In Failure, Fear, Resilience

Does the juggle of the career and home life leave you tired and stressed? Many of us have read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now famous article in the Atlantic “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”. It reignited a debate about what needs to change in order for women to “have it all” – a great career, a great personal life – or whether that’s even possible. In a recent executive coaching session, I was taught a great lesson about “having it all” by my client.

I was with leader who is a vice-president in her company. We were working through the “Authentic Brand YOU” personal brand process to help her identify her leadership brand.  I asked her why this exercise was important to her.  She said she wanted to develop a “commanding presence” so that she could have greater influence in the organization and could successfully get her ideas across.

As we worked through the personal branding exercise, I asked her to give me examples of what value she created for her stakeholders. She talked about how her outside-the-box thinking got her company’s Chief Operating Officer to give her assignments outside of her functional area.  She talked about how she had conceived of a breakthrough idea, how she had convinced her organization to make it happen, had been designated the “champion” for the project, and how they had beat out bigger competition to win the bid and execute it flawlessly.  As she shared these examples, something started to change.  She discovered that she already had great influence in the organization. She didn’t need to have a “commanding presence” like her boss.  She just needed to see within herself how her authentic presence commanded influence.

Here is the lesson that I learned from this exercise.  The key to having it all is simply to realize that we already have within us what’s important. We don’t need to be everything to everyone – the perfect career woman, wife, mom, PTA President, community member.  We just need to listen to our inner voice to determine what’s important to us, discover our leadership purpose and make the contributions that are ours to make.  We don’t need to be perfect to be powerful. We just need to know that the seed of our greatest potential already lies within us.  As Jean Houston, author of “The Wizard of Us” says “We all have the extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released”.  The work is ours to discover and release it.

In her book Jean Houston reminds us of the famous story of the “Wizard of Oz”.  We each are Dorothy off on an adventure looking for a way to get home.  At the end of the fable after all the trials that Dorothy has gone through, Glenda the Good Witch says to Dorothy, “you had it all along”. She had the power to get home in the slippers she was wearing.  The adventure then just helped her to believe in herself. What if we all saw life as an adventure to help us discover the treasure that’s already within us? How would we interact with life differently? Would we be more resilient? Would we view failure differently? Would we be more willing to set aside our fears?

After we were done with the coaching work, the leader said: “Wow, as I am sitting here I feel better about ME…not about what I should be”.  Leadership doesn’t call for us to be perfect.  Leadership calls for us to find and release the extraordinary within us.   Thornton Wilder said “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. “ – and that, in my opinion, is truly the key to having it all.

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Additional Information

Why Women Still Can’t have it All

The Authentic Brand YOU

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