Embrace the Mess

October 2, 2017

If you know me as a colleague or a friend or a relative or as a reader of this newsletter, you might be a bit surprised that the theme of my speech at a Renaissance Women’s Leadership Network event this past month was ‘Embracing the Mess.’ If you have been a reader of this newsletter for a while, you might recall my blog on ‘toe cleavage’ and my concern with actually showing some! Being that toe cleavage was a risk for me to show, I found myself fascinated, as the writing of the speech continued, with ’embracing the mess’ becoming the theme. Mess has been risky in my world. So what was it doing in my talk?

Women often don’t take risks. Journalists, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, write about risk in their book, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance: What Women Should Know. In our culture, the authors assert, men are brought up to ‘go for it.’ Give them a job description with 10 bullet points and descriptors as to what the role entails and if they have 2-3 under their belt, the men apply. Women typically don’t. Because 2-3 out of 10 wouldn’t be enough to get the job, right? Not true. Ask one participant in the audience the night I spoke who said, “After watching two applicants who were complete rubbish get positions that I feel I would have been good for, I started applying.” You go, Girl.

To take risks, however, and to step into the unknown and be seen (eek!), requires we let go of certainty and that doesn’t always feel enjoyable for many of us. To many women it actually sounds terrifying. David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus and Working Smarter All Day Long wrote an article about his ‘SCARF model.’ In it, he speaks to the idea that each interaction we go into is either perceived by us as one of threat or one of safety. And one of the domains in our world around which we experience threat is certainty. Many of us are triggered by discomfort of the unknown. We need to have some understanding of what might happen next and if we don’t, we physiologically and psychologically get too anxious to move comfortably into the experience.

I get it. I am the one who has her airport routine down to a science. (TSA Pre, lounge, loo, magazines in bag, check). So when it comes to moving forward in our work or finding our voice around what matters in a meeting, we don’t always get to have certainty. We honestly won’t know how we will be received or if it will go well. We must embrace the mess, live with the uncertainty, and do it anyways.

For me, this ’embrace the mess’ is a learned habit. As I mentioned my upbringing was quite controlled. For a bit of a visual, my mother put out the breakfast bowls and utensils after dinner in preparation for tomorrow’s breakfast..so this idea that I would say yes to the unknown is something I have worked on hard. My MS diagnosis, my fear of living a life of quiet desperation and the choices I have made not to do so, and the little experiments I do as ‘a consultant who walks into a bar’ have taught me that the risk is often times so so much worth it. It is actually a delight.

As I finished my talk that evening, I shared with the group of women leaders the Ojibwa prayer I say to myself as I go to work at any new venue: “I step into the day. I step into my life. I step into the mystery. Aho!”

And I share it with you here. Step into it. Embrace the mess. Aho!

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at jennifer@jenniferabrams.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cool Resources

Speaking of Women in Education conferences…The Women in Education Conference – Multiplying Success Through Collective Efficacy is Corwin’s Second Annual ‘Women in Education Conference’ and “engages women from across the globe to address gender issues and open pathways for advancement and professional success in education. By sharing insights and experiences in education, women gain the support they need to develop, grow and reach their full potential as teachers, leaders, experts and influencers.” Join me in Los Angeles November 2-3 for this inspirational and interactive experience.

If you are still not sure about giving up on your need for certainty, try Farnam Street’s blog on making smart decisions. “So the rule for decision making in life and business goes like this: The person with the fewest blind spots wins. This means that the first and biggest leverage point any of us have in improving our organizations and getting massively better results is improving our ability to make confident and correct decisions, all the time.”

And regarding my work with both gender and the generations…

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.”

The Queen Bee in the Corner Office: Why Women Bully Each Other at Work “Research suggests that conditions in the workplace might be to blame.”

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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Praise for Jennifer

“In today’s digital world, it is even more important to understand the multi-generational workforce, as well as the complications of having hard conversations. Jennifer’s mind-shifting workshops pull you in. You become self-aware, socially aware, and, most importantly, you are given specific skills and strategies to utilize that empower you to be an advocate for change.”

Sara Trotter, Director of Training, Learning and Coaching
Eton Academy, Birmingham, MI