Last week, I went to a week-long conference in Denver. It was a franchise of an event that started in Austin, Freelance Business Week. And it was fun, and it was interesting. I came away with so many insights, many that were completely unexpected.
I’ve mentioned that I facilitated a session there, and the whole reason I was inspired to apply to do that was because one of my best friends who lives in Denver was also conducting a session. (Along with several more of her badass womxn-friends.) Peer pressure and all. But the good kind. It was something fresh for me, a chance to test a new workshop topic, and a way to see a different entrepreneurial ecosystem. I felt a little overwhelmed and uneasy about being gone for an entire week, but I figured the positives outweighed the negatives.
Anyway, mountains and no humidity.
When I arrived Monday morning, I met aforementioned badass womxn-friends, and in spite of any nervousness about the week, I immediately knew I had made the right decision. Everyone welcomed me into their circle right away, and I actually felt welcomed, not just tolerated because of my friend. That’s kind of a big deal walking into a completely new and different community.
We had a lovely first session, jamming about our future selves in ten years, all the cool lives we’ll be leading and incredible things we’ll be doing. We ate a yummy lunch together and had some laughs about B.O. Then we took a break to recharge, because these things are always energy-depleting, and later, we reconvened for a final session.
I don’t know about you, but I always find it tough to make decisions about what sessions I’ll go to at conferences based on 15-word titles and 100-word snippets. It’s so hard to choose! Sometimes, they’re so misleading and disappointing, and that becomes an incredibly frustrating waste of time. With that in mind, I figured I couldn’t really go wrong with a session that was about strategically building your business. Seems straightforward and probably useful, right?
First of all, the session was actually rather disappointing. No new information for me, and no real takeaways. But I realize I’m further along in business than a lot of this audience was, so that’s not any big deal. I decided to hang out.
And that’s when things got interesting.
At the end of the session in the Q&A time, an attendee shared a bit of her story, a challenge she was going through, and asked the presenter how she might deal with the situation. It was basically an admittedly upsetting scenario where the woman’s friends refused to take her business seriously and hire her for well-matched projects, or even refer her for other business opportunities. The presenter then repeated the question and summarized her response a little something like this:
“So, if I’m getting it right, what you’re asking here is whether women help each other. And the answer is no.”
Remember how I just talked about our lovely badass group of womxn-friends? You won’t be surprised, then, to hear that every single one of us instantly and insistently and rather noisily reacted to that pronouncement. It was actually pretty great, now that I think back on it.
I was like, “UMMMMM. Are you sure about that? I’m not sure that’s the case.” The other women were all, “Nooooo…I don’t think that’s really true for everyone.” And my good friend was pretty much like, “it sounds to me like you need to get some new friends.”
I think about this now, how I had such a strong negative reaction to this assertion, and it actually feels pretty good. I may even have surprised myself a little bit. Because I have experienced women being shitty. Kind of a lot, actually. I have absolutely experienced competition over connection or collaboration. I have experienced women choosing other people over me, going behind my back, treating me like crap, saying one thing and doing another, totally ghosting, talking shit – both personally and professionally. It is a real and very valid experience that some women have. I will never, ever discount that.
But it’s also a story. A story that does not have to be told ever again.
Because I have also experienced women being amazing. Going to bat for me when I least expected it. Recommending me to anyone and everyone who might benefit from meeting me or using my services. Showing up with kindness and support in anything I do. Catching me totally off guard with thoughtful cards or gifts, checking in on me often, and generally treating me with love and care – personally and professionally. This happens more and more often these days, and I will never, ever discount it.
Women supporting women is a real and very valid experience.
And women supporting women is the experience all women should be able to have. But if we keep repeating that tired old narrative that it’s not a thing, how can we ever change it?
If we are the ones telling the story, what story do we want to tell?
Clearly, me and the womxn-friends were all in on changing the narrative. As boiled up as I was, I knew I was about two seconds from going off on this woman, so I kept my mouth shut. Thankfully, my friend the wordsmith stepped in and did a great job of confronting the presenter, saying it best:
“Hey, in the interest of full transparency, that’s a really damaging narrative to tell a room full of women who came here in search of community. I’d invite you to take a closer look at your language before you talk about that topic again.”
She was so calm, but underneath that shiny and mostly neutral exterior, we all knew such carefully constructed language really meant something more like “Are you freaking crazy to say something like this in a situation like this? I’M SO TRIGGERED.” Which, after the session, was basically what we all expressed to each other.
Honestly, I couldn’t stop thinking about the whole thing for about a day. It was tough to process. I’ve obviously done a lot of work in this area myself, and I guess I thought there were more women on board too.
And here I was, smack in the middle of a completely new group of women, who instantly took me in and supported me within the first five minutes of meeting me. It just didn’t make any sense to be confronted with this issue in this space. I kept texting my friend over and over again, almost unbelieving that it had happened. It was just all so shocking, and really, so foreign to me at this point, given the community I’ve been immersed in for the last two years. I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with all the feelings I was having, where to go with them.
The one place I know I can go is here, and the one thing I can do is get clear on the story I want to tell. And then tell it.
That story looks like, “YES. Women help each other!”
The story looks like connection. Genuine interest and relationship building. Noticing when I can support another woman, and noticing when she does the same for me. Collaborating when it makes sense. Always sharing my positive experiences. Lifting voices for all women. And doing a better job speaking up in situations like this when they arise to encourage the self-reflection and work that will ultimately change the broader story and the culture for all of us.
In the end, I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong here. I am saying that experiences like this, no matter the issue at hand, are a great opportunity to reflect, if you’re open yourself up to it. I relate to this woman’s experience on a lot of levels. But I also relate to an entirely different experience. And the value in that reflection really comes down to understanding what kind of experience you want to have in your life.
Who do you want to be? What story do you want to tell?
I always say, “it is what it is” are the five words I most hate to hear, and that’s exactly what this was. In these instances, you pretty much always have a choice. You can continue to participate in a tired and hurtful narrative, even repeating and perpetuating it, typically holding yourself and others back in your own lack of perspective or willingness to change. Or you can make a choice to explore and shift into a bright and kind and human narrative, and to create a different world for yourself and those around and beyond you.
One of those choices is going to be a lot more painful and uncomfortable and destructive than the other.
I’d invite you to take a closer look at the choice you make.
Hey, if you’re struggling through old narratives, I’m here to help. Schedule a call anytime below, and let’s chat about how we can tell your new story.