I enjoy being with women – both friends and strangers – and appreciate the ease of connection and sense of shared experience, even in cases where diversity is apparent, be it race, ethnicity, nationality, class, age, sexual orientation, etc. We connect through the stories we share.
Recently, I met a dear woman friend in a local Starbucks to catch up. After warm hugs, we ordered our special drinks. Knowing we had only an hour before we each needed to move on, we dove in. She, a realtor, was headed to show homes, an opportunity not to be missed in this market. I was headed into Philadelphia for a meeting with a client.
“How’s business these days?,” I asked.
“Great. Improving.” she replied.
“How about for you? How’s the book doing?”
“LIES That Limit is selling well. My consulting practice is strong,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “Tell me about your Mom; how is she?”
“Okay. No big changes,” I offered.
“Good,” she said and smiled.
Laughing, we both commented about how hard it was to hear over the music and all the chatter. The place was packed when we entered. A little nook under the speakers was the only space available. We both expressed longing for warmer weather, making sitting outside a more inviting option.
Then, we moved on to a new topic – her daughter – as she said, “Sara is graduating this spring. Can you believe it?”
“No!” I exclaimed. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed like yesterday that she graduated high school.
Then, it was my turn to hurl in a new topic. I asked about her husband. “What’s Ray up to these days?”
Back and forth; we kept the conversation moving, squeezing in as much as we could.
Staying true to the call of our calendars, we said goodbye hastily. I walked away feeling happy to have had the time to say hello and feeling that’s all we accomplished. We got to say hello, but we really didn’t know much more about each other and our lives that any stranger might know. We talked in headlines, with a few subtitles. It was all very fast and only scratched the surface of our full, complex lives.
I longed for more depth and detail. We women, the majority of us, like details and description. It’s a cultural pattern. We like the color, depth and nuances details add to a story. Without details and description, communication feels incomplete. A pattern of communication devoid of details and descriptions feels unsatisfying, disconnected and unfulfilled.
For five years, I was a member of a group called the “Women’s Leadership Collaborative.” We met twice a year for five days at a time. Sitting in a circle or working in pairs, trios and quartets, we told our stories in detail and listened to the stories of others. We took each other in without judging, agreeing, disagreeing, challenging or correcting. We listened deeply to the speaker and accepted her story – her truth. Any questions posed were intended to support the woman in going deeper into her story and exploring more of her subtleties and nuances. Stories are the stuff of life.
Participation in this group certainly held its frustrations, and it was also deeply gratifying and validating. Openly and vulnerably sharing the stories of my life and tenderly, respectfully, holding others as they too unmasked, was powerful and transformational. We gained self-insight and learned about and from each other.
The “Women’s Leadership Collaborative” ended more than twelve years ago. There are times – many times – when I long for the luxury of time and space to be with and talk with women in the way the “Women’s Leadership Collaborative” made possible.
Today, I’m aware that most of my interactions with women are short, usually focused on a specific and narrow agenda; an agenda that is not oriented toward in-depth exploration of self and other. Time to share details and a more complete story almost seems incomprehensible these days. We’re moving very fast, we’re task-focused, frantically juggling a myriad of complicated specifics. We do what our calendars tell us to do, whether it makes sense in the moment, or not. We have a lengthy TO DO List. We have get the kids to school or practice. We have to get our ailing mother, father or child to the doctor. We squeeze in a cup of tea with a friend and find exactly 45 minutes for a pedicure.
We shout headlines about our lives to each other over music and multiple conversations in our favorite gathering spot or on our mobile phone as we move between places and obligations. Then, suddenly, we check our watch and exclaim, “Oh, no! I’m late. I’ve got to jump on a conference call.” We barely even say goodbye, certainly not in a way that feels complete to either of us. I don’t like the way I feel taking in a steady diet of this kind of anemic interaction.
This year, I’m going to celebrate Women’s History Month by nourishing myself – feeding my soul. I’m going to give myself the luxury of what I experienced during the Women’s Leadership Collaborative by creating at least three opportunities to celebrate a woman I know or meet. I’m going to allow the time and space for us to share our stories and unhurriedly explore what’s going beneath our headlines and subtitles. And, I’ll do so in a place where we can actually hear each other comfortably and have a sense of privacy. To me, this will be a wonderful way to honor the history and strength of at least three other women, and myself.
What’s your plan? How will you celebrate National Women’s History Month?