Since I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in English in 2008, I decided for myself that it didn’t make sense to go back for a graduate degree. But I love being a student, and I thrive in educational environments, so I wasn’t about to say I was done learning. As I move into leadership roles in my life, there is always room for improvement.
This summer, I enrolled in the Conscious Feminine Leadership Academy, an offering from Women Writing for (a) Change. I got an entirely different education from this program than I would have at a traditional college or a typical leadership course.
Women Writing for (a) Change is a nonprofit organization offering supportive writing circles to nurture and celebrate the individual voice – in particular, women’s voices – and I’ve been involved there since 2011. CFLA (sea-fla, as we called it out loud) is offered every two years to those who wish to become certified writing circle facilitators and/or open their own schools, or who want to use the organization’s practices and principles in their own life’s work.
The first part of the program consisted of two six-day retreats, about three weeks apart. The eleven of us, plus our two wise woman leaders, followed a daily schedule that included full-group and small-group sessions of two or more hours each, during which we wrote together, shared our words, and discussed what conscious feminine leadership looks like in practice. It was structured and yet flexible, rigorous and yet relaxing, a unique and ideal environment for this kind of deep learning.
While some aspects of the experience felt like vacation, I was anything but idle and carefree. Between the required reading, committee assignments, and the intense self-reflection through writing, I felt challenged at a whole new level. I haven’t laughed, cried, or written so much in years.
3 Transformative Lessons in Leadership
While it’s impossible to compress everything I learned into quick nuggets, here are three takeaways I want to share with other Strong and Sexy women:
1. Self-care is Priority No. 1.
It’s no secret that many, if not most, modern women sacrifice their own needs in order to invest in others. This is especially true of mothers and wives. But the bare truth of the matter is, the less you take care of yourself, the less you have to offer others.
By self-care, I don’t just mean treating yourself to mani/pedis and good wine and date nights with no kids. I learned that self-care is really about knowing what I need to be my best self, and then making those needs a priority. And sure, maybe that includes good wine, but it also means I get enough sleep, I don’t overcommit myself to people or projects, and I don’t beat myself up for not meeting expectations (my own or others’). It means feeding my heart and soul with the things that bring me joy, and importantly, choosing those things over the things that deplete me. It’s that second part I struggle with, which brings me to…
2. Boundaries are a girl’s best friend.
Understanding boundaries is essential to feminine leadership. When you lead teams or groups like I do, you both bear and share the responsibility of watching out for the boundaries within the group. I can’t let myself be walked all over, but it also doesn’t do me any good to put up such a strong wall that my sisters can’t reach me at all.
Women who stand by their boundaries are not always popular in a world that expects us to be accommodating and self-sacrificing. No one wants to start drama, and it’s often easier to just bite my tongue and find a way to “make it work.” But every time I do, it costs me, and those costs add up until I’m left with pennies to keep for myself. Learning to identify, establish, and especially defend my boundaries is one of the hardest lessons I’m absorbing in my young adulthood, and it’s still a work in progress.
I got it in my head at a young age that I and I alone am responsible for my own destiny, and so I must remain in control at all times. Losing control is the same as failing. Willingly giving up control is practically sacrilege. The reality is, though, that very little of our lives is actually in our control. At some point, we just have to let go of the illusion of control, and simply…trust. Trust that things will work out, that the world won’t come crashing down if we fail to act, that it’s okay to focus more on being happy than being right.
For a perfectionist like me, this is terrifying. This kind of trust takes incredible courage. But as I’ve started putting this into practice in my daily life, the gift I’ve gotten back is enormous relief. Faced with a stressful week of Too Much Everything, I reminded myself to trust and allow instead of fear and fight it, and the stress began to melt away. I don’t subscribe to any particular religion, but for the first time, I’m beginning to understand what it means to have faith.
It’s one thing to learn these concepts and try them out while on retreat; it’s another thing entirely to take them back into the real world, and resist the urge to slip back into old habits of unconsciousness. Our group has kept in touch to check in with each other, report successes and struggles, and support each other in integrating these lessons into our demanding lives. This is what leadership looks like – it’s a responsibility that all eleven of us share as we learn to walk the walk of feminine consciousness.
In sharing these lessons with you, I invite you to reflect on your own leadership, even if you’re not in a traditional “leader” role. You are, after all, the leader of your own life, if nothing else. How do you practice self-care? How do you defend your boundaries? What is your capacity for trust vs. control? How do you stay present to yourself amid all the demands from outside?
To learn more about Conscious Feminine Leadership, you can check out the organization’s website or read Women Writing for (a) Change: a Guide to Creative Transformation by our founder, Mary Pierce Brosmer, who uses poetry and lived experiences to illustrate her vision for the kind of leadership that’s needed in the world today. And in case you’re wondering, the Conscious Feminine Leadership Academy is open to all women, not just those already involved at WWf(a)C, so… see you in 2017!