This past week I caught up with a friend at a big city consulting firm. Her comments echoed those just release in the McKinsey/LeanIn report on Women in the Workplace:
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” she said. “They tell me to set boundaries but they just give me more and more to do. They don’t want me to leave— they’re already losing all their senior women, but they’re not listening, either. It’s too much.”
The recent reports released by McKinsey and LeanIn show that the Great Resignation is taking senior women our of positions at a higher rate than ever before. Women want the opportunity to advance— and they aren’t getting it. They’re also depleted, and that’s a leadership issue (it’s both/and— take care of yourself- but leaders have to set the conditions).
To set the conditions, leaders need to step up to address the problem. One way to do that as a leader is to start with looking after yourself— set the example, and help others follow.
You know the story I tell in The Grit Factor about my warrant officer who was (very) sick in Bosnia? I’ll let you go back and read it, but here was my learning— from another more senior warrant officer:
“Sometimes you have to take care of your people when they can’t take care of themselves.”
That still hurts, and rings as true as anything I’ve lived through leaving teams in the military and the corporate world. And it’s what every leader must do to staunch the bleeding that has yet to abate in the current work environment.
Because leaders aren’t much good at taking care of themselves (or necessarily anyone else). And so I’d like to offer a prompt, another framework if you will, because this idea of what it is that people need, when it’s not just exhaustion but depletion so many are facing, is a more balanced view of how we are in the world. The graphic I’m offering is called The Grit Spiral, and I developed it listening to the many needs of clients across industries.
Spirals are everywhere. The Fibonacci equation shows them in nature in shells, in the seeds of flowers, in bee colonies, and even in storms. The relationship between the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence is called the golden mean, and many claim you find it in the greatest art as well.
We often use the word “spiral” as a verb to describe a downward descent— think: spiraling into despair. Or spiraling out: think “of control.” But spirals can move inward as well as outward, and describe progression or growth just as well.
The GRIT SPIRAL suggests hope and restoration, the moving in and our of where we need to be for our own health and contributions in the world, and it describes the creative energy in which we connect and contribute as we move outward. Along the journey are those pieces that are necessary to maintain and build that creativity. The Grit Spiral is the reminder that we live and work in a continuum, and that continuum builds on itself. We spiral out to innovate and create. But the inside, the core, of this spiral must be built, and maintained.
Two notable personalities I follow publicly took summer breaks this year: Brene Brown and Susan Cain, who both disappeared (with warning) from social media— for the whole summer! Imagine that. Taking a break! I couldn’t imagine. I can’t imagine. I need to imagine. We ALL need to imagine. How does it look to turn off what is asked of us? To go inside the grit spiral, all the way in, so that we can come back out to do the work ahead stronger?
A new book releasing shortly is called Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto. The author, Tricia Hersey, contends that rest is resistance, to the increasing demands of the world, to generational trauma, and for her experience as a black woman, to racial trauma as well. Her framework is spiritual and her arguments are political— and here I was about to write “but they apply”— and instead I’ll write AND they apply, to all of us in a time we are out of necessity and inspiration looking for a way to be in this world and work in a healthier way for ourselves, those we love, those with whom we work, and the rest of this wide and wonderful world.
As leaders, we sometimes have to help our people take this rest, take the opportunity to go inside, to gather strength.
This past few months have been exciting, but also consuming for our family’s move over the ocean. The paperwork challenges requiring separation for a month while my husband went back to await his visa, and now for an indefinite period (hopefully much shorter) while I await mine, have put a strain on our family, and changed a number of plans. It’s been, frankly, tough.
During this time of required separation, I’m working on moving inward so that I can move outward with greater ability. I reached out to connect with friends and colleagues in Boston which has been a true breath of fresh air. I found an Air BnB in the middle of New Hampshire, in Robert Frost territory. I’m sending this newsletter from that Air BnB.
It’s quiet. The birds and squirrels outside are scurrying for fall. The leaves are just past peak this far north, but still stunning in reds and yellows. It’s been time to work, and time to write, and time to rest. It’s not been proper rest, but in a new space, I’ve found new energy, and in removal from other requirements (as much as I miss my family), it’s allowed more focus than I’ve had for some time.
How can you use The Grit Spiral to take care of yourself? How can you offer it to those who work for you, and help take care of them?
A few things I love:
James Gleick shares thoughts on genius relative to Newton and Feynman on The Well. The video is short and asks: what’s different in genius? Gleick’s answer: The ability to concentrate and stay the course. (I think that’s a decent part grit— what about you?)
More publication news:
Two collections to which I had the honor to contribute have been recently released, and both should be just amazing. The first is Beyond Their Limits of Longing, a compilation of veterans writing on WWI. I contributed a piece about the war in Italy in the Dolomites, having just returned from a trip there with my husband on our tenth anniversary.
The second is very much of the moment. Rumors, Secrets and Lies is a collection of poetry on women’s bodies and loss and all that is connected to the intimacy of bearing children. My poem about miscarriage is included in this collection, alongside poets such as Ellen Bass and Naomi Shihab Nye.
Finally, a lyric essay I wrote some time ago and have more recently revisited and revised, “Holding Breath,” was awarded Honorable Mention in this year’s Music and Words creative nonfiction contest at Peauxdunque Review; it was additionally selected for publication. This is a lyric essay about music and its power that has always had deep meaning for me. Stay tuned for more information on when it will appear in print.
Facing the Wind along with you,
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