I let out an audible sigh.
“What’s going on, Allison?” asked my colleague, who was leading a train-the-trainer certification program in which I was a participant.
“Maybe I need more drive,” I wondered aloud. And sighed again.
We were exploring common assumptions about the ideal mix of personality traits that people associate with good leadership, such as: extroverted, assertive, competitive, driven. While this cluster of Masculine traits is what most people think of when they think of the stereotypical powerful leader, it does not describe the actual typology of most successful leaders. Good leadership comes in a variety of different packages.
But this was the least of my concerns in the moment.
It was the last trait -- drive -- that was getting under my skin. I scored low on drive on the personality assessment we had just taken.
Maybe I need more drive.
Recently, when I committed to make a bigger impact with Sophia Leadership, I told myself that I would need to kick into “drive mode.” After all, that’s what it takes to turn a passion project into a material business... right?
That evening, I brought this idea to a business coach whom I was considering working with. “I might need support to boost my drive,” I told her. In the next moment, she dropped me like a hot potato – because she only works with business owners who have high drive. Sigh.
This third sigh of the day really got my attention.
Is drive the only motivator for committed action? If so, why does it feel yucky to me?
Suddenly, a memory surfaced: Earlier in my career as a leadership consultant, I’d had enough drive to turn a request for executive coaching into a large organizational culture transformation project. I focused my energy for two years, trying to heal this sick organization (whose purpose was to heal the sick!). During this time, my drive turned into overdrive. I worked many late nights and weekends, while raising two boys as a single mom.
By the end of that gig, I was sick, too! I spent another two years healing from adrenal fatigue.
When drive becomes overdrive
Is drive always a bad thing? Of course not. Drive is the fuel that most people use to get things done. It can be quite energizing – especially for people who have a more Masculine essence.
However, when drive is overused and ego-infused, it becomes toxic – especially for people like me, who have a Feminine essence.
I realize now that I threw myself into that consulting gig not only because it was urgent and important (we were saving people’s lives!), but also because my ego wanted to a hyper-Masculine corporate culture and trying to prove that I was good at my job. This was extremely costly.
For many women, running on overdrive -- in other words, running too much Masculine energy -- is like running diesel fuel through a regular engine. We can do it for awhile, but it’s not sustainable. It’s draining instead of energizing. It’s not life-giving.
So after healing from adrenal fatigue, I shifted out of drive mode. I’ve brought other things to the table -- competence, intelligence, intuition, compassion, and a high value for excellence. With these golden nuggets, I’ve done great work without making myself sick.
Yet, drive remains deeply embedded in our culture as the only way to be successful in business. So as I pondered how to give my life energy to my fledgling business, the question came up again: How will Sophia Leadership fulfill its mission if I don’t drive it?
I took this inquiry into my meditation, praying for guidance from Sophia.
We are called to devotion
“More devotion,” Sophia answered, quite fiercely (the Sacred Feminine is not always soft!)
As I see it, devotion is more than just the Feminine counter-balance to drive. In polarity terms, “driving to make things happen” (Masculine) is often paired with "allowing things to emerge" or "embracing what is" (both Feminine).
Devotion seems to be at another level entirely.
Sophia was suggesting a profound shift in the way I was relating to my work, and the energy that I bring to it. She was showing me that Sophia Leadership is its own thing, its own entity. She was very clear that Sophia Leadership is not in service to my ego; I am in service to it.
She showed me who’s really in charge.
Let's take a moment now to feel into the energies of drive and devotion:
Drive: Vigorous course toward a goal or objective.
Devotion: Love, worship, an act of prayer.
Can you feel the difference?
Sophia was suggesting that I check my ego at the door and step into Her temple, with an air of reverence. She wanted me to open my heart, surrender to Her guidance, and release my attachment to the outcome.
She was asking me to relate to my work as an act of of devotion, an act of prayer.
An active prayer.
I may not be able to live up to such a big ask, but I’m incredibly motivated to try.
What I’m talking about here is more a shift in consciousness than a shift in behavior. In business, the behaviors that flow from devotion might look similar to behaviors that flow from drive: making decisions, tending tasks, tracking results.
But the energy is entirely different.
The energy of devotion arises in the heart center and is sourced in Love. It generates gratitude and joy. Devotion is life-giving.
On our little Sophia Leadership team, we like to imagine that with the completion of every task, we are laying a flower upon Sophia's altar. We are creating Beauty, and expanding Love.
How would your life change if your work became an act of prayer… an active prayer... Devotion?
When my youngest son was a baby, I carried him around with me while tending to the millions of tasks that a busy working Mamma tends to.
I also carried frustration, disappointment, and pain. I was trying to figure out how to get out of an abusive marriage, and worrying about the harm divorce might do to my precious little ones.
My little boy frequently put his chubby hands on my face, gently turning turned my gaze away from whatever I was focused on... and toward his big brown eyes.
It was as if he was trying to say, "Stop looking over there. Come back to Presence. Look into the eyes of Love."
And it worked, every time. His simple gesture brought me back to the present and opened my heart to Love.
It also reminded me of the generative nature of attention: In every moment, we have a choice about where to put our attention and what kind of energy we create in ourselves, and in the world around us. We can choose to focus on the closure (what's not working or life-affirming), or we can choose to focus on the opening (what gives Life).
And that makes all the difference.
Last week, I was gifted with another opportunity to practice. I noticed that my attention was fixated on a closure: My feelings of frustration and disappointment as yet another affiliation with a consulting firm fizzled out... and the familiar story that I'm not seen, valued, or supported; that there isn't enough nourishment for me here.
It's an old pattern, my cross to bear in this lifetime.
It's compelling. And bitter, poisonous.
So my practice was this: Each time I found my attention drawn toward the poison, the closure, I gently turned my gaze toward the opening.
The opening is a much more life-affirming story that I know in my heart to be true:
This professional affiliation was meant to be a transitional relationship, not a long-term marriage. It was a gift, given at just the right time. It allowed me to follow my inner guidance, which had told me to put Sophia Leadership down for a nap, gather my energy inward, and focus on my health through two hip replacement surgeries.
Now, as my body is healing, I feel a bright, vibrant Life energy stirring in me. I'm beginning to look outward again. And Sophia Leadership is waking from her slumber.
With regard to my professional affiliation, it's clearly time to close this door and open a new one that will be a better match for what is unfolding now.
What is unfolding now is quite extraordinary. Recently, I was invited to present the Sophia Leadership model at a prestigious institution that is renowned as one of the best in the field of leadership development. A colleague had referred me to this organization, which expressed interest in bringing me on to its faculty. They wanted to hear my thoughts about women's leadership, so the presentation was included as part of a broader hiring process.
Wow! That is a big opening.
And yet, as I was preparing my presentation, I noticed that my gaze was focused on the closure. Bitterness was spreading through my system.
Then I felt a hand on my cheek. Guidance reminded me, "Stop looking over there. Come back to Presence. Look into the eyes of Love."
Ah, yes. Thank you.
As I was driving to deliver the presentation, I focused intently on the opening and held my gaze there.
I told myself: "This is an incredible honor. I get to be Sophia's messenger! I have been given the assignment to introduce Sophia to a group of people who have tremendous influence over senior leaders all over the world, leaders who need her Love. This is so much more important than whether or not I get the job."
I bowed in reverence and offered my deep gratitude for the opportunity. I laid my presentation at Sophia's feet.
I made a conscious effort to turn away from poison and open my heart to Love.
Bitterness gave way to Grace.
And that made all the difference.
Have you ever over-ridden your intuition? Or lied to yourself that you don't know what's really going on? Or perhaps you knew, but then you doubted yourself?
This week, I'm on a writing retreat in Crestone, Colorado, working on a chapter about this topic for the upcoming book, The New Feminine Evolutionary (Flower of Life Press). The book will be published this fall, with proceeds donated to the Pachammama Alliance.
Just this morning, I received the long-awaited video recording of a talk that I gave on this same subject, at a workshop in February. Take a peek here!
I want to share this message with you now because I believe it's absolutely important. So important that I'm willing to share some of my most vulnerable personal history, and show up looking messy after a day of working and dancing.
Here's the truth, in this post-truth world: We need our heart-intelligence more than ever.
It will guide us home.
Now is the time to honor intuition, along with reason. The ability to integrate these two capacities will be a super-power for leaders in the coming years and decades.
And, since intuition is a Feminine capacity, women will lead the way.
Years ago, I would have laughed at the crazy notion that my life's purpose is about cultivating more of the Feminine principle in leadership and organizations.
As a young woman, I had no sisters, very few women friends and lots of men friends. I wanted nothing to do with Feminism or women's issues. I was doing just fine on my own, thank you very much.
In my 20s and early 30s, I operated in a primarily Masculine mode, on hyperdrive. I was over-doing, over-giving, and "handling it." I didn't know how to slow down or relax... Forget about receiving support or melting into pleasure.
I was out of shape, dull, and unhappy. I got a divorce, went to graduate school and changed careers. When my therapist invited me to join her Nature-based personal development program, I was thrilled because I was hungry to reconnect with myself. But my connection to the Feminine was still off-line: I was shocked when I arrived at the first retreat and discovered that it was a women's community. What? It made no sense to me.
I spent the next 10 years taking better care of myself: I practiced yoga, slept on the earth, and dove into my spiritual practice. I had never felt so alive! People kept telling me that I glowed with the radiance of the Divine Feminine. I liked hearing that, but I had no idea what they were talking about.
Then in my mid-40s, I came crashing down again. I'd been working so hard in my new career as a management consultant that my energy was depleted. Even though I loved the work, my efforts to push myself, prove myself, and make money had taken a toll. I fell ill with adrenal fatigue and suffered from a painful mis-alignment in my spine (read: misalignment in my life).
Without adrenaline as a source of energy, I was forced to reduce my work load and slow down. I signed up for an advanced yoga program – again with a women's community! – but I mostly avoided class because I felt so crappy. And I still wasn't used to being in a group of women.
One day, I arrived at the studio in tears, hoping to meditate and then disappear before anyone saw me. My teacher grabbed me in the hallway, put her arm around me, and said, "Stay. You don't have to do the class. Just lie down under the tree by the window and we will practice for you." Then she kissed my neck and whispered, "You cannot heal this on your own. Let your sisters love you through it."
I cried with gratitude and relief. And I managed to let my sisters love me through it.
I discovered that the true source of my energy cannot be depleted, and is not actually mine. It flows through me – and you and all of us – from the divine. The true source of our power is inexhaustible because it comes from the source of Life itself.
And that source is Feminine.
The journey to give up my hyper-Masculine ways and allow Feminine wisdom and power to flow through me has produced amazing results in my life, and I continue to learn more every day. I'd love to share these gifts with you.
If you've "hit a wall" with too much Masculine, or feel a deep longing to reconnect with the Feminine in your life, you're not alone. I am here to love you through it.
To your joy and freedom,