Bestselling author and thought leader Glennon Doyle, in conversation with ICMA President Jane Brautigam, kicked off UNITE pre-conference activities as a featured speaker for the 5th Annual League of Women in Government Symposium.
In her latest book, Untamed, Glennon takes on doubt, anger, truth, justice, love, and perseverance, among other things, and speaks to so many aspects of being female. Here are six major takeaways from the session for women who want to live (and work) more authentically.
1. Stop Doubting Yourself and Trust Your Intuition
Glennon relayed a great example of the dichotomy of decision-making for men and women and how it seems ingrained from an early age. Her teenager was watching a movie at their house with a group of friends, and Glennon asked them if they were hungry and wanted something to eat. The boys all said yes instantly without looking away from the TV, while the girls looked around at each other, silently came to a consensus, and one girl spoke for them, reporting that no, they were not hungry. The moment really stuck with her. Glennon explained that in moments of uncertainty, boys seem to look inside themselves for the answer, while girls seem to be taught to look outside—for permission, consensus, and acceptance.
As women, we doubt ourselves all the time. But right and wrong, or good and bad, are all subjective. They are culturally constructed ideas. So how do we uncover our own authentic truth? Glennon used the image of a snow globe—when we let the snow (or the noisy outside world) settle, the truth is visible. That requires being still (whether through meditation, contemplating deep thoughts in the shower, or just quiet moments to ourselves) and listening to what our intuition is telling us. We have to trust our gut, and sometimes that means turning off the very loud world now and then so that we can hear it.
2. Bring Your Big Ideas to Work and Give Them an Audience
Untamed suggests that there's social conditioning we undergo as children. We’re born these wild, natural, individual beings, but then we start getting messages from society that we must tame ourselves. As young girls, we begin to realize, “Oh, I'm a girl, I have to be polite, accommodating, pleasing, and quiet.” We contort ourselves to fit within these categories. Over time, we have been gaslit out of who we really are, so we’re afraid to bring emotion, intuition, confidence, and imagination to the office. Glennon insists that we bring our big ideas to work, whether we think they'll be shot down as being unrealistic or not. We can't build what we don't dream.
3. Support Other Women and Adjust Your Volume Based on Your Level of Privilege
When Jane asked how women can best support one another professionally, Glennon’s response was simple: “It has to be in the moment.” She said we need to be actively supportive of each other as things happen—in every meeting, we need to have each other’s backs. If a woman is interrupted by a man while speaking, we should interrupt the interrupter and call it out. “We need to stop worrying that we’re overreacting—we've been underreacting for hundreds of years.”
She mentioned another way of supporting not only our fellow women, but also those whose voices aren’t always heard. She said, “If I'm the person at the table with the least amount of privilege, I'm going to make sure I'm speaking up. But if I'm the person with the most privilege, I’m going to be doing the most listening.” A great example of this is the recent Share the Mic social media movement. Glennon and several friends wanted to use their platforms as public figures to help amplify Black voices in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing racial unrest. She and nearly 50 white women handed over their Twitter passwords to nearly 50 Black women so that they could use their social media following to reach new people and spread their message. She said, “It's not going to change the world, but it'll point the world to the people we need to be listening to.” Share the Mic was helpful, but she says the real work is all of us as women getting together behind the scenes as well. We need to approach our respective industries, ask the hard questions, and make demands in the name of justice.
4. Embrace Uncomfortable Truths
Glennon spoke about the idea of racial sobriety that she writes about in Untamed. She explained that racial sobriety is when you come to realize that your country is not what you were taught it was, and within it, you are not who you thought you were. She compared racial sobriety to her own recovery from addiction, having been sober for the past 18 years. It's hard in the beginning—you’re confused, angry, prickly. It takes a lot of listening and unlearning and relearning. There's no way forward until we learn to live in the truth.
Her examination of white women was especially powerful. She said, “Sadly, it almost seems like as white women we make a deal with the devil. As if we’ll accept our proximity to white male power and all the benefits and protections that brings us, and in return we’ll be small and quiet and accommodating and pleasing. We’ll accept the protection of police for our families without looking ‘over there’ and acknowledging any injustice we see. We’ll fight for ipads at our kids’ school, but we won’t look over there and question why that school doesn’t have clean water.” She goes on to say that white women have a lot of work ahead of them. “We have to undo racism in a way that’s less about ‘I’ll show up and help others,’ and more about ‘I have to acknowledge that I’m part of the system.’”
5. Take Care of Yourself Fiercely
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting quarantine has forced us all into a collective stillness. And Glennon purports that there is nothing harder than being still because that is when truth comes bubbling to the surface. We as a species are so addicted to distraction, so now that our social lives are limited, a lot of truth is coming up. Glennon said that during this trying time, she wakes up every morning and asks herself, “What do I have to do today not to lose my shit?” She added, “When women lose their shit, the whole world goes down.” Determine what makes you feel whole, healthy, and alive. Treat yourself like a tender child, and ask, “What do I need today?” and then give yourself what you need. Our mental health has never been more important, and if we don’t look after ourselves, no one else will.
6. Be Full of Yourself
As women, we often try to be as selfless as possible, and to our detriment, we consistently put other people and things before ourselves. But Glennon says that if women attempt to be “selfless” as much as possible, then our “self” disappears. The only reason you wouldn’t want to bring your “self” to the table is if you felt you were bad or unworthy. Women have done this for so long. But right now our selves are exactly what’s needed. We make the world better when we’re out front, when we follow our own ambition and our own desire. Glennon insists that we bring our full selves to the table—and when other women bring their full selves to the table, we have to make space for them. It can be hard to authentically show up in a male-dominated space, but each one of us has to make our presence known.
The biggest takeaway? "For professional women, there may be nothing more important that we take from this time of Covid-forced stillness than the commitment to bringing our authentic selves into the after."
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