Our deepest passions often spring from our deepest wounds. By recognizing and honoring our soul’s curriculum, those wounds can be transformed into a source of awakening and power that can be channeled into healing, both for ourselves, and for our world.
I love the poet Rumi, and I love this quote because it speaks to the common humanity of wounding, the gift that it can ultimately be. Suffering is part of our journey as human beings, and no one is exempt. Scratch the surface of anyone, rich or poor, black, white, yellow, Hindu, or Jewish, and you will find profound experiences of suffering. While rarely welcome, it is in fact a birthplace of connection, empathy, passion, service, and enlightenment.
My soul curriculum involved an unusual level of marginalization, abuse, and neglect, particularly at the hand of a stepfather with whom we lived with for eight years. In fact, I credit my unique curriculum for the passion that fuels my work in the sacred field of philanthropic consulting, particularly around women and girls. Why is the empowerment of women and girls uniquely mine to do?
In the mid-70s while my father was visiting he shared with us a crowning achievement. He was featured in a national magazine with a photo of himself wearing a skirt to protest women wearing pants to the office. On another visit he told his four daughters they were not going to college; he would only send his son.
Combined with the images and messages I was absorbing about worth, I developed a core belief: Women are not only not equal, but to be valued in our culture, we are to look like Cheryl Tiegs or Farrah Fawcett, and bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. This is a classic example from the Enjoli commercial: “The 8 hour perfume for the 24 hour woman.” It is a prime example of the media taking the powerful feminist message to girls that “you can be Anything,” and warped it into “You have to be Everything.”
Another layer of my perspective was watching my mother struggle. As a single mother with five children under the age of six years old while still in her 20s, my mother was a Warrior. This was an unnatural but choiceless choice on her part as she left my father because it became too unbearable to stay. My father went on to become a successful publisher in New York, while my mother worked multiple jobs while attending college to free us from food stamps and other government assistance.
Yet something extraordinary was also happening at this time. The second wave of feminism was exploding in the 70s. Today, like you, I am the beneficiary of that bold movement, but at the time I found it absolutely perplexing and in direct contradiction to the messages and core beliefs I had formed about what it meant to be a girl in our culture.
Entering the corporate world in the mid-80s in Washington DC, I wore shoulder pads, dressed in dark suits, and carried a serious black briefcase. Basically I became a man. A frequently sexually harassed man in a time and place where both men and women demonized Anita Hill. With grit and an “I’ll show you” drive, I ultimately became successful, and developed the confidence to forge my own path on my own terms.
Fast forward to the year 2000, age 34. I was a Vice President of the largest woman-owned company in Colorado, recently split from a 5-year relationship, and not particularly interested in a new one. My subconscious had other plans, and I chose a very powerful man who was accustomed to having things his way, replaying my early traumas over, and over. For the record, my husband is a king among men, and sincerely didn’t know how his powerful personality landed in my world. But, like many, I chose him based upon what I knew, and unwittingly recreated it.
The result was that while I was a fully expressed woman in the world, accomplished and fiercely passionate, I was half a woman in my own home. And I was teaching my young daughter, “Look sweetie, these are the people we give our power to.” As I began to invest my “outside self” into the empowerment of women and girls, I realized it was also aspirational. It was what I wanted for my myself and my young daughter. While giving voice to others I was on a concurrent journey to discover my own voice.
My present day core belief is embodied in my personal mission statement:
“The future hinges upon a more just and gender-balanced world. My mission is to cultivate and mobilize a movement of empowered and compassionate women and men leaders who are advancing gender equality.”
Why does it matter? In the US alone, women continue to be more economically disadvantaged, experience much more violence, earn less and are dramatically underrepresented in positions of leadership across all sectors. Yet we are in the sweet spot of human history in terms of our economic power (women control $13 Trillion in North America alone), we are outperforming men in terms of advanced degrees in the western world, and we are starting and growing businesses at a much faster rate than men.
Another compelling reason for why I do what I do: Like many of you, I am a parent who cares deeply about the world in which my daughter Sophie, and all sons and daughters, will come of age. My journey over the past decade has included reclaiming lost parts of myself, loving the disempowered little girl, becoming the woman both my daughter and I can admire, transforming my marriage, and sharing that journey with other women so they can recognize and honor their own soul curriculum.
Transforming our wounds into a source of awakening and power enables us to honor that curriculum not only without regret, but with reverence, and I daresay: Gratitude.
Image credit: Chris Sardegna