I’ve been in therapy at various points in my life and for various reasons. And all of the therapists with whom I have worked shared with me at one point or another that they worked with their own therapists. I remember being simultaneously comforted by and curious about these revelations. Now that I’m a coach, I really get it. I get the near obligation to be doing transformational work on myself while coaching others in their own transformation. While ethical guidance in coaching isn’t explicit in this area, I see working with my own coach as a duty. But beyond any ethical obligation- formal or informal, explicit or implicit, I know for sure that having my own coach sets me up to be better aligned with my competitive nature. What the heck do I mean by that? Good coaching doesn’t necessarily require that a coach be coached. But great coaching surely does. And I didn’t chart this new professional path to be good enough; I aim always to be great. In my coaching work with my clients, MY limitations are a reflection of the work I have not yet done on myself and in my own life. And that undone work will serve as a limit on what my clients will create in coaching with me. So- it is an act of service to myself and to my clients (present and future) to be living the work.
But living the work can be a challenge. Uncomfortable awarenesses surface. New realizations about who I am being in the world and how I am getting in my own way move from the unconscious to the conscious when I’m being coached, and I am called to address these challenges. Sometimes I don’t want to (said in the whiny voice of a petulant toddler). Sometimes I know I will need to do the work in order to accomplish what I want to accomplish, but I need to be in my process and don’t feel “ready.” Sometimes, a lightbulb turns on, and it is so bright that I cannot look away, even if I wanted to. In these scenarios, I can’t unsee; I can’t go back to sleep. There are no blackout shades in this place.
I’m experiencing a bright light awareness in my life right now, and there is no going back. I am confronting the fact that my own internalized sexism (and even misogyny in some instances) is getting in the way of my leadership and is out of alignment with my feminist beliefs. My job now is to deconstruct these internalized beliefs from a place of both compassion (compassion for the inter-generational sexism and misogyny I learned and for the relative powerlessness I’ve experienced in the past) AND responsibility (responsibility to do my part to change the narrative, to choose ways of being and doing that create new norms rather than reinforcing the stale old ones). What??? I’m going to try to explain; there may be something for you in my share of this chapter of my journey, but even if not, my writing is one way in which I get real with the experience. Think of it as my own flavor of (out-loud) meditation, since I am way too fidgety to meditate for more than like 5 minutes.
If you’ve been close to me in recent years and/or have paid attention to my social media ramblings, you may have noticed I’ve gotten bolder, more vocal, and more action-oriented. This isn’t accidental. On the contrary, I have been working on self-expression and development of my leadership voice for some time now. It’s not that I was ever really a by-stander. But I’ve been more intentionally focused on leading, influencing, taking stands, and getting involved in causes that ignite me.
It’s all deliciously inspiring. I can honestly say that I’m more alive and fulfilled than I’ve ever been. And I feel pulled to keep going in this direction. But I have come up against something- some resistance- some force that is getting in my way. That something is me, or, more specifically, my own unresolved and even ambivalent thoughts, feelings, and judgments about being a strong and powerful woman and fully using my voice. So, the reason to do this work on myself is NOT for anyone else, and it is a choice that is completely within my purview. The reason there are no blackout shades available in this moment is because I know- in my soul- that the next level of my leadership requires me to take a closer look at the ways in which I am holding myself back. In other words, to continue becoming, I have to get my own house in order.
If I needed more motivation then this (which I don’t, but let’s just say I did), I think of myself as a coach with a niche in supporting women to stop asking for permission, to discover and empower their own leadership style and voice, to live more confidently, and to fully self-express without apology. So yeah- methinks there is some work to be done.
Takin’ it back to 1991 when I first got in touch with my feminism in a conscious way. It was during a debate in AP American History (taught by the inimitable Eric Rothschild, of blessed memory) on the 19th Amendment. The words, tone, and spirit of my position could only be described as righteous indignation. This was a new emotional experience for me. I had no idea how much I cared about women’s rights (it’s weird to say this knowing who I am now, but heck I was l6). Mr. Rothschild’s letter of recommendation for college (which he only shared with me years later) said something along the lines of “Julie found her feminist voice in my class.” He was spot on.
From that point on, that voice became a very important piece of my identity. But I couldn’t always hear or find that voice amid the rest of the noise. Noise such as the lecherous old partner summoning me into his office, closing the door, and remarking on the size of my breasts. Noise such as the feedback I received first from the female associate to whom I brought my discontent in the aftermath (she said he was kidding around and didn’t mean anything by it) or the brazen confronting of me by this partner in front of my colleagues (I thought you had a sense of humor, Julie; I guess I was wrong). I spent years feeling shame and guilt about this incident. I beat myself up for years for what I never said to that man and also how I processed all of it. I was weak or I was overreactive. All roads let to- Julie was wrong. I should’ve stood up, opened the door to his office and given him a piece of my mind. Maybe he was right; it was a joke, so why did I have to get so “offended” by it? How lame of me. Now, I have compassion for that young woman. And I’m proud of what she did do- which was bring her concerns to another lawyer in the practice- even if it blew up in her face. But I’m finally looking at this differently. I was 22. He was my boss, and he was more than twice my age.
Compassion and responsibility. At the same time. This is the work: To bring both seemingly paradoxical concepts to the moment. There has been a lot of other “noise” over the years. The catcalling (maybe I was doing something or wearing something to invite that behavior); the fictional obligation I imposed on myself to “put out” because I was taken out (followed by some self slut shaming- ooooh my favorite); the overt sexism from men (calm down etc.) that I then internalized to chastise myself for losing my cool over something so silly or insignificant… it’s all so exhausting. But let me clear- the work I’m talking about now is not changing the behavior, words, or actions of other people. I’m not talking about single-handedly dismantling the patriarchy. This isn’t about things outside of me that tell me I am less than or crazy or aggressive or slutty or fill in the blank. Rather, the work I’m embarking on now is how I will show up and engage in the conversation of a woman’s worth, dignity, value, power, right to be. That is, how I will use my true values and commitments to drive what I will do or say or not do/ not say. This is the deconstruction I’m talking about.
I’ve been more vocal and overt with my leadership. Kudos to me. But along with these steps forward, there’s a disempowering companion narrative that often accompanies me. Sometimes the narrative is only in my head; sometimes I tack on a disempowering action, just to really stick it to myself.
Only in my head: In the recent back and forth with my daughter’s high school administration about how on earth they can get away with not providing remote learning access for students who are quarantining because they are following the school’s very own COVID protocols, I found myself thinking (while sending lawyer-like emails) “ugh I’m being so difficult” and “I’m such a pain in the ass” and “will I be blackballed (what does that even mean)?” Internalized sexism, Exhibit gazillion. Doing the thing and fighting the fight but crapping all over myself in the process.
In my head AND a disempowering action to follow: Taking a stand on an issue on one of my Boards and then, following the Board meeting, sending a text to ED and President (both men, mind you) saying “Have I become a crazy and unmanageable colleague?” Yeah. I’m serious. Internalized sexism AND a shameless request for validation.
In both scenarios, what I am looking to deconstruct and shift are my thoughts and actions, so that I am living and leading in ways that are more closely aligned with my values and beliefs.
In my most recent coaching session, we spent a bunch of time on the importance of deconstructing my own internalized sexism for my leadership and where I am going in my life. There are three parts of this deconstruction that I will be practicing over and over again for the foreseeable future. 1) Noticing my own sexist thoughts and judgments; 2) Evaluating my choices and options/ pausing to look at my values and recalibrate; 3) Executing. Phase 2 is the least developed space for me and hence provides the most opportunity for growth.
I know that on the other side of this work is a freedom I have yet to experience and an opportunity for me to honor myself and support my clients even more deeply than I do now. And this, my friends, is why I love deep coaching work. I get to learn and grow and consciously move obstacles out of my way so that I can be who I was meant to be. In the area of sexism and misogyny, there are so many cultural and institutional barriers to progress. On this much, I’m sure we can agree. My commitment is to sort myself out so that I’m using my voice to change, rather than reinforce, the narrative.
How’s your 2022 going so far?Tags: Coaching, Commitment, executive coaching, leadership, leadership coaching, power, transformation, women who lead