Two clients. Two scenarios that seem polar opposites. One truth, blazingly clear.
We women mis-use our power, and we’re paying the price.
Power used effectively is energizing, generative and sustainable. It’s like an electrical current always available to us – we just need to plug ourselves into it, and it will flow freely.
Clean, clear, distortion-free power. Delicious.
But unfortunately we’re confused about what power is and how to use it. We either overdo it and find ourselves exhausted and bitter, or we underdo it and lose touch with what we’re here to do in the world.
The worlds of Margaret and Joan
My two clients are at opposite ends of a spectrum. First, there’s Margaret. She’s 20 years into a public service career that has come to define her. She’s the one who shows up on Saturday to make sure the report is handed in on time, and the one who gets promoted even when promotions aren’t being handed out. She drives hard, and gets results. She’s in it for more than a paycheck – her work is important, even world-changing.
But she’s also brittle. Burned out. She’s disappointed in her parenting, lonely within her marriage, frustrated that she never finds time to simply read a book for the pleasure of it. She wonders if she has sold out. She daydreams about quitting her job, but knows she won’t have the guts.
Margaret has leaned heavily on her masculine power, and left her feminine far behind. For sure, the masculine fuels her outward success and there’s a payoff in that. But she’s unable to enjoy the (many impressive!) fruits of her labor because she has buried the feminine power of receiving. She doesn’t stop striving long enough to recognize herself for her efforts. She’s trying desperately to climb a hill of sand, and though she’s making progress it doesn’t feel very satisfying. And she seriously doubts whether she has the stamina to make it to the top.
My other client lives in another world entirely. Joan stayed home with the kids while they were little, then lost interest in her former career. Mamahood changed so many things for her – she rearranged priorities and with that, her perspective shifted. There are times when she’s with her kids that she feels complete and fulfilled, grateful for her life that centers around deep connections with her family, her community and herself. But there are other times when she wonders if she has sold out. Joan was passionate about the work she did as part of a start-up and misses feeling on purpose, connected to something larger, leaving her mark. Where’s the passion now?
Joan has ideas about what she might do next but talks herself out of each one. She’s too old, it’s too hard, she missed the boat, she doesn’t have the skills, she’s not _______ enough. She’s paralyzed. She feels like a victim of her life, rather than leading it.
Joan has deepened her feminine power in a big way. She’s nurtured her kids and created a rich and meaningful life. She’s steeped in connection. On many levels, she embodies “home”. If you met her you’d find her grounded and present. (She’d probably invite you hiking or to tea). But what’s missing is an outward expression of her power; she lacks self-reliance so is hesitant to stake a claim and commit herself to making something happen that would be life-affirming and energizing. She has turned off the valve connecting her to the masculine aspects of her power, and she’s desperate for the aliveness she knows is available there.
Two women, overusing and underusing fundamental elements of their power.
You know how this story plays out. On the one hand, there’s an unsustainable situation headed toward eventual collapse. And on the other, there’s enormous untapped potential coalescing into a black cloud of dissatisfaction and unease.
Call in what you need
You’ve been all over this spectrum, haven’t you? You know how to drive hard, ignoring the fact that you’re not refueling and are running dangerously low on gas. And you know how to abdicate responsibility for your own happiness, cocooning when in fact your wings are itchy and you’re ready to fly.
Happily, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s about recognizing the imbalance, and finding ways to dial up or dial down the side that has gone wonky. Simple, baby steps that add up to big changes. This is what we can do again and again, when we find ourselves too far on one side or the other.
What about you — right now, do you see yourself as more Joan or more Margaret*? What is it costing you to be where you are on the spectrum? What will you do to integrate your masculine and your feminine?
*Not their real names, of course.
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The concepts I’m talking about here come from The 12 Elements of Power, a framework that redefines power and offers simple tools to use it cleanly and effectively. I fell in love with this work last year, and did an intensive training with Michele Lisenbury Christensen, its founder and creator. I’m now certified to use the Elements in my coaching and consulting practice (yay!!!), and am excited to offer individual coaching, a self-study program and facilitated events for organizations. You can read about the Elements here.
If you like the sound of this work, please contact me for a free 30-minute session to explore coaching using the 12 Elements of Power. It’s a total gamechanger, I promise.