Me Too

After the news came out that Harvey Weinstein had been sexually harassing and/or molesting women for decades, a Facebook campaign started among women, with millions posting “Me Too” if they had been victims of harassment or assault. I wasn’t surprised that most women chimed in. Many shared horrific stories from “casting couch” job interviews to date rape. I felt incredibly lucky that my experiences in comparison were so minor. I was fortunate that I had an innocent and protected childhood and no one tried to harm me – thank God, although it’s amazing how many women, including former clients, have had that experience.

My first experience with creepy men was when I was in high school and would hang out at the community theatre production my older sister was in to watch the final part of rehearsal. There was a good-looking actor, clearly a playboy among the ladies, who was always complimenting me on my looks. I didn’t mind being called pretty, but his comments seemed menacing in a way that I didn’t understand. He would look at me in a sexual way, check me out all over, and then say in a deep, sexy voice, “Just you wait.” Every time I saw him, he said that. I knew that he was flirting with me, which I found strange, because he was over twice my age and not remotely attractive to me, but every time I saw him he made the same comment. I didn’t know what the words meant– I was an innocent 15 year-old– but I knew that the way he acted made me very uncomfortable.  He was, after all, almost my dad’s age. But I think from his perspective, he was a handsome 35 year-old and since he could have anyone he wanted, he figured he could have me too, as soon as I turned 18. I finally had had it and asked him one night, “What do you mean by ‘Just you wait'”? All of sudden, the normally suave and articulate actor started to stammer and stutter, and I knew for the first time that I had protected myself from something that was not okay. After that, he stayed away from me.

I also had a choir director I went on long summer tours with, and the girls in the choir, many of whom were very pretty teenagers, took turns sitting on his lap. I never felt anything inappropriate beyond that, but looking back, that was not okay. I realized even then that if you wanted favor with the good-looking thirty something choir director, you sat on his lap. Ten years later, I found out that he had been kicked out of the church for having sex with the minister’s daughter, one of the girls in my choir who was on those choir tours. It was unclear if he had really done it, since it was his word versus that of a troubled teen looking for attention, so who knows what really happened. But looking back, allowing young girls to sit on his lap, if they were pretty and good singers and wanted the better solos, was just plain wrong. I’m so grateful that nothing happened, but I learned early on that older men expected pretty girls to make them feel better about themselves, and that was sometimes the price to getting what you wanted.

Even though I was never assaulted, I did get a bit of sexual harassment, in the form of a good-looking associate at the law firm I worked out who told me that I should enter a wet t-shirt contest because I would win. I also had a record producer make it clear that he “wanted to make me a star” but apparently there were a lot of strings attached, which I wasn’t willing to go along with, like riding on his motorcycle and then “looking at his record collection” at his place. And I had a well-known voice teacher who was well into 80’s try to feel me up while I was singing, thinking it was all right since he was “important.” I never went back.

Now that I’m a coach and work with many female clients who are 30 and forging their careers and navigating love and relationships, it’s disheartening that nothing has changed. Even though there is greater awareness about sexual harassment and assault, women are still having to twist themselves into pretzels to get along and not offend, which is so diminishing and exhausting.  I see so many women who make statements that sound like endless questions and who apologize constantly, to make themselves seem smaller and less threatening.  I recently had a gay male priest at a church we used to attend, accuse me of being “deeply unhappy” just because he disapproved of a political comment that I made. Shame is a great poison– don’t attack the idea, but instead diminish the woman. But standing up to that is what makes it stop. I told him, “Why exactly would you think that I’m deeply unhappy just because you disagree with what I said?” And like the handsome actor from my teenage years who stuttered when I confronted him, this priest did the same. What he couldn’t say was that he felt better about himself if he could diminish another person. He clearly wanted women to stay quietly in their place. That might have been allowed in 1817, but not 2017.

To find your world stage, reclaim your voice, which means speaking out against harassment and abuse and belittling and shaming.  Go to http://www.worldstagecoaching.com and sign up for my free PDF called “5 Key Ways to Find Your Voice” and try the action steps suggested. It’s time we start speaking up and claiming our very own world stage. We don’t need permission to know that we are allowed. It’s time.

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Wheat vs. Chaff

In the Bible, John the Baptist uses the image of needing to separate the wheat from the chaff, to determine who is worthy of heaven or not. The phrase has evolved in a more secular way to mean that it’s important to separate what is good or necessary from what is not. But this is what so many of us struggle with. In this complex, 24/7 go-go culture, with stimuli coming from everywhere, it’s not so easy.
That’s what I thought until my son got really sick last weekend. In the blink of an eye, my normally healthy 12 year-old, went from happily playing to doubled over in pain.  Within two hours of his very first hint of pain, he couldn’t even walk. My athletic, energetic boy was crawling to the door, until my husband picked him up like a baby and carried him to the car. Less than four hours after we arrived at Boston Children’s Hospital, surgery had begun. Two hours later and well after midnight, the surgery was successfully completed.  I’ve never felt so relieved that it was over and he was safe.
But a funny thing happen; things started to become crystal clear for me. I had been struggling for some time to clarify who my friends were, making excuses for the “busy” friends who never call. But in a crisis, it all makes sense. People either show up or they don’t. My parents, who are amazing, dropped everything and drove down to stay with me and help out for four days and nights, since my husband needed to fly to Japan on business for a week. My friend Lorraine called me at the hospital and asked what she could do. Did I want a visitor? Could her son, who is my son’s friend, get homework?  He ended up enlisting most of the 7th grade in making cards, even though many middle schoolers feel that they are past the card-making days. But my son got homemade card after card from girls and boys, with drawings, jokes, funny sports clippings, science puzzles, and effusive lines like “We miss you so much!” Every day he read them and I’m sure it’s why he is healing so well.
In addition, my friend Ann texted her husband to come visit us in the hospital and he cheered us up by explaining exactly what they do in an appendectomy. My friend Meghan emailed a number of times and asked what she could do, and later in the middle of her two weeks of “service” as a doctor on call in the hospital– which is 24/7 work– she picked up a balloon and card and had her son drop it off, to my son’s delight. My friend Alysa called and emailed and offered to pick up groceries. Val contacted me, even though her son had had a liver transplant only weeks before, to check in. Leslie came by with her son with cookies and funny stories. Heena and her son came by with a cute card and a much-needed visit. Both Alison and Joel sent sweet texts. My friend Carol called and emailed and we caught up by phone. Riya and Hattie sent nice emails. Paula emailed her concern and followed up a few times. And teachers emailed their concerns and best wishes.
The best thing about a crisis is it really does help you to separate the wheat from the chaff. All these friends, some of whom I am closer to than others, were the wheat, the healthy part that is nurturing. But some sadly ended up showing themselves to be the chaff, including one “friend” from college who, in spite of my trying to connect with him for the past 6 weeks, well before my son’s incident, just couldn’t be bothered to return my emails or calls. When I finally texted, after my son’s surgery, he responded with a promise to connect the next day, which never happened. Before, I had been fretting that maybe I should take this personally. But after my son’s surgery, it was clear as day, that this was not about me. This was his problem and I was needing to move on. I no longer had time for the chaff in my life.
And there were other things this week. Spending joyful time with my parents matters, while catching up on bills can wait. Snuggling my kids matters, but cleaning up my messy office can wait. Watching a good movie or a funny show matters, but responding to all 130 emails like I had a gun to my head, just doesn’t work for me. Most people will just have to wait. Spending time outside in this glorious fall weather?  Yes please.  Spending one more second wondering why a non-friend doesn’t call? Nope.
To find your world stage, remember that your time and energy are precious. None of us knows when we could go from fine to doubled over in pain, needing surgery.  Seize the healthy days you have and when crisis does come, as it does for all of us, remember to separate the wheat from the chaff.  You’ll see that it’s really easy to do when you focus truly on what matters.
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Fake News

In this current political climate of Fake News accusations, it is useful to identify where in our lives we have our own version of fake news. Until this election, it never occurred to me that there was such a thing as truly fake news, but now that we know Russia tried to interfere with American elections, it’s a sobering reality. We’ve always known that advertising was fake in the sense that words are used to manipulate us into buying products we don’t need, by identifying problems we don’t have and solutions we can’t afford. But fake news exists even closer to home. The newest thing is that businesses are now calling themselves “communities” so that customers will feel compelled to give of their time to help the business. This is very common among businesses catering to coaches growing their businesses. The fact is, if you are buying a service, you have no obligation to help that business. And yet we feel compelled to, because we want to be part of a community. Schools do the same things. One of my kid’s schools tries to hook in parent volunteers by providing “opportunities” to be part of community and give school tours for free or host a student. Given what we’re paying for private school tuition, this is a big ask. This would actually be a favor, not an opportunity. But it’s spun in such a way to make it sound like the school is doing you a favor.

Churches do this too, making you feel that all are welcome and that they care about your needs and opinions. But after trying out multiple churches over the years, none of which felt right after a while, I’ve come to realize that the pattern is the same. You attend a few times, and then the requests for your time and money come in and never stop, but you need to walk on eggshells if you disagree with the priests. And if you have ideas that conflict with what the leadership wants, you will be attacked for not fitting in, even though “everyone is welcome.” We left our last church a few weeks ago because the priest was offended that I had different political beliefs than he did and sent me a very angry email, lashing out at me for having a different view. It was not clear initially, but became clear, that he is part of a radical far left movement that is so extreme, there is no room for any other way of being or thinking. I realized that this church was delivering fake news; it wasn’t about Christianity but socialist politics. We left, and we’ve never felt more relieved.

I noticed in this day and age of sound bites and tweets and social media posing, it’s hard to know if someone is telling the truth. We have a president who lies constantly and congressmen who are getting hand-outs so that they will vote against most Americans’ interests. It’s hard to trust that any politician is telling the truth. This ends up trickling down to day-to-day interactions. I’m amazed by how many people think it’s okay to just not return emails or calls, and their excuse is that they’re busy. I love the idea of “He’s Just Not That Into You” to share with my clients who are struggling with dating unavailable men. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but if someone isn’t returning calls, it speaks volumes about them. If a friend or colleague is ignoring you or disrespecting you, but comes up for all sorts of “spin” for why that is happening, remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous words: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” Actions do in fact speak louder than words.

To find your world stage, notice the fake news in your life, the times you’re being told something that you know is a lie, the times when the truth is being spun or when you’re being sold a false bill of goods. All you have to do is listen to your gut. And once you know what is the truth, then you will know how to proceed.

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Politically Correct?

There has been a growing trend toward political correctness and claiming victimhood that is disturbing. I just read recently that many districts across the country are insisting that student as young as kindergarten are being asked to pick which pronoun they would like to have used for them. How many of us knew what a pronoun was at age 5? Children in some schools are now being referred to as “scholars” since the school doesn’t want to use the words “boy” or “girl.” Can you really call a kindergartner a scholar? At our local school, the new principal transitioned from female to male and decided to make the curriculum shaped around gay politics and gender identity, even though this doesn’t apply to most of the students. The middle school students are not reading any literature, because that would mean dipping into the white male canon, which is not politically correct. Instead, they get to choose their own beach reads to use as literature, classics like Marie Antoinette Serial Killer.

At our local high school, every student is asked to list their preferred pronouns, even though many feel uncomfortable with this and it doesn’t apply to them. In contrast, my daughter’s private school admitted a transgender boy last year and helped him to assimilate, not by alienating everyone else, but by insisting on kindness and manners. The transgender boy changed in an empty office, since neither locker room was appropriate for him or for his peers, he dressed like all the boys, and he was treated like one of the boys. And that blanket of kindness and inclusion was what changed him and made him feel safe. He was not offered 1 of 64 different genders, as public schools now educate kids about. He was not allowed to push his agenda every day or make everything about him. But he was accepted for his new identity which made all the difference in the world.

Yale University, my alma mater, has now caved into student protests to keep students from wearing “upsetting Halloween costumes”– these are young adults, not toddlers.  They have broken stained glass windows that they found offensive. They have protested until the name of one of the residential colleges, named for a pro-slavery senator, was changed. They have resisted learning Shakespeare and other “dead white male writers,” and insisted on covering up a gargoyle that was offensive, of a colonist and his gun, standing next to an Indian with his bow and arrow. The gun was covered up but the bow and arrow wasn’t. Freshmen are no longer freshmen– they are now called first year, which is confusing because that is the term that graduate students use. (And yet, most females I know refer to each other as “you guys.”) I wonder how long it will take until Yale gets rid of giving the degree of a “master” since that is offensive too.  I’m sure pretty soon students will push to have the name of Yale changed, since he was a slave holder too.

Harvard’s newest venture is that it is banning men from its coed gym six hours per week because a handful of female Muslim students don’t feel comfortable exercising in front of men. To be clear, this is not in violation of their religion to exercise with men; they just don’t want to have to wear the head scarves while exercising.  he fact is that there are women’s only gyms in the town of Cambridge and there are also women colleges that they could have chosen. So these men are barred from working out some of the time to please six Muslim women. Students have been up in arms, writing, “What if black people don’t want to exercise near white people or gay people near straight people or gymnasts near football players?” What if someone needs to work alone in a crowded office because they are bipolar and need quiet and isolation? Should they be accommodated?

It scares me how focused we are these days on our needs. Dog owners who plead that they need “comfort animals” on flights are flying their dogs for free, and others on the flight with allergies are made to suffer. One woman with strong dog allergies was actually dragged off a flight recently because she wasn’t carrying the right documentation to show that she could fly safely with her allergies. Gay men have rallied against Mother’s Day, arguing that it’s not for women anymore, when in fact there is a Father’s Day for them. I just read that some gay parents are trying to get rid of the words “woman”, “man”, “mother” and “father” because they are not inclusive enough. And now that some states have laws that anyone who feels they are female may use the female locker room, there are incidences happening where men are coming in, not even dressed as a woman, insisting that they feel female, and then showering alongside entire female swim teams. When asked to leave, they remind the pool that it is illegal to ask about their identity. Bathroom stalls are a different thing since there is inherent privacy there, but a locker room brings up privacy issues. One lawyer who deals with sexual predators wrote that these kinds of people will take advantage of these new laws.

Finally, many students today want free education and government hand-outs like food stamps for graduate students, until they start working and realize how much of a chunk of their pay check is taken out. As long as someone else is paying for them, that’s great.  But once they have to pay, it’s a whole different thing. As my dad taught me, “The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

To find your world stage, be the person who is open minded, in a world of polarized views. You will stand out for not needing special privileges, for not insisting that everything be about you and your needs. People will be drawn to you because they will realize that for the first time, they can exhale. And when you read about more and more entitled people insisting on special exceptions for them, please speak up. We need more people saying NO to this. Enough is enough.

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