If you wake up these days feeling the tone and outlook of the world around you has taken a surreal shift, you’re not alone. Like many of us, I have enlisted my feet and hands in fuller engagement in our democracy. It feels good. But as much as that outer expression helps, I’ve felt a parallel need to process these changes inwardly.
Six friends and I took two hours on a recent Friday night to ground ourselves in the new reality through a series of short writing exercises followed by honest conversation. We explored questions about ourselves and shared what we came up with in the hope of finding a path forward.
These six friends and I—we call ourselves The Circle—have been meeting semi-monthly for about fifteen years. We’ve explored our lives through various prisms, including dream interpretation, Jungian archetypes and the 17 stages of the Hero’s Journey. We take turns orchestrating the evening, using various tools with the aim of distilling insight.
On our first post-inauguration meeting, it was my turn to lead the evening. I came up with a short visualization to help put us in touch with our inner wisdom. Afterwards, we took up our pens and worked silently together to explore five sets of questions in the hope of shielding our inner weather from the outer climate.
Having the Courage to Explore Your Canyon
When I was in college, I had a powerful dream that I was standing on a cliff over a vast, vaporous canyon. With me was a giant Great Dane with the heart of a horse whose job was to lead me down the trail. Later a Jungian dream analyst told me the vast space was my soul, not to be feared but to be explored. The dog-horse was my guide, and if I didn’t descend on my own, life would take me there. Better to go voluntarily.
If you’ve ever trekked the real Grand Canyon, you know the river that formed it was a buzz saw through time. Each descending layer of rock represents billions of years. The deeper you climb, the more you penetrate the oldest part of the canyon. We are like canyons, too. We operate on the busy surface, preoccupied with the here-and-now of careers, family and friends, but it can be enormously grounding to take time to journey down to our center.
The hectic surface of life is full of the people, places and situations that occupy the here-and-now. They reflect back the refrains that circle in our heads. But if we take a moment to step back from fires at work, interpersonal conundrums, political chaos or whatever weather is raging on our cliff top in order to slip down into the peaceful space of our inner canyon, we can gain clearer perspective.
The constant noise of life can make us skittish about silence, but the deepest part of you, ancient and timeless, is your pure essence, the you-ness that would still be you even without your job or family or even your name—the core of your being that carries and supports you. It’s worth a visit.
The levels of rock in a canyon are like the layers of your experience, the storms and earthquakes you lived through, both personal and collective. They can remind us of how we’ve reacted to difficult times in the past, moments when we stayed centered or lost touch with ourselves. We can begin to notice our signature reactions and go-to patterns. Maybe we’ve been operating on autopilot without realizing it. Even a moment of introspection can help us retake the reins.
CENTERING QUESTIONS IN TIMES OF CHANGE
Alone or with friends, take a few minutes to write your reaction to the following questions, picking and choosing the ones you are drawn to, or better yet, the ones you absolutely do not want to answer. Exploring the question you have the most resistance to may give you the biggest payoff.
1. DO I TRUST MYSELF AT WORK AND IN LIFE?
In what situations at home or work do I not trust myself? When have I acted in a way that’s not true to myself? Do I believe more in outer or inner security? Have I paid more attention to the care of appearances or my deepest instincts?
2. CAN I LOOK MY FEAR IN THE EYE? HOW ABOUT MY POWER?
If my anxiety were visible, what would it look like? When does fear take hold of me? In what circumstance do I hand my power over? Does lack of self-trust allow fear to control me? If I could look my own power in the eye, what would I see?
3. WHICH NETWORKS IN MY LIFE ARE SUPPORTING ME? OR DRAINING ME?
What alliances am I part of at home, at work and socially? Which groups strengthen me? Which are draining? How can I fortify my healthy networks and disentangle from the others?
4. WHAT EXPERIENCES AM I SEEKING?
If I’ve deliberately chosen to be in my current life circumstances, in this space and time, in my current relationships, job and society, what am I here to experience? How can this changing time enable me to become my truest self?
5. WHAT GIFTS DO I BRING?
What is my highest inner priority, my driving force? How can I strengthen it? What gifts, talents and tools can I offer to changing situations in my job, relationships or society? How can my contribution make me more myself?
After exploring these ideas alone or with friends, the storms on the surface of your life may still rage, but your inner weather may be calmer, clearer, and renewed with self-trust.
Victoria's Secret is best known for what it has to offer women. However, a few days ago as I was strolling around the flagship store on Bond Street, I discovered that the store also has a lot to offer men as well. Just not exactly what you'd think.
My experience began like many other shopping excursions, casually browsing for a few practical items. The store was bustling with women who were relaxed but focused on their own purchases. The women in the store all displayed a quiet confidence in knowing what to do and how to do it. My browsing journey took me into another room where I noticed a man behaving quite awkwardly while being guided around by one of the many well-trained twenty-something shop assistants. My first thought was: "Good for him coming in here alone! I imagine it isn't the most comfortable experience for a man." It was clear he felt out of place. His discomfort was obvious by the way he was shuffling around and avoiding eye contact with any women nearby.
This otherwise unremarkable experience sent a spark through my mind. This man was professional and smartly dressed; perhaps he could have worked for one of the many private equity, hedge fund or banking firms in the nearby area. I imagined that he was confident in his own world of work, but in this female haven he was not. He was the only man in the room, and it showed.
This world - that of Victoria's Secret - was not created to make someone like him feel comfortable. In this environment—a store catering to women, filled by women and selling feminine merchandise—the familiar patriarchal dynamics of the world had completely shifted.
This was a world that can transform an otherwise confident professional into an introverted, self-conscious and indecisive man who needed the help of a twenty-something female to make one simple purchase.
I have seen this story play out with the gender roles reversed many times throughout my career in the corporate world. Today, the culture of many companies are built and sustained by men, for men. Traditional male characteristics are still encouraged, rewarded and expected from female professionals, especially if they expect to reach the executive suite. Being the only woman in the room is still an everyday reality for so many women in business; most men do not understand how corrosive this situation can be to a person's confidence.
I have often heard men say that they believe gender inequality is not an issue in their firm. They hire women and now even have some women on their teams. Well, on those terms this man should not have experienced any issue either. There is no sign at the door of Victoria's Secret barring men from entry. Men are allowed to freely enter and buy whatever they choose. No woman in there would tell them to leave or suggest that to get to the front of the queue they must behave in a certain way. So, what was the problem? Why did this man appear so uncomfortable? Why did he suddenly lack the confidence he seemed to have in the outside world?
It's all in the numbers. If that store catered towards the needs of men, or if there were simply more men in the store (either equivalent to or greater than the number of women), then it is likely that man would have felt a greater sense of belonging.
Just because women are allowed into the workplace now, does not mean their experiences are equivalent to those of their male peers. Women, as the minority, simply do not have the same sense of freedom to be their true authentic selves in many corporate environments, even today.
Just like that Victoria's Secret shop assistant guiding the lone man through an ostensibly unwelcoming environment, so, too, do women benefit from the guidance of sponsors, helping them navigate the male dominated corporate world.
Before a man talks about gender parity, perhaps he first needs to take a trip to a lingerie store and experience what it is like to be the only one in the room. Maybe if more men had experiences like this, they may begin to understand what it is to feel so out of place. Maybe they would join us in creating greater gender equality in the workplace.