When I launched my first business, Be You Bravely, after years of being a stay-at-home mom I was terrified. I was taking a leap of faith, pivoting from the world of education into an arena that was, well, not so defined. I knew what I had to offer had great value, life-changing value actually, but the success of growing a viable business was not certain and that uncertainty was terrifying.
During those early days there were many moments when I said to myself, “Kelley why did you not just go back to education?” A job in education came with benefits, a steady paycheck and a predictable schedule. Educational consulting was an even better option with lucrative pay and plenty of client connections. This business I was launching came with none of that.
The personal risk was also overwhelming. I was in an extremely defined role at home. I did just about everything when it came to the boys. Brian and I were always partners but he worked and I ran the household. Our roles were clear and defined. That was all about to change and the jury was out on how it was going to look and feel. In those early days security was replaced with risk and that, alone, could have kept me paralyzed. And, it almost did. Except for the fact that I had a secret weapon to fight my fear.
It was my tribe.
We see a version of this fear in many of our students, especially in the very beginning phase of the return to work journey. But we know that having a strong, solid support system in place is the key to a successful return. For women, designing that support system and being open to asking for help does not come easy. No, we default to being the supporter and not the person being supported. Staying in this mindset can be one of the toughest obstacles in your way when you are going after a bigger, greater goal for yourself. Conversely, shifting this mindset can be a game-changer and open doors that you never knew existed.
I had an epiphany about this years ago when I attended leadership training out in Sonoma, California. The vision I had when I signed up was part professional development and the other part…well, wine-related. However, my experience proved to be far deeper and evoked a life change I didn’t know I truly needed.
On day 3 of the training, our groups were taken to an outdoor obstacle and ropes course. I, having a bit of an adventurous side, was in my glory. I scampered up the zip-line, supporting and cheering my group members who struggled. I attacked the hardest obstacle calmly and clearly, and coached my group members when they froze in fear. I hugged. I inspired. I wiped tears and used self-deprecating humor to put my group members at ease. I was taking care of each and every one of the group members with a familiar flow to my interactions.
It came time for the last obstacle–the trust fall. There was a large platform suspended above the ground on which you had to climb. The rest of the group stood below with arms locked in the ready position to catch you as you fell backwards into their arms.
There were a number of minutes of instruction and when our guides were done explaining they asked for a volunteer to go. Crickets. I could feel that many of my group members were struggling with wanting to go first. I decided that I would take care of them and be the first to go. I figured if they could see that it was not so difficult, and could be done relatively painlessly, then they would be encouraged to try. I would support them to take on the challenge.
I raised my hand and quickly headed up to the platform. I crossed my arms and, even though I could feel the butterflies in my stomach, I fell back and “trusted.” I popped right up into sitting position and began to hop out of everyone’s arms. This is where I had the epiphany, so listen carefully.
Our trainer came over to me and pushed me back down into the laying position. She made me lay there, in the arms of these (truth be told) strangers for what felt like an eternity. She would not let me up. At first, I did that nervous giggle—you know the one. Then, I could feel my brain start to swim and spiral:
“Dear God, I do not want these people holding me.”
“I am too heavy for them to hold me.”
“I really don’t want them holding me!”
Then a shift happened and the words in my head morphed into:
“Oh my God I don’t let anyone hold me. Like, really hold me. I did my best to help and support everyone in my orbit but I don’t let anyone in my life truly do that for me.”
“Oh God, I have done it on this course all day. I have done it all week in this program.”
“I do it everywhere in my life.”
“I will do it myself. I can do it myself” is my mantra.
Tears began to gather in the corners of my eyes and I could feel the bite of the epiphany and it didn’t feel good. I had seen something about myself I could not un-see. My wise instructor could see the shift in my demeanor and asked the group to put me down. The seed had been planted and now it was mine to grow.
With my feet firmly on the ground I could breath again, but the rawness of what had been uncovered sat heavily on me like a cloak. My energy was zapped and I walked in a fog as we navigated our way back to the main facility. This was the feeling of growth and I really didn’t like it at all. I often tell my clients and students this truth about growth—it often feels terrible. I will say to them during coaching or in our course that I actually am secretly happy when they are feel this discomfort because it means growth is happening, and that is nothing but a good thing.
We arrived back at the facility and all I wanted was my bed. Tomorrow would be a new day. I would begin again. Yet, when I woke up the next morning the cloak was still there and the heaviness had not disappeared. Despite my best attempts at faking it, my instructor was watching me. Just before dinner, she asked me to talk and bestowed on me the most wise and empowering bit of advice (or maybe it was permission) I have ever received in my life.
She said to me: “Kelley, when you are a strong powerful female in the world you have to get very clear about who is holding you. Who is your tribe? If you are going after any greater goal in your life and you want to attain it—you can’t do it alone.”
And was she ever right.
So, I say this now to you—You strong woman sitting right there. Who are your people? The ones who have the strength and endurance to hold you? To get messy and tell you hard truths and be willing to support you even when you aren’t so lovable? Not the ones who drain you and suck your energy but the ones who can fill you back up. You need to know who they are and you need to LEAN on them through the return to work process and in life. If you have a goal of returning back to work, or any other goal you are going after in your life, you must be clear about who your tribe is or you will burnout. That I know for certain.
My tribe is everything to me now and it has taken time to build the one that truly fits my life and career. So I want you to hear this, too. This “Finding of the tribe thing” is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It may take some cleaning house, but it is so worth it. You are worth it.