Is anyone listening?

“I think I have more confidence in what I want for myself — instead of valuing what other people think of me,” shared an incredibly honest focus group participant.  She went on to describe this renewed perspective as a critical milestone in her transition.   The comment came amidst a discussion about the difficulty of declining job opportunities – and their accompanying salaries — despite the fact that the jobs no longer aligned with her personal requirements.   Her transition allowed her to arrive at, “No, that’s not what I want for myself, this is what I want for myself.”   You could hear the personal pep talk in her remark….she’d arrived but her status was tenuous at best.

Are you able to articulate what you want?   Sounds easy enough.   Truth be told I’ve been both fascinated and cowed by this topic during my transition.   Early on I toggled between two worlds.  On one hand I wanted to quickly define the ‘what I wanted’ and get underway with the steps to secure it.   I had lots of ideas.  Think starry-eyed kindergartener.  Maybe you know one.  Police Officer.  President.  Fashion Designer.  Poet.  Professor.   Astronaut.

On the other hand I wanted to be selfish and take a moment to listen carefully to what might be new and exhilarating and unfamiliar.   Depending on the day  — and the amount of negative self-talk I encountered — I would venture to this selfish space.

I remember a conversation with my transition coach almost immediately after I left my extreme C-suite role at a S&P 500 company. He asked, ‘Are you going away from something or moving towards something?’  Wow.  Tears instantly welled up in my eyes.   I wasn’t sure how to answer him nor was I sure why it made me cry.    Could it be that for the first time I really didn’t know?

Carol Gilligan’s research, featured in Summer Book Review #25: Meeting at the Crossroads, offered a horrifying lens into this world of unknowing.    She studied cultural and societal norms in girls’ and women’s  development.  What she found was that “girls replace their feelings and desires with the wants and expectations of others.” (Crossroads, pg 86, 88)   All to maintain relationships I might add.  She also found that there is a tendency as “girls become young women to dismiss their (own) experience and modulate their voices.”    (Crossroads, pg 217)   

I remember overhearing a conversation between my daughter and a friend not long after reading Gilligan’s piece.  It went something like “Suzie doesn’t like pink anymore.  She likes blue.  She is best friends (now) with Annie. Annie only likes blue. ”   Perhaps there is something to Gilligan’s research…..

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There is another perspective that’s caught my attention — although it requires some extrapolation.  I was listening to NPR’s Ted Radio Hour Series entitled, The Haves and Have-Nots.  One segment featured Jacqueline Novogratz founder the ACUMEN FUND, a non-profit that raises charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders, and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty.  Novogratz is honest, energetic and deeply humble.

In the segment “Is Patient Capitalism The Answer to Poverty?” she described her learnings from working with African women who had been marginalized by negative economic, societal and governmental norms.   “I learned then that listening isn’t just about patience but that when you’ve lived on charity, and dependent your whole life long, it’s really hard to say what you mean.   And mostly because people never really ask you and when they do you don’t think they really want to know the truth.  So that I learned that listening is not only about waiting but it’s also learning about how better to ask questions.”

Please don’t misinterpret my thoughts here.  I don’t for a minute equate the transition challenges of women in the developed world with the myriad challenges faced by women in the developing world.  But I think Novogratz’s remark holds meaning, ‘it’s really hard to say what you mean.  And mostly because people never really ask you and when they do you don’t think they really want to know the truth.’  When was the last time someone asked you about your dreams?

I think that part of my transition’s difficulty with unknowing is that I need to dream again.    Early on I dreamt that I wanted to start my own company.  Check.  By the way…it was a undeniable blast.    I’m incredibly fortunate.    Now I am asked to reach deeper and listen more carefully for what is really next.

I think that listening in transition isn’t just about patience but about our willingness to ourselves honest questions.    The only real unknown?  Our readiness to hear the answers…

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