in good company

It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote my last post and I would like to think it was for good reason. These last two months have been filled with new adventures. I moved to a new state, kicked off another semester of teaching for Eastern University and spent time with some amazing women. Early in September I met with a group of women who are part of a Mastermind Group that is led by my brilliant friend (and former boss) Desiree Adaway.

The purpose of the Mastermind Group is not only to receive leadership coaching from Desiree, but also to support each other in attaining our goals, no matter what they are. The group I am part of is all female and our needs range from wanting to branch out into a new career, trying to recruit new customers for our current businesses or simply making time to take care of ourselves, because as women we are not always great at putting our needs first.

We met in Asheville for a weekend retreat and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. Even though our group had virtually met through a couple of webinars and various conversations in our private Facebook group, I didn’t know what it would be like to meet face-to-face. For some reason I had this idea that all of the women in the group would be miles ahead of me in identifying and attaining their goals. I also didn’t know what they would expect from me in terms of support.

As we started to meet that Friday afternoon I was surprised at how comfortable I instantly became with the group. These women were so genuine. One of the initial discussions we had was around what we considered to be non-negotiables and one of the women let us know that using the F-word (which she called F-bomb) was something she was not willing to give up and it was at that moment that I knew this group was for me. Throughout the weekend we shared, were vulnerable, questioned each other, pushed each other, shed a few tears and danced like nobody was watching (or at least we tried to…baby steps).

I have to say I was surprised at how much I liked these women. Usually after a weekend retreat my introversion would be kicking in at full force and I would be exhausted, but I left Asheville feeling energized and ready for what was next to come. I’m not sure how Desiree did it; how she managed to assemble this group of women that were able to get along so well, because as someone who has led teams of volunteers I know first hand that this is not an easy thing to do. I am certain Desiree has a secret formula for this, even though she denies that she does – you’re not fooling me Adaway!

It wasn’t just my comfortability with these women that made me like them but a number of other things. It was their courage, creativity, sassiness and even, sometimes, their humility. For example, one of these women was a graduate from Harvard, but failed to highlight that with all of us in our initial conversations. Why? I have no idea. If it was me I’d be sharing this factoid with every introduction I made. She talked about reforming the education system in her community with so much passion that her eyes welled up, however, she had not taken action on her ideas because of the doubt that plagues us all – the uncertainty of rocking the boat and the consequences of doing that. It was amazing to me that even this genius woman was hesitant to make her voice heard. It also made me think about all of those other brilliant women out there who have thoughts and ideas on how to make the world better but don’t know they can have their own Desiree (or even this Desiree) and Mastermind group to coach them on. Because sometimes we need this. We need each other’s support and fearlessness.

I’m not sure if I’m putting out some kind of vibe into the universe that is asking to surround me with amazing women, but earlier this month I also traveled to Prince Edward Island, Canada, and spent a week building a Habitat for Humanity home with a group of women from all over the U.S., and even one Canadian.

Again, before arriving in PEI I was apprehensive about whether this group of women was going to get along. Group dynamics can be a tricky thing. Everyone comes with their own expectations and motivations and it doesn’t take much to create a dynamic that is almost unbearable for everyone. Sometimes it only takes one person’s bad attitude to ruin the experience for everyone else. Fortunately, the week proved to be so much a success that on the morning we were to depart and go home there were many sad faces and a few tears which is usually the sign of a good trip.

Throughout the week we helped build a house which will soon be purchased by a woman who will be living there with her four children all under the age of five (yikes). As we tackled numerous framing tasks we all got a chance to challenge ourselves, bond, crack a few jokes and even learn the electric slide. A personal triumph for me was that I got on the roof for the first time and spent an afternoon nailing down sheathing. In the past I had always avoided this task because of this little fear of heights I have but I decided to eff my fear and get the hell up there – knowing I could always come down if my knees really started shaking. By the end of the day I felt like a total badass, I think I even had an annoying swagger to my walk, which also could have been a result of the heavy Canadian steel-toed boots we were required to wear by law.

On the roof! I'm in the pink hard hat. Photo by Kathy Guilbealt
On the roof! I’m in the pink hard hat. Photo by Kathy Guilbealt

Although the roof could have easily been my favorite part of the week, what actually wound up being my favorite part was during one of the break times when the mother we were building for brought one of her sons who started roaming the yard (away from the construction area) looking for caterpillars. I kept thinking about how that boy will be moving from the cramped space he is living in now to this amazing yard where he will have so many adventures. He will find endless caterpillars, make mud pies, catch fire flies, build snow forts, play tag – the possibilities are endless. This home we were hammering away at will help shape the type of person he grows up to be.

Photo by Kristin Lash
Photo by Kristin Lash

I have come away from these recent adventures feeling hopeful. Feeling pride. Reaffirming that women are everything I have grown up knowing. They are strength. They are limitless. They are catalysts for change. They are anything they want to be – maybe even a little nasty (?).

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not every woman aspires to marriage

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You know those people who at age five knew what they wanted to be when they grew up? Maybe they wanted to be a doctor and they would spend time dissecting insects or frogs whenever they could. Or maybe they wanted to be a chef and made their first three course meal when they were ten years old. Or maybe they wanted to get married, have children and be a stay-at-home parent. Well, I was not one of these people. I’m still not sure what I want to do when I grow up, but what I have known since I was a young gal is that I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world.

When I graduated from high school an aunt of mine took me to London and we did it all. We saw Big Ben, the change of guard, Westminster Abbey, Picadilly and much more. We ate fish and chips, drank at pubs, and went to Harrods for high tea. It was amazing. I loved all of it. When I came back to the States I started to plot my next adventure.

As of today I have visited 42 states and been on 6 continents. During my travels I have couchsurfaced, stayed in hostels, AirBnBs, cruise ships, hotels, resorts, retreat centers and even a few school gymnasiums. In Australia I stayed in the scariest hotel room I have ever come across (thankfully, I wasn’t alone) and in Hawaii I stayed in the nicest resort suite I will probably ever see again (where I also survived my first earthquake and hurricane).

I drove a car on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car and managed not to hurt anyone. I arrived at Amsterdam at 6 am and saw a grown man in a Superman costume walking around and kicking trash that was on the street and had to ask my friend if I was hallucinating, due to lack of sleep, to which he assured me I was not. I teared up when I saw the pyramids in Egypt. I drank more wine than a person ever should when I was in Paris. I tried to sing along with the two bachelorette parties I stumbled across at a pub in Ireland who broke out in energetic song to John Denver (yes, John Denver). In the Caribbean I swam with sting rays who were terrifying. I got the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had in India. In Uganda I met women who filled me with pride when I saw their strength and determination. In West Virginia (yes, here in the U.S.) I met children who had to use a bucket as a toilet, and shower at school because they had no hot water at home and it broke my heart.

I have had a lot of experiences that I am proud of, and I truly love this life I have been able to live, but I’m always amazed that the question I get first and the most, whether it’s from a stranger or someone I haven’t seen in a while is if I’m married yet. As if I have somehow dropped the ball on what every grown woman should be aspiring to do. When I tell them I am not, and sometimes more quickly then I mean too, they seem either perplexed or sad for my situation. I kid you not. Let me give you two examples from this past year alone.

Example #1 – I was at the doctors office back in late May getting an annual exam and the nurse was updating my chart. She confirmed my birthday (I’m not sure why because that never changes) and then asked if my marital status had changed and I told her no. She then looked at me and asked, “don’t you ever want to have children?” I was so shocked by her question that it took me a minute to process. Did this woman have a crystal ball and could see that I was going to die in the next three to five years? Or did she have some kind of super power that allowed her to x-ray my ovaries and see I only had a few viable eggs left? Also, what does being married have to do with having kids? You can be single and have kids, many people do. This nurse truly seemed concerned about my “situation” of being single and barren so I tried to let her down easy by saying that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not (which is honestly how I feel right now), to which she responded by looking at me silently for a very uncomfortable 10 seconds and then tried to joke off the situation by asking if I wanted to take her kids (yikes!).

Example #2 – At the end of July I was at a hair salon in San Antonio having my hair done for a wedding I was about to be in so of course the stylist and I were chatting about marriage and she told me all about her recent wedding in Vegas. I have always loved the idea of a destination wedding so I was happy to hear about how she had a cheap Vegas wedding and then she and her hubby spent their money on a glamorous Hawaiian honeymoon. It sounded perfect to me. She then asked me if I was married, and I told her that I wasn’t. She told me that she could see it happening for me soon. For some reason she was trying to comfort me and I thought it was a sweet thing for her to do. I should have just said thank you but instead I told her that I wasn’t sure if marriage was for me. She went silent for a few seconds and I could see her face in the mirror and could tell she was struggling with what to say next. She didn’t look sad for me, she just looked uncomfortable, like she had never heard anyone say something like this before. I quickly changed the subject and asked her about Maui because I have only been to the big island of Hawaii and our friendly banter was soon resurrected.

It is amazing to me how much value we put on women getting married. We could come across a woman that we haven’t seen in a while and she could be accomplished in many ways. She could have just completed her graduate degree, started her own business, ran her first marathon or climbed Mount Everest, but what we start jumping up and down over is whether she has a ring on her finger or not, as if marriage is the ultimate accomplishment, which it is not. Let me say that again, marriage is NOT an accomplishment. It is wonderful for women who want it, but as Natalie Brooke put it in her Huffington Post Article, “you don’t have to have a brain, drive or special skill set to get married. You just have to have a willing partner.”

Need further evidence of the value we put on marriage? Take some time over the next few days to notice what people react to on Facebook. This weekend a woman from a mastermind group I am a part of made the comment that she will post something about a social justice issue, like a brilliant article about how schools can better meet the cultural needs of students of color, and it may get 10-20 reactions, but then she will post a picture of her and her hubby, or a picture of her children and she will get 100s of reactions. What does it say about our culture when we don’t feel compelled to react to an article about Brock Turner’s early release but manage to heart the relationship status update of a person from high school we haven’t talked to in 11 years?

My plea is that we find a balance in what we celebrate for women. Marriage should certainly be celebrated but so should a number of other things. At the very least let’s have the question we ask first be about what she has been working on, or where she has traveled to, or maybe just a simple how is she doing. My other plea is that women not feel bad if they have not aspired to marriage. You are still able to live one heck of a life and although nobody may ask you about it or like it on Facebook you will still have the joy and lessons of those experiences to fill your thoughts and reflections. Also, if you ever find yourself traveling alone in Cannes River, Australia looking for a hotel room for the night just keep driving to the next town. Trust me.