Years ago when I first moved to Maine, I was taught how to play cribbage. If you’re not familiar with cribbage, it is a card game with a wooden board and little pegs that mark each player’s points and progress. I am convinced all true New Englanders are hard-wired for this game at birth, but being “from away,” it was as foreign to me as Maine, itself. Little did I know that years later, I would reach for this game as a metaphor for women leading us through these transitional times brought on by the pandemic we face.
My husband first introduced me to cribbage, but it wasn’t until his father, Clyde, played with me one day in their warm Northern Maine kitchen that I started to get the magic that can happen when strategy collides with “getting the cards” at just the right time.
At one point in the game, Clyde paused and examined the board carefully, looking at his pegs and then mine.
“You are in position,” he said.
Say what, now? He explained that, at a certain point in the game, it’s possible to predict which player is best suited to win the game. Being the competitor I am, I marveled at how this spry, octogenarian potato farmer was actually excited about the position I was in, seeming to celebrate me and my advantage—as if my “victory” would be his as well.
He went on to explain that when someone is “in position,” there is a level of heightened consciousness that’s needed (okay, so that’s my phrase, not his…) in order to make smart and effective moves. More than being careful or guarded, it’s actually about taking full advantage of every point available to you, peg by precious peg.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot these days as I consider the role women are playing in leading us all through this pandemic—you know, the one we’re in right now. Long before the news started reporting on the early and effective responses women leaders have had around the globe, I felt it in my bones.
Women are in position.
I know I wasn’t alone in that feeling either, as the women I work with nationally started to comment about it as well. But more than just a game to be won, this feels like a life or death moment, and the women I know are solidly at the helm, steady hands on the wheel, hearts and minds activated as they never have been before. I heard—and continue to hear—women say this:
“This is our time.”
“The revolution we’ve been waiting for is here.”
“We were born to lead through these times.”
What does this mean? We don’t have a clear answer to that yet. But look around you and you’ll see we’re living our way into that unknown with each passing day, steering our ship through uncharted territory in the darkest of nights with sketchy data to navigate, turbulent waters, and no sight of land ahead just yet.
It’s more than just change—that’s what will happen as a result of this time. Change is about having arrived somewhere, and we are very much in transit right now.
This? This is the time of transition—which is the psychological space of moving from here to there, where big questions and even bigger emotions hang out.
If you think about it, we are living the very definition of transition—that liminal space between here and there, when what you’ve known previously is no more, and what you’re heading into isn’t yet visible.
We don’t know how to be in this space because we are not trained to be in this space, other than to be schooled to avoid it at all costs. We are told this space has no value, and so many of us deny that it even exists, or ,at best, we’re told to tolerate it before moving on.
Think of what we tell a woman when she’s had a miscarriage. You’re still young…you’ll have another baby…
Think of what we tell someone who has lost their beloved. He’s in a better place now…you’ll fall in love again.
Think of what we tell someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You’re strong….you’ll beat this…
These are not bad or wrong things to say—we’ve all said them before with the best of intentions, I’m sure, but they’re not acknowledging what it’s like for a human to move through transition—that space where they are neither here nor there.
She doesn’t want another baby, she wants THAT one.
He doesn’t care that his beloved is in a better place, he wants him in THIS place.
She doesn’t want to be stronger, she wants her healthy body back NOW.
Transition is often messy and wild and scary and dark. Which is why we feel so alone at these times.
No one can live permanently in transition because it’s not a pre-determined destination, but a process that unfolds organically. You cannot get your degree in transition (although I have tried), because it cannot be fully understood by the mind, nor can it be explained away by rational thought.
Transition asks us to feel—to let it have its way with us, to let it move us, shape us, reveal to us what our beautiful and tired brains can’t even fathom. To feel it all, is to move through it.
But consider the guides who lead us most through two of the most universal times of transition. Who do we call upon when we are tired of fighting, in the most pain, desperate or willing to try anything?
We call on the women to lead us through transition because they know how to hold space for us to move between worlds.
We call on the midwives to help us bring a new life into this world, and we call on the hospice workers to be with us when we want to support a graceful death. These leaders—many of whom we don’t even know exist until we need them most—are generally women.
In my work behind closed doors with women leaders, we explore how being a woman deeply informs how we show up as leaders—and what we bring to that showing up moment. We talk about our training and social conditioning, sure, but we also talk about the innate skills we possess as women that are somehow embedded in our very being, like DNA. We consider all the things we bring to our work in the world through our being, and how we often dismiss or discount that as noteworthy because, you know, doesn’t everyone possess that ability? We unearth these things that come so naturally to us and feel so obvious—almost like common sense. We entertain that we are in possession of distinct medicine that has somehow been buried beneath our training and cultural conditioning.
What if these skills that live within us as women are the very things that we need from our leaders right now? What if women are not only “in position,” but are also carrying the keys we need to unlock the future for us all?
Would that be enough for you to consider yourself a leader, woman? Even without the oval office, the c-suite position, or the microphone?
What would it look like if we could all revel in women being “in position” as my father-in-law, Clyde, did that day in Northern Maine?
Because, after all, aren’t we all merely pegs sharing the same cribbage board?
Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? If you like what you’ve read here, you’re really gonna dig my second book Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire released last November (2019). I go into this and much more in this book that is both a heat-seeking memoir and a fiery missive for women to assume the helm.
Looking for more inspiration or want to do a deeper dive into your own conversation as a leader? Check out these upcoming events:
Tuesday, May 5th: Lael will be speaking at The Women Of The (Virtual) Chamber
For the first time ever, the Women of the Chamber will be hosting it’s quarterly gathering virtually and will be opening its doors to non-members to register for this FREE one-hour event. Lael will be speaking about what being woman has to do with being a leader, and why that matters now more than ever. She’ll also be fielding questions submitted by attendees both in advance and during the live event. Registration is still open, so head over to Portland Region Chamber of Commerce to get your free ticket now!
SheChanges with Lael: Online Courses are here!
Coming very soon, I will be offering a suite of online offerings that will enable you to engage with me and my work without ever leaving the comfort of your home. This work has been in the works for a while—and thanks to so many of your for your enthusiastic requests for it—so I’m really excited to finally be putting it out there! First up will be a FREE offering that will take readers (on your own or with a book club) on a deeper dive inside the pages of my book Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire, and I also have courses designed specifically with corporate women leaders in mind, as well as creatives and entrepreneurs. If you want to stay in the loop, be sure to enter your name and email in the sidebar of my website so your on my list and will be the first to know on GO LIVE day!