breaking down barriers

file0001312170283In addition to the external barriers erected by society,
women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves.
Sheryl Sandberg¹

I received a copy of Sandberg’s book, “Lean In“, from a dear friend. I have only started reading it, but I have found connection, empathy, authenticity, grace, and challenge in the first chapters. Sandberg proposes a hypothesis which many of us already know is truth… as women, we are often our own worst enemy.

Sandberg explains that women often deeply internalize the negative messages we receive during our life – and quickly undervalue the positive messages that we earn.

I believe that women are essential to making important world changes in society through our relationships, families, and jobs today. To do that, we need support, advocacy, and partnership with the men in our lives, but we also need to believe in ourselves to step confidently into the places that we are created and gifted to fill. 

How can we do that? I’ve started a list here from some of Sandberg’s comments and some of my own experiences:

Gain self-awareness.

Personality profiles, StrengthsFinder, Reflected Best Self Exercise, work preferences, gift tests, feedback from mentors/friends/others… all help to discover and affirm unique value and contribution. The more I learn about myself, the easier it is to choose where to invest my time and my talents with confidence.

Don’t give unnecessary power to gender stereotypes.

“Strong”, “assertive”, “outspoken”, “intelligent” – these words often negatively describe a woman leader, but compliment a man. Words like “sensitive”, “passionate”, “caring”, “transparent” can also be used to disregard a woman’s position, but be considered uncommon and valuable assets for men. The key principle to remember is – no matter what I do or what I am like, I will never please everyone. I need to be comfortable in my own skin.

Get past the fear.

Women sometimes feel afraid… afraid of not knowing enough, afraid of saying something stupid, afraid of failing, afraid of being labeled as a fraud². Fears like these could easily paralyze and cause a step back from opportunities, but so often they are irrational and never actually occur. I am learning to speak up or act with courage in spite of my fears. I am learning that I am needed and because of that, I must “keep my hand up… and sit at the table”³. 

Say a simple “Thank You” for compliments and awards.

Sandberg explains that it is often our insecurity that causes us to scoff, brush off, and negate the achievements and accolades that we receive. I sometimes fail to accept a compliment without explaining or excusing it away with a, “It was nothing”, “I had lots of help”, or “I guess I had them fooled.” I am grateful for those in my life who (first) express their sincere appreciation for my efforts and (second) confront me if I undervalue my contribution. 

How have you been your own worst enemy? What would you add to this list?

¹Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013. p. 8.
²Ibid. p. 28-29.
³Ibid. p.38

maturitas cafe – best of 2012

I would love to enjoy a steaming cup of black coffee with you at a comfy, warm cafe. We could talk about so many things – work, family, teams, marriage, life! We might laugh or cry or philosophize, and share advice or struggles or funny stories. We might disagree about a topic or empathize completely. No matter what, I know we would end our visit grateful for the time together.

Until we have that opportunity, I am grateful for the chance to connect this way. THANK YOU for reading and leaving your “likes” and your comments. You have challenged me and encouraged me this year. You have led me to new blogs, new ideas, new friends. I appreciate you very much and look forward to learning more together in 2013!

In case you are new to this blog or might have missed a post, here are some of the top (most read) posts of 2012. Feel free to look around at the archives too. Remember every post is available in English and Spanish…

eng top 5top five English posts:

today’s modern woman – pick any two

cleaning house, cooking meals and a greater cause

are you dangerous?

communication styles

tips for long lasting friendship and marriage

sp top 5top five Spanish posts:

la motivación y el ánimo

lo que aprendo de una venta de garage 

¿hay mágia en los equipos?

¿tienes la actitud de gratitud?

limpiar la casa, cocinar y una gran causa

You might also enjoy reading a little about me and why I started this blog:

coffee as a way of life      why a blog?

 Thanks for joining this journey! 

Please let me know… what was your favorite post this past year?

a teenage advocate

Today the world is praying for a teenage advocate. Malala Yousafzai became famous a few years ago when, as an 11-year-old girl, she wrote a diary/blog about her battle to attend school in Taliban controlled Pakistan. She wrote under a pseudonym at first for safety, but became internationally known a few years later when the Taliban fell from power, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. Just two days ago, she was shot in the head by fanatics who do not agree that girls have a right to education and a right to speak out about injustice.

This is a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, infuriating wrong in our world today. I have not personally experienced anything like this kind of persecution for being a woman, but this is not one isolated case. There is way too much of this degradation, abuse, limitation, and violence against women and girls in our world today. I cannot ignore it.

Neither can I ignore or tolerate the “lesser” injustices of unfair treatment, off-color jokes, disrespect or lack of opportunities for women that I do encounter on a regular basis. I believe that those attitudes and actions reflect an incomplete understanding of the urgent and severe situation for women in the world. Rather than “laugh it off” or excuse it as unintended, culturally accepted, or not-so-bad, I believe that each of these situations is an important opportunity to educate, mobilize, and empower a society to correct the wrong and the sin in our world.

Malala needs our prayers today. We all need God’s help to do what is right. We need to encourage each other in our God-given value and our God-given purpose on the earth for good. May we join together, men and women, to protect our children from harm, educate and develop the talents and gifts He has given us, and work together to fulfill His good purposes in our world today.

What can you do as an advocate today?

working against the tide

Do you ever feel like you are “swimming up-stream”? Have you sensed that the door you hold open has a strong tension-spring that will slam it shut as soon as you let go? Have you ever felt like your hard work and passions are like a sand castle that is completely washed away when the tide comes in?

I have been struggling a lot with those kind of feelings the last few weeks. In a past leadership position, I gave my best effort to bring about a culture change that I believed in strongly. Some of what we encouraged was team leadership, women valued and developed equally with the men, integrity in character and finances, and a willingness to honestly evaluate results.

Together with my husband, I tried to lead by example; brought in resources and training; honored those co-workers who demonstrated the values we cherished, and celebrated the environment and growth that resulted from our efforts. It was hard work, there was resistance and personal attack, and we paid a price physically, emotionally, and relationally.

We were also incredibly blessed with encouragement and support from partners, mentors, and the thrill of changed lives. At the time, I thought the dream of healthy relationships and a healthy organization was worth the pain.

Sadly, today looking back on that time, I question more… so much of what we “built” is gone. Many things are different; environment, people, results… I wonder, did my hard work really accomplish anything? Was the up-hill climb good for only short-term, superficial change?

I have learned a lot about working as a leader. Now I need to learn about letting go. I need to live with the tension between desire for a legacy… and contentment with having given my best when it was my turn.

Do you have any tips for me? What do you do when your hard work is washed away?

the gift of mentors and sponsors

Mom  Rod   Karen  Cathy  Sandy  Greg  Steve(s)  Andrea  Judy(s)  Henry  Suzi Sharon  Denise  Layo  Marcy  Lulu     Ray  Kendra  Eric  Ron  Nancy(s)…

I have been incredibly blessed by mentors throughout my life. People who cared about me, invested their life into mine, challenged me and helped me grow. Some are family. Some are friends. Some were my boss. Some are authors I have never met. Some are co-workers. Some live nearby. Some I observed from a distance. Some are older, others younger. Some are like me. Some are practically my opposite in every way.

                                                                                                                                 

No one person was “everything” for me, but they have each played very important roles in my life:

  • taught me skills
  • introduced me to Jesus
  • challenged my selfishness
  • let me cry on their shoulder
  • encouraged me to speak and write
  • laughed with me
  • brought in fresh perspective
  • coached me through decisions
  • lived a godly example for me
  • offered grace
  • gave me feedback
  • shared from experience
  • corrected me
  • drank coffee with me
  • gave me hope
  • prayed for me

There have been many times in my life when I wasn’t sure what to do… when I wanted to give up… when I felt overwhelmed or beat up… when I wasn’t sure about a decision… when I needed help. These mentors spurred me on, built my confidence and strengthened my character. They helped me get through the hard times, and they encouraged me to take steps of faith and continue reaching for more.

I have also had opportunities to mentor others. One of my favorite things to do is to encourage and empower young leaders. Business gurus and discipleship experts say that we all need mentors. Sometimes mentoring and coaching is not a formal part of the organizational structure; then I need to take the initiative to make it happen.

When I want to advance and lead, I also need a sponsor – someone with positional power to make networking connections and advocacy recommendations for specific jobs and promotions. This is especially true for me as a women. Even though I often find mentors – formally or informally, I also need to have sponsors in advanced positions who can speak for me and give me opportunities. One aspect of my leadership positions that motivates me is that I can serve as a sponsor for others.

Thank you to each of you who believed in me. You are priceless treasures. You helped me believe in myself. I will be forever grateful.

Do you have a mentor and/or sponsor?  Are you mentoring someone?

moving towards advocacy

This past semester I learned a lot about cross-cultural leadership, and I gained greater appreciation for the benefit and blessing of diversity in ministry and teams. Our experience in Mexico has confirmed that multi-“cultural” teams (culture = age, gender, nationality, stage-of-life, experience, etc) are the most fruitful, both in terms of ministry goals and for personal character and emotional/spiritual growth.

I believe that the prayer needed, grace extended, and ego submission necessary for unity greatly outweighs the misunderstandings and time challenges involved in these “mixed” teams.  I believe that God blesses our efforts to overcome “cultural” barriers and work together for His glory.

This is especially true in the gender area – maybe because unity in this area is such a personal challenge, especially for families and husbands and wives. My professor encouraged me to further study the many issues surrounding women in leadership… and, although I was hesitant at first, I learned a lot. I am grateful for his “push”.  I do not want to enter a theological or cultural “battleground”, but I do want to actively pursue willingness to hear from God in this area.

I am convinced that our perspective and treatment of women has huge ramifications for our personal relationships, our fruitfulness as a ministry, and our participation in the battle against violence and human trafficking.  The chart below is a summary of some of my study. I offer it as a resource for prayerful consideration of your personal or organizational view of women.

Please let me know what you think. I have the sense that I am just scratching the surface of all that God would have me learn and do in this area. I’d love to learn from you also.

Moving Towards Advocacy-2What does God say to you as you review this chart?

What steps can you take to move towards advocacy?