A few years ago I became aware of a subtle, insidious force that was holding me back in business.
The force was embarrassing, irritating and frustrating given that I am a business coach to female founders.
The force was this:
My propensity to feel competitive with other women. And my propensity to feel and indeed BE betrayed by other women.
At the same time, I would be championing the achievements of women, I’d find myself experiencing the feeling of deflation that comes from unhealthy competition. I would look at other women’s achievements and feel both happy for them but ALSO a disturbing twinge of unworthiness and competitiveness.
(I have been a lifelong competitor and I KNOW the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition. For some people, including me, healthy competition is a powerful and constructive force that yields joy, excellence and results. Unhealthy competition isolates and deflates. They are NOT the same, and anyone who has experienced the joy of healthy competition knows this.)
Furthermore, I felt deeply ashamed for being competitive with other women and really wondered what the hell was wrong with me. But because I was so ashamed for feeling this way, I found it hard to find any place where I could talk about what I was feeling. And even when I DID talk to coaches or therapists about it, I never truly felt that I was getting to the heart of my “issue”.
Meanwhile, I had many experiences in business of not just feeling, but actually being betrayed by other women. If I were to look at these experiences as objectively as possible, I’d say that I had many experiences of being held to a standard of perfection that I did not see my male counterparts being held to. I deeply knew that I was being judged in a way they would never judge a guy. It was confusing and hurtful.
And if I am being honest (this entire email is painfully honest why stop now), the truth is that I too was holding women to higher standards of perfection than I was holding men.
In short, there was something at my core — something that was powerfully connected to being a woman — that felt wounded. This went WAY deeper than “limiting thoughts.”
And it wasn’t something that could any longer be “overcome” or compensated for with my strategic skill or marketing insights. (I do not think you need to “heal deep wounds” in order to grow your business. Solid business chops can take you a long way and quite honestly I’d rather have plenty of money and deep wounds than deep wounds and cash flow issues, so let’s get our priorities straight.) But in my case, all this was in place. It was therefore time to look at the “wound”.
And here’s the REAL reason this wound impacted my growth. (Because a lot of people have this wound, but it doesn’t hold them back in the way it did for me!).
I am a big believer that you don’t just scale ONE thing (i.e. revenue). When you scale, you scale everything. If I was going to scale my company, if I was going to serve more women, I needed to face and address this feminine wound…
Otherwise, I’d be amplifying the wound, and doing more damage than good.
As my mentor Martha Beck says, you have to live it to give it.
Along this journey of discovering and — as eye rolly as it sounds — healing — I discovered A LOT of confused quacks hocking half-baked ideas and philosophies. I also found a small handful of wise, inventive and instructive thinkers, writers, and teachers.
Dr. Valerie Rein, author of the powerful book Patriarchy Stress Disorder is one of those powerful thinkers. She’s my guest on the podcast this week and we’re talking about this deep feminine wound and how it impacts us as founders and leaders.
The things I have described in this email were all classic “symptoms” of Patriarchy Stress Disorder. As any health professional will tell you — accurate diagnosis is always half the battle.
Valerie and I get into patriarchy Stress Disorder on the show — it’s a long, in-depth, and fun conversation. I strongly encourage you to make time to listen to it this week.
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- Listen to episode 474: Patriarchy Stress Disorder with Dr. Valerie Rein