I am putting together a couple new keynote presentations for my work as a speaker. That world continues to be good to me. During 2022 I’ve spoken at Spirit Aero Systems, Wittkieffer, Medtronics, Pipeworks, Proctor and Gamble, Colas Canada, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, CBS/Viacom, Owens-Corning, NN Netherlands, TEDWomen, and several other companies, conferences, and universities.
I usually speak for 30 minutes and do Q&A for another 30 minutes. Since Covid, most of the conferences have been virtual, but in-person events are coming back. Almost all my talks are about gender equity. A few are about LGBTQ+ issues. One of the new talks I am considering is entitled, “Lost is a Place Too.”
In that new talk I want to say that our problem in life is usually not the thing we fear. It is that which gave birth to the thing we fear. Beowulf’s problem was not the sea monster, Grendel. His problem was the even more hideous sea monster, the mother of Grendel.
What is the mother of your presenting fear, the one you see clearly before you? If your presenting fear is failure, the mother of that fear may be the deep-seated conviction that if you are not successful, you are not worthy of love. That is a fear of many, born of parents who chose to love conditionally.
What is your core wound, the one that follows you through your days? That is the fear you must face by dropping down into the deep, dark lagoon for three days and three nights and maybe longer, until you finally slay the mother of all monsters.
I want to talk about the courage it takes to answer that call, the one you have been avoiding. No call is easy to answer. The first call is always a call to “out there.” It is a call to the high seas. The problem is “other” to you. The first call is frightening, foreboding even, but it is “out there” and therefore manageable.
The later call, the one you have been avoiding, is the call inland. It is the call of Odysseus to take an oar inland until he found no one who knew what an oar was. Then he was to plant it in the ground as an offering to the sea god, Poseidon. Only then could he return to his beloved Penelope and live into “sleek old age.” His trip inland was exhausting.
The journey inland is always exhausting. When the call is inland, the journey is contained within the unexamined borderlands of your soul. It is a journey you must take alone. No one can travel with you.
It is the journey that comes after Dante’s awakening at the beginning of the Divine Comedy: “In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.” It is the call that takes you through the existential pain of Shakespeare’s MacBeth -” Life is but a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.“
The call inland will always be to a place in which you do not think you have the tools to succeed. That is because you do not, in fact, have the tools to succeed. You will only find them in the middle of the battle. Beowulf didn’t defeat the mother of Grendel with the helmet and sword King Hrothgar gave him. He had to let go of those tools. He slayed her with a sword he found during the battle, attached to a chain on the wall of her lair. He never would have found that sword if he had not let go of the useless tools.
People progress in therapy when they answer the call inland. They grow when they take responsibility for their own choices and stop blaming others and stop expecting rescue from them. They grow when they allow themselves to be filled with doubt. Doubting everything is the beginning of wisdom. Tennyson said there is more faith in honest doubt than half the creeds. Doubt is the necessary fuel for change.
What does life look like after the journey inland? It looks like serving from your overflow. It is about healing others from your own wounded places. It is knowing when to step in and rescue, and when to step back and trust the flow. It is trusting your intuition because your intuition is in touch with your soul. The soul resides beneath the ego and its demands for power and safety. The soul is the realm of the inland journey.
My problem is that I am not exactly sure how that will play in the corporate world. Will the CEOs in Singapore get it? What about the executives in the Netherlands? I know the leaders who steer from their souls will respond well, the ones who dream into the distance instead of managing from quarter to quarter. George Washington would get it. So would Abraham Lincoln. There is a reason we celebrate their birthdays and not the birthdays of, say, James Buchanan or Herbert Hoover. Yvon Chouinard gets it. I’m not sure Jack Welch did. Edwin Colodny got it. I’m not sure Doug Parker does. I know, now I’m down in the weeds of specific company executives past and present.
And I’m not sure I get it. I process information quickly and hold onto it well. I know a lot of stuff. Yet I am far too sensitive to all the voices around me, shouting their bad advice. I am prone to listening to the voices from without, not the one from within. If I’m going to get ahold of that, it better happen soon. I don’t have another seven decades to figure this out. Still, I know I have something to offer. I’m like that pitcher that bounces from team to team, good enough to have a long career in the big leagues, but not good enough to land in the hall of fame.
Which brings me back to why these corporations want to hear from me in the first place. I do have one area of unique expertise. I know what it is like to live both as a man and as a woman, and I can tell you with great certainty that it is a lot harder as a woman. Women from all seven continents have thanked me for that little piece of information.
When people want to hear from me beyond that narrow sliver of knowledge, I am always surprised. I’m just not that good. I have gained some wisdom, but not the wisdom of sages. I’m more like the prophet that says, “This is the only way. No wait, a minute. That also might be a way over there, you know, way over that way.” It takes the luster off your prophesying.
Nevertheless, I think I’m going to go with the new offering, Lost Is A Place Too. It may sit there untouched by any willing takers, but then again, there may be a few out there who think, “Wait, that’s just the voice we need.”
And so it goes.