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Wonder Women

Women, Despite Being Leaders, Are Still Not Wonder Women- Debora Spar

Recently I was contacted by Jamie Coffey, Special Assistant to the President of Barnard College, Dr. Debora Spar. Because I had posted an earlier review discussion on Sheryl Sandberg’s book, LEAN IN, and the challenge of women's empowerment in the work place ["Lean In, Sometimes," July 30, 2013], Ms. Coffey suggested I might be interested in the unique perspective offered by a new book on this important topic by Dr. Spar, a Harvard-educated political scientist.

Debora’s new book, "Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection," just recently hit the shelves. Throughout the author's personal and professional experiences, she has advocated tirelessly as a proponent of women’s education and leadership, highlighted both in her new book and in a recently published post by Dr. Spar I have excerpted here.

[guest blog post, excerpt from September 17, 2013 by Debora Spar*]

Feminism gave women of my generation an infinity of choices and opportunities to lead. We could cheer for the boys and play alongside them; look effortlessly elegant while chairing a board meeting, performing surgery, or saving the world. And never for a second did we doubt we would have it all. But then we grew up and the life we were supposed to handle flawlessly in 5-inch heels suddenly became considerably more complicated. Today, women are regularly trapped in an astounding set of contradicting expectations: to be the perfect mother and manager, the comforting spouse and competent boss. Not only do we strive to be the perfect person, and the perfect leader, but we blithely assume we will achieve it all. And when, inevitably, we don’t, we don’t blame the media, or our mothers, or the clamoring voices of others. We blame ourselves. Below is an excerpt from my newest book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, addressing the issue:
“Women are still sorely under-represented at the top of the professional pyramid: only 15.2 of the board members of Fortune 500 corporations, 16 percent of partners at the largest law firms, 19 percent of surgeons. Indeed, there seems to be some sort of odd demographic guillotine hovering between 15 and 20 percent; some force of nature or discrimination that plows women down once they threaten to multiply beyond a token few.”

- Debora Spar, "Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection"

This is a deeply important topic - especially for our daughters, the next generation of women who will wrestle with the challenges of attaining a meaningful career and a sustainable home life. Let's continue this critical dialog...

*Please copy and paste the link below in your browser for the full post, book site, and a brief video clip by Dr. Spar:

For more on Dr. Debora Spar: http://barnard.edu/about/leadership/president-spar-bio

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Habits of Creative Practice 2

Runner in the clouds tackling a rocky slope up The Jungfrau, The Bernese Alps, Switzerland
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin now."
- W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

This essay by the Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray expressing his experience of the well-known adage by Goethe (and collected by Steven Pressfield in a little gem of a creative kick-starter, "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles") explores the intertwined power and mystery linked to commitment. When we choose, we accomplish. When we commit, we begin. We commence the steps necessary that take us from intention to deed.

On a walk this morning through lacy delicate white grasses beneath an oyster-colored sky of low cloud, I caught myself in mid-stride solving a particularly tenacious creative dilemma - completely unaware my mind had been on autopilot, tasking through its lists of "what ifs" and "now thens." The thought on the heels of this awareness had to do with appreciating the difference between running and walking for me as forms of mental flex. In short, movement is the physical preamble of deep thinking: a commitment to engage.

In my running, calm inner balance comes from the primary focus on breathing and stride. When that concentration relaxes and falls into a rhythmic groove, my forebrain nonetheless remains actively piloting the run. Like meditation, this single simple focus restructures the overburdened, fragmented mind. Stuff falls to the wayside, big ideas step forward, stress seeps away. On a vigorous extended walk on the other hand, the rhythmic physical groove finds me sooner, and with less effort. My mind leans back, trusting in the faith it has in my body's basic balance (to not trip or choke on a bug), and begins to surf the mental intranet: to observe, page through phrases and ideas, connect the random and mysterious.

The work solution rose far down the trail with a simultaneous awareness of a nearby crow, mixed with new knowledge that hawks actively hunt crows, alongside a mental appreciation for a pine frosted in white, needles encased in gloves of white tulle. A floating transparency linked my body and winter and my movement through space. A seamless knitting together of physical boundaries, a blending; and a gold nugget amongst the gravel shaken loose in the brain pan. I had my writing answer. I headed home. In addition to the much appreciated book solve, I possessed a clear awareness of something new: I run to disengage and refresh, and walk to re-engage and newly associate. For me, running is mental strength training while walking is a free-climb.

How does this unexpected insight impact productivity habits? It says that for me, beginning to engage with work (or life in fact) has multiple entry points with differing yields. Am I facing distraction? Do I need to open my thinking to help myself through a creative block or pace my attention through a long haul work effort? Committing to a run versus a long walk addresses a different need, and the question to ask myself is straightforward: Do I need a break or a reboot, or inspiration and new thinking?

I believe there are similar patterns within all of us linking thought and breath, movement and idea. What works for you?
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Habits of Creative Practice

Blue Grotto, Island of Capri
...That writers are special people. In fact we're most of us quite ordinary, only - well-suited or not - equipped with the habit of art, a susceptibility to language, a practice of noticing, a faith in writing itself learned from reading.
- Richard Ford, upon being asked what he believed to be the greatest myth about being a writer

I love this comment by Richard Ford about writers. Because it reminds me that writing is, as all of life, a practice. Practice involves repetition of process and the techniques of skill. Writers read to hear the music in sentences, and to think in terms of situation and story. Writers listen to the way people use language in dialog and bend meanings and sounds to extract meaning and nuances. Writers pay attention. An abruptly-ended conversation on the street corner catches our eye from the bus: Why did that man smack the other with his newspaper and then wink? What was said? Was it funny? Perhaps not, given the way the other fellow stiffened and inhaled sharply. We suspend our observations in writer's time and space. We lean in for the story, imaginations engaged, shading in the inferences and mysteries of what we can only guess at. Reading anchors our work, our empathy that story is more than entertainment or record, it is understanding. We find ourselves everyday in the pages we read.

But what speaks to me as I begin this new writing year is Ford's first observation: that working writers are "equipped with the habit of art." Which is to say, productive work routines. Habits of art establish the foundations of discipline in all creative endeavors. Grand ideas remain chimeric and unformed - never translated - if they fail to make it to the stage, the canvas, chisel or pen. Projects languish as conceptual glimmers without good work habits: artistic inspiration is transformed by work guided by intent, shaped and layered in the studio into the very thing originally just imagined.

What habits of art in your life need changing this year? Beefed up, edited, tweaked into a better fit with the schedule and goals you've set for yourself? For me, focus this year is on ways to amp up early morning productivity. Never a "Heh Sunshine!" kind of gal, the first hour of the day for me is one of worldly re-entry: fuzzy time when dreams dissolve and sort out their meanings, for stale emotions to reset, mental lists prioritize, to gather my creative tumbleweed "intent" from wherever it has tumbled away to during the night. Once that hour is behind me (usually two mugs of coffee in) I can begin a working day.

The goal is to get through my morning reentry earlier and at my desk sooner. I've explored various methods and discovered a few surprises: morning yoga puts me back to sleep on the mat and an early run revs me up too much, erasing the soft edges of tentative new ideas that bloomed in the night. Why not edit at the other end? Focus on the night before the morning in question. Accumulate less of what needs to be swept clear? Find better productive ways to lighten the content of that early morning drawer?

I'm experimenting with two new habits. Skipping the last hour of late evening news (and all of its upsetting headlines, traumas, and pointless weather repetitions), and substituting in an hour of inspirational reading. Not novels, as has been my past habit. (A good novel puts sleep far away, and when I do finally drop off I dream plot lines and character dilemmas - not a clean slate for morning work of my own.) I've stocked my bedside table with inspirational reading - poetry, books on creativity, great old photography collections, interesting artists' memoirs - material better suited to settling my mind into the right groove before sleep for waking in the habit of art. Cancel the news, switch to a new kind of reading, and hopefully wake with the brain-pump primed.

Let me know what habits of art have worked well for you. Let's get productive!

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Trickle-down Story

The clock doesn't have an amygdala
so it doesn't worry, it tells
its own quick trickle-down story
of now and now and now until
neither yesterday nor tomorrow
is where it should be.
Welcome, traveler!
You might as well stay a while
and kneel to Happiness
and its hymns and its cross.

- Catherine Barnett

As we re-engage today with the world after the long holidays, return to our work and routines, put away the festive decorations and clean up the party platters and fold away the guest laundry, many of us feel neither recharged nor ready for re-entry. The in-box awaits, filling daily. New budgets and projects and meetings fill the weeks forward. We are worn-out with the busyness of the holidays and ready for simple days, yet crave mental space to rekindle both anticipation and energy for a new year.

This feeling is both replete and overflowing, empty and odd, all at the same time. I used to think of this period after the holidays as the inevitable "celebration burnout," but in truth it's about the need to take real time to recharge.

This year my husband and I planned an immediate trip to the Hawaiian Islands after New Year's Day. Many variables in our lives came together to make this possible. No children (all grown) or extended family to arrange for; no invited colleagues, or groups. Just the two of us. With an agenda equal parts work and play, we book-ended the work part with solid days of rest and recreation. A serious experiment in meaningful personal downtime in the aftermath of the hosting and travel and parties of the holidays. Primed for swift re-entry to work but seeking balance to the dark cold hours of our northern winters (which we find depressive and muting), this island week has been a blessing. Much as Catherine Barnett's clock ticking through the "now and now and now," the fatigue of the soul drops away.

More than a vacation, this break has been about slowing everything - including me, work, and the daily to-dos - down to the fulsome completeness of a given, measured day. Discovering what it means to absorb the happiness of the present, its freedom from urgency, planning, and anxiousness. We walk warm sands and talk, float in a lengthening and sustained present sense of time. We hike clouds on a crater and stand in the shimmering sunset. Wake, after deep restful sleep, heartbeats in keeping with the surf rolling against the shore. Experiencing now and now and now what it is to exist one moment to the next as Barnett's clock, "until neither yesterday nor tomorrow is where it should be."

Although we are (happily) at work here in our paradise, the days swell from sunrise to sunset complete unto themselves. And within each day, the seed of serenity and industry, celebration and reflection. May we keep tranquility in our pockets long after we return to the daily grind. And may this New Year be one of gentleness and joy, friends. A trickle-down story for you and yours of days well lived.

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