The model of an ordinary successful life that is held up for young people is one of early decision and commitment... that launches a single, rising trajectory... these assumptions have not been valid for many of history's most creative people, and they are increasingly inappropriate today... Composing a life involves a continual re-imagining of the future and reinterpretation of the past to give meaning to the present, remembering best those events that prefigured what followed. (Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life)The purpose of this racially integrated women's leadership retreat was twofold:
- To highlight the common root of "integrity" and "integration" -- honoring leadership as a balance of creative, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional qualities.
- To model for younger, less experienced women that leadership can be learned and each leadership style has gifts and opportunities for growth.
The following objectives were listed in our brochure:
After completing the workshop, you will be able to:We started the retreat by asking participants to form a circle as we introduced the theme of uniting reflection and action, quoting from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
- utilize writing as a tool for self-exploration,
- engage in techniques to help you better integrate your inner life and outer action,
- use the Enneagram to better understand your own and others' leadership styles,
- develop action plans to help you effectively lead with integrity,
- address your personal areas of interest about being an effective leader.
Traditionally, human rights movements in the Americas since the 1940s -- those led by Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Los Cofrades in Guatemala, and others -- have relied on the paradigm wherein valuation of inner life and that of outer action are held together as a single thought. These together enable one to make a potent motion in the world. Satyagraha, as Ghandi called it, is the power of oldest knowing and just action woven together... these constitute a trans-psychic truth that fires not just personal action, but more so, calls the soul to action; the fierce, image-making soul. ("Face Into the Wind... Protect the Flame," Charlene Sieg's interview with Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Psychological Perspectives, Issue 18, 1993).Each women stepped into the circle with the intention to make space for her own hopes of the retreat, as well as what she might receive that is different from what she expected. After an introduction about the power of storytelling to teach us something about our own lives, participants heard from a panel of six women executives, representing six of the nine Enneagram styles. Each member of the panel told a personal story that described a growth opportunity that taught her to be a better leader and a more integrated human being. Women in the audience were asked to note for later discussion, "What one image, phrase, or story struck you in some way, either as something you resonate with or that strikes a dissonant chord in you?"
* * *The women on the panel had met before the workshop with Mary Pierce Brosmer for a writing session. Their stories below are both inspiring and reflective of the pain they experienced in their own growth as leaders.
For Karen, Enneagram style Eight, we read from Elinor Wylie's poem, "Madman's Song:"
Better to see your cheek grown hollow,We introduced Karen with a quote from Kathleen Nobel's The Sound of a Silver Horn: "Nobel argues that we have no good female models in our culture's heroic myths. Style Eight's take charge quality seems a natural fit with the heroic. How has this shown up in your life?"
Better to see your temple worn
Than to forget to follow, follow,
After the silver horn.
Karen: "As a young manager in a large corporation, I was only the second woman to have a position at this level of responsibility, and I was supervising twelve technicians on several different shifts. I was given no management training and didn't feel comfortable asking for help. Besides, my boss had no personnel skills at all. I was very forthright in my style and not naturally disposed to be sensitive to others. I remember in particular how I laid into a subordinate after only hearing one side of the story from someone else. That was my turnaround as a leader -- the experience of empathy with someone I'd written off!"
* * *
A certain day became a presence to me;... it leaned overand struck my shoulder as if withthe flat of a sword...--or it was I, a bell awakened,and what I heard was my whole selfsaying and singing what it knew: I can.
"It is our experience with style Nine," we said to Alice (both Marys co-leading the workshop are Nines), "that when we awaken to ourselves it really is a 'wake-up call,' very dramatic and sometimes even scary. Tell us about the experience of awakening to yourself."
Alice: "I was recovering from alcohol addiction and working at A.A. I saw a lot of women in recovery who were looking for a place to live and who had many other barriers to overcome, such as caring for small children on their own. I realized how lucky I was to have economic security and a strong female support group, so I helped form a nonprofit corporation to provide housing for these women. This was very difficult for me. I had to learn how to go out and talk to people about money while NOT succumbing to BIG money -- companies that would have wanted to control what we did. Because I felt a sense of belonging and appreciation for the group I was part of, I was able to become an advocate for women, speaking out in ways I'd never done before."
* * *
Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese," was our introduction to Harriet, the woman on our panel representing Enneagram style One:
You do not have to be good.You do not have to walk on your kneesfor a hundred miles through the desert, repenting...Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,the world offers itself to your imagination,calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--over and over announcing your placein the family of things.
We reminded the audience (who'd read about the nine Enneagram styles before the workshop) of the message Ones receive as children, that they do have to be "good." Subsequently they carry an internal voice that says they need to be perfect. Of Harriet we asked, "How has the search for the highest quality played out for you?"
Harriet: I was hired away from a successful medical practice to supervise the final stages of development of a cancer drug for a company seeking FDA approval. I felt I could really help make a difference in the world, but was appalled to discover their methods of data collection and coding had been very sloppy. I assumed everyone on my staff would have the same sense of urgency I had to correct these problems, so I took them on a retreat to plan revisions in their protocol. When I came back, I was told by my boss no one wanted to work for me. They felt I'd told them everything they'd done was worthless. I was shocked and hurt, but I realized I needed to find a more inspiring way to help them improve their skills."
* * *
"Women with Enneagram style Six often describe how difficult it can be to feel certain of themselves," we said of Nancy. Then we read from Nina Bogin's touching poem about maturing into oneself, "Initiation, II:"
When I walked up the road, the string sack
heavy on my arm, I thought
that my legs could take me anywhere,
into any country, any life...
I climbed the pink stairs, entered
the house as calm and ephemeral
as my own certainty:
this is my house, my key,
my hand with its new lines.
I am as old as I will ever be.
Nancy: "My father was an Episcopal Priest -- actually, he was God in our house! I don't know what his Enneagram style was, but he never asked for help. I guess I was following in his footsteps because I used to operate on the premise that I should have all the answers (I don't) -- other people always looked like they knew what they were doing, so I would just keep on working, hoping I'd figure things out. Then I'd end up blaming my staff when there were problems, thinking they were just making excuses. What changed things for me was having my daughter, who's now almost two years old. I didn't want to just 'punch it out' anymore. I began questioning whether or not I wanted to stay in a leadership role, sought the help of a consultant, and quit trying to do everything by myself."
* * *Margaret, Enneagram style Two, had asked us to read from Mary Oliver's "The Journey" because it had spoken so clearly to her issues:
One day you finally knew"How has being a helper aided you in your career?" we asked Margaret.
what you had to do and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles
'Mend my life!'
each voice cried...
Margaret: "I'd quit a secure job because I felt burned out. I saw bureaucracies swallowing up money that could have been better used to help the mentally ill. While I was taking a breather, I saw a description of the county's plan for mental health. I wanted to respond but saw it as a mixed opportunity -- I was in a state of panic and self-doubt, knowing my senior colleagues and ex-bosses would not be my peers, knowing no one in her right mind would dare to be this different in the public eye. Yet I really wanted to do it because it was an opportunity to defy all the practices I knew were not working, and the severely mentally ill people who'd been abandoned would benefit. I struggled with whether to ask for the same salary male directors were getting. I also struggled with others' reactions -- they'd say things like, 'Don't take this personally, but this project will never make it!' It took me four years to get equal compensation, and six years to convince myself I knew as much as others in similar positions. At that point, I finally quit worrying that I needed to be more like them and less like myself. From that place I could speak confidently about what I knew, could sit at the table without anger and with mutual respect for our difference."
* * *Darlene: "When I think of myself as a high performer -- Enneagram style Three -- I think of "hoop-jumping." For many, many years it never occurred to me that failure was possible. Of course, I hadn't put myself in situations where failure would be possible! If someone who worked for me wasn't doing the job, I'd fire them and do their job too. Later in my life I realized I'd done this as a child to get love. We lived on a farm and you worked on the farm. Exceptional results were expected by my parents but what was 'exceptional' wasn't defined ahead of time, so I worked extra hard to make sure I got exceptional results. I was finally brought up short when I fell in love with a man, hired him, and then went into my turbo 'do' mode at work and at home until this powder-keg situation blew up. as I tried to figure out what happened I was struck by how automatically I had gone into this 'do' mode. And the frightening part of this realization was the question, 'With all the doing removed, what else is there to love?' Now I'm asking, 'Hello, Self, what are you like?'"
* * *
(Stay tuned for the next blog post, describing
participant experiences and discoveries during this workshop)