How to Be an Expansive Woman
Years ago, I was the CEO of a technology start-up. And about a year into the venture, I found myself very, very stuck. The company wasn’t growing the way I wanted it to. In fact, it wasn’t really growing at all. I was failing. It was deeply personal, and I didn’t have the first clue of what to do about it, which was a pretty big problem, because I was very busy trying to do everything myself.
Around this time, I had lunch with a friend who was himself a budding CEO (he’s now a very successful CEO) and I told him that I felt my inability to move my company forward was a monumental failure of character. It seemed I was lacking something. I didn’t have what it took. If this sounds like self-pity to you, well you’re right. I felt very, very sorry for myself during this time.
My friend told me I was being too hard on myself and that I should just have fun experimenting until I found what worked.
I didn’t actually like that idea very much. I was failing! How could I “have fun” with that? I didn’t want to experiment (risking further failure), I wanted THE ANSWER. And, I wanted that answer to be clear and unambiguous.
My friend however, believed that there was no single best answer. But rather, a full range of continuously shifting possibilities that may or may not work out. And he was cool with that.
I was baffled. How could he be so calm? How could he actually enjoy failure? How could he find the will and the energy to keep going, despite the hurdles before him?
I now know that the answer was simple. My friend was in an expansive state.
To him, stuckness wasn’t personal.
It was an adventure.
When we’re in an expansive state, we’re grounded in core values, but open to new ideas, situations and people. From here, we experience heightened creativity, energy and joy.
Think of a dancer. She can’t do a great pirouette if her shoulders are hunched up and her core muscles are disengaged. She’ll lose her balance and fall over. Her chest needs to be relaxed and open and her core needs to be strong.
Same for athletes. Relaxed, chest open, shoulders down, with a strong core ensures peak performance and minimizes injury.
Same for you. When you’re grounded in core values with an open heart, you are resilient. And resilient leaders are by far the most effective leaders.
Excellent. Let’s learn how to enter an expansive state.
First, show up.
The truth is, very few of us actually show up for our lives as our truest, most authentic selves because somewhere along the line, we forget who we are. So, we have to learn to show up again. And that means we have to make friends with fear, wrestle our egos to the ground and then get very clear on what our values and purpose are.
Once we’ve done this work, we’re in alignment with our true selves. And we’re ready to look beyond ourselves to other people. And that means we have to…
Stop your navel gazing.
Omphaloskepsis, or navel gazing, looks like this.
That turned in focus is the very opposite of an expansive state and the very epitome of a contractive state. And it’s risky behaviour.
When we’re in a contractive state and our focus is turned inward, we fail to understand what’s going on around us – at work, in our relationships, and in life in general. Constantly using ourselves and our own experiences as reference points, we fail to gain comparative input from other people. This can leave us susceptible to chasing red herrings and making faulty predictions.
So, lift up your head my friend. And pay close attention to what’s going on around you.
Because the most successful people I know don’t so much set the direction of their lives as. they do listen for it.
Okay. Once you’ve gained clarity through authentic alignment with your true self and listening to and observing what’s going on around you, you’re ready to…
Let go of the patterns that are not working in your life.
The first thing we need to let go of is stability. We’re trained to think of stability as a good thing, but the thing is, too much stability has a way of turning into rigidity. And things that are rigid are fragile. They break. So, the best option is to trade that rigidity for resilience. And resilience is what being in an expansive state is all about.
The next thing we need to let go of is being right. The need to be right or to validate yourself comes from what psychologist and author Carol Dweck calls the “world of fixed traits”. When we always need to be right, it’s because our egos are terrified of what it means to be wrong. It might mean that we’re not smart and talented. In her book Mindset, Carol recommends that we shift our focus from the world of fixed traits to the world of changing qualities. That is, move from trying to validate that we’re smart and talented toward stretching, learning and developing. In other words, we must learn to trade our egos for curiosity.
And finally, we need to let go of what’s ending. Ask yourself, what am I grasping onto? What will I not let come to an end? A relationship? A job? The past? An idea that no longer works for you? A client who’s become more trouble then they’re worth? We cling to all kinds of things. It’s time to trade grasping for accepting.
Letting go of these patterns of belief allows us to become “watery”. Wateriness allows us to adapt and flow and to become expansive in nature. And that’s exactly what we need to be ready for the next step
Co-create a new reality.
If you only take one thing from this blog post, it should be this: Stop trying to do everything yourself. Because the world is too complex for any single individual to fully understand.
Now, I’ll admit that as a fairly introverted person, co-creation is tough for me. I’d much rather sit in a room alone and try to solve the world’s problems. But I know that if I co-create, things will go better. That’s why the final step is so important…
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Maybe, like me, you find it difficult to involve others in your decisions. Or maybe you just can’t let go of the things that aren’t working for you anymore. Or maybe you can’t get out of your own head long enough to listen and observe what’s going on around you. Or maybe, for all kinds of reasons, it’s difficult for you to fully show up each and every day.
You’re human. So am I. And that’s okay.
The true joy of expansiveness is that it isn’t so much a form of action, or even a state of being. It’s a practice. Just as we might have a meditation practice, or a professional practice, or perhaps a spiritual practice, the practice of expansiveness puts us in a constant state of learning and improvement.
And this is what we’re going to do at the Expansive Woman Project. Together, we’re going to practice being expansive. We’re going grow and improve. And we’re going to share what we learn with other women.