects how you approach life and what you would take from experiences like mine above.
I absolutely had a fixed mindset growing up. And with that, failure means I am a failure (versus having an experience where I failed) and that is why that experience was so heart-breaking and humiliating for me. And I gave up, totally and completely. Had I had a growth mindset, I would have looked at all the learnings I could take from that, made sure I was really ready and prepared next time and continued to work at it. Instead I shut off an avenue that brought me great joy and fulfillment and where I felt utterly right and at home.
They say you teach what you need to learn, so I find it interesting how this work around mindset has absolutely made me look at all aspects of my life and where I am limiting myself and restricting who I am and what I can achieve. Because often we might be growth mindset in parts of our life (you know that babies fall over on average 180 times before they learn to walk – imagine if we all had a fixed mindset at age 1!), and fixed in other parts.
And although I didn’t have a career on the stage (but hey never say never), I have pulled in those feelings in the work I do when I am presenting, facilitating and teaching adults. And somewhere in box there is a High School year book from 1993 that has a picture in it of me in full glory as First Witch (including the shiny purple lycra catsuit – I wasn’t involved in wardrobe decisions) utterly in the moment, having the time of my life. And that to me is a big reminder right now while I step out onto untravelled paths to carve my business and offering to the world, that while I may stumble because it is untrammeled, where I want to go, it is all a learning experience and that call home is more compelling than all the reasons to give up in the world.Read More
The other night I was woken by by a sleepy 3 year old whose blanket had come off during the night. Once she was settled, I then found my mind swirling and whirling and not conducive to sleep. But in those early hours, I find my mind creates stories which help me understand where I am right in this moment and what I need to learn and the following analogy came into my mind. I think it originally evolved from something I read from Pema Chodron around waves knocking us over, but it ended up as the following.
So right, imagine life is a beach and you are stepping into the water. You have a choice. You can either choose to stay in the “safe” area between the flags where society and culture has determined that these are the boundaries and safe zones for people to exist in…. or you can step outside the flags and ride the waves, experience the exhilaration and freedom of controlling your own destiny.
But when you step into the waves, for most of those that choose this path, it is with the awareness and respect of the ocean and the wilderness and the unknown, and we know that we are likely to be hit by a wave and swept under at some point, but we go out anyway with the knowing that the risk of falling and having to get back up is nothing compared to the thrill of riding the waves of our soul’s journey.
For a few years now I have been stepping back and forth between the safe zone between the flags and the freedom of the open ocean. It seems that every time I step forth to ride the waves I am meant to ride, the resistance (loving Steven Pressfield at the moment) comes up and I step back into the comfort zone of what I know and have known.
The trouble, is that the “safe” zone between the flags isn’t all that safe. You can live your life following all the rules, doing what your society and culture expect of you and a rogue wave can still slip in and before you know it, you have a serious illness, you are made redundant or whatever that unexpected wave is for you.
So out in the waves, in the freedom of the ocean you have the possibility of riding your life’s purpose, of following your dream, of becoming who you are meant to be. And I know that, I can taste it, sense it with every part of me and right now it is time for me to ride my waves. I know that at times I will be swept away, feel like I am losing control and will yearn for the comfort of the flags but I also know that I will never be satisfied with my life until I truly and fully step outside the flags.Read More