I read them two new pieces I had written, and even to my own ears they felt flat. Overly earnest. Too much head, not enough heart. But my friends were encouraging and told me to just keep writing.
Then I read them the third piece I planned on sharing. What I didn’t tell them is that I felt like I was cheating. With the deadline of their arrival that evening looming, I had literally cut and pasted my copy from the About Lael page of my website. I felt certain they had already read it when I had revised my site the previous year, so I was waiting for them to call me on it, bust me for recycling, or scoff at hearing something that was already out there for public consumption.
The story was about the first time I realized I was a woman. I feel like I’ve told the story a hundred times, but each time I do, it seems to grab a hold of more people who identify with it.
It’s the story that started the fire in my belly that will not go out. And it goes like this..
I remember one fall day in 2002, walking into a room full of the top 150 leaders of my company. It was the annual leadership retreat, and it was the eighth time I had attended this particular event as part of the team that designed and facilitated it. I was nine months pregnant with my first child. Being at this retreat was nothing new for me. It was old hat, familiar, and comfortable.
But this year, I walked in the main room that first day and all I could see was a sea of white men. My jaw fell open and I felt momentarily stunned. At that same moment, I looked down and could only see the tips of my shoes beneath my swollen belly. My first thought was, “Oh, I’m a woman.” My second thought was,
“I don’t belong here.”
And then I got angry. That was the moment the fire in my belly started. Not a full-on losing it anger, but more like the slow simmer of keen awareness, hushed resentment, and unspoken truth mixed together in a kettle. It took a while for it all to register. Three years, to be exact.
Because ever since graduating college in 1991, I had been fed a steady diet of “you should just be grateful you have a job” by the men I’d worked with, and “you’re lucky, women have come a long way since my day” by the women I’d worked with…
But as I stood there that day, none of that felt true. Or right.
In that moment, I realized I had been actively diminishing and discounting the fact that I was a woman, taking pride that I had made a place for myself and was, in fact, thriving as “one of the guys.” I had been down-playing my education, qualifying my opinions and ideas, and tolerating a salary that was considerably less than my worth so that I could better fit in. I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore. I was tired of chronically checking pieces of myself at the door every morning, or smuggling them discretely into the corners of my work with clients – my intuition, my outspoken nature, my fierceness, my courage, my instincts, my different perspective, my passion. In short, my feminine. As in “the feminine”…the archetypal wild woman that I’d stuffed in a box.
I was done stuffing myself into a box.
So I left (eventually, not that day) and founded SheChanges in 2006. I created a place that made space in all the noise of our busy lives and society for the feminine to re-emerge.
After reading this to my two friends, I paused and looked up, sheepishly. Ready to be busted for plagiarizing myself.
What I saw instead was an image of rapt attention – jaws open, eyes staring at me, unblinking, waiting expectantly.
I laughed awkwardly and shrugged. “What!?”, I said defensively.
My two friends looked at each other, then the cheekiest of the two spoke up, “…and THEN what happened?”
“What do you mean, what happened!?”, I said. “I started my business and here we are.”
“No, Lael, with you. What happened next with you? I want more. Don’t leave me hanging.”
Me? What more was there to tell?
My cheeky friend shook her head and said, “Lael, you’re not writing about women. You’re writing about The Feminine. This isn’t just about women. It’s about all of us. It’s about The Feminine in men AND women.”
And I burst into tears, a sure sign I’ve unearthed some bone-marrow truth.
Because it all made sense in that moment. I felt like her gentle and fierce urging had me move toward a door that I hadn’t even seen in my own mind. Suddenly, I felt this sense of relief that came from a potent infusion of validation, permission, and liberation.
In that moment, I began to see that I wasn’t done with this story – not by a long-shot. In fact, this was just the beginning of story about finding my way back to the Feminine in me. It was as if, in that moment I look down at myself – once again – and recognized that I was a woman, sure, but this time I saw that I was a woman who was filled to the brim with Masculine energy.
That was a watershed moment for me – one that I am still living in as I write this.
Much has flowed from that moment of insight with my two friends, not all of it pretty. There was (and still is) a lot of thrashing around on my part – some of it grief, much of it fear, and still more of it about the discomfort of not knowing how to be with it all. Or what to do with it.
So I’m writing about it. Here. As much as I can. It will be from the heart, I assure you, but will also dabble in the mind – an attempt to honor the Masculine and Feminine energies within me that are trying to learn how to dance with one another after living separately most of their lives.
So consider this the beginning. And an invitation to join me on my journey. If you’d like to come along, feel free to subscribe to my blog and you’ll get each new post sent to you in your email. Many of you have asked (thank you) about my book. This is how I’m writing it.
As I live it.