In the two years that I have been coaching, there are three areas that I have been drawn to. The first, helping women optimize their careers. Finding what they are most passionate about, negotiating salary and title, managing office politics, or developing their own businesses. The second has been helping women find a relationship. I love strategizing about this and helping them overcome the fears and obstacles associated with the process. And the third, largely because of my recent experience, is around maternity leave and the obvious disconnect between the totally inadequate support in Corporate America and the reality that half of the workforce is now women. But for all this time, these topics have seemed so unrelated.
Very recently, however, it has fallen into place. In the last 50 years, there has been massive change in the US, both socially and economically. We saw feminism, civil rights, divorce on a mass scale, layoffs on a mass scale, globalization, geographic mobility, and technology and these movements, while overwhelmingly positive, have destabilized our expectations and ways of doing things. Women have been working alongside men, in the current iteration, for 30+ years. It is time for a merit-based system that finally recognizes womens’ management styles and respects our softer negotiating skills. In relationships, people need to stop beating themselves up for struggling to find someone and learn how feminism has shifted how we court. I got this idea from Getting To I Do by Patricia Allen who may seem conservative, but has some very interesting perspectives. And finally, with working mothers now squarely entrenched in work, companies need to see the cost of having them leave in frustration when they could be valued long-term employees.
To me it’s no accident that in the last presidential election, both democrats and republicans were talking about the need for a new reality. Our corporate systems were developed by depression and war-era children, and later by baby boomers. The formula was that you worked hard, postponed gratification, and enjoyed a beautiful retirement with your spouse. The problem is that today’s middle management and up and comers lived through seeing marriage and lifetime employment go out the window. They don’t trust these institutions and are not willing to postpone gratification indefinitely. The massive social, economic and geographic changes have left us with a perfect storm of life challenges, often without the support network of family and friends who understand. We are learning more and more that this new reality does respond favorably to a new kind of support. Life Coaching helps individuals regain control in a sea of uncertainty and pressure, and provides the tools and support to begin living a fulfilling and balanced life, on their terms.
About a month ago, I posted a discussion on my LinkedIn groups about Equal Pay Day that talked about how women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. I don’t know about you, but it felt to me first, not quite possible, and second, depressing! How can we fix 23% when we are already working so hard?
So here’s the good news. On Friday, May 14th the NY Times published an article about a Harvard research study that says that the real number is closer to 92 cents on the dollar. Hooray! The study addressed the ‘not quite possible’ piece I’d been stuck on. According to Hannah Riley Bowles, the study’s author, ‘Part of the pay gap can be easily explained away. Women are more likely to leave the work force to care for children, for example, so they end up with fewer years of experience. Men also tend to work in highter-paying occupations and industries.”
So while the article seemed to take a view that it’s unfortunate that we still don’t negotiate well enough to make up for the $.08, I was so encouraged. I mean really, with a little strategy and planning, can’t we learn to negotiate better and close this relatively small gap?
Here is the link to the article:
Yesterday I read a great blog in the Huffington Post and wanted to share it.
The post is about determination, but it’s really about pacing yourself. For the last year and a half or so most of us have been living with tremendous uncertainty. Even those who have steady work are seeing how reduced consumer spending is affecting our companies’ bottom lines, our 401k’s…you know the drill. So, knowing that we still have some distance to run, we need to find a way to pace ourselves for the long haul. I think this coach has some great advice.
As a serious non-drug user, I always found the thought of trying LSD and mushrooms titillating, but terrifying. I wanted the experience and learning without what I perceived to be the risk of addiction or losing my mind. An article in this week’s NY Times titled “Hallucinogens Have Scientists Tuning In Again” gave me such a kick, and made me realize that I wasn’t totally wrong. What the article said reminded me so much of what coaching is about.
Apparently, under controlled conditions, scientists at Johns Hopkins and other universities are finding that patients who have taken hallucinogens have had a profound and lasting change to the way that they view themselves and the world. A fundamental and on-going change in perspective. One patient is quoted as saying, “It was a whole personality shift for me. I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people.” Wow! That is the sentiment that got me.
The idea resonated with me on two levels. First, imagine being able, in a short time, to get out of the ways of thinking that block us? The ‘stories’ we’ve told ourselves for years about how things are, what we can and can’t do? What a liberating change in perspective! And second, imagine really being yourself, “sharing your natural enthusiasms.” People spend so much time and energy creating masks. It’s counter-intuitive for most of us, but when we actually let our authentic selves show, we connect so much more easily. And, when the two work together: Being in a perspective of feeling powerful, plus really knowing your authentic self…the possibilities are endless.
This week I was struck twice by how much people are looking for community. The first time was last Sunday, when I read the New York Times article “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.” I found myself trying to make sense of the number of hits people get by writing about a run in their stocking, or their kid’s spilling food all over himself. But the truth is, there is something in the air, a deep need for connection, that makes people want to know that someone out there is going through the same thing they are. My question is, “What is going on that makes everyone think they are the only one, or that what they are doing is strange?” Don’t most of us know that if we are doing something, it’s probably normal?
My second surprise was going to a charity knitting evening sponsored by a work/family balance life coach here on the Upper West Side. Knitting for charity? I was sure I’d be the only one to show up. But there were five other women there! Sitting with the group was lovely. I was reminded of being in the Hamptons on a rainy Saturday years ago, doing a puzzle with a friend and chatting. The puzzle work was just enough to keep our minds busy, so that we could just be together and talk. It is such a sweet and simple memory, yet it was so powerful.
Is it that our To Do lists keep us engaged in activities that separate us from one another? Is it that we don’t put enough importance on connection? Is it that we are so pushed to conforming to fit the corporate workplace, that we can’t be ourselves? This entry has more questions than answers. But I do believe that we need to work harder to put ourselves in situations where we can be ourselves, feel supported, and connect on a deeper level.
Who doesn’t get inspired every four years when they see the incredible achievements at the olympic games? I know I fantasize about having the freedom and support to be totally focused, totally dedicated, and totally determined. But what is it to bring those qualities into our own lives? I remember being 28 years old and seeing the movie, “A Few Good Men”. It may seem sentimental, but I happened to be in a serious, determined moment in my life. Thanks to that movie, I acted on a dream I’d had for a long time. Within a couple of weeks, I planned a solo three day bike trip from New York to Boston. With bare bones equipment, a couple of B&B reservations, and the knowledge that I could call home for a ride if I needed to, I took off.
I remember searing pain in my back and legs, joy in seeing the countryside, and incredible satisfaction. I also remember learning one of the lessons I’ve used repeatedly since. When biking up a long hill, don’t look at the top of the hill. Look down at your feet pedaling, or look at the asphalt a few feet in front of your wheel. Just work, push and don’t be married to the outcome. Maybe you’ll pedal all the way, maybe you’ll get off and walk.
There are times in life when we take on olympic size goals. Like having two kids in three years and starting a new business! When I get overwhelmed, I stop, meditate on the cycling, and visualize the road passing under my feet. It always reminds me that I am a determined person, but also that the journey, aching back and all, is the most incredible part.
Last Friday I was totally inspired at the Columbia Women in Business annual conference. What struck me most was the forward thinking tone. The logo for the conference was a phoenix. And it was called Redefining Business, Reinventing Yourself. Having transitioned in the last couple of years from a very traditional business school/corporate experience, I was thrilled to see a shift towards creating space for newness. The panel discussion I liked most was called Push: Remembering Power, Courage and Dreams in a Challenging Economy. The speakers were highly successful women in their fields. Each had a different story of pushing to the top. But what they all had in common was a love for what they do, incredible self-knowledge, and determination. What they also had was the meta-view, or view from above. These women are visionaries. They don’t sit around trying to figure out how to create the next IPod; that is in the past. These women create a void to let ideas and knowledge come. From that, new ideas are created. I am so looking forward to seeing the major new ideas and trends that come as a result of the recession we are in; I believe so much that learning comes from being in action and creating the space for ideas.
December’s Atlantic Monthly had a fascinating article about childhood development called The Science of Success http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200912/dobbs-orchid-gene. It was long, but the gist of it was that scientists, having long studied the negative effects of difficult children for the potential costs to society, have begun to ask why nature would continue to produce children with these genes. The study provides a fascinating perspective. It suggests that 80% of our society has a normal genetic makeup. These are the dandelions, who can grow pretty much anywhere, and who as a group create a stable society. Then, about 20% have a more fragile genetic constitution and are in the difficult child group. These are orchids. In a bad environment, they will grow up troubled and/or unstable. But in a good environment, they will thrive like an orchid in a hothouse. In fact, not only will they thrive but they can often be credited for a brilliance that leads to major innovation and positive forward change in our society.
What a wonderful light of hope for parents who have an ADD or otherwise difficult child? But, what does it mean for those of us who likely fall into the 80%? America is the land of the American Dream. The, “You can be anything you want to be!” and Rugged Individualist mythology. Here’s my perspective. What a relief. To me it means that we can stop spending so much time and energy trying to become the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Bruce Springstein and just be ourselves. But it also means a different kind of work. Really taking a look at yourself and being yourself every day is hard work when we’ve spent so much time just reacting to others’ agendas. Think about what this would mean in your life.
This Christmas we headed to Vermont for a week of skiing. I bundled up and set my sights on the mountain, my only agenda to have fun. I fell in the snow teaching my daughter how to ski, we were delighted and a little scared (mostly her) on the chair lift, and we giggled all the way down as she skied in between my legs. On my own I skied as fast and hard as I could on the steep hills, softly and gently on some easier ones, and jelly-like on the moguls.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines recreation as “The process or means of refreshing or entertaining oneself” or, “A pleasurable activity.” I like the part about refreshing oneself, but I like even better the definition just above on the page: Re-create, “Create or produce over again.” Coaches use the Wheel of Life a lot. In it is one section titled Fun and Recreation. The truth is that recreation is not optional. We need it. It’s also not something that we can reason ourselves out of. Coaches also come from the perspective that people being coached are extremely resourceful. When we are given the space to play, rest and have fun, we re-create ourselves and replenish our resources. What a great way to increase productivity!
Last evening at a dinner party, a friend suggested I check out Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Having now watched it, I am struck again by the power of president Obama’s eloquence. More than a pretty turn of phrase, eloquence is such an important tool to opening us to possibility. The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines it as “fluent and effective use of language.” The effective use of language allows us to articulate, to define perspectives, and to communicate without judgement. In college I read a lot of the romantic authors and can remember that for them, nature presented a beauty beyond words. But I find it sad to give up on words to really express ourselves. To me, communication is at the heart of being ourselves, building relationships, and finding intimacy. It is key to the evolution in relationships between individuals, groups, and for Obama, countries.
What often gets in the way of good communication is the voices of others — parents, teachers, bosses, media, who inadvertently clip our wings. It can be tough to express ourselves openly when we are afraid of being judged or are afraid that our words might have an unintended impact. In coaching, articulation, listening, effective definitions of perspectives, and open communication are key to individuals’ forward movement. When someone feels truly heard, it turns out that they have the resources to answer their own challenges. And when, as with president Obama, a person’s eloquence truly opens up discourse, the possibilities are endless.