If color has a hometown, it must be Oaxaca City, Mexico.
The streets, stores and people are brimming with colorful handmade items. Food here is a picturesque patchwork of dishes that satisfy before you even eat. The flowering trees lining the stony streets mock the stern reserve of the Spanish architecture. It is a beautiful, energizing place to reflect on the changes happening for the women here as well as some conversations I’ve had recently with American women. It has me thinking about the colors of our dreams.
The conversations I've had recently were with women in midlife around changes they would like to see in the next 6 months. Nearly all of them referred to some sort of change in their work.
It’s not always comfortable but it’s totally normal - it makes sense that after a couple decades of working we would step back and say, huh. What am I doing and why?
I’ve thought about that as I’m learning more about the changes that are occurring as Oaxacan society continues to respond to an increased demand for weavings and other crafts that started in the 1970s. Oaxacan women and men have participated in efforts to retain majority control in the development of their economy. Women are now better educated and leading in ways they did not before; managing businesses, showing up at meetings that were previously male only, making collective decisions that may have previously been handed down by one or two male leaders.
(That gives a very broad brushstroke to a complex subject that I can’t cover in depth here. I’ve noted a reference that I’ve been reading at the bottom of the blog post. )
We can see an analog in the U.S. with female entrepreneurs, especially women of color. An American Express Open study from 2016 reports that women-owned firms are increasing at five times the national average rate, and nearly 8 in 10 new women-owned firms are being launched by women of color.
Like the women in Oaxaca, many female entrepreneurs of color in the U.S. are organizing around a common cause - to share learning and resources, to have a say in how changes affect them and their families, and to keep each other accountable to their bigger goals.
Contrast this with another approach that many women fall back on. They have worked like crazy for years, many have gotten to a place of accomplishment, but are feeling like something is missing.
What got them there isn’t interesting to them anymore. One woman said “I tend to be extremely resilient, no matter what comes up, I focus, follow through, and then get back to where I want to be. Until now. I just can’t seem to find that motivation right now. Its really surprised me.”
The challenge I am observing ( and have lived myself) is one reason we get stuck is that we are bringing the same set of tools that worked before for us (or our mothers) to try to progress, or bump along, or even procrastinate to stay in our comfort zone.
Does this sound familiar - “I need to think about it, do some reading, research, plan a little more, see where I’m at in…” - in when?
I’m not saying that research and planning are unnecessary. I am saying that by this point in our lives we know a hell of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for, and for sure more than our culture gives us credit for. Why don’t we give ourselves credit for our hard-earned moxie?
We live in a society that is so obsessed with youth that American women, with all our education and first world trappings, are less validated for our wisdom than middle-aged indigenous women in Oaxaca!
The messaging of our popular culture is this: the older you get, the more irrelevant you become.
Try this: take a moment and disconnect how that feels emotionally - step back and look at that as a fact and not have a feeling about it. Now, who or what is served in our society by this messaging?
It serves commercial interests, primarily.
I’m calling it out because we cannot expect the message to change for us.
We can choose to see it for what it is and to take action in spite of it. We can choose to work compassionately with our fears around money, aging, our changing body. (More on that in future posts, I only bring it up here because nothing in midlife happens in a vacuum. If we are disconnected with and resentful of our amazing bodies, it affects everything else. )
What is happening, especially for this generation of women in midlife, is that we are being called to leap.
In general women in midlife way overdo the planning and thinking. Studies and our experience tell us that women are actually fairly confident in our zone of expertise. We are much less confident than men when we are out of known territory. One study showed that women were much less likely to apply for a job if they couldn't check off every requirement. Men applied even if not completely qualified. Men tend to do, women tend to wait
Yes, there are external obstacles to our progress, but we also hold ourselves back.
f you’ve been feeling unsettled or discontented for awhile now, you don’t need to think, research, plan or see how it feels 2 weeks from now.
You need to take some action, something sharp enough to get your attention, something that pokes a hole in your routine or comfort zone.
Macro view: As I’ve pointed out before, while this generation of midlife women was growing up, the world began trending at an exponential rate on almost every major indicator. For those of us in midlife, it may not seem like it matters personally, but changes in society and the planet are moving faster than ever and it IS the energetic backdrop of our lives.
Micro view: Many of the women I talk to are accustomed to figuring out their lives by themselves, really. Some have had extensive leadership development paid for by their employers, and that's fabulous, but we all know that we show up differently to things when we have sought it out and paid for it ourselves.
In my own journey, I woke up one day at 52 years old, newly single, with lots of question marks around my “job”. I had always put my spouse’s career first; he made more money, and we unquestioningly prioritized money as the priority goal in designing our lives as a couple with young children.
After my divorce, I had some savings to work with. I looked at it and thought, I could shrink my life, get 2 jobs and several roommates (I was living in Northern California at the time), and spoon feed my retirement account in little bits for the next 15 years. I could spend my 50s - the last decade or so of relative youth and energy - working for someone else. I could put my faith in the questionable ethics of Wall Street and cross my fingers that the market wouldn’t crash again in the meantime.
For what? Let’s face it, at 52, if you don’t make much money, the amount you can put into savings is not going to move the needle much in terms of return. I’m not a financial planner and actually would love to find a brave one help me create a chart of diminishing lifestyle returns.
What is the flexion point in your 50s where saving doesn’t make much difference to your retirement budget unless you can sock away a good chunk from one salary or double income?
For me, the outcome of being “sensible and safe” would have (maybe) been a few more dollars every month from Social Security at 65, at which point I would shrink my life even more, and probably still work at least one job on the side for low pay so as not to endanger my monthly check. That seemed like a life drained of color.
Leaving my former husband was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t tear a piece out of my family’s heart to settle for shrinking my life.
I decided to sell what I owned, get scrappy about side work and cutting expenses, take some risks, see the world, meet a bunch of new people to enrich my network and influence - so I can begin to contribute to them and others as well.
I’ve had anxiety attacks looking at my numbers sometimes, but I’m the Boss of Me, right? I have a plan and I’m working it. My progress is imperfect and fabulous. Money doesn’t get to rule my life anymore, it’s a part of the puzzle but it's not the only goal. And right now I’m working to make ends meet, just like most of you and the women I have talked to.
This is my experiment now. Unlike most “how I did it” stories on the internet, I can’t tell you that this approach has made me wealthy in monetary terms. (Yet!)
I can tell you that I’m living my dream. One of my motivations is I'm creating a scrapbook for my 80 year old self (Try it!)
I show up to life in full color. I’m traveling the world, living where I want to, and making significant trade-offs (such as drastic downsizing) to make it sustainable because I don’t have a trust fund or alimony to rely on.
I’m not saying that my dream is yours or that it should be. Its different for everyone.
What I am saying is I know you have a dream, and I know you are capable of so much more than you probably give yourself credit for. It is the risk is what makes your dream pop! It fills your dream with colors. If it wasn’t risky, it wouldn’t be a dream because you would be doing it.
How do we do this?
If I had stayed where I was, trying to figure it out on my own, as I had always done, I would have stayed stuck.
Its almost impossible to blaze a new trail in your heart, soul and life alone. The difference is I am connected to and accountable to other women now. I have a mentor and a coach. When those arrangements end, I’ll look for creative ways to replace that accountability.
The reason I’m so passionate about connecting us to one another is that it’s the only way to make our own rate of change and progress match the rate of change in the world around us.
And that is the way our contribution stays relevant and we increase our influence, something the world desperately needs right now.
I invested in some personal development programs and coaching in the last couple of years. What I see is that there are basically 2 camps.
The women who break through and really leverage what they have learned the first half of their careers are the ones who invest in themselves - yes, spend money on a program or coach - so that they are accountable to other women for some significant stretch goals. This is because knowing we have to show up pushes us to move a little faster and take a little more risk.
The point is, I used to sit on my couch, alone, and try to recreate my life in a silo. Guess what happened? I was chronically discontented with my progress. I had friends and clients, of course - but that is different from the accountability of other women when you have put some skin in the game. That is what gets us taking action and risk, learning faster, and increasing our impact.
And here is the proof: The women who are changing society and their lives in a big way are organized and accountable to one another. Just ask the strong women of Oaxaca and thousands of female women of color entrepreneurs in the U.S.
"If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward." Happy Birthday Dr. King.
Thank you for your sacrifice, for taking the actions that so many others could not, and continuing to inspire millions to achieve what they did not believe they could accomplish.
This picture is from a park here in Mexico City, Dr. King faces Abraham Lincoln across the way. Two of my favorite #Americans. We were walking on election day last year, and ended up in this park even though we had not planned it and it was the first time I had seen these statues. Coincidence? Yes. Chance? I doubt it.
Seeing these 2 men, honored in this way here in Mexico, helped my frame of mind very much.
I wish all Americans could see ourselves the way the world wants to see us. The world wants us to be who we have said we are, open, generous, diverse free people living up the standard that Dr. King and President Lincoln insisted that we strive for.
I don't know what the fall-out of the current administration is going to be, but the one thing that ugliness and fear cannot kill is the essence of the American spirit. However, its not "ours". We are way too egocentric, we did not invent what we embody, its a common deep desire of all people.
I don't care who you are, what color you are, your gender, your age, your challenges - if you are a sane American citizen, there are at least 1 billion people on the planet that would trade places with you in a heartbeat, even on your worst day. Maybe 2 billion. Let that sink in. And then go get busy manifesting your brilliance.
We show people everywhere what is possible. Its an incredible honor and responsibility. The "American Experiment" is being played out still, and no one knows what the final outcome will be. It doesn't matter, the ideal has been unleashed. Once tasted, people do not forget it. Its our gift to the world, and it will outlive "us".
I am embarrassed to have found myself in the middle of one of the most challenging hikes I have ever attempted, dressed like a noob.
I’m scrambling up the bald face of a steep red mountain, hoping I don’t fall as there is nothing below me except a pair of unsuspecting hipster hikers. Well, maybe they are not so unsuspecting; I know they would love to pass me.
Below them are only sharp rocks and a steep incline where falling objects (or persons) pick up speed before tumbling to a stop.
The light pack on my back is fine, but I’ve got a yuppie eco-friendly bag, toting a six pack and two small boxes of wine, that awkwardly dangles off of one shoulder when I stoop to climb up a steep spot.
I’m in jeans, the sure sign of a trail newbie, and my running shoes are more suited to a track workout than this steep crazy mountain goat climb.
Isn’t that such a girl thing to be thinking about my outfit as I’m looking for toeholds on bald rock at 4900 feet?
Even so, the adrenaline of doing something ill-advised and freakin’ awesome has kicked in. I’m feeling pretty good, in spite of having no clue a few minutes earlier we would be doing this.
Start with One. Micro-loans connecting women all over the world. My Connecting with a Hero. #YCvillage #recyclemoney
Just another sunny day in Los Angeles, in 1987. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was reading the paper (yes, we used to do that in the 80s) and an article caught my eye. An upper class banker in Bangladesh had run an experiment, making small personal loans to women trying to start tiny businesses in the poorest section of his town.
His experiment was so much bolder than it seems at first glance. Bangladeshi society is very rigid, upper class men rarely acknowledge lower class women, let alone engage with them, let alone loan them money! No banks loaned money to poor people, loan sharks were the only source of capital.
I was fascinated. I wanted to hop on a plane the next day, but of course I did not. It seemed impossible; in those days my imagination in regards to a horizon of possibility was very limited.
The banker's name is Muhammad Yunus. He has haunted me, in a good way, up to this day.
Although I did not hop on a plane that day, I did end up moving back to Austin, Texas a few years later. I continued to follow Prof. Yunus, and when I discovered that he was coming to talk to a class at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, I went into full-on stalking mode. I crashed the class meeting.
And I couldn't believe my luck - I met him the next morning at a low-key, little publicized breakfast meeting hosted by a small community lender. I was a volunteer with that organization. I remember getting there early because I was sure parking and seats would be scarce. I was wrong. There were maybe 15 people at the breakfast.
Prof. Yunus and I shared a brief one-on-one conversation, I still have his business card and a copy of a short email follow up conversation. I was looking for a way to engage with his organization. Not surprisingly, there was no obvious way for me to add value from Austin, Texas. Once again, I should have hopped on a plane. Later, Prof. Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering micro-finance and the concept of social business.
Fast forward a few years later. I was in Austin yet again. It's another sunny day, albeit hotter, and again, I remember it like it was yesterday.
I waited in a line with hundreds of people outside a bookstore to get Prof. Yunus' signature at a book signing.
I wanted the book and the signature, but the real goal was I wanted my kids to meet him. When it was our turn, I introduced them to him and said, "Professor Yunus has helped thousands of women all over the world start businesses and help their families and communities."
He looked at my kids (not me) and said, "Yes, but the most important thing is to help at least one person. Start with one."
That advice has been in my Book of Life since that time. When I feel my efforts are too small, too slow, too lacking, I remember his words and his conviction.
He tells his story best and I highly recommend his books: Banker to the Poor and Creating a World Without Poverty.
What I wanted to draw out for this post is that in his initial loans with women, he was astonished at two things: the high repayment rates, and the ripple effect his loans had in the womens' community.
When empowered with tiny bits of capital, women not only invested in their businesses but also turned around and improved their families and communities.
This concept of micro-loans for the poor has taken hold and grown worldwide. One organization that I like is called KIVA. They coordinate with micro-lending organizations in host countries to feature individual entrepreneurs on their KIVA.org portal. You can learn about individual entrepreneurs all over the world, including the US.
This is how it works in general:
When you loan money through KIVA, it is, well, a loan. It is not a donation. When the entrepreneur pays back the loan, you get your money back to either re-invest with another entrepreneur or withdraw from your KIVA account.
Think about it as a second bucket to recycle money you might otherwise donate.
Kiva also has a cool option for lenders to create teams to pool their goodness and make a bigger collective impact.
We are working on creating a KIVA team for YinCaravana. We'll be updating you soon on that. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know!
In closing, thank you Professor Yunus for your lifelong inspiration to me and countless other people. And you know what, I may just hop on that plane next year after all. Who's with me?
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I've seen two conflicting predictions of the future recently. The idea is not to be scared and try to react to some unknown future outcome. The key is to look at whats going on now, and be sure you are following what is calling you, and finding other women to walk with on your path.
Here is a link to an upbeat vision of the future, seen through the lens of a man who narrowly escaped premature death: https://www.wired.com/story/a-blueprint-for-coexistence-with-artificial-intelligence?mbid=nl_71417_p6&CNDID=45077450
If you would like to receive our email updates about Community, Collabs and Courses all curated especially for you, please enter your email address in the short form on the right. Thanks!