"Mita needs to be more strategic. She needs to showcase more of her strategic thinking capabilities. She has yet to develop strategy. Mita needs to be strategic."
Please. Not again. Please don't tell me to be more strategic.
In those early years out of business school. In review after review, this word strategic kept coming up. It was like a SAT word that I had never mastered. It was a word I couldn't use correctly in a sentence. It was a word that I also misspelled on one occasion.
What the heck did strategic mean anyway?
I asked some of my managers. The ones who had given me the feedback. I needed to understand what this feedback around being strategic meant.
"Can you help me understand how I could be more strategic?"
They said. Be more strategic. Think big picture (apparently when you say this phrase, you should also extend your arms up into the air.) Take a step back. Think about the overall goal. Showcase your strategic thinking skills. Make sure everything you do ties back to the overall strategy.
Not very helpful.
I then asked the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them. Carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage. Necessary or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.
Also, lots of reference to war planning. Strategy was used to provide military forces with an advantage. Relating to a general plan that is created to achieve a goal in war, politics. Required for the conduct of war and not available in adequate quantities domestically strategic materials.
What the heck did military forces have to do with selling body wash?
And finally. I asked my husband. He shrugged his shoulders, downing a Chobani yogurt in one bite.
"Did you ask your boss?"
Again. Not very helpful.
So I tried to observe others in their strategic mastery. In their strategic prowess. Basking in their strategy and strategic ways. Who was strategic and how could I be more like them?
"Before we think about the next step, we need to take a step back and think about the overall strategy."
"The long-term strategy should be the focus of this discussion."
"I like this idea. Ties back to our strategy."
"Yes, we should think strategically about this."
"I believe our strategy should be focused."
These individuals had mastered strategic thinking. They always seemed to have a lot to contribute in meetings. They peppered in the word strategy, strategic and strategic thinking into their monologues.
"Here's the deal," my assigned buddy sat me down one day. In the middle of the afternoon in the dark corner of a cafeteria. "Let me tell you what my buddy once told me."
"Being more strategic. It's about what you choose to work on when and how much time you devote to initiatives."
I was writing everything down. Word for word. Scribbling as fast as I could.
"Being more strategic is about how you work. Send less emails and go talk to people. Go find them in person.
"Being more strategic is about how you show up in meetings. You don't need to sit there writing everything down word for word. Be present, absorb what's being said, and engage. And when you do engage make sure you sound strategic."
How do I sound strategic? Do I start just using the word strategic and I would magically become more strategic? If only it were that easy.
The truth was, that conversation with my buddy that afternoon was another turning point in my career. I wasn't being strategic at all.
I wasn't strategic about the use of my email. I sent way too many emails all the time- checking them off as items on my to do list. I sent emails as a way of getting stuff done, moving it off my to do list. I didn't think about how my colleagues felt about me bombarding their inboxes.
Instead of setting up 30 minutes with individuals to review a list of actions we needed to do together.
I wasn't strategic in my thought process. I would show up to meetings with my boss and cross functionals. Outlining an understanding of problems at hand, and early on never really providing any concrete solutions. I was ready to do whatever they wanted me to do. And not what I thought we should do.
Instead of coming up with three clear options. And putting my name behind one of the options as the recommended solution.
I wasn't strategic about my project list. I worked on whatever people gave me. Sometimes work from those who were not even my boss. Because I was building a brand around getting shit done.
Instead of asking. Should I be working on this and is this driving the overall business? Or raising my hand to work on projects aligned with the business priority and my passions. Or offering to work on an idea I had.
I wasn't strategic on how I approached the work. I just dove right in, doing what I was assigned and not asking too many questions. And doing it as fast as possible- showcasing that bias for action. And kept my head down. And just worked.
Instead of taking a moment. To understand what I was being asked to do and why. To ask clarifying questions instead of spinning my wheels. And creating work that was not value add.
I wasn't using the word strategic when I was indeed being strategic. To reinforce with others that I was being strategic. Because it finally occurred to me what strategic could mean.
That I was being thoughtful about how I use my time and what I asked of others. That I was thinking of, anticipating problems before they occurred. And could then recommend on how we course correct. That I was working on projects and activities that aligned with what we said our business priorities were.
Please. Not again. Please don't tell me to be more strategic.
Feedback is a gift. You can keep it, toss it, maybe even re-gift it. When you repeatedly here the same feedback, from different sources, it's time to sit up listen. Accept the feedback and do the work to course correct.
The work has paid off. Because it has been awhile since anyone has told me I wasn't strategic.
And that's the beginning of the story. Of how I became more strategic. I showed up strategic. I engaged strategically. I spoke strategic. I became strategic. And yes, I even started spelling the word correctly.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."