I subscribe to a most stimulating yearlong weekly webinar series done for and by coaches. I don’t listen to all of the offerings because the topics isn’t of interest to me, work interferes or I am turned off by the speaker. The latter has happened a few times when a talk is given by older white males who, after a disclaimer that they don’t like to brag, then proceed to tell us about all of their awesome accomplishments. Those I hang up on pretty quickly.

A recent talk on ‘Women Thrive’ was given by Sally Helgesen who coaches women either just below the glass ceiling or on their way, and probably some that smashed through and are now bleeding all over.

Together with a younger colleague we are planning a session at work and take a closer look at the behaviors Helgesen identified over a long career, those that appear to hold women back. We will explore them together and see if there are any that we can de-adopt.

The list contains 12 behaviors that are probably quite familiar to many of us women and probably some men as well – my husband recognizes them too. [Marshall Goldsmith in his book ‘What got you here won’t get there,’ list behaviors that many women I know could not relate to at all.]

One of the behaviors Helgesen has noticed is reluctance to claim one’s achievements. We call it bragging – didn’t I just use that word above? Many men and some women, of the Type A variety, call it ‘listing my achievements.’

We usually expect others to notice what we have done. I learned early on that  ‘good wine (as the wonderful table wine one gets in small French country eateries) does not need a label.’  And when we apply for a job and haven’t exactly done all the things the job is asking for and if we haven’t exactly that experience we may not even apply.

We are good at relationships but don’t leverage them into new work or a promotion because it feels like we are using the relationship for a purpose other than what we thought it was all about.

We are so focused on doing our current job well, being liked by our team that we neglect what we should do to advance (if that is what we want).

We feel everything we do has to be perfect and in so doing fall into the trap of never being good enough. We are too apologetic, sometimes circle too much around a point that our listeners, especially those senior to us, get impatient, and then our radar picks up the slightest facial expressions and body movements and we are thrown off. And then, later, when we feel we messed up, we ruminate. Ruminating comes from what cows do – endlessly chewing over what happened in futile pursuit of trying the change the course of events.

I know all about ruminating. I can still remember events I ruminated over that happened 60, 50 and 40 years ago. I remember the exact feeling I had during those ruminations, the memory tracks very firmly laid down deep in my brain. Quite frequently the rumination was mixed in with jealousy, producing a toxic cud that I kept chewing on. Now that I am studying the brain I am learning the networks in our brain that produce this ruminating – which, not surprisingly, is also related to depression.

I remember (this happened more than 25 years ago) having lost my airline frequent flyer card, the one that allows entry into the short (now red-carpeted) line – when such information wasn’t printed on our tickets quite yet. I had dropped the card while helping a Kenyan woman who was struggling with a toddler and a baby and lots of bags onto the plane by taking over the baby. When preparing my return trip I looked for the card and found it gone. I could not remember the smile on the face of the tired and overwrought mother, the sigh of relief. I could only chew on the lost card – as if I had lost a relative, not being able to stop myself. I finally wrote a poem about it.

Helgesen has given me a new frame and a new vocabulary to put the rumination phenomenon in perspective and detach myself – ahh, that’s what my brain was doing! Now what’s the survival value of that?

Two Losses – poem by a ruminator

There are two kinds of losses/One happens without me/To grieve and sadly mull/But nothing else to contemplate/Until the pain of loss is dull.

And then there is the other kind/Where I am causal link/Something I did or did not do/Which starts off a nearly/endless searching for a clue.

It’s like a film, run in a loop/Replayed a thousand times/The audience is only me/In a frustrating vain attempt/To re-create reality.

Undo my steps this time around/And treasure what is lost/To love and hold it, eyes alert/Erase my mistake just in time/And thereby do the loss avert.

Gets added to the loss and pain/The heavy sighs of guilt/Of that which I cannot erase/The longing sharpened by a knife/The cut I cannot face.

Two losses one of which/A threshold I can’t pass/A voice keeps whispering in my mind/That I brought loss upon myself/I do prefer the other kind.




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March 2018
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