Stepping into your power doesn't come free.
Recently one of my coaching clients spoke to me of her yearning to step more boldly into her business, but her family members oppose her, and she is scared of what it might cost her to upset them.
We often aren’t told that starting a business is more than just a financial risk; it can also threaten your personal relationships. The way the entrepreurial process changes you can feel like a threat to people you’re close to. They might not want you to live life differently than they did. Or have less time and attention to give them. Or shine that bright.
So how committed are you to unfolding, not just your business venture, but your SELF? How passionate are you about your vision? Do you believe you DESERVE to pursue it? A controlling mother-in-law is no small obstacle. Or an unsupportive husband. Or a scornful friend. Do YOU believe in what you have to offer in this world through bringing your business to birth?
Gina Din was recently quoted as saying, “Most of what we want to achieve is only available outside our comfort zone.” But that may be outside the comfort zone of the people in your life, too—so you may end up handling not only your own fears and challenges, but those of your loved ones as well.
With some people, you’ll have the opportunity to get creative about finding ways to enroll them in supporting you (usually by showing how it benefits them). But others—and you all know someone like this—just aren’t going to support you, ever. Instead, they give you the opportunity to decide how committed you are to your SELF.
Here’s what I said to my client. I told her, this is not a small concern. Rocking the boat can have a very unpleasant impact in your life; you’re right to be apprehensive.
But at the end of the day, you’re going to suffer either way. If you upset the people who are close to you, they may unleash some very unpleasant consequences into your life. But if you see your own potential and turn away in the name of keeping other people comfortable—that is a sort of death.
So, ladies, the question is, how will you choose to suffer?
You can keep the peace, and suffer by passing up your own possibility. Or you can bet on yourself, and suffer the disapproval of people around you. Either choice will cost you something you value. You have to choose which kind of suffering you are willing to live with…then go all-in with the choice you made.
Starting your own business is going to bring you face to face with your biggest fears. It’s not a smooth emotional path. But if your spirit is calling you to be someone bigger, someone more than you have been before—you can’t say no to that and thrive.
So take a good look at the way your relationships could be impacted. Do your best to enroll your loved ones in supporting you. And if they won’t, choose whether you’ll keep going anyway.
As one woman to another, my advice is: go all in. Commit to your potential. Let your life speak for itself, kick butt with your business, and become the biggest, boldest, best version of YOU.
Ten years ago, on April Fool’s Day, I eloped with a man I knew I didn’t belong with. We thought we were being so clever, getting married on April Fool’s Day. Two years later, we divorced…so I guess the joke was on us.
As it happens, when we agreed to split up, I had just come to spend two weeks volunteering in Kenya. He sent me an email asking for a divorce, which I read in a little cyber cafe in Kawangware, and I looked around me and said, “well, I guess I live in Kenya now.”
It wasn’t only that the future we’d planned together had just been canceled. It was also that here in Kenya I felt a vitality to my work that I’d spent my entire adulthood looking for, and I didn’t want to let that go. So I stayed.
I spent years figuring out how to monetize my passion work of helping women take agency over their lives. In the process, I learned many lessons about taking agency over my life. I didn’t have that agency ten years ago when I married a man I knew was not my life partner.
But I have it now.
One arm of my passion work is coaching female entrepreneurs. I help them differentiate between their career (where they earn their income) and their calling (the way they came into this world to be a contribution). Nearly all fempreneurs, nowadays, are trying to combine the two, myself included. Women are no longer content to work one job to support themselves while they fit in their passion work in volunteer stints on the side—now they want to support themselves with that passion work. Do you relate?
If you’re struggling to find the overlap between your career and your calling, don’t despair—it’s a journey with many different stages, and if you’re not yet where you want to be, it only means you need to keep going.
To help find clarity around your calling, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- when I was a kid, what did I love so much that I did it for hours?
- what do people often approach me to ask me for advice about?
- if I could volunteer in secret, what would I choose to be involved in?
- what do I love so much that I’d do it for free?
Some of the answers you have might not seem practical as means for making money. But look at what’s behind your answer. Is there a theme? Even if it seems like a stretch, stay open.
All my answers, for example, involve writing and women’s empowerment—and guess what, I’m a writer who creates educational products to empower female entrepreneurs. Seven years ago, when my marriage ended and I started my life over in Kenya, I was clear on my calling of empowering women, but it took years to turn that into a career. And those years were invaluable. Don’t worry if you can’t think how you’ll get to where you want to be—just get clear on where that is, and then take baby steps.
One thing I know: as women in business, we get to go just as far as we dare—so make April the month you explore new territory and take a step deeper into becoming the contribution you came here to be!
Lately I’ve been practicing letting go. As in, getting rid of things. Old clothes, for instance—the ones I love but never actually wear. I passed them all on at a clothes swap. Books I’ve already read: gave them away. Stuff that’s been sitting in boxes in storage: threw it in the bin. The de-cluttering feels GREAT.
I took it a step further and quit a consulting job that just wasn’t a match. I was scared to death to give up that income, but I listened to my gut—and two weeks later I got a new gig that pays twice as much. Coincidence? I think not.
Last week I cut off my hair. I’ve been growing it out forever, and it was dull and drab and I hated it, and finally I realized, I can LET GO of hair that does not give me joy, and find a new version of myself that does.
I love how author Martha Beck puts it: “cave early.” Whether the issue is big or small, if it’s not working, not aligned, it’s always a struggle, just…LET GO. Find something else that IS aligned, and put your energy there instead. Where it can be received.
We had a fabulous discussion about intuition back at our May Fern Circle, and this is how it’s been working in my life ever since. Little nudges of insight that, when I listen, produce simple but powerful results. Results that really work for me, that help my life function better. I never thought of intuition in terms of guidance to give away old clothes or cut my hair. But listening to that—and experiencing the benefits—is helping me respond to guidance in the bigger areas, too.
And the more things I let go, the more space I have to connect with what matters. I find I easily have time to do all the tasks that are important to me, now that I’m not wasting my energy on things I think “should” be important to me but they’re just not.
So if you want to grow in your business, take a look at what you’ve been holding on to—be it tangible or intangible—that you’re ready to let go of today….and see what clarity and opportunities flow in to inhabit the space you clear.
I hosted an event last Saturday during Obama’s visit. It was scheduled before I heard he would be in Nairobi and the roads would be closed. So I thought, well, let’s hope for the best, and I paid for the venue and showed up and….guess how many people came?
Every speaker’s worst nightmare—the event where only one person attends.
Six months ago, when I hosted my first Fern Circle, I marketed a decent amount, then crossed my fingers that I’d get about 20 or 30 people. I got six (plus a few great friends who showed up to support me). I was crushed. Humiliated. It felt like a personal rejection: nobody wants what you have to offer, Anena. You’re lame.
I pushed through the chiding of my inner maggot; the event went great despite the small turnout; I determined to persist. The next month I marketed better and got a much better turnout, the next month better still. Until this Saturday, when I sat alone in my carefully prepared, paid-in-full conference room waiting for a crowd that never came.
The woman I was six months ago would have been, once again, crushed and humiliated. But after six months of events that had ups and downs but always went well overall, I’m no longer so hung up on the details. More importantly, I no longer take it personally if I don’t get the results I’d hoped.
So instead of groveling in shame and self-judgment for the stupidity of believing anyone would care what I have to say, I sat with Agnes, my one attendee, and we had a wonderful talk. She’d driven all the way from Machakos to attend the event! As we shared our stories, I had an aha moment—the women of Nairobi can afford to skip an event, because they know they can attend a different one instead, yet a woman will drive all the way from Machakos with road closures in effect, because she can not attend a different one. Conclusion: the women whom these Fern Circles will truly serve are outside Nairobi.
So, as Agnes and I partook of a table-full of tea and pastries, we brainstormed how to adapt the Fern Circles to outlying towns. I got so excited! I’ll look at Machakos, Thika, hell I can go all the way to Naivasha, Mombasa, everywhere. There’s no limit.
Six months ago, I would not have had that conversation with Agnes. I would have apologized to her, embarrassed, and urged her to go home, sorry for wasting her time. Instead I engaged with her, gave her the best value I could by talking about how I can bring support to her community, and came away with a whole new plan that makes me happy too.
This is new for me. The word I came up with is: “failcess.” When something doesn’t go how you wanted, when something looks on the surface like a total failure—but you show up anyway, you give it your best—and you end up generating a totally unexpected success. A success that required the so-called failure first. A failcess!
I came home happy and satisfied (with a whole lot of leftover pastries for my kids). Did I want only one person to attend my event? No way. Am I upset that only one person came? Not a bit. Because she was the perfect person. And I also got to experience myself as a new person, someone more confident and visionary, able to invite the circumstance to become whatever it could instead of insisting on only one possible outcome. I wasn’t that woman six months ago.
This is what’s so great about the female entrepreneurial journey. It’s never just about your business—underneath, every professional lesson impacts your self.
And sometimes it takes a failcess to open you to the possibility of how much further you can go.
If you’ve read this website, you know I’ve been writing a handbook for female entrepreneurs for, oh, pretty much forever.
It’s finally with the designer. Like, written. Complete. Finished. I am scheduled to begin piloting it in two schools THIS WEEK.
And then, yesterday, I was inching along Ngong Road in the Saturday-afternoon jam, and I realized it’s NOT finished. For a long time I’ve felt the book was missing….something.…but I couldn’t figure out WHAT. Yesterday, out of nowhere, it came to me. Today I spent my Sunday redrafting the format of the book, and I am thrilled with the new shape—it is stronger, simpler, and most of all, more true to ME. It clearly speaks the message of empowerment and agency that I deeply desire young women to hear.
I could wonder why it took me to this point to realize what was missing. But I’m just happy I realized at all.
Yesterday was the Fourth of July, our independence day back in the U.S. It was also day 101 since I went on my wellness diet (no caffeine, dairy, alcohol, gluten or sugar) AND broke up with my darling but not-right-for-me fiance. In the evening my neighbors and I had a bonfire with all the kids, and I sat by the fire and honored the process I’ve gone through these past three-plus months. Putting my life back together has been both excruciating and exhilarating, but the point is, it’s been PROGRESS. Instead of feeling stuck, like I did for so long.
So when I made that breakthrough yesterday with my book, it was the icing on the cake of a whole lot of new ways I’ve experienced freedom these past few months. And I don’t think that’s coincidence—I believe that removing myself from a stagnant situation, and committing to a wellness protocol I knew my body needed, shifted something foundational. It opened a path. I still don’t know exactly where it will lead. But I know my daily life runs on a comfortable schedule now, professional opportunities have begun to flow, my daughter and I are thriving—and finally I have a book that knows exactly what it wants to say.
It feels like magic. But I think it’s just the result of taking action in seemingly unrelated areas and letting the power of authenticity realign my life.
Which, for me, is a pretty satisfying version of freedom! Happy Independence Day.
So I spend a lot of time writing about my feelings (free therapy, people…what’s not to love…I’ve actually thought about developing an online program on this very topic, as I find it SO valuable. Anyone interested?).
But I also do practical work, y’know, and here’s one thing I’ve been working on: I just revamped the About page on this website.
It never occurred to me to do this. I wrote an About page that was, as one would expect, about Fern: how we got started, who my teammates are, what we stand for, etc. Then I read this article from Danny Iny, whose newsletter has taught me a lot about marketing: What Makes a Great About Page?, and I discovered I was totally missing the point.
I rewrote my About page accordingly, and while I’ll still tinker with it, I’m happy with how much stronger and more effective it feels. So if you have a website and you’re not sure your About page does its job, check his article out and let me know what you think!
Now it’s time for me to get back to doing research….which I’m trying to accomplish while my toddler sits in my lap feeding me pretend “sweet dawa” from a “spoon” that is actually a piece of wood torn off a basket…she says, “do you feel better, Mama?” Why yes, my darling, I do. Because I love being able to balance working with momming--building a work-at-home lifestyle that allows me to be with her is one of the smartest things I ever did. (Maybe that should go in my About page too?)
I hope you enjoy the article. Happy Friday ladies, let’s all be and do our best today!
My three-year-old loves Toy Story, so when I think of a 'source of power,' I admit it, Zurg comes to mind....if you don't have small children, ignore this reference.
My point is sources of power, and how we give ours away. I've been fighting (and that verb is so telling in itself) to collect a past-due payment, and at times I am beside myself with the rage, panic, and frustration. Furious that someone with whom I’ve had a long-term relationship is suddenly balking about paying me. Today I was so worked up, I had to get up and walk around the room, more than once, till I was sick of my self for how much of my energy this is taking.
I'm giving away my power to this. To the fear—what if they never pay me? To the anger—how dare they! we have a deal! To the anxiety—what if I lose my home? (It actually happened to me, a year ago, so it's not such a random fear anymore.) And I'm EXHAUSTED with it.
As I wrote last week, this fight to be paid has been good in that it galvanized me to take action and start generating other work options. But in the meantime, my own emotions are wearing me out. Energy I could be using to package new products and generate new leads, I am pouring into fretting and lamenting and raging instead. Giving speeches in my head, where I always phrase everything perfectly, and the other person grovels and rues the error of their ways. Time-wasters like that.
But I can't actually control what happens. I did my part; I did my work. If the other person doesn't do their part and pay me, what am I going to do? Ultimately, I can do NOTHING. That's part of what panics me.
But what if the doing nothing IS the source of my power?
So this afternoon, when I was so upset, I went outside with my daughter, and we fed the chickens and sat in the sun, and every time I thought of that annoying money issue, I reminded myself, ALL MY NEEDS ARE MET. And I decided to deal with this situation, not in rage, but in deep love—the love that I need right now. I will lavish that love on myself and the people from whom I’m trying to collect this money. When I go to panic place, I will do whatever it takes to refocus myself on the work at hand so that nothing takes me away from generating new clients who WILL pay me. Bottom line: I will not fight for this money anymore. I will gently, lovingly pursue it instead.
I'm a woman in business, after all, so I've decided to run my business like a woman. This is the choice I’ve made for myself: from now on, love and kindness are my source of power.
P.S. A few hours after I wrote this, I got paid in full ;)
This morning I had a meltdown. It was seven a.m. and I stood in my kitchen, sobbing, because someone who owes me money has been delaying for weeks and I am so sick of begging to be paid.
Anyone relate to that? ;)
Of course, it’s not really about the money. Rather, it touched on one of my pain points—the fear that I don’t offer anything of value. When I work for someone, and they don’t pay me, part of me is wondering how to pay the rent, but another part is thinking, “oh my god, of course they won’t pay me, why would they? I’m no good at what I do. I don’t deserve to get paid for it. I will probably die in a dumpster, alone.”
This fear is one of my gremlins—one minute I’m a confident, creative professional with endless ideas and energy, and the next I this gremlin starts whispering my deepest fears.
I suspect everyone has these gremlin fears voices. We just keep them secret and hidden, because everyone else seems to have their crap together and we don’t want to be seen as the only person on the planet who doesn’t. So we’re all comparing ourselves to each other, and we’re all feeling like we fall short, and we’re all thinking we’re the only one!
Well, here’s my news flash from the day: I’m scared. I worry constantly that my contributions are not valuable. That there is something wrong with me. That my business will fail, that other people will say, “that’s stupid. No one would pay money for what you do.” I regularly have to silence my gremlins and speak gentle truth to myself instead: You’re good enough, Anena! The world needs what you offer! You deserve to succeed!
So this morning my gremlin got the best of me. Then I sat down at my desk and wrote myself a list of commitments. I commit to generating a varied income that means I will no longer be dependent on one client at a time. I commit to bringing my gifts to birth no matter the obstacles. I commit to my greatness!
Then I called and made a meeting with the potential business partner I’ve been meaning to call. I didn’t have time to go meet with him, but I did it anyway—because once you’ve reached the point of sobbing in the kitchen at seven a.m., you know you have to do SOMEthing!! We had a fantastic meeting, found several areas of great synergy, roughed in a timeline for bringing some new service programs into the community, and voila—gone were my blues! I am excited again, enthusiastic: I DO have something to offer. By myself, I often struggle, but working with others, we can create so much more—and now I have a new goal to pursue that is exactly the sort of product I’ve wished to develop, and partners to support me in the areas where I’m weak.
So I don’t mind having had a meltdown, because it’s what forced me to finally take action. Which, I’m sure, was the entire point. And I wonder how many other challenges in my life I could also transform by taking that gremlin-voice and doing whatever it tells me I am the least able to do?
My little girl turns three this month, and I was planning to get her a kitten. This plan has morphed into getting a dog, and let’s be honest, it’s not really for her anymore—it’s for Mum. I’m the one who will be taking care of it anyway, right?
I joined a Nairobi dog adoption group on Facebook, and last night I saw a great dog posted there. He seemed like a lovely boy—a good age, a good size, and that all-important characteristic: good with kids. I messaged back and forth with the owner, and learned two things I wasn’t crazy about: he’s a high-energy dog who needs to run a lot, and he’s a “good security dog,” meaning he barks when people arrive. For my quiet toddler, I’d prefer a mellow dog to a rowdy one, and for my multiple-family community, I’d prefer a dog who doesn’t irritate my neighbors (and terrify their guests) by barking every time anyone arrives.
Still, Jem’s birthday is next week, and a good family dog is a good family dog, so in the end I told the owner I’d like to meet him.
This morning in the shower I was thinking about marriage. Having just ended an engagement, I’m keenly aware of something I’d never articulated about myself before: I really am someone who wants to mate for life. After my divorce and subsequent move to Kenya years ago, I enjoyed dating around Nairobi—until a year and a half with a man I adored made it clear that my heart is happiest in a committed, secure love relationship, and now I really can’t be bothered with anything else. But man, identifying someone I can stick with for life, that intimidates me right now—I was so sure my ex was my life partner, and once I stopped being sure, I ignored those signs for a long time because I wanted him to be. I wanted the stability and I wanted the love. How can I be sure, next time, whether this is a guy I can commit to for life or just my desperation for security?
Suddenly I thought of that dog. A great dog, I have no doubt—but I don’t want a high-energy dog, I don’t want a barker. In that instant, I recognized my pattern—that I want something, and then I grab the first thing that resembles it and make it be the thing I wanted. This is called SETTLING. Pushing a square peg in a round hole, as they say. I have done that my entire life, with jobs, with men, even with pets! I have such a panicked relationship to wanting, I would rather settle for something that resembles what I want than keep waiting—yet that settling only perpetuates the cycle of wanting in the end!
So I messaged the lady and told her, thank you, but this isn’t the right dog for me. That felt GOOD. Even though it’s just a dog, saying no felt like a powerful stand for myself: I am not going to be a person who settles for “close, but not close enough” any more!
Now I’m looking for the other areas in my life where I can apply this new awareness. What shortcuts am I taking in my business, what ways am I pretending that I have the results I want when actually I’m settling for less? I’ve recently been offered several opportunities that promise good money but aren’t work that I want. I’ve decided to adopt a new way of being in my professional life too, where I no longer settle for ‘good enough’ and block my own availability to do the work that is my calling.
Wanting is uncomfortable for me. But I’ve decided I’d rather make peace with wanting something and wait for it to come along, than keep pretending something less-than is good enough for me.
The other day I talked on the phone with my ex. We were engaged, for a year, and just broke it off a few months ago when all the fighting finally got too much for excuses. When we finally realized this isn’t what love looks like. So we called it quits while we could stay friends.
He runs his own business in the US, and I’ve always played a supportive role. This is tricky now, because it means we have to do things—like talk regularly on the phone—that aren’t normally part of a breakup. It can be excruciatingly uncomfortable—yet growth always comes in the uncomfortable places. I know that.
So a couple days ago, we talked, and even though it was supposed to be about business only, somehow we strayed into personal territory. He made a remark about not processing his feelings around the breakup yet because he has to focus on getting his finances sorted, and I felt so stupid: oh my god, I’m doing nothing but process my feelings around the breakup, I guess this is why I’m not a millionaire, I guess I should stop feeling my feelings and work more. After we hung up, I bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t even say why.
Later I had a walk with my little girl, and two insights came to me.
One, I didn’t come into this world to work 40-hour weeks at a desk job. Part of my work, part of my purpose, is my spiritual and emotional growth. It doesn’t earn me money, per se—but it is no less valuable for me than the work that does. Only by becoming the best version of me can I ever achieve the impact I came to this world to have, or earn a living that gives me any fulfillment. So I give myself permission to spend time with my feelings, turning the insights into useful actions as I recreate my life in the wake of this breakup—this is some of the most important work I could possibly do!
Two, the reason I’m so sensitive to my ex-fiancée’s opinions (real or imagined) is because he stood in—as did all the men I dated before—for my dad, a lovely man who was overworked and unavailable when I was a little girl and just couldn’t show up in the ways I craved. Decades later, I’m still attracting overworked and unavailable men into my life, perpetually recreating a story that I should have outgrown years ago; what was true when I was a little 5-year-old girl isn’t true of the life this 38-year-old woman lives, and I have to stop outsourcing my approval—and, by extension, my confidence—to the man in my life. That, too, is part of my work (yep, the part that doesn’t earn money!). By committing to let that old story go, I am creating a future where I actually choose a partner because we are deeply compatible, not because he gives me the approval my 5-year-old self craves.
So I commit to creating a life that works for me. That means throwing myself with total commitment back into this book I’ve been laboring to bring to birth for the past three years. It means living into my means of service in the world, every day. It means being an overwhelming experience of love in my own life, and in the lives of those around me. Even my ex. Especially my ex.
It means being true to who I am and living the life that works for me. I give myself permission.
Yeah, I don't actually blog anymore....
I used to blog all the time, but it was really TMI, so I finally wised up and took it down. Now I just write about life-and-business stuff, and even that is inconsistent. So lately I decided to cheat and post my newsletters here too. (You can join the newsletter list on the Home page.)