I am NOT a Fish Out of Water!

Most of my life I have felt like a fish out of water. I don’t really fit in where most other women do. I don’t really fit in with the men either. I have tried to figure out why I don’t have the stereotypical “female tribe” I see around me. Why am I not invited to do some of the things those female types do? Never mind that I don’t enjoy most of what they are doing and don’t really want to go. I still want to be invited. Don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of friends and some really good close friends. I’m not living life alone. But I don’t live it like most other women. I never have. I have always been able to make friends with boys easier than with girls. I feel more comfortable hanging out with guys and there is nothing sexual about it. But that can seem awkward for others, so I keep hanging out with the guys to a minimum. I have beat myself up for not fitting in, wondering what is wrong with me. Wondering am I not good enough? Am I not fun enough? Am I not nice enough? I could go on and on.

Over the years I have tried repeatedly to diagnose what I perceived was a problem with me. As a coach, I help people through issues such as this quite frequently. Why couldn’t I figure it out for myself? Turns out it is easier to help others than it is to help yourself. Helping yourself to truly become self-aware and to then make changes is hard. Really hard. Thankfully there are some truly self-aware and gifted people in the world that give nuggets of their wisdom and experiences to help inspire us. I love to listen to podcasts and run. This is my time to be alone and consume the information that fills my fuel tank.

On a run this week I was gifted with a beautiful story that has led to one of the most powerful epiphanies of my life! Brene Brown was interviewing Glennon Doyle about her new book, Untamed.  I have now listened to this podcast 3 times and I am reading the book. Thank goodness for the forced slowdown and quarantine because I can indulge myself over and over in this fabulous gift of information.  As I listened to Glennon talk about herself and life, I felt like it was me talking. It was within a different context, but the feelings were the same. Glennon tells the story of a cheetah in a zoo she was visiting with her children. The cheetah had been trained alongside a Labrador to help tame her. I don’t want to steal Glennon’s thunder, go get the book, but the gist of the story is this:

The cheetah was born into captivity and trained to act like a dog. It is the only way of life that she has ever known. But deep inside, the cheetah feels that life should be more than this and that she is not meant to act the way she was trained. When she is alone in her zoo exhibit, she is different and wild again. She dreams of wide-open savannahs and freedom, of a life more beautiful than the one she has even if the one she has is good enough. But how can she dream of this if she has never seen or experienced it? Why can’t she just be grateful for how good her current life is? It is because she is a cheetah!  

In Untamed, Glennon uses the cheetah story as a metaphor for the way women are tamed or trained to act. We are taught to “be good”, “speak correctly”, “know our place”, “be perfect wives/mothers/friends”, “not complain (i.e. bitch)”, “be thin”, “be beautiful”, “be sexy, but only at the right time”, and most of all “be grateful”.  If we do not live up to the expectations society has placed on us, we feel like we are not enough. If we are not grateful in our “good enough” lives, we feel guilty.  But what if deep inside we feel like the cheetah? Like life is supposed to be different and more beautiful than this?

 I have let my inner Glitch tell me a ton of lies over the years and I have believed them. Lies like, I don’t fit in because I am not enough; I am not pretty enough; I am not smart enough to contribute, I am not polished enough to be effective. The cumulative effect of believing these lies is that I distance myself from work and personal obligations and goals to avoid failing at them. After all, I’m not enough.  I have told myself I am not valuable enough to contribute and kept quiet even though my gut told me I was right. I have told myself I must have some type of defect because I don’t act or want to act like most women. I perceived that this was true because when I do act on my instinct, the reactions I would receive were mixed reviews. I have questioned all of this over and over and over and over. Ultimately, I asked myself if I was crazy.

 As I ran listening to the podcast with Brene and Glennon and I heard the cheetah story and the questions being posed, I stopped running dead in my tracks. I immediately began to cry. Not sad tears but tears of relief and joy! For the first time in my life I KNEW what I had been trying to figure out about myself. Inside I am like the cheetah! I want a life more beautiful and different than what I think society has said I am supposed to have. I AM NOT CRAZY! And most importantly, I AM ENOUGH!

 Turns out I am not a fish out of water!! I have been in the wrong water. It is time to jump out of the small, tame pond and to jump into the ocean where I belong! It’s no wonder I have a fascination with the ocean and mermaids. It is where I know deep down that I belong!!

This is a scary and thrilling revelation for me. It is very freeing as well. I can be exactly who I feel inside I should be. I know I am a SMART, BEAUTIFUL woman with a lot of wisdom to contribute to the world. My optimism is contagious. I value authenticity and humility. Ambitious, altruistic people are my people.  I am intimidating to some and my bluntness can be cutting. But I LOVE BIG and care more about humanity than myself. I deserve BIG LOVE in return and won’t ever settle for less; even if what I have is good enough. I am grateful for what I have but am more grateful for what will be. I won’t temper my feelings, actions or words anymore because society says that is not how a woman should behave. I have a lot to give to the world that I have been holding back because I have feared what others might think. I did not trust myself enough that I could stand in my true self and be successful.

 Look out! I’m not a cheetah, but I am Gina. It’s time to really let her shine!

We Empower Women!

Most of my professional life has been in male dominated industries and I’ve never thought, “I can’t do that because I am a woman.”

I owe my parents a great deal of credit. Growing up it never occurred to me that women were treated differently in the workforce. I have known always that I have every right to choose my life and career path. I must thank my parents profusely for always supporting me, never trying to hold me back, to over-protect me, or judge me as I made career choices. They were my first empowerment coaches and they made all the difference for me. From construction sales, to entrepreneurship in construction and cycling, to consulting/investing, and now teaching entrepreneurship in a large university, I have been surrounded by mostly men at work. I have had many wonderful experiences and have had fantastic co-workers/bosses, but I have also seen the ugly side of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. This week I realized that every professional woman I have ever met has a story about gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment. The strength my parents instilled in me in my formative years helped me to be resilient and move past the unpleasant times and people to keep striving for my goals. Unfortunately, there are many women that were not empowered early in their lives and careers. A wonderful friend of mine and fellow entrepreneur, Charli Matthews, saw the need to empower ALL  women and launched a fantastic organization, Empowering Women in Industry. The inaugural annual conference just occurred in Chicago and I was humbled to be part of the fantastic program.

The need to empower women is REAL. I heard story after story after story from very successful women about times that men had treated them unfairly. I believe every one of them because I have several stories of my own. The narratives all have similar themes and can be narrowed down to two categories. They either fit into gender discrimination or sexual harassment. Within each of the categories the stories can be grouped generally based upon the behaviors that occurred.

Gender discrimination stories:

  1. You don’t belong here because you’re a girl. This is not a woman’s job.
  2. SHE won’t be able to do ….
  3. You’re not paid as much as him because…
  4. Completely being ignored, no eye contact, or trivializing comments.
  5. Not being considered for jobs and/or being passed over for promotion.

The sexual harassment stories are disturbing because true and lasting harm has come to many women. I’m purposely excluding stories about sexual assault from this blog for many reasons and only including narratives of verbal sexual harassment.

Verbal sexual harassment stories:

  1. You’re too pretty to have a job like this.
  2. Back-handed comments (i.e. I thought you were just another pretty face but you know what you’re doing.)
  3. Blunt statements about our looks and/or clothing.
  4. Sexual innuendo.
  5. Assumptions that women were successful because of who they have or were going to have sex with.

As I said earlier, EVERY professional woman I have met has at least one story that fits into one of the above categories. This above list is not meant to be all inclusive but does represent the numerous stories I heard in a short 8-hour time period. It is time that women have a voice that is valued for its contribution. Until recently, there has been no safe place for women to congregate to talk about these issues, to support each other, and to develop tools and strategies to persevere. In the last several years we have seen the birth of fantastic organizations such as Lean In, Dress for Success, Girl Up, Pink Petro, and Empowering Women in Industry that are handling the issues women face in a productive and empowering manner. The increase in the number of supporting organizations and movements such as #metoo indicate that indeed women are feeling more empowered.

The energy I experienced this week at the Empowering Women in Industry conference and gala was electrifying! There was no whining or complaining. The conversation was pragmatic and matter of fact, acknowledging that woman had been treated unfairly. It was as if you could see the weight lift from the women’s shoulders as they were given a safe place to have a voice. But I didn’t hear #metoo. Rather I heard, “what can we do to help you?” It was so refreshing! This is the first time I’ve been in an environment surrounded by only professional women. Every attendee wanted to help and empower every person around them. We felt free to dress and feel beautiful because we knew there would be no repercussions. Charli was so smart to have hair and make-up artists there for free for any attendee wanting to indulge. We discussed how to develop our personal brands, overcome limiting beliefs, and learned to do the Rosie Shuffle! Ultimately, we made new, life-long, soul sister friendships! (Pics below to show you a few of my new, beautiful friends!)

It is time that all women find a group that helps to empower them in a productive manner that lends support, teaches effective tools, and provides encouragement so that everyone feels free to reach for their goals.

I am full of gratitude that I have found my tribe, but I am left with a haunting question. Who is helping to encourage and educate men to understand and accept the new role of women in the workplace? True woman empowerment won’t occur until that is addressed as well.

-Gina Simpson is a certified professional coach and founder of Soluna Strategies. If you are interested in working with Gina to reach your full potential and find SERENE SUCCESS, email her at gina@solunastrategies.com.