Apparently when I came on the scene, it meant something was about to happen that was going to disrupt someone’s status quo.
Thirty years ago I was a director of an overnight camp in New Hampshire, which means I was one of two people responsible for the welfare and oversight of 350 kids and 150 staff.
It was a big-deal job, but it felt effortless to assume that much responsibility.
I didn’t think about being a leader—I just led. Naturally.
That was before I spent fifteen years working in predominately masculine cultures—first in a boarding school and then in the corporate world—and I was taught to doubt and question myself, my perspective, my value and my instincts. I believed (for real) that I was “one of the guys” and that being a woman had absolutely nothing to do with how I showed up as a leader.
Understanding my power as woman would come later. At the time I didn’t see it as remotely relevant.
My “Trouble” nickname was given to me by a very unlikely champion—a crusty, old man who headed the maintenance team for the camp. He always wore a flannel shirt (even on 80 degree days) with old-fashioned red suspenders that stretched over his mighty belly to hold up his Wrangler jeans.
Like me (the young, upstart college kid from New Jersey) he was a cliché—the definition of a curmudgeon or a crusty New Englander who was conservative by nature, suspicious of outsiders, and as loyal as they come. He had weathered many winters, this man, and still smoked like a chimney even though he was well on his way to cancer.
Every time this crusty, old man saw me coming, he growled. “Oh no, here’s comes Trouble….”
And he was right. I was always coming for something—the toilets had backed up in the girls’ bathrooms, a hornets nest had been discovered in eaves of the lodge, a screen ripped in one of the cabins, or the skunks got into the trash again. But whenever he said, “Uh oh…Trouble”, there was a sparkle in his eyes, like a smile.
He knew I was a woman on a mission and he not only respected that—he honored and admired me for it.
He didn’t “tolerate” me. He celebrated my determination and directness—because he knew I didn’t mess around or suffer fools. He didn’t patronize or dismiss me—and my almost daily visits to his shop—to the all-male crew who witnessed our exchanges. Oddly, it was my first experience of feeling like a queen—albeit in a maintenance shed, but still…
I was thinking about this the other day as I was reflecting on the degree to which I feel “dangerous” as a woman in my fifties.
If I was trouble thirty years ago, I’m downright dangerous now. And that’s a good thing.
Had it not been for my experience with this old man, John, and his sparkling eyes, I might have be afraid of that side of myself—you know, the side that leads, commands, and directs.
I share this with you today because this is the very conversation that takes up the most space in my work with leaders (Am I being too harsh? Was that rude of me? Are my expectations too high? Should I pick my battles better? Will people think I’m cold and uncaring?)
THIS is what we’re talking about when doubts and fears about being a $itch, mean, rude or bossy swirl around us.
Being a fully-embodied leader means being Trouble, like it or not.
Notice I didn’t say “comfortable”? Bah! Comfort is a false narrative we tell ourselves as leaders, and tall order on most days—especially the hard ones. I marvel that the people who pause to consider this are the least in need of reflection—it’s the ones who don’t pause that I worry about, and they’re rarely my clients.
Bottomline: I don’t know anyone who’s genuinely comfortable disrupting, barking orders and commanding a ship in turbulent times. Not even Olivia Pope in Scandal.
So here are some field notes from my SheChanges crew to yours—along with a few tricks to stir the pot and create some good trouble that will undoubtably serve us all.
One of my clients earlier this week had an inspiration that both delighted and shocked her. She is entering a season of conjuring and she knows it, having been here before. Prior to her session, she had cleared off a wall in her home office, got some bulletin boards and thought she’d do a vision board of sorts. Over the phone that day in her session, we could sense things wanted some breathing room—more space to expand and unravel before revealing themselves. There was this great pause, and this grown-ass woman said “What if I just write on the wall…in Sharpie!?” And then another silence and she said, “OMG I JUST WROTE WRITE ON THE WALL IN SHARPIE!” Something happened in that moment, and maybe you had to be there to appreciate it—but perhaps you can relate. Permission was given to color outside the lines. She broke the “neat and tidy” rule. She did what you’re not supposed to do. Her words on the wall felt more like a prayer—or missives from command center—and less like a working strategy. There was no drafting—her words were a permanent fixture in her home now, just as they were—like magic. And it felt deliciously good.
Want to play with it?
Try it. Write that $hit down—not on the computer or sketched out in pencil in a small notebook, but in permanent marker—on the wall. Make your mark. Take up space. Be that bold. What have you got to lose? See what happens.
This is a huge theme going around my client conversations these days. It’s this sensation of going back and getting what has been forgotten or left behind—not because you “want to go back”, but because it’s time to move forward and you sense it’s critical to where you’re going. Most often it has to do with dreams that had been buried (or dismissed or sidelined because of circumstances), creative energy being expressed, and/or desires we once had for ourselves that we’d let go. In short, it’s “unrequited love”—not in the tragic Romeo & Juliet way, but more in the “it’s time to go get that $hit!” way. No desperation or grasping here, more of a hunger that it’s time to feed—and the honest truth (when you put down the excuses) that you have the space, time or resources now that you didn’t back then. But it begins with getting honest and naming it.
Curious about your true love that got away?
It’s sounds cliché, but what will you regret not doing (or being) on your death bed? What is the thing you have put off doing because it never felt like the right time? What have you tried to forget that keeps haunting you? That. You don’t need to DO anything with it right now—just name it. Let it exist.
#3 All The Rage
This gets directly at that “trouble” theme above and it’s going around like wildfire these days as the temperatures soar high. Fires of change are igniting, almost like spontaneous combustion, as more and more people aren’t waiting to say or do the hard thing. Anger (righteous rage, really) is the most common topic that comes up in my sessions with clients—and it’s generally connected to a desire to be of service. Brittney Cooper writes about this very thing in her book, Eloquent Rage: “This is a book for women who know $hit is f*cked up.” That’s what I’m talking about—when the desire to create change meets a wall of resistance. Things are reaching a boiling point for many, and it’s not just because of the heat. So if you’re feeling (and saying) WTF a lot these days and you’re feeling kind of done with “the way it is”, know that you’re not alone. There is a tsumani of change that’s being created—in our relationship to work, our relationship to each other, and our relationship to the planet that holds us all—if you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of it.
Want to get cool with your anger?
Pick up Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper, and discover what Black women have been embodying for lifetimes that differs from white women and white feminism.
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