Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Belonging in our changing world

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are." Brené Brown
Before I headed south to hear Brené Brown, I got into a discussion with a friend about belonging and its relevance to Company of Women.
Belonging to me was an integral part of what we do. Everyone, I felt, needs and wants to belong, to be part of something larger than themselves. So reading Brené’s new book Braving the Wilderness, confirmed what I had recognized intuitively.
Brené Brown grew up in a large family but outside of her family, she often struggled to fit in. Because of her father’s work, they were always on the move, making it hard to settle down, make friends and fit in. Feeling that she never belonged was one of her greatest pains.
She shares a story of how she was speaking at a conference, all dressed up and feeling distinctly uncomfortable, to the point where she got up, grabbed her suitcase and changed into her more casual clothing. As she said, how could she talk about being authentic, when she felt disconnected with herself.
Being yourself, she warns, means sometimes we have to stand alone. We have to brave the wilderness of uncertainty, vulnerability, and criticism. We have to belong to ourselves first.
And Brené is definitely brave as she tackles and labels what is happening in the world today. Right now, she says the only thing that binds us is fear, disdain, and rejection, not humanity, shared trust and love. We’ve become afraid to speak up, to reveal our innermost thoughts or opinions.
Partly because we treat everything as black or white, whereas grey might be a more accurate description. We are either for something or against it. No middle road here. She challenges us to be prepared to stand alone with our integrity.
Braving the wilderness, she cautions, means that you’re not going to like all the terrain. It means sitting with people, listening and having hard conversations. It means being curious, not defensive.
She talks about the spiritual crisis we find ourselves in. We are so busy stereotyping people, slotting them into our comfortable files, without realizing that they are people, people with pain.  Pain, she feels, that leads to anger and hate.  Pain that can only subside when we acknowledge it and care. But she argues, people are hard to close up. Move in, she suggests.
She goes on to say that we are dehumanizing people. It is much easier if we create an enemy image, one that depicts people as inferior or even dangerous. It starts with language. Abusive words should not be tolerated at any level or “either side.” The names tossed at Hilary Clinton, she suggests, are just as deplorable as those aimed at the President. We need to challenge ourselves to live by higher standards.
It is, she observes, those precious moments of joy – like going to your band’s concert, watching children play or spending time with old friends – that will fuel our lives. We need more joy. But it is also about being prepared to feel the pain. Funerals, for example, are not just for the people grieving, but for everyone who is there. However, not enough of us know how to sit in pain with others.
The way we engage with social media is like a fire – you can use it to keep warm and nourish or you can burn down the barn. Much depends on your intentions, expectations and reality checking skills. That said, face to face connection is imperative in our true belonging practice. 
And that brings me back to why Company of Women exists. While connecting online enables you to “meet” globally, it is through the in-person, face-to-face connections that we can build a community; a community where we all belong; a community that cares.
What can you do to speak out and belong? It takes all of us to make a difference. Together we have strength.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Speak up - the world needs women leaders

 “No guns allowed.”  

This was the first sign we saw as we entered the Pennsylvania Convention Centre.  It quickly brought home the difference between living in Canada vs. living in the United States.  No wonder there are so many shootings there.  It is obviously a norm that you may carry a gun.

Because Michelle Obama was speaking, security was tight, as it should be. Heaven forbid someone took a shot at her.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to the conference was just to witness how other groups manage their events, but my lowly 200 does not remotely compare to the 12,000 there.  Imagine 12,000 women and a few brave men in one room!

I am still digesting all that I learned that day, but overall the message was that it’s time for us to speak up as women, to find our place at the table and if we are not going to do that, then move over so another woman can.

Given all that is happening in the US – politically, the shooting in Vegas, floods, and earthquakes, there was a serious undertone at the event.  It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t laughter or fun, but people were aware of the strife and suffering around them. It was hard to deny.

Brené Brown tackled it head-on.  She lives in Houston and shared that her home was one of four on her street that had survived the hurricane, but only because they’d recently rebuilt with a stronger foundation.  Her husband went out on his kayak to try and help people, and as she said, “it doesn’t matter how you voted, we are here to help.”

Brené advocated that now is the time to come together, to help each other, regardless of our colour, faith or political stripes.  “People, she said, are hard to hate close up. Move in closer.”

She also encouraged the audience to connect with one another.  “Be civil and talk.” she advised.  She wants us to walk through the world with a strong back, soft front, and a wild heart.

The conversation between Michelle Obama and Shonda Grimes echoed the same sentiments.  No one was denying the recent tragedies.   Michelle was relaxed and real, especially when, with great humour, she described the challenges of raising teenage girls. Listening, you felt, she’s just like us. 

Before becoming First Lady, Michelle was a typical working mother, juggling all the different roles and she spoke of the time constraints women face but also said that she would start her day with exercise. She was determined to eke out this time for herself.

Asked what was next for the Obamas, she answered with a smile, that right now they were just chilling, given the pace of their lives for the past ten years. 

She is writing a book which will come out next year and wants to focus her energy on making life better for young girls. Often, she said, “there are rules that slowly suffocate young girls.”  They are like thin cuts, paper cuts that leave scars and eat away at their self-esteem.

She also wants to see training for future women leaders and more women entering politics.  “It is important to make way for new people. The seats, she observed, belong to the country, not the people elected.”

As she described her childhood, where her conversation at dinner was respected, not dismissed, you can see why she is so grounded.   The session ended with Barack Obama coming on screen to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, which brought a big sigh from the women in the room.

Just being in the same room as Brené and Michelle was almost an out-of-body experience.  It was hard to believe that they were there, talking to us. They were funny, real and authentic, advocating for the strength of women.  As Brené said, true belonging is the courage to believe in yourself.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

New look. New feel. New direction.

We did it.  Whew.  Nothing like a deadline to make you move and make it happen.  Yesterday our new website went live!

We started our rebranding discussions back in March.  After 15 years of operation, we decided that Company of Women needed a facelift.  As an adolescent, our views on what we needed to do had changed, and it was time for the organization to represent the new reality of doing business today.

Gone are the pinks and purples that represented our femininity.  We are women in business and we’re here to stay and to be taken seriously. We’ve gone with an edgier look – lime green and blue.  Our logo is no longer just our signature.  We are more than that and the symbol of the mountains reflects the journey we are on.  

Each mountain represents the three pillars of our organization – business development, leadership and personal development.   After working on the Good Enough book for three years, in which we explored why women don’t feel good enough about themselves, it became clear that without confidence, we can’t achieve what we wish for ourselves.   So in addition to focusing on business development, we also want you to have the tools and faith in yourself to be successful.

And talking of success – our new slogan is Success on your own terms.   No more comparing yourself to others. No more living someone else’s dream. No more striving for other people’s definition of success.  It is all about you and what you want out of life, and we’re behind you every step of the way.

The smaller triangle in the middle represents leadership.  It is smaller because not all of us are leaders, yet we wanted to foster women’s leadership because this is the way to the future; to changing the world we live in.

So there you are – a quick snapshot of our new look and programming focus.  Yesterday we launched the new website, so we start October afresh, moving forward.

It is a bit nerve wracking and a lot of work.  I’ve had to let go of my need for perfection, because while we have hopefully ironed out the kinks, there are bound to be some teething problems.  Please be patient.

I’ve always said you are never alone when you own.  Well that is so true.  None of this would have happened without the facilitation, input and creativity of other others. My thanks to my team for helping us pave this new future.  And a special thanks to my daughter Megan, who worked tirelessly to create the new website.