Issue 79 — January 7, 2019
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at Spirit of the Senses, a long-established Phoenix-area group of people who get together for lectures and discussions on provocative topics.
They asked me to speak about “After #metoo.” I determined to make it a discussion rather than a speech. It was lively, animated, and at times impassioned. I love facilitating dynamic conversations, especially on hot topics. (My Leadership Power Tool #4 is “Embrace Controversy,” after all.)
The evening went exactly as I had hoped. I can always tell whether I’ve hit the mark by how many people want to talk with me afterward.
The last person who came up to chat was tall blonde woman with bold gold earrings and a forceful demeanor. She looked me square in the eyes and said, “You are a ‘wow.’ Your presentation was outstanding. But you gave away your power when you talked about yourself. Your face and body language changed. You made yourself less than you are.”
I wanted to make excuses but I knew she was right. I’ve realized for years I do that.
I finally came face to face with my personal power demons 10 years ago.
In fact, I had told the story that very evening. I finally fully realized my pattern when I wrote Send Yourself Roses in 50–50 partnership with Kathleen Turner. At the pre-publication publicity meeting, however, the publicist turned his back to me and spoke only to Kathleen. Clearly to them, I had served my purpose in the project. Forget 50–50. I was chopped liver.
In that stunning moment, I realized how I let myself be subsumed by others. Whether as a teen allowing cultural pressures to shape my life choices, as a professional losing my identity in support of a cause I believed in, or speaking In Kathleen’s voice rather than my own, I had never staked out my own place in the world. I had always worked in the service of something or someone else. It was, frankly, easier to advocate for someone else other than myself.
And in that moment, I had a fiery realization that I needed to break free, to speak in my own voice.
They say you write the book you need to read. I spent the next year researching why women in every sector hadn’t reached leadership parity for what became my book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.
I discovered I wasn’t alone, that many women have an ambivalent relationship with power. It’s not hardwired. It’s culturally learned. But it is real. And unless we redefine power on our own terms so we can embrace it with intention, we’ll never crack the code that holds us back in so many ways — lack of confidence, imposter syndrome, self-limitation, undervaluing our power and talents — from our fair share of leadership positions.
In so many ways, claiming or reclaiming of one’s innate power is what #metoo is all about.
I thanked the woman with the bold gold earrings and asked her to call me every day and remind me to own my power. We need each other’s support to create new patterns.
Change rarely happens in a straight line.
Despite my momentary regression, something has fundamentally shifted for me this new year, even though I still have to work every day to embrace my power as fully as I know I deserve to do and as I teach other women to do. (Brief commercial here — Arizona friends in nonprofits or community leadership such as education or government, you can join our upcoming 50 Women Can Change the World in Nonprofits if you act quickly. The next cohort starts January 23.)
First, I usually have trouble remembering to write the new year’s number. Not this year. I’ve been writing 2019 effortlessly since we rang the old year out with a most beautiful meal (see soup as evidence). This might sound trivial. But to me, it signifies that I’m moving on from past behavior that hasn’t served me well.
Second, at lunch with friends last week, a Reiki practitioner among us observed that my heart energy was flowing up and out with no blocks. I don’t generally place much weight on such comments. Yet it felt absolutely right in that moment. I feel clarity in my heart. There are no impediments to my personal or professional goals this year. After a fraught year for Take The Lead in 2017, 2018 was a year of necessary rebuilding — of the organization’s capacity to deliver on its mission and my own confidence in my vision and competence to accomplish it.
I had to acknowledge that in bringing my organization back to health, I had put my own development on the shelf again. Well, world, I’m taking me back off the shelf. I’m committing to finishing my next book and devoting the time needed to stake out thought leadership as the expert on women’s relationships with power, intention, and leadership. I own that space. I’ve earned it. I claim it.
Paradoxically, that allows me to use my power freely as the Power TO advance all women. There isn’t a competition between the personal and the political, but if we aren’t clear and confident in the personal, we aren’t nearly as effective in our leadership to achieve our larger goals.
What does this have to do with making 2019 the real Year of the Woman?
Getting elected or hired into business leadership is merely the first step. What I wrote about Nancy Pelosi’s first swearing in as the first female speaker of the House in 2007 seems prescient for today.
That euphoria is being lauded again. Seeing Pelosi take the gavel for the second time with even more children surrounding her and the largest number of women ever in Congress made me smile. But in truth, each benchmark attained isn’t the end point. It’s a necessary step along the path.
There’s no turning back even though some days the forces trying to push us into retrograde seem frighteningly strong. Believe it: they just make us stronger, as women who are rocking the sports world are showing us. The walls of oppression eventually come tumbling down.
When I see Nathalie Molina Nino’s speech at Lesbians who Tech, blasting out boundary breaking ways women can fund their wildest entrepreneurial dreams, I know that the women who will build companies surpassing Apple and Microsoft are already walking among us. Creating that level of wealth is one of the most important factors to equalize the gender power balance in society. And as we do that, we’ll change systems to make the way we work more just and balanced for men as well as women.
All of this is why 2019 is the real year of the women. Because it’s after we’ve cleared our own heads win those elections, and built our businesses that the real progress can begin. The quantum leaps forward are the result of persistent hard work, not a moment in time or external social forces.
We’re in a quaquaversal time, to use a Latin-rooted geological term I learned from
Lauren Bailey, CEO/owner of Upward Projects Restaurant Group while enjoying the amazing spread she ordered at the aforementioned lunch at her restaurant Postino.
The word means sloping downward and outward in all directions from the center. That’s what women are doing now. A new power paradigm forms the strong, core radiating outward to permeate the culture. It may feel chaotic to those who regard power as a finite pie and have been privileged to control most of it, but it’s actually restorative, healing, infinite, and creative, with room for all of us.
I’m claiming my power. Claim yours and we’ll make 2019 the real year of the woman.
Happy New Year.
GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead. People has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.” As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.