Then leave. Seriously. Get out of here. And most importantly, go it alone.
My path to leadership has been incredibly winding. Even as I write "leader" and refer to myself in the same sentence, I second guess it. Am I really a leader? Perhaps I should be more modest.
We women cannot stop undervaluing ourselves for the sake of social acceptance. I am no exception.
But like you, I am a leader. I am the woman of my household. I keep my familial ship afloat. Like you, I have both relationships, and personal passions through which I lead.
I write books that I wish had existed when I was in high school. Some may never see the light of day. A few will. My commitment is relentless.
And I lead retreats, design curriculum, teach yoga, and plan rituals because I believe in the value of leaving to create female leaders who live in pure, unwavering alignment.
But with or without these roles, I am a leader.
When I was in high school I was quiet, I was painfully shy. I received good grades, but speaking up was not something I was comfortable with. I was a thinker, not a talker. I was observant, thoughtful and internally questioning, not bold and outwardly brave with speech or conviction. So, I didn't stand out as a leader.
Leadership in our world has such a masculine expectation of it. Put yourself out there, be bigger, do more, speak loudly, go out and take what is yours!!!
I could not play on this court. One that our school systems so traditionally favor.
But like many women and girls, deep within me sat a knowing, a comfort with my own intuition that could not fit into the mold of the masculine conqueror model.
When I left for the first time by myself, I was 20. I went away as far as I could go -- Nepal. While my friends chose exciting places like Spain and Italy and France and Australia, I wanted something modest and humble, rugged and raw. I wanted something to strip me down, as opposed to build me up.
Never before had I grown so much and asked so many questions. This experience cracked open my commitment to leaving. It became an obsession that lives in me even now.
I found grants that led me to Japan, jobs that dropped me in India and after working in India, nursed gut bugs in Thailand. I quit a job to tramp through New Zealand, wrote an article to get me to Bhutan, and forced friends to meet me in impoverished parts of the Caribbean for breaks between jobs.
I took not one of these excursions for granted. I hadn't grown up traveling abroad on the regular, so each sojourn was not merely a stamp in a passport, rather, an experience that formed my squishy identity, ever crafting me into a more evolved version of myself.
When baby-making time in life came, I stepped in with trepidation. Do I want to be a mother? It's the only thing in life I truly can't escape. What will come of my need for change? For leaving?
So was carved a new commitment: that upon finishing begin a human cow for each subsequent child, I would leave for retreat. Alone. As hard as it was to rip myself up from the snuggly seams of my family, with a new baby merely a year and a half old, I had to go.
It was the only path that led me back to myself, a new version of myself. And it wasn't just for me. It was for that very baby, that I may show her what it means to live from truth, rather than obligation. To live from personal conviction, rather than habitual societal expectation.
William Deresiewicz delivered a commencement speech to students at West Point in 2010. In it he spoke a truth that so deeply resonates:
"We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of expertise. What we don’t have are leaders.
What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision."
His solution? Solitude. Time for introspection.
Introspection comes not from the grind of life. Introspection comes from momentary pull back. We are all meant to be visionary, no matter how we express this in our lives. We all yearn to set our own course, as opposed to follow along with the status quo and live out merely habit patterns. But this takes regular commitment to our own development.
These days my retreats are more modest than the days before children. Annually, I go off the grid for just a few nights, stay in silence, and bring just my journal and a few books. This satiates my retreating need entirely. It is a part of my commitment to myself.
In a time where female leadership is desperately needed in our throbbing world, may we show others that cultivating our own mind has just as much power as speaking it.
WANT TO GO ON YOUR OWN RETREAT? A FEW SUGGESTIONS...
-Limit technology and home communication
-Bring inspiring books or audio
-Go for AT least 2 nights (it takes this long to drop in)
-Break up introspection with being outside
-Add in some kind of exercise or movement
-Write letters to people who matter to you
WANT A LITTLE MORE GUIDANCE ON YOUR NEXT RETREAT? THAN...
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