We all hold secrets.
What we don’t realize is how much the effort of holding them can hold us back. The act of withholding requires more energy from us than we know, and can be a barrier to success in our careers, as well as keep us from being fully present with our family and friends. Holding back secrets blocks us from showing up as the genuine, authentic women we are. It leaves us unknown to others, and to ourselves.
In my work coaching and developing women leaders over the past two decades, I have met women blocked and stuck — held back by their secrets, stories and burdens of locked up pain. They speak those secrets to me with scratchy voices, rusted and unpracticed, looking for the “right words” too long buried. In truth, those silent secrets are never really so silent, are they? They yell out to us when least expected, in those rare unguarded moments. Those tamped-down secrets leak into our lives, shaping our mindsets, our choices, our interactions, reining us in with fear, holding us back.
I, too, have those secrets. I keep some of them still. So, I am not suggesting a confessional shout-out from the mountaintop. Instead, when you see a woman struggling, you can say, “Hey, I’ve been there; how can I help you?” Then, if the time is right (for her), share your story, so that she is less alone, less afraid, more courageous.
Sometimes these secrets are big, other times small. The babies we’ve held in our wombs and hearts, but not carried to term. The disappointments in our relationships we might have had the courage to face if only we knew others’ relationships weren’t as perfect as they seemed. The marks of misplaced shame from partners who have hit us, shoved or degraded our souls with words, for whom we’ve covered but then eventually offered good riddance.
How about how unglued we sometimes feel stepping on a plane for a business trip, or how we fall nearly giddy with the thought of an evening alone in a hotel room? We are loved not enough, or too much, or feel out of control, or too much in control. We are sometimes broken, sometimes miraculous. We don’t have time for women friends, but fade without them and miss them like lost fingers and toes.
We talk as if working mothers is a relatively new phenomenon, yet,women of color have been working in this country for centuries, for no, then little, now still unequal pay to white women, yet the plight of working moms became a cause for attention when white women entered the work scene. If we can’t speak openly about that, then there’s no way we can talk about our differences, and possibilities, as women of color and white women at work together.
It’s easy to get lulled to sleep in the silence of the things we don’t discuss; they move to the back, they get mossy and fester from lack of sun and airtime. I worry that if we don’t talk about our fears, worries, secret joys, successes and epic failings, we won’t have the words we need when it is time to speak up on behalf of one another. Will we use our voices for good, if they are out of practice and rusted? Will we speak up in meetings when we could? Bring our voices and perspectives to risky, but high potential ideas? Innovation?
So, friends, let’s make a pact. Are you in? Let’s talk more openly. To each other, to our friends, neighbors and daughters with the relentless authenticity of courageous women, hell bent on knitting together the voices and experiences we share, so that we are all the better, the happier, and more successful for it. Most of all, let’s talk more openly at work, that is where we can impact change the most, where our shared experiences have the most power to transform one anothers experience for the better. And, as we know is the case with women and girls, investing in each others well-being and success at work creates a multiplier for our own performance, for each other, and for the good of our organizations.
To whom can you tell your secrets? Who gives you the courage to speak the truth of your story more openly, so that we are all less alone in ours? I’m ready to talk, are you? Please join Deb and me and our friends here at moms@work, and add your comments, thinking and ideas. We love hearing from you!
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This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.