I was recently nudged to reread a book I wrote ten years ago. From that experience I’m called to share my reflections and reframe the book through a lens that I hope will make it more valued and understood by more people. This is the first in a series of posts on those reflections.
What has changed? (since I wrote “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” )
In the past ten years, more and more influential women, and some men, are coming out of the woodwork and acknowledging that they have burnt out. An example is Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand who in January 2023, announced “I no longer have enough in the tank to do the job”, and declared that was why she was stepping down.
It is being acknowledged more widely that the traditional ways of doing business and being successful; of driving and striving, valuing competition over collaboration, and leading from our heads and egos rather than from our hearts, are no longer sustainable. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and founder and CEO of Thrive Global, has shared her story of collapsing from overwork and why she created Thrive Global. It was as a result of her experience of “working day and night” and the negative impact it had, and her desire to share that there is a healthier way to be “successful”.
Leadership qualities such as collaboration, creativity, emotional intelligence, inclusiveness, and intuition (typically associated with the feminine) are being acknowledged as important and needed to solve complex issues of today such as climate change and systemic racism. See https://pamela-thompson.com/why-feminine-leadership-holds-the-key-to-creating-a-world-that-works-for-everyone/ for a more detailed discussion.
The experience of the pandemic caused many people to burn out. Working at home, many parents had to also look after their children which stretched them very thin. Others had difficulty creating boundaries between their work and home life. Still others felt isolated which led to depression and other mental health issues.
In 2014 I said that I “almost” burnt out and I didn’t acknowledge that I had, which I now do.
I now have heightened awareness of the importance for me of being in nature every day, and what happens when I don’t get my nature “hits”.
What remains the same since writing “Learning to Dance with Life”
Some things remain the same. For example, the seven keys in my book are still relevant. Seven keys to consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life, and the powerful practices associated with each one, supporting us to heal from the inside out.
The proven strategies and powerful practices woven throughout the book are based on evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology, and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts, and my own journey as well as that of women I have coached, all of which are being recognized more broadly as supporting healing and positive health and well-being.
The link between High Achieving Women and burnout. My work and the growing body of research related to burnout demonstrates that having qualities of a High Achieving Woman increase your risk of burning out.
When I was writing “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” my editor wondered whether a more appropriate title might be “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for Driven Women”. Perhaps that is so, as many women who I would consider “high achieving” do not perceive themselves as such. While writing “Learning to Life” I interviewed women from three continents who I perceived as high achieving and some of them said things like, “I’m not a High Achieving Women or, I don’t have any great accomplishments to my name, or I’m not in the corporate world, or it sounds arrogant to call myself a High Achieving Woman.” I think that is still the case today.
I identified nineteen attributes of High Achieving Women that I validated in my interviews that still hold true today (in chapter 1). The majority of High Achieving Women tend to give more than they receive, and many are challenged to reach out for support. The also spend much more time doing than being.
Why I focused on women.
- More and more women are becoming leaders, managers and entrepreneurs
- Increasing numbers of women are primary breadwinners in their families
- Women in all cultures transmit their values and wisdom to their families
- Women have the power to change the world.
Why I wrote the book including that “I’m called to get the message out about the negative impacts on our bodies, minds and relationships that result from driving ourselves, not listening to our bodies, and living in our left brain (p. 4).”
I welcome your thoughts and comments below on what you believe has changed in the past 10 years related to burnout and how to prevent and heal from it.
 “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.” Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/burnout
I’ve witnessed the havoc resisting change can wreak on our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our organizations, and our bottom lines. What if instead we learned to embrace change and view it as an opportunity, as a creative process that opens us up to new possibilities. That is the belief on which the “Art of Change Framework” is based. It is aimed at turning change on its head. How do we do that?
The 5-step “Art of Change Framework” guides you through a process where you explore how you typically respond to change and why, identify what you need to let go of in relation to a change to move forward, envision that new life, business, relationship, work of your dreams and create an action plan to move from where you are to where you want to be. It is based on my own work with clients from around the world, my own journey, and is underpinned by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology, the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts and organizational development. It can be used for both personal and professional change, for individuals, and also leaders and their teams.
I invite you to rate yourself on a scale from one to ten in terms of how you typically respond to change and why (one being “scares me to death” and ten being “I thrive on it”). Now rate yourself on the same scale in terms of how you typically respond to a change that is imposed on you; one that you have no control over. Are your ratings different? This can also be used with leaders and their teams about to embark on a change process or in the middle of one. Have each team member openly share their number (understanding that higher numbers are not better, they just are where a person is at), and then invite them to share how best they can be supported through the change.
If interested to learn more, you may access the “Art of Change Framework” here: https://pamela-thompson.com. If you would like to explore how you or your team may apply the framework to personal or professional change, I invite you to book a discovery call with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with Discovery Call in the Subject Line.
How do you tap into, gather and recognize the wisdom in your teams, clients, organization?
Years ago, while working for the federal government I recall being perplexed by the fact that many people were hired for their experience, credentials, and expertise, and yet when they got into position, this wisdom and experience was rarely tapped into or openly recognized and valued. How often do we want to have qualified and experienced people join our ranks and then when they get into position not really enable them to share that wisdom?
In these times of uncertainty when we have complex issues such as climate change and systemic racism to solve, we need multiple disciplines and “heads” around the table, and processes that value this wisdom-sharing and enable people to contribute in meaningful ways.
How do we create environments that enable us to gather and share our collective wisdom?
Having lived and worked on 5 continents with various levels of government, non-profits, academic institutions, and vulnerable groups such as injection drug users and sex trade workers, I know that people from all walks of life have wisdom to share. Often people closest to a problem can provide the best solutions. I recall facilitating a group in an area of multi-generational poverty as part of the participatory evaluation of a child poverty project, and one participant stopping chewing (as we served dinner as part of the group). I asked “John” what made him stop eating and he said, “This is the first time anyone has ever asked for my thoughts or opinion on anything.” Telling! How often have we missed opportunities to ask questions to people who understand the issues and have wisdom to share?
At Female Wave of Change (FWOC) Canada we believe that “authentic feminine leadership qualities (which men as well as women can have and learn) hold the key to creating a better world; a more conscious, equitable, just, sustainable and peaceful one” – https://fwoccanada.com/about/.
A recent member benefit we have added is “Collective Wisdom Circles”. They are groups of maximum 10 participants including the facilitator that currently meet once a month for 1.5 hours. The objectives of the Circles include:
- An opportunity to share wisdom and learn from each other in community.
- An opportunity for learning and growth.
- Creating a safe space for women to come together and share insights and actions that can be used in our broader lives and communities.
The facilitator changes each time we meet and at the end of each Circle we reach consensus on who will take the lead at our next Circle. The focus theme of our current Circles is: “Dealing with Change and Uncertainty”.
If you’d like to join us and learn more, I invite you to register for our upcoming complimentary virtual monthly meeting for an interactive and engaging session with featured guest Dr. Cathy Key – https://bit.ly/3IhQdhW ; open to members and the public.
I invite to share below your comments and strategies you’ve found helpful to tap into the wisdom of your teams, clients, organizations.
In a recent post I spoke about “Why Balancing Your Masculine and Feminine is Important” – https://pamela-thompson.com/why-is-balancing-your-masculine-and-feminine-important/. This post dives deeper and shares some tips and tools for balancing your masculine and feminine energy.
When you’re spinning out of control, feeling stuck on the hamster wheel and unable to get off, you often intuitively know that you need to create some more balance in your life. You may also be unsure about how to do that.
The cultures of China and India have recognized the importance of a balanced life for more than 2,000 years. Their theories of health and illness are based on the presence (or not) of balance. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also believes that disease is caused by energy blockage in the body. In order to stay healthy, it is important to keep energy moving throughout our bodies; for example, by regularly practicing qigong or tai chi, or having therapeutic massages by an experienced practitioner or energy healer.
I particularly like the metaphor Austin Vickers shares in his book Stepping Up To a Life of Vision, Passion and Authentic Power (2005). He likens balance to a three-legged stool. Vickers refers to the three stool legs as “body, mind, and spirit” and notes “all three of these legs of life are necessary to make us stable and balanced.” He cautions that if you are missing one leg of your stool “all of your energy is spent trying to maintain balance and not fall over. You cannot relax. But upon a balanced stool, one can relax, read, work or use it as a tool to do other things.”
When you are living life like a spinning top or caught on the hamster wheel, you are exhibiting many of the characteristics of masculine energy. It is important to be aware of the characteristics of the two energies, as being out of balance has negative impacts on our bodies, minds, relationships, and success at home and work. For example, if we are constantly in our masculine energy, driving and striving, over time it leads to illness (e.g. burnout), unhappiness, lack of fulfillment, and restlessness. Conversely, if we are dominated by our feminine energy, constantly giving to others, we may become resentful, ill, needy, and insecure.
How can you find and create your own unique balance between your masculine and feminine energies? Here are a few suggestions.
- Sit down. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Get centered and grounded.
- Reflect on your day. Become an outside observer. Which characteristics of the two energies did you display today, and in which situations?
- Ask yourself if you are living your life more in the masculine than the feminine side or vice versa, and if this is out of balance.
- Ask yourself if you are willing to experiment, to make some changes in your behaviors and notice the impact they have on your body, mind, relationships, and creativity at home and at work.
- If the answer is yes, make a conscious decision to change one thing and try it out for a week. It could be the way you relate to your team. Think about this each morning before you get out of bed and make the commitment to yourself. For example, you might say, “I choose today to demonstrate empathy and be receptive to others’ ideas; to really listen instead of being in control, assertive, and competitive.”
- During the day, start to notice when you become “adrenalized”; when you become extremely “geared up” and have trouble sitting still. Take several deep breaths, go inside, and ask yourself what is it that is making you feel so anxious. Listen to what comes up for you.
- You may find it useful at the end of the day to reflect and journal about what came up for you and the impact(s) on your body, mind, relationships, creativity, and productivity when you initiated even a small change.
The first step in making any change is self-awareness. By becoming aware of what situations or people “adrenalize” you, you may then make a conscious choice to “dig deeper” and try on some new beliefs and behaviors.
I welcome your comments and thoughts below on strategies you have found helpful to balance your masculine and feminine energies.
In a recent blog post a colleague, Runa Bouius, shared the term “co-creative collaboration”. For me it clicked and made so much sense. You may be wondering what the heck does it mean?
To co-create means “to create something jointly”. To collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
What’s the difference between the two? I believe that by adding “co-creative” to collaboration it underscores the creative aspects of the process and focuses on the positive energy and joy that results from co-creating a new program, project, initiative, organization; and the ownership one feels to the “end product”. It is a great way to bond with a team or group of individuals.
To co-create with a group, there are a number of beliefs that are important to have in place and processes that support co-creative collaboration.
Beliefs that support co-creative collaboration
What I’ve found from my work with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is that it is important to believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, you believe that the chances of creating something new and innovative are much greater when you have variety of different perspectives and “heads” around the table, than what results from your own mind or from a small group who represent similar backgrounds (e.g. disciplines) and/or cultures.
I admire how Barbara Gray, a seasoned negotiator and organizational theorist, wrote about collaboration. She likened the collaborative process to a kaleidoscope and the pieces of colored glass within to the various diverse stakeholders involved in such a process. When you turn a kaleidoscope, the image changes, and a new one is created each time. Similarly in a well-designed collaborative process, each stakeholder is enabled to share their ideas and the final “product” the group comes up with is a combination of each person’s unique contribution; yet it is even better as each person builds on the next and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
Many of us begin our careers believing that we have all the answers, and it is easier to create something on our own rather than to involve others. We don’t really value collaboration until we experience a well-designed co-creative collaborative process.
Processes that support co-creative collaboration
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had the opportunity to co-chair a national strategy for the federal government. The consultant we hired to support us through that process was a gifted facilitator, Dorothy Strachan, who taught me so much. The strategy was “Enhancing Prevention in the Practice of Health Professionals” and it involved representatives from 8 national health professional associations in Canada; for example the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nursing Association, Canadian Dental Association … . Through a multi-phased process, we created a strategy document that supported integrating prevention through four key issue areas: policy and planning, program and service delivery, education of health professionals, and research and evaluation. The final “product” was endorsed by the Boards of each of the health professional associations who were around the table. It was a landmark document that included a number of concrete actions the various professions could take that included Goals and Options for Action in each of the issue areas, and a dissemination strategy characterized by “Prevention through Partnership: Collaborating for Change”.
Being part of this process made me value collaboration and understand how a well-designed and facilitated process can be both creative and productive.
We didn’t call it “co-creative collaboration” but indeed it was.
To be part of a co-creative collaborative process you need to trust in the process, believe that the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts, ideally include a diverse group of stakeholders in the process, create a safe environment with clear expectations, respect and value the contributions of everyone, and not come to the process invested in a particular outcome, rather be open to possibility. It is helpful to engage a skilled outside neutral facilitator with experience in collaborative processes.
As part of Female Wave of Change Canada, a member-based non-profit whose vision is:
“A more conscious, equitable, just, sustainable and peaceful world where authentic feminine leadership qualities are valued and underpin the creation of new and healthy organizations, structures and systems”,
I invited members to work together to co-create a project related to the Environment. In an email they were told that they didn’t need to be subject matter experts, and it was great if they were; however, having a passion for and interest in co-creating a project in the Environment area was important. Over 3 months of meeting via zoom about every 2 weeks, we co-created what is now called “The Mother Earth Ambassador Program”, an educational program for girls ages 9 to 12 that integrates indigenous wisdom and storytelling. As a group, we identified the: Problems we are solving, the broad Goal, the Outcomes/Objectives, a draft Outline, and Additional Design Aspects. We are now in conversation with a Master’s level university program and their students who we anticipate will assist us in fleshing out the program and “making it real”. If you’re interested in learning more and being part of a co-creative collaborative process, join us at: https://fwoccanada.com.
With the complex issues we are facing today, such as systemic racism, climate change, and gender inequality, we need a variety of “heads around the table” from different backgrounds and cultures to generate creative solutions and move us toward a world that works for everyone. Are you up to the challenge?
 Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989.
 Feminine Leadership Qualities include: compassionate, creative, collaborative, emotionally intelligent, authentic, inclusive … usually associated with the feminine. That said, men as well as women can have and learn these qualities.
It’s interesting when I reflect on how I used to act and feel in the workplace. I learned from a young age that it was important to separate my work life from my personal life. In doing so I could protect myself, and in the workplace I would only share the parts of myself that I felt were valued. For example, my ability to write, to facilitate, to work collaboratively with others.
I recall when launching my coaching business in 2009, after 10.5 years of doing management consulting, how I felt like I could only share my new business with certain clients. Others I thought would think I was going “woo woo”. After researching and writing program and policy documents in the health field, designing and facilitating multistakeholder and consultative processes, and doing qualitative studies, I launched the Creative Healing Center, a virtual center, where we coached people through various life transitions and integrated this with creativity, eastern psychology, the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts, and alternative modalities. At that time, I felt like I was trying to balance on two Swiss balls and was being challenged to do so. I felt that my logical left brain that I had been operating from for so long, (or so I thought), was now being challenged by my creative and empathic right brain.
Recently in chatting with a Diversity and Inclusion consultant, biracial friend and colleague, she spoke about “code-switching” and how women of color typically show up differently at work compared to with friends and at home. They do this because they feel and understand, based on experience, that if they bring their whole selves to work, they will not be valued, respected or promoted.
It made me reflect on which environments I felt most comfortable bringing my whole self to work in. Curiously it was in cross-cultural situations where I was working internationally with teams from countries such as Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria, and Afghanistan; with people from cultures other than my own, that I brought my whole self to work. Curious isn’t it? Perhaps I had internalized from a young age that it was better to only share parts of myself in the North American work environment; and not to acknowledge my intuition and creativity?
How about you? Do you bring your whole self to work? What environments facilitate that? Which ones prevent you from sharing your whole self and why? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.