When people come to work with me as a coach, it is not necessarily because they are looking to be more successful in their careers. Many of them are already at the top of their game. Instead, they are at the point where they want to redefine what success means and how it manifests in every aspect of their lives, from career to money to family and everything in between.
For many people, the characteristics that made them successful are firmly grounded in the masculine – or what is traditionally considered masculine. That has left them feeling lacking in traits that are more often associated with women. This is true for both men and women, as the definition of success has broadened to include a more holistic approach.
Andrea Wanerstrand is a highly accomplished woman who leads global coaching programs at Microsoft. Her expertise is highly sought after, and she knows the value of a good coach. When she came to me, she wasn’t looking for therapy or a quick fix. She wanted a mindset change. She dove in and did the work of uncovering her hidden drivers, her vision, wishes, and goals in every area of her life and developed a clear and powerful personal mission statement. She was ready to begin what I call Leading With the Feminine. This is where we look at how we’re manifesting ourselves in the different parts of our lives – at work, at home, with coworkers, friends, and family.
Leveraging the feminine reduces stress, and fosters connectivity (through vulnerability), increased joy, creativity, and overall pleasure. We start by bringing in this quality to the areas in our lives that are the most painful and stressed. Though the feminine is nurturing and nourishing, this work can be very uncomfortable for people who have relied so heavily on the masculine and have been seemingly rewarded for doing so.
Andrea shares, in her own words, how this imbalance showed up in her life.
By many people’s standards, I am at least outwardly considered an extremely successful person. I have a great job, a great family, wonderful friends, and a beautiful home – but my life felt out of whack. No matter how much success I had, I never felt good enough, deserving or satisfied. My life had become a constant addiction to the next achievement and goal as opposed to a celebration or even acknowledgment of what I’d achieved. I couldn’t stop to just enjoy the moment. And when I did – when I let go and just played or “hung out,” I felt guilty. I needed to redefine what success meant to me.
I started working with Carolin almost a year and a half ago because I was attracted to her holistic approach to defining success. While working with her, I became clear about who I was and what I wanted. It wasn’t an overnight occurrence; it took some digging.
During that excavation, I uncovered a major obstacle: At my core I held a belief that to acknowledge or take ownership of one’s success and value in the world was arrogant. As the oldest of four, I learned that it was my job to set an example – to be perfect, or, at least, create the illusion of it. There is a rigidity in trying to be perfect, and it limited my ability to revel in my successes and to experience joy, spontaneity, and a deep level of fulfillment and creativity.
Uncovering this belief freed in me the recognition and celebration of a whole range of previously unacknowledged qualities. These qualities were unearthed in Carolin’s “I Am” exercise, where she had me list 150 qualities that described me – which wasn’t easy after the initial 15 or 20. Once I was done, I experienced deep gratitude for my life experiences and the lessons I learned along the way, and it was easier to bring all of these qualities into the forefront of my life – even the more feminine ones.
In my leadership practice at Microsoft and elsewhere I talk about how it’s not in the doing that matters— it’s in the being. If I’m not being all of who I am, then I am not walking my talk. Having Carolin push me to embrace the feminine was a game-changer; I became acquainted with the multifaceted me.
I am not a pink fluffy girl by any means, but I can now give myself permission to wear that red lipstick without the fear that it’s too bold. I can embrace empathy and vulnerability in the way that I lead. And I can be successful at work and goofy with my kid at home (and tell really bad mom jokes!)
These may seem like small things, but they’re not. They inform every aspect of my life – and people notice. I didn’t tell anyone at work that I had hired a coach, but after doing this work, people started saying, “Something’s different,” “You seem lighter,” “You’re more relaxed.” And I am. I get to be all of me, which is good for me, good for my work, my family, and my life as a whole. My life finally feels synergistically aligned and in balance. This is what success means to me.
Andrea’s story is a common one. Many of us had to suppress aspects of ourselves to get along in our families and to succeed at work. The feminine can easily get diminished. Even in my own past, I recall when the idea of being feminine and playful made me feel stupid – but now, it nourishes and feeds me. It’s a crucial part of my success. By reclaiming this aspect of ourselves, our lives become richer and fuller. We experience true freedom.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Describe yourself in 10 adjectives. Which of those qualities do you consider feminine?
2. What are your beliefs around being feminine at work?
3. If you could embrace one feminine quality more fully, what would that look like?
You don’t have to do this work alone. To connect to others, join the Beyond Fulfilled Community and start your journey towards a Beyond Fulfilling Life here https://www.beyondfulfilled.com/challenge. The best is yet to come.