I wondered what it would be like if the whole house were upside-down.
I imagined what it would be like to walk on the ceilings and step up over a little bit of wall to cross over into another room and curl up around a skylight and be closer to the moon.
I thought of this the other day when a client of mine shared a picture of the most breathtakingly beautiful Christmas tree she’d seen on Instagram. She described an evergreen tree that had been tipped upside down, exposing its vast intact root ball, which made it look like the roots were growing up toward the ceiling. Instead of decorating the boughs of the evergreen, the roots were decorated with lights and bejeweled ornaments and tinsel, all in gold and silver and red.
She marveled at how something so beautiful could be hidden in plain sight, until someone thought to turn everything upside down.
That’s the power of bringing some light and attention to what is often not seen because it’s hidden below ground. It rounds out our perspectives, making us see the other half of the whole. It removes the blinders that have been keeping us and our vision for what’s possible smaller than we are.
Think of a plant that stays a bit too long inside its pot at a greenhouse, one of the ones that don’t get taken home and planted in someone’s garden. Eventually, its root system overtakes the soil, which has no nutrients left, and the flowers fall away, the leaves start to yellow, and consumers pass it by, calling it worthless, unhealthy, and dying.
That plant never had a chance to bloom.
What if we are where we are because we’re root-bound, having been stuck in the same pot for too long?
We have so many tried-and-true, time-tested ways of doing things. We have all these beliefs and ways of moving through life that we are so wedded to, we’ve mistakenly taken them as absolute gospel. In fact, we often refer to them as the “right way” or even “the way.”
As in, “That’s not the way it’s done.”
I beg to differ, actually. That’s one way it’s done. But there’s also another way nobody talks about, or if they do, it’s in hushed tones and confidences in darkened corners and hallways.
Let me give you an example.
A client I’m working with wants to quit her job that she’s been in for years and years. She’s good at her job, so there’s no chance the company is going to let her go. She’ll most likely be the last person to have her job eliminated, but there is this sense that there’s something more out there for her. She feels pulled or called to something else…often wishing she didn’t hear or feel it (What an inconvenience, why can’t I just be happy like everyone else?) but secretly glad she does (I just know there’s something there, I’m starting to feel alive again, hopeful.).
She wants to make her move and leave, and yet she doesn’t know where she’s going, what her next step is, or what it’s even for. It’s just this feeling she has.
So, she makes the bold move to invest in that feeling, and she hires me. We get to work. Things open up, get exciting, and that feeling she has starts to unfurl a bit. And then she eventually hits a wall. Right about the time she’s taking herself and her desire seriously for the first time in a long time—perhaps ever.
“I want to move, but I can’t see what’s next”, she says.
And there it is: The Way. Making itself known.
The Way tells her how it’s all going to go down, and it sounds something like this:
1. You need to have a clear idea of what you want before you take action.
2. There’s only one right choice, so it’s critical to be sure this is the one.
3. All decisions need to be made after doing exhaustive research, thinking things through logically with a clear head, and giving careful consideration to all the variables.
4. You need to be comfortable, confident and secure before you begin.
5. You need to map out a detailed plan, pick the right and most efficient route from here to there, and create a schedule that you adhere to religiously.
6. Then, and only then, do you begin to act and put your plans in motion.
7. If you followed steps 1-5 properly, then everyone will support you and things will go smoothly because you’ve thought of everything, and it all makes sense and goes accordingly.
8. You arrive at your final destination just as you anticipated and exactly as you planned.
9. Everyone lives happily ever after.
10. People are inspired by you—your courage, your vision, your stoicism, and your ability to make it happen.
Notice the linear sequencing that suggests one item must be addressed before another can be looked at? Notice how pretty and neat and predictable everything seems to be? Notice how all emotions have been stripped out of that process? Notice how it all feels rather black-and-white? Notice how everything feels rather dire and full of impending doom—like if you fuck up, the space shuttle will crash land on Nantucket, or the entire communication grid will shut down.
Inspiring? Not much. Familiar? You betcha.
This is the model most of us have in our heads because this is the model written about in our history books and taught to many of us in our elementary schools and MBA programs.
And this model works. It does. It’s soothingly predictable and definitely has merit, especially in times of war or a crisis. Think of a military operation, a financial acquisition, or a surgical procedure.
There’s no room for seeing how it goes, feeling your way, or winging it in those instances. There’s no time for coloring outside the lines, emotions, or shades of gray in those situations because it’s all about the big P’s: planning, preparation, protocol, and precision.
Thank you, military, and all those who serve in it.
But from where I sit, the only number that holds true for me and how I show up as a leader is #10 in that model.
So, this becomes the heart of the work I do with my clients—to hold space for a different (alternative, wild, even weird) model to move in and guide them.
This is the other way that’s been living underground, in our roots.
Think of how a woman grows a baby in her belly and gives birth.
Think of how two people meet and fall in love.
Think of how an artist approaches a blank canvas.
Think of how a writer looks at a blinking cursor.
Think of how parents raise their kids.
Think of how an inventor creates something no one has ever seen before.
Think of how a toddler learns how to walk.
Think of how you learned to swim or ride a bike.
Think of how you experience orgasm.
Think of how a happy accident triggers an unexpected joy.
Think of how getting blindsided by something turned out to be the best thing.
Welcome to the other way, the one that cannot be contained by our minds and therefore asks our entire body to come to the show.
The one that flows up from our roots and doesn’t trickle down from our heads.
The one that has curves, twists, and organic surges, instead of lines, links, and a mechanical engine. The one made of flesh and bones, not petroleum and steel.
The one that can’t be measured, institutionalized, or replicated.
This way tends to be best understood in terms of a cyclical process, rather than linear steps, so imagine the list below being individual cabs on a big Ferris wheel—each one can stop, letting people on or off, but they are all connected to the whole wheel. It just keeps going around and around, so there’s really no way of knowing which cab is the first or the last. It just doesn’t matter.
—There is an intense feeling—desire, anger, done-ness, hunger. excitement, jealousy, giddiness, heartbreak…
—We get curious about the feeling, fleshing out that initial sensation, finding more words to represent it, and helping to give it shape and form, a name.
—We track it back to its source, connecting it to something that matters—a value, a desire to be of service, have impact, address a problem—or create something that’s missing.
—We get into our bodies through movement, creativity or spiritual means—getting unstuck, outside the box, inspired, different perspective, fresh air.
—We get quiet and listen deeply, notice what we notice, be with what finds us.
—We get inspired, the fog lifts, possibilities start to emerge.
—We set an intention by saying it aloud and having it witnessed.
—We move closer to the feeling, create some structure, flirt with possibilities, send up trial balloons, play with experimental actions.
—We pause and make note of where we are now, being honest—awareness, senses, learnings, shifts in perspective, what feels good, what doesn’t, what worked, what didn’t.
—We acknowledge where we are now relative to where we want to be, tuning in to our feelings and senses to determine what we want more of or less of.
This is the way I’ve learned to move in my life. I know this way like the back of my hand, but I’ve spent most of my life only reaching for it when I was desperate and needing a quick fix, rather like the time I “cheated” in school by writing with my left hand when the teacher wasn’t looking because I was told it was the wrong hand.
It’s also the way I’ve called weird, crazy, wild, and out there, not because I believe it is, but because I was hiding my true beliefs from others who couldn’t yet see this way.
In all fairness, it’s hard to see the underground roots as beautiful when you’re so conditioned to look at all those lush green boughs on the trees with pretty lights and colorful balls on them.
We’ve been trained to believe that only what we see is real and therefore valuable, but I know a different way.
The other way is native soil to women, which gives us added vision as leaders.
I hold space fiercely for women to experience this other way for themselves, and nothing gives me more joy than when they get a taste of it for the first time. People know this about me because I am open about it. Like my son, the day he insisted I watch a movie with him.
“It’s got your stuff all over it, Mom. It’s all about the work you do.”
The movie was Marvel’s latest called Dr. Strange, and at first blush, I was thinking it might be entertaining, but not all that relevant to me or my work within SheChanges.
Boy, was I wrong about the not-relevant thing.
This kid, it seems, knows me and what I do really well. More to the point, he’d managed to shine a light on exactly the vision I’m so keen on leading us toward and the role I feel women will play in helping us all to get there.
The premise of the movie is essentially about our ability (or inability) to believe in magic as a legitimate and powerful tool.
The main character, Dr. Strange, is a world-renowned neurosurgeon who gets in a terrible car wreck, leaving his precious hands—his instruments—destroyed. He tries everything to repair the damage to no avail, until he arrives, desperate, at the doorstep of the mystical arts.
A woman known only as The Ancient One answers his insistent knock and cracks through Dr. Strange’s Western-trained rational mind to get at the world he was not allowing himself to see as real.
“You’re a man looking through a keyhole, and you’ve spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole—to see more, to know more—and now, upon hearing it can be widened in ways you can’t imagine, you reject the possibility.”
She invites him to stand with her at the intersection of rational science and the mystic arts.
This is where we’re headed, and women are well suited to lead us there, not because it’s fun or interesting, but because it’s real.
The unfortunate trap we’ve fallen into as a result of much of our developed world being shaped by white, male Western values, is that we have embedded an inherent mistrust in anything we can’t understand with our minds or measure with our instruments (including our need to see it with our own eyes).
Opening to magic and the mysteries doesn’t need to threaten everything we’ve been taught—it will simply widen it.
There is a difference between destroying something and enhancing it.
Magic enhances perspectives, it doesn’t destroy them.
Anything organic gets this. It’s why we adapt and evolve. Anything mechanical, however, can’t comprehend this—it’s too rigid and inflexible to expand. So it shuts the magic down or deems it to be ineffective, unproductive, and not worthy of our consideration or time.
The gift of our times—with all those burning houses—is that our traditional resources have been exhausted, and the conventional tactics of “the way” are no longer enough. As a result, more of us are opening to this “other way,” that unexplored wing of human existence that gives us access to entirely new and different possibilities.
It’s why I openly call myself a witch.
Calling myself a witch sends out a flare into the nighttime sky that acts like a signal to alert others to my openness to this other way. It also prepares the palette for a taste of something that will break from conventional thought. It’s an invitation to go rogue and take a walk on the wild side with me.
Yes, I’m making “witch” synonymous with “leader” here and with a great deal of intention. Plenty of women died because of that moniker, so it’s high time we dusted it off.
Because when a woman is fully in her power, she is whole and using everything she’s got—the way, her way, and everything in between.
She is perfectly capable of logic and thinking far out ahead, planning for every contingency, and can rock an Excel spreadsheet and coordinate legions of people in a syncopated and systematic manner.
AND, left to her own devices, she also knows her body has a built-in GPS that is capable of conjuring and casting spells with her words as a means to guide her and others.
She is trained in logic and mechanics.
She is built for magic and conjuring.
She knows about the plural ways.
She is capable of walking on the floor and the ceiling.
And she knows her ornaments will hang on both her boughs and her roots really beautifully.
If she chooses…to know, that is. And remember.
That last bit is key, by the way. It’s all up to her.
A woman needs to decide for herself that she has this power within her.
Which can be a big decision for a woman to make because we have a long and ugly history with what happens next in these cases—we just don’t use stakes anymore.
To be clear, this is not simply about men not being comfortable with magic and women’s power.
What I’m pointing to here is women not being comfortable with women’s power. Women’s resistance to our own power. The patriarchy has trained us all really well, so this discomfort has our fingerprints on it, too.
It’s brave as fuck for a woman to reveal that much power, let alone lead with it.
Because to decide to believe in that other way is to break rank, to go rogue, and to unapologetically embody a woman fully in her power.
To claim this publicly as a leader is to stand out.
To stand out is to be seen.
To be seen is to assume responsibility.
And to assume responsibility is to be held accountable.
To be held accountable is to face the consequences.
Consequences can be dangerous for a woman fully in her power.
They can also be liberating as hell.
Hi! It’s me, Lael. Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what resonated with you over there.
What has been your experience with this?
Where have you felt “root-bound” and governed by “the way it is”—and then what happened next?
How has this “upside down” world we find ourselves in actually played to your strengths?
Want to hear me read this post to you? Click on the recording below and I’ll join you on your next walk.
This post is an excerpt from my second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire (2019).