Originally published at Take The Lead
There’s the cult of productivity ethic that tells you to do more, always more, for who knows what reason, often to your detriment. And then there’s going out and doing what you really want to do as a human being on this planet, day to day and in the long-term. These are different things.
For some of us, doing what we really want to do is about advancing in our field and wanting to feel fulfilled by our work. For others, it’s more about activism or entrepreneurship, a sense of social responsibility, in or outside of organizations.
I feel like I’ve been trying to figure out what holds women back from starting, just starting and seeing where something goes, for the entirety of my 20s (I turned 30 this year). And then a few weeks ago, it hit me. The systems we’ve been brought up in, the systems we watch and look to for guidance and possibilities – all of these are skewed against us. We’re not crazy to be cautious, to hold back. Moving forward and being bold means trusting systems that historically have not served us, sometimes work against us, or we don’t know will serve us. We sense this. So there’s a reason taking on leadership roles, advancing a new piece of work, or leading the way we want to lead feels like swimming against the tide. We are swimming against the tide. We are working in gender imbalanced systems, predominantly white ones that don’t celebrate, let alone leverage diversity, and it’s hard. We are cautious for a good reason.
But then, someone goes and does something spectacular against all odds or that’s totally unexpected or yet to be imagined and it’s awesome. And it reminds you that doing something, starting, having the courage to start or make a new move at work is really important.
I was just at BinderCon a couple of weeks ago, “a symposium to empower women and gender non-conforming writers with tools, connections, and strategies to advance their careers.” Leigh Stein opened the conference by telling the story of the conference’s beginnings. “BinderCon was my idea,” she said proudly. And then she listed her qualifications for following through on her idea for us to judge or not to judge or think whatever we want about and then she told us how simply by starting, things began to fall into place. She challenged all of us to do the thing we don’t feel quite ready to do.
In the end, BinderCon was a massive success. Stein, her co-founder Lux Alptraum, and their extended team had pulled off a timely, energizing, actionable event with essayist Leslie Jamison and former NY Times editor in chief Jill Ambramson; panels like “The Only Girl in the Newsroom” and “#WeNeedDiverseBooks: The Campaign that Matters for All Readers and Writers” and “Multi-Hyphenates: Crafting a Career out of Multiple Gigs”; and an organizing session facilitated by WAM! Women, Action, Media! During the conference, attendees out-tweeted ads for the Superbowl. It’s true.
This was a highly visible, well-documented example of someone creating something seemingly from nothing. But you don’t have to create and organize a conference to follow through on an idea for a new piece of work in the world, to approach your work differently, run a new experiment, advance a new line of thinking in an ongoing project you’re involved in, or take on more or different responsibility. Whatever it is, whatever new thing you hope to do or are struggling to do or have already begun doing, the key is starting.
For most of us – not always, but often, especially when we’re challenging the status quo and getting people out of their comfort zones – this means swimming against the tide. Swim anyway. Leadanyway. And while you’re at it, change all of your ideas about what leadership even means, power and influence and who’s entitled to do what, and how to get support for your cause. The world is changing and our organizations and work patterns are changing with it.