I’m trying to be like the trees. It’s time to let go of what no longer serves me.
This summer, I made the choice to purchase and read only books written by Indigenous authors. I am committed to my own journey of reconciliation, but I find so much of that tends to be channeled through my work. So I wanted to invest in a more wholistic understanding of our shared history and read both the stories that would help me be better in work and the ones that would fundamentally change something in me as a human being.
My husband jokes that I went to the cabin this summer and came home as a tree-hugging hippy. He’s not all wrong. Being on the land, where the smell of wet earth grounds me, the haunting call of the loons reminds me to be grateful, and the lapping of the water on the shoreline tells the story of how this Earth is one single interdependent being; we are all connected, and our choices affect one another – whether we realize it or not. The land worked its magic. But so did the voices of the authors I read. By the way, if I had to recommend just one book, it would be Braiding Sweetgrass. I loved it on audiobook and on paper. Trust me, it will change your life. And no, I have zero vested interest in you buying the book – I just want more people who can discuss it with me! That said, please consider supporting your local independent bookstore whenever you can.
That book, and the themes of caring for the Earth that transcend nearly all of the books I read this summer, tell of cultural respect for the wisdom of the earth mother. They are not my stories to tell; I really do believe you should listen to the voices who carry those stories in the fabric of their souls. Instead, I will share how struck I was by the magnitude of teachings that come from the trees.
Trees understand that with the changing of the seasons, it’s important to slow down, turn inward, and let go of the things that are no longer serving them. They start this process by celebrating their growth; as their leaves turn brilliant shades of gold, pumpkin and magenta, the forest canopy evolves into a canvas that glows with magnificence. The hues transform as the leaves drop and carpet the forest floor. And then, within weeks, that soft, padded ground is blanketed in the first snow of winter. This is an important lesson for all of us, and one that I have been thinking about a lot recently.
Today is the first day of autumn, and it follows the fall equinox where the hours of daylight and darkness are perfectly balanced. As the nights grow longer, and we naturally turn inward, I am preparing for another kind of transformation. My work at the college is wrapping up while my business is ramping up. I am expected to return to my role within the Government of Manitoba, but unsure of what actually lies ahead for me.
This place of uncertainty carries a certain level of discomfort. That said, I’ve always felt rather stable – even in the midst of turbulence and ambiguity. I carry a confidence that wonderful opportunities lay around the corner; it’s just that I can’t quite see them yet. But even with that belief, I know that there are elements that I fully control, which will determine the course of my fate.
As I write this, the trees in my backyard are releasing their leaves, because they have processed all of the sunlight they need to survive the winter. As they drop their power to convert sunlight to energy, I am inspired to release something that no longer serves me: staying small.
If you’ve been here for a while, you probably noticed that this summer I found my voice. I began writing every day – some days, many times a day. It started with a small change – a little habit of not logging into social media until I had written at least a page of something. That tiny habit has filled two journals, created my first negotiation program for women, and generated about 1/4 of my book on negotiation for women. That habit also prompted me to share my voice publicly.
It’s funny, I was always a person who knew things. By that I mean I knew on many levels – my gut, my feelings, but I’m also a bit of a nerd and so I tend to be a hoarder of random bits of unrelated knowledge. When I was young, I was fearless in sharing my knowledge, unfazed by the prospect of being wrong, willing to be bold and honest. But as time progressed, my edges smoothed and I focused more on providing space for others to speak. Opening doors, creating space at tables. Elevating others rather than myself. And making myself small to help others be comfortable.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with putting others first – and I will continue to do most of those things. But the truth is, I’ve done some incredible work in my career. I’ve led people through challenging projects and toxic cultures. I’ve built relationships and I’ve grown leaders. I have a great reputation. But I’ve always been reluctant to talk about what I’ve done. While the last few years of my career have been a bit more public, I have long worked in the shadows on the side of the stage. I’ve provided exceptional advice, support, and have been the person known to perform phenomenal feats that require the management of people, systems, and processes working in succession and mutual reciprocity all at the same time.
Taking up Space
So this fall, as I wrap myself in warm sweaters and watch the leaves release and fall gently to the ground, I will drink my chai (although I do love pumpkin, I do not love pumpkin spice…sorry, not sorry) and I will focus my energy on expansion. On taking up space. On sharing my perspective and perspectives that I think need to be heard. I will use my voice to advocate for people and issues that matter to me. And I will not let fear of repercussions for using my voice prevent me from saying what needs to be said.
I’ve written before about the experience of being a lifelong public servant, and the bias we often adopt – a bias away from using our voices.
I don’t know what the future holds for me. But I do know – in all of the ways that I know – that it’s time for me to start taking up space.
Now it’s your turn. You found this blog. You read to the bottom. What is it in your life that you need to let go of? What no longer serves you? If you’re feeling brave, share your thoughts in the comments below. If bravery is not your thing in this moment, then make the promise to yourself.
And by the way, if the thing you’re letting go of is getting paid less than you are worth, be sure to join my mailing list, for weekly updates on negotiation, leadership and life.