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.
Recently on a trip to see my daughter, she took some candid shots of me. Honesty time - as I cruise through midlife, I'm beginning to at times think, "is that me?"
I look a little bit like Mimi, my grandmother on my mom's side, when she was in midlife. I've also noticed my "look" is changing more rapidly as I move through menopause.
At first I thought, "that's weird".
Then I thought, "Well, OK it makes sense, I didn't hatch from an egg".
(Do you talk to yourself like this? lol)
Of course I'm going to resemble the women I grew up around - I totally have my mom's smile and have been told I favor an aunt on my dad's side who passed away when I was young.
My earliest memories, which I had forgotten, of my female relatives now emerge with a jolt when I see myself in photos or a side glance in a mirror.
And I kind of like it, actually. My grandmother, slim with an acerbic sense of humor that could draw blood, was not your stereotypical rotund cheery lady baking cookies. She was, however, beautiful and witty when she was relaxed and happy.
One thing Mimi did not do was spend much time at was sitting at a desk. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, or even standing around in one place (like in a retail job), check your look in the mirror.
I notice in some pictures (see this from a recent trip to London, where we stayed in a cool loft) that I'm starting to develop bad posture around the shoulders and upper back area - this used to be known as the "dowagers hump" - a sign of aging in the past. I'm not an expert but I think it really is simply lack of tone in those areas that gets worse over time. I have seen a rounded back and shoulders in younger women who are out of shape many times.
This is not a fitness blog and like I said, I'm not an expert, but I don't think its inevitable that we get a hunchback over time.
Another point about good posture is this - it definitely affects our confidence. Alegre Ramos, a public speaking coach I worked with, says, "Do some Wonder Woman poses before you speak. Or anytime, really, that you want a confidence boost".
The below photo is a great example. I noticed a few years ago what beautiful posture Samantha Bond from Downton Abbey has. I googled it and didn't find anything about her workout routine, my guess is she has some classical dance training.
Power poses are rooted in our animal brains, and send a powerful signal to our psyche. Notice the difference between me and my grandmother in the above photos. I didn't plan my pose, but it shows the real me coming out after I had finally come to end of a grueling separation, divorce, and downsizing the majority of our shared possessions to only what would fit in my car. I had given up my lease on the house in Santa Rosa, and was literally leaving the driveway that day to take off on the next phase of my life. I was READY.
Now, however, I realize my potential for adopting a permanent turtle profile is a natural result of spending a lot of time hunched over my computer and looking down at my damn phone.
Given that my time on the computer is not likely to decrease anytime soon, I use exercise and this tip from Kathryn Anne Flynn's IntelligentEdge.Yoga blog to start making small improvements over time. Its an inexpensive way to remind yourself to sit up straight. I now keep a strap at my desk to use for a few hours a day as part of my 2018 routine upgrade:
Bonus - if you have upper back tension and pain at the shoulder blade, its like a miracle cure.
I use a karate belt Sergio had laying around in a drawer. He loves this new use for an old belt - it makes me sit up very, ahem, straight. It's like an instant boob lift. lol.
A yoga strap with the folding buckle, like Kathryn's, the pretty lady above, is probably the best for holding tension.
We are so fortunate to live in a time when we have more than enough knowledge about keeping physically whole as we age, and no serious social disapproval for moving and using our bodies as we age. I'm pretty sure the authorities would have been called if my grandmother had worked out in a public park the way I do - burpees, downward dog, and partner yoga with Sergio. Even today at times we get raised eyebrows from some señoras walking their cute little dogs.
How about you? Are you beginning to see the shadows of your beautiful grandma or other female relatives in the mirror? How does it make you feel?
Can you hear her lovingly saying, "Stand up straight, honey, inside and out"?
What would you like to have in your life in 6 months that is not here, now? I'm offering complimentary Mirror Your Brilliance strategy sessions for select women through mid-January - a one on one conversation about your goals. More info at www.mirroryourbrilliance.com
Fear of failure or loss has become the new saber-tooth tiger in the bushes.
Let me explain with an example.
Q: Would it be helpful to talk about your DreamBiz or Passion Project idea with someone objective?
I bet your first reaction was "Yes!"
And then your brain immediately said, Wait - what are the details? is there a catch? If we talk about it that might make it real. We'll just get excited about something impossible. I don't have time right now.
Naaaaah. Thanks anyway. I need to go re-arrange my sock drawer, I've been putting it off.
See how this works?
I have known for awhile, and you probably do, too, that fear stops us from doing many things. More things than we can imagine, really.
Fear on autopilot = habits our brain thinks are keeping us "safe".
Here is what I did not know a couple of weeks ago - part of our brain is hard-wired to hesitate. If it senses we are contemplating something new and different, stepping out, it will kill our initiative with hesitation while we "think about it".
This was to keep us alive in the days when stepping outside of our cave could get us eaten by a tiger in the bushes if we weren't careful.
The problem is that this section of our brain doesn't know the difference between the tiger in the bushes and what might happen if we take sign up for that new class, take that trip, start that blog, or take action on any other thing that is new and different today.
All our brain sees is the stress (perceived threat) associated with the action.
I imagine that women, as the main caretakers of children around the hunter-gatherer campsite, developed this tendency to hesitate - in the form of evaluating risks - to an even higher degree, keeping track of several things at once.
What to do about it.
In brief, this is what I've learned from a few different sources*:
This is how it works:
First, breathe deeply. This send oxygen upstairs and signals to our brain that its OK.
Second, procrastination is not a bad thing you do because you are bad. It is your brain trying to keep you safe. Don't take it personally.
Third, you are the boss of your brain, right? The way you change it is by taking fast action - like in 5 seconds - on things you are avoiding, and spending at least 5 - 10 minutes on that which you are avoiding. This is how you chase the tiger out of the bushes, because in reality, its just a mouse rustling around.
Fourth, baby steps are key. You could give your notice to a job you hate in 5 seconds, and I'm not going to say you shouldn't. If you've been unhappy for years it may be exactly the antidote. Deadlines work for a reason; quitting your job immediately gives you all sorts of real deadlines. But it also ratchets up your stress level.
Instead, you could turn a more prudent approach (see how nice that sounds?) into a platform for action (instead of an excuse not to act) by grabbing a piece of paper and list the top 3 things to do, now, to transition out of that job in 6 months. For example, start a savings account, update your resume, get help having that difficult money conversation with your partner, get serious about generating part time income from a passion or idea you have.
Then, what is the next fast action you can take on each step? Do that one. I bet after spending an hour of 5 second baby steps you will feel a little woozy and more alive than you have in weeks, months or even years.
This small shift towards a bias for action will change your life. Why? Because life is a series of small decisions, many of them we make on auto-pilot, also called habits.
Here is the piece that was missing from what I read. All of the advice was focused on individual change, and yes, change starts with you.
However, no one does this alone. Women in ancient societies developed collective safety nets for their children. If you are considering birthing a business or passion project, you need 2 things:
Lets take on the tigers together. <3
Inspiration or Heat Stroke?
One day, I was googling some of my business ideas in a bungalow in Todos Santos, Mexico, trying to figure how to organize my questions and approach.
I had just wrapped up about 18 months of solo travel in the US, Mexico and Latin America.
My mojo was back (see videos on this page for more about that!) after a painful divorce. I was super inspired and dying to dive in and create something really amazing.
But that day, things were not going well. It was incredibly hot.
The wifi in our bungalow was lame. There was no air conditioning and the nearest coffee shop with A/C and decent wifi was an hour away.
I was almost in tears (well, OK I was in tears) and I finally said to myself, "Enough. Let's take a break".
I did take a break, and I'll get back to what happened next in just a sec.
Right now I want to step back just a bit and connect the dots for how all this started. The DreamBiz Test Drive was born out of my own experience and frustration in finding a way to explore, organize and act on my dream business ideas.
Like many women, I spent my 30’s and 40’s juggling priorities of family and a dual career household. My career was always second priority to my spouse’s career and my family’s needs, and I was (mostly) fine with that at the time. I accepted the career risks of the tradeoff I was making and don't regret it even today, even though now my position is less financially secure.
You see, when my youngest daughter graduated from high school, I had separated from a 26 year marriage.
When the marriage ended, I chose not to pursue alimony.
So, practically speaking, I knew the money I had been making from my previous flex-time freelance video production work was not going to be sufficient for me to achieve my goals.
Plus, I had always had my own DreamBiz ideas lurking within me, I just wasn’t sure which one to choose.
I spent many years networking in the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Austin TX and Northern California. I read tons of books and talked to hundreds of people over the years about how successful startups and innovative big companies test THEIR ideas.
I advocated for women starting small businesses in other countries. I hosted a salon in Austin to talk about how business and social benefit intersect.
I thought about graduate school. Did I need an MBA to start a real business?
Basically, I read, and I talked, and I THOUGHT a lot about how to start but I did not do much about starting.
Why? Because I was afraid. Because I did not know where to start.
So, with my sweet girl on her way to college, I left the nest really empty.
I sold or donated everything that wouldn’t fit into my trusty Honda CRV and hit the road.
I worked online and traveled solo for 18 months throughout the US, Mexico and Latin America. My daughter and I trekked through icy mud fields in the Middle of Nowhere, Iceland, to find hidden thermal springs. We stripped down in the frigid air, hopped in and communed with our inner Valkyries!
I shredded my comfort zone, up-leveled my skillset and reclaimed some of my own chutzpah.
Oh, and my Spanish got a lot better too. (Like the time in Quito, Ecuador when I demanded that a rude cab driver stop and let me out. It was 10:30 p.m, and he had picked up male friend after I got in at the bus stop. My internal radar, the one I always listen to now, said, EXIT NOW. This cabrón let me out in the middle of a dark neighborhood; suddenly it was more than just a whim to practice my Spanish with the owner of the only store still open, to help me find my AirBnB! )
During my travels, I got clear on the impact I want to make, and Why.
But the How was still missing.
And now we return to that stifling afternoon in Todos Santos.
I went to the pool and was standing in deep water, looking out over the edge at the gleaming green tropical plants and preening lizards on a stone wall. THEY were happy with the heat.
But maybe it was the heat that caused me to start talking to myself, because suddenly a voice in my head cut through my confusion.
I paused for a minute.
I heard a lazy insect buzzing nearby, children playing across the street, dogs barking, because basically there is always a dog barking in Mexico.
Have you ever had a moment of clarity when your surroundings zoom into sharp focus and your brain offers up a new perspective?
In that moment I realized I was asking the wrong question. I realized that the first question around starting a business is not “How do I start this business”.
No. The first question is:
“Should I start this business, and why?”
That is the step that was missing from all the business advice I found.
Its like when you buy a car. You research different models and test drive cars before you buy, right?
And suddenly, all of my diverse work experience in video project management, producing visual projects and past learning around business testing, visual design and entrepreneurship finally made sense in context.
I knew that the most innovative startups and companies test their business ideas before they fully fund production. I thought, why can’t anyone use these ideas?
Well now they can.
What is the DreamBiz TestDrive for Savvy Women?
It is a 4 Step holistic and practical online course where you explore your motivation and your idea, and then organize and act on what you discover. You can do it in as little as 2 weeks; we recommend 4.
It is engaging and fabulous because, as a former video marketing professional, that's how I roll.
It includes 25 professional short video lessons, bonus videos, over 75 hand crafted presentation slides, downloadable exercises, charts and worksheets.
The themes we explore are:
The course is approachable and adapted for women who have just started a baby business, or even never started a business before.
The course experience is not something that I just made up on a whim. I've been working on it for almost a year. As I'm not a trained teacher, I've invested over $15,000 with the leading expert in online course design and launch coaching.
I reached out to mentors and experts, many of them that I met after I was accepted to the Circular Board, an innovative accelerator for women entrepreneurs that has been featured in Forbe, Huff Post, and Inc. magazine.
I combined ideas from the world of software and corporate product development. I also researched how women approach challenges differently from men, and included steps to optimize the process for us.
I followed my own advice and tested the DreamBiz Test Drive with a small group of business dreamers, and some incredible guest coaches, too! I have great testimonials from that to share with you later.
And after all that, I figured out a solid roadmap for test driving a dreamBiz idea.
And guess what.
It works. I am able to zero in on my good ideas and just as importantly, this process helped me cut several ideas and saved me thousands of dollars and hours plugging away at flawed concepts. Other women have clarified their ideas after years of indecision, based on their experience in the class.
I am over the moon excited to be launching the full course again in the next couple of weeks. If you would like to learn more, please go here. And I look forward to seeing you on the highways and byways of your Dreams someday!
I attended a marketing retreat last week in a charming small town outside of New Orleans, one of those places where life rolls along predictably under the big staid oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
I've been steeped in startup mode for months now; the slow motion pace of the town was disorienting.
Strangely enough, I feel this ways sometimes in Mexico City, too, which has the opposite energy: a huge city in fast forward.
I get up early and work and then take a break at about 8:30 to exercise. We go for a power walk that takes us by a Metro station. We pass hundreds of people on their way work, it makes me feel strange to be taking a break, even though I've been up since 5:30 and (usually) finished my top priority for the day.
We are social animals, we identify with what others around us are doing. If our interests and behavior start to take us in a direction away from those around us, we begin to feel uncomfortable. This can be especially true for women. Lack of community can be a roadblock for those of us with a DreamBiz idea.
Secondly, most of us have been rewarded our whole lives for having an orderly routine. When you are creating something new, many of the tasks may be for the first time, there is more uncertainty, and that feels risky. Also, things will naturally take a little longer, we may not do it right the first time, and that feels awkward
A routine can be elusive, because you are creating the roadmap for a future routine to chug along. If everyone around you is walking in the same groove, its easy to start doubting yourself.
The key is focus on the right things, which just happen to be the fun things, too - without spending a lot of time and money on the wrong things.
And thats what we do in the DreamBiz Test Drive. If you would like to learn more about the process and the community around it, we invite you to join our mailing list below.
Its like moving to a frontier where the streets are unmarked and unpaved. If you have never lived in or even visited a frontier, its going to feel a bit strange.
The good news is, we can find other women with their "frontier" projects, we don't have to rely anymore on just the people in our real town. I believe this is one of the factors behind the tremendous growth in women starting businesses - we are finding each other on the internet, there are lots of us out there. That makes us feel like we're not crazy to want to explore something different.
Or maybe we are crazy, just crazy enough to change ourselves and our corner of the world by exploring, organizing, and taking action at the frontier of our inspiration.
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So what is the first step to take if you are thinking of a major life change, such as starting a business? That is our example for this week, although it could be any major project or decision - a Passion Project, a new Non-Profit, even a local community group.
For many women, midlife is a time to reflect and UPDATE our Why, because guess what? Our Why can change over the years as we expand our vision.
The video below gives you a brief introduction. The context is starting a business, but it could apply to other situations where you are stepping outside of your comfort zone, Upleveling your life and living a little bit Bigger than before. <3
The full DreamBiz Test Drive for Savvy Women course goes into this step in more detail, with exercises to help you identify your core values and tie all of together to your DreamBiz idea.
Another really great resource is Simon Sinek's classic TED Talk on Why your Why is important. https://youtu.be/u4ZoJKF_VuA