Get Started on Your Writing Journey with These 4 Steps

Do you ever feel like professional writers belong to a secret club? Some of them certainly seem to think that writing is a difficult and arduous process, and that only a select few people can really do it. It's as if they think, “If you aren't going to be a Writer with a capital W, don't even bother.”

I'm here to tell you that's total B.S.!

Everyone has a story inside her, and everyone has the tools to tell it. The real challenge is taking those first daunting steps, beginning the journey toward writing your story in a way that feels authentic to you. I think of it like an adventure at sea: All the packing and planning and preparation in the world won't give you the courage to step aboard. And, more importantly, once you DO step aboard, everything that follows will feel easy and natural and exciting.

If you're almost ready to begin your own writing journey but aren't quite sure how to kick it off, here are four simple steps to get you started!

STEP 1: Get specific about what you want to write. You wouldn't step aboard a boat without knowing it's final destination, right? Along the same lines, you probably don't want to dive into a writing project without knowing what you want to say. Give it some serious thought, journal for a few days, and kick around as many ideas as you'd like. Then ask yourself, “What do I really want to share?” Will it be nonfiction, fiction, memoir? If it's a personal topic, how deep do you want to dig into it?

In my first book, Unbridled, I wanted to write about a cheater and liar, but also about what it felt like to break out of a confined life. I needed to share my transformation, the steps that led to an unfettered, free, honest life. When I began mulling my second book, I realized I wanted to write other women’s stories, to tell the stories of wives of wounded warriors. I wanted to do more, I wanted what I wrote to matter in the grand scheme of things. I wanted to contribute, to feel connected to a larger purpose. 

If you have multiple ideas, list out one to four different topics that appeal to you. Then make pro and con lists for all of them to narrow down your choices.

STEP 2: Accept the authenticity of your topic. Defining what you want to write is challenging, but embracing your topic as worthy can be even harder. Once you've settled on your subject, it's essential that you both accept it as something authentic and valuable, and accept yourself as the person to explore it. Are there any thoughts or obstacles stopping you from feeling worthy and deserving of writing successfully? What can you do to clear those obstacles from your path? 

STEP 3: Pick a working title. Before a ship can be launched from port, it needs a name. When a vessel changes hands its name may change, but all ships—small and large—are named before they set out on the high seas. 
Choosing a title sets the tone for your own writing journey. Again, that title may change as the story unfolds, but choosing a working title lends a feeling of formality and commitment to your project. Make it official: Pick a title.

STEP 4: Commit to action. This will likely be the toughest part: Stepping aboard and trusting that the journey will be worthwhile. But you must find a way to take that first brave step, and then follow it up with more and more steps. Find the time to write. Start that blog you've been dreaming about. Quit making excuses. Begin journaling. Sign up for that creative writing class. Commit.

I won't lie: This will be hard work. But it pays off and is very necessary. Put in the sweat and effort to keep your writing journey rolling. 

Make writing part of your daily or weekly routine. Put it on your calendar, add it to the schedule in your mobile phone. Chunk out two hours each week, or 15 minutes each day, whatever works for your lifestyle. But don't tell yourself, “I don't have time to write.” If you have time to watch TV or poke around Facebook or get in long text conversations with your girlfriends, you have time to write. Carve it out. Make it a priority. Make an itinerary and a map for your journey and stick to them.

And when you get tired or frustrated and think of quitting, do a cost-benefit analysis. What do you gain and what do you lose if you decide to continue with this project? What do you gain and lose if you abandon it? What's the price you're willing to pay to see this through?

Above all, write like you mean it. Take your life and vision for yourself seriously. If you aren't yet ready to stand at the helm of the ship, at least be a co-pilot in the story that is unfolding for you. If you’re too afraid to get onto the high seas, you'll never know true adventure. Nothing will change if you don’t change. Get that ship out of port, allow the trip to begin! You will be challenged and you will take risks out there, but how you handle the journey is what makes it transformative. 

They say every great journey begins with a single step. If you've been hesitating for too long—waiting for just the right time to take that step and come aboard—I hope this will be the nudge you need. Whether you realize it or not, you are the hero of your own tale. And that tale deserves to be told.

Be the one to tell it.

Caring for Our Fellow Women

Join Barbara McNally in partnership with Kate Spade New York

“Caring for Our Fellow Women”

A Morning of Sweets, Prizes & Book Signing!

Sunday, March 19th

11:00 a.m.

Kate Spade New York

Fashion Valley Mall, 7007 Friars Road, San Diego

Active Military & Wives Receive a 15% Discount on Any Purchases
&
Bring a Purchased Copy of Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife for a Chance to Win a Free “Babe” handbag (retail value $298.00)!

Tell Your Story, Heal Yourself Part 3: Creating the Space for Your Story

rumiquote.jpeg

Many women have asked me to write their stories after reading my memoir, Unbridled, and Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife. Writing these books taught me the healing power of storytelling. While it is sometimes challenging to be honest and raw about aspects of our journey, the more we open up the better we can see our lives from a different perspective and make clearer decisions going forward. Putting our experiences into words transforms and heals.

With that in mind, I'm launching this series of posts on the power of storytelling.  Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Let’s begin writing the stories of our lives whether we publish them or not. In August, I'll be leading a writing workshop for the wives of wounded warriors in partnership with Hearts of Valor, and will dig even deeper into these themes! If you're interested in attending, you can apply here to join Hearts of Valor.

But for now, let's talk about how to create the space in your mind and life that will allow creativity to flow in.

 

Creativity through stillness

If you walked through a mall or school or coffee shop or park, how many people would you see who are doing nothing? Staring into space, contemplating their tea, or gazing at the clouds? With the proliferation of mobile devices and a culture that increasingly encourages us to do something — anything! — every moment of every day, we are conditioned to keep our brains constantly active. My guess is that you wouldn't see a single person on your walk who wasn't absorbed in reading or typing something.

But if we want to allow our creativity to grow and blossom, if we want our inner selves to step forward and speak, we need pockets of stillness. We need quiet time without distraction or activity, meditative moments in which we let our rational mind sleep and invite our creative mind to awaken.

We also need to allow our minds to wander without judgment. Especially when we're returning to stillness after a long time away, it can be tempting to censor or evaluate all of the untethered thoughts that flow in. It's so easy to impose learned meaning and interpretations on the images and ideas that enter the stillness … but giving them time and space to settle is essential.

Here are some mediation and journaling exercises that will help you reacquaint yourself with stillness.

 

Meditation and journaling exercise 1: The language of imagery

Get your journal and pen and set them to the side. Sit or lie down and focus on the sound of your breathing. Concentrate on being in your body, think about relaxing each limb from your head to your toes, bit by bit.

Allow your mind to free-associate. In all likelihood, you will be visited by a stream of images. Some will be memories, some will be fantasies, some will be things you can't explain. Let them all flow through you unimpeded.

 

When one that feels particularly emotional or significant arrives, try to linger there. Let it unfold, explore it as deeply as you can. Then open your eyes, grab your journal, and write as much as you can remember. If you feel moved to do so, continue the action where your mind paused it. Write fluidly and without judging yourself. Don't worry about spelling or grammar or even if what you're writing makes sense. Just let it flow from imagination to paper.

 

Journaling exercise 2: Becoming a conduit

Pick a topic, scene, or story that you'd like to write and hold it in your mind. Then release it and make yourself present in your body for a few long moments. Close your eyes, breathe, let your mind wander. Then pick up your pen and begin writing whatever comes out, whether its related to your original topic or not.

By doing this, you are channeling more than creating; You are letting your subconscious do the driving. The words and images that flood your mind may seem unrelated to your pre-selected idea, but if you let them come naturally you're likely to see deep connections forming. Creativity does not travel in straight lines. It flourishes in the undefined spaces in between.

 

Journaling exercise 3: Tapping memories

Find a photograph of family members, a past lover, or a treasured memory. Gaze at the image in quiet contemplation, allowing your mind to drift into the past. Close your eyes and try to remember the smells, textures, and sounds from this scene. Write everything you recall and feel, focusing specifically on the emotions that return to you. Let go of your busy mind, sink down into your body, and allow the image to work on you.

 

Meditation and journaling exercise 4: Encountering your deepest desires

Close your eyes and concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing. As you exhale, think or say aloud, “I release all fear of this inner journey.” Repeat this thought on the next two exhalations. Once you feel grounded, begin the next phase of this meditation.

Imagine yourself on a long and winding path. Perhaps it flows through the woods or across the mountains, in a place you know well or one you've never seen before. Travel the path in peace until you reach a large metal gate, sturdily locked and wound through with vines. Reach into your pocket and you will find a key, also metal, sturdy, and heavy. Insert the key in the gate's lock, turn it, and watch as the gate swings open. Breathe again, and release your fears. Walk through the gate.

Inside, you'll find a garden brimming with vibrant plants and flowers. Imagine the garden's layout and design in a way that feels welcoming to you; Perhaps it's an Asian garden with still pools and flowing bamboo, or a rambly English garden filled of bright blossoms.

Now imagine a house within the garden. This house holds your dreams, so create it as a place that is beautiful and comfortable to you. You approach the door and find it locked, but again find the necessary key in your pocket. Unlock the door, and enter.

Stand inside the house and breathe into the feeling of having come home. Find a spot, your favorite spot in the house, to settle and imagine a physical manifestation of your soul in the room with you. Many people envision an animal or bird, but you might see a flower or jewel or other precious object. Sit with your soul for a few moments and commune. Then ask it, gently, “What do you want most of all?”

Don't expect a simple or singular answer, but instead open a dialogue. What you hear and learn will not be the only or final answer for all time, simply the one your soul offers to you today.

Open your eyes, and write down anything that floods into your mind and heart. It often works best to begin by writing the question, “What do you want most of all?” Then write everything that comes to your mind, without thinking or judgment.

 

Re-learn trust

Many of us turn to meaningless busy-ness because we don't feel comfortable letting our minds wander. We fear what might emerge if we allow formlessness to take over. But re-learning to trust ourselves and our imaginations is essential to unlocking our deepest desires and essential stories. I hope some of these exercises help you begin to rebuild that trust yourself.

And if you are the wife of a wounded warrior yourself and would like to share your story in person with other spouses, I would love for you to apply here to attend SPA Day in April! By opening up to others you will heal yourself, connect with others to feel less alone, and help those around you begin the healing process.

 

Can't wait to share more on the power of storytelling with you next week!

Tell Your Story, Heal Yourself Part 2

Embracing Both Light and Dark

Many women have asked me to write their stories after reading my memoir, Unbridled, and Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife. Writing these books taught me the healing power of storytelling. While it is sometimes challenging to be honest and raw about aspects of our journey, the more we open up the better we can see our lives from a different perspective and make clearer decisions going forward. Putting our experiences into words transforms and heals.

With that in mind, I'm launching this series of posts on the power of storytelling.  Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Let’s begin writing the stories of our lives whether we publish them or not. In August, I'll be leading a writing workshop for the wives of wounded warriors in partnership with Hearts of Valor, and will dig even deeper into these themes! If you're interested in attending, you can apply here to join Hearts of Valor.

But for now, let's talk about the importance of embracing your shadow self as you explore your story.

Without darkness, how would we see the stars?

Some of the strongest forces in our lives push us toward goodness, being good, striving to be full of light and hope and positivity. We hear these messages from our parents, our teachers, spiritual leaders, writers and philosophers. And of course striving to be optimistic, kind, forgiving, and selfless is admirable and important.

But we all have a shadow side, an inner darkness. And denying its existence is just as unhealthy as allowing it to rule us every hour of every day. 

Leading a healthy, fulfilling emotional life isn't about forcing happiness. It's about finding balance between joy and sadness, peace and anger, light and dark.

My own fascination with archetypes is what drove me to name my foundation for four powerful ideals that reside within every woman: Mother, Lover, Warrior, Sage. Renowned psychologist Carl Jung's fascination with archetypes drove his entire body of work, much of which encouraged people to explore and embrace their shadow selves. He believed that every person is a synthesis of contradictory attitudes, that we all possess opposing traits and the tension between them is what causes us to act. Many of us know our own faults, the parts of our personality that seem negative, even destructive. But without those traits, we would not be ourselves.

Jung once said he thought his worst trait was obstinacy, but acknowledged that without that trait, he would never have achieved so much. His stubbornness made him relentless, ambitious, curious, and driven—all things that helped him become successful.

As you begin to tell your own story, consider your shadow self. Remember that negative traits can have positive outcomes, and that your supposed “faults” are essential to your true self. Let's look at some journaling and meditation exercises that can help you re-cast your own inner darkness.

Journaling exercise 1: Balancing the negative

Make a list of your own personality traits that feel negative. Focus on the ones that you believe are keeping you from achieving your full potential or blossoming into your true self.

Then go down the list and identify which traits are driven by logic, which ones are driven by fear, and which ones might be a bit of both.

The purpose of this exercise is to understand what is keeping you from your true purpose. To name it, claim it, and find ways to move forward mindfully. Perhaps your need for stability is preventing you from chasing a creative dream, or your feelings of inadequacy are hold you back from becoming a bold leader. You won't achieve those goals by eradicating the darkness. Your challenge is to integrate the two selves, find ways to turn those “weaknesses” into strengths. It's the opposing pull between the two selves—the stability-lover and the creative, the timid one and the leader—that gives you the momentum to act. In fact, without the traits that appear to be “holding you back,” you might not be capable of identifying why a certain goal is so important to you.

How can you leverage those “negatives”? How can you tap into the internal tension between light and dark to propel yourself forward? Write down any thoughts or ideas that come to mind.

Journaling exercise 2: Giving voice to your inner desires

Change can be frightening, but without it we stagnate. And your inner self knows this, and has been nudging you toward change, whether you realize it or not. Take a few moments to center yourself in a still, calm place, then answer these questions:

  1. What tiny hints or quiet voices have been reaching you from your own unconscious mind? What are they saying? What changes do they want you to make?
  2. Has this happened in the past? What happened when you ignored these internal signals?
  3. Are you living the life that is right for you? Or are you living a life that someone else imagined for you that fails to sync with your own soul's purpose?

When we feel we aren't living our true life, we often cast about for someone to blame. Parents and spouses are easy targets, since their needs and desires have such immense impact on our own. Their voices may shout down our own inner voices, and cause us to be delayed on our journey. But delay and abandonment are not the same thing. If you've been paused because of other voices, other desires, remember that you can begin your journey again as soon as those voices hush and you feel ready to continue.

Journaling exercise 3: Reasons and fears

Write down something you've desired or dreamed of doing for a long time, but have hesitated to really pursue. Underneath this, make two headings: Legitimate reason, and Fear speaking. Consider your reasons for inaction, and be honest about which falls into which category.

You may find that some of your reasons are linked to other people in your life, that you've not taken action because you worried that doing so would hurt someone you love. It's true that following our inner guides may hurt those close to us, at least temporarily. But it's much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and most families have an easy time forgiving happy, fulfilled human beings. When we walk our walk, the Universe supports us … and in the end, so do our loved ones. Even if they misunderstand or resist at the start.

It's a trap to let that fear of hurting others stop us. When we fall into that trap, we fool ourselves into believing that other people are standing in our way. The truth is, with rare exceptions, the only person to blame for not living our bliss or listening to our inner voice is ourselves.

Mediation exercise 4: Seeing your shadow self

Create a visualization of your own dark side. Pick something resonant and conceptual; an animal, bird, archetype, or object that resonates with you.

Face your shadow form in whatever shape it takes. Try to become comfortable with its presence. Then ask the question, “What is the shadow side of my soul?” Write this question down, then write absolutely anything that comes to your mind immediately afterwards. Don't judge yourself, just let the words come.

When you've finished, read over your messages from your dark self. Say aloud, “I accept this part of myself without judgment. Though I choose to stand in the light, I will listen to the voice of my shadow and learn.”

Your shadow is you

Remember that the darkness within you is as essential to your story as the light. Ignore the shadow, and it will start coming out sideways. You're better off to look it in the face, accept its role in your journey, and make peace with the natural conflicts within.

And if you are the wife of a wounded warrior yourself and would like to share your story in person with other spouses, I would love for you to apply here to attend SPA Day in April! By opening up to others you will heal yourself, connect with others to feel less alone, and help those around you begin the healing process.

Can't wait to share more on the power of storytelling with you next week!

Tell Your Story, Heal Yourself Part 1

Asking Ourselves Important Questions

Many women have asked me to write their stories after reading my memoir, Unbridled, and Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife. Writing these books taught me the healing power of storytelling. While it is sometimes challenging to be honest and raw about aspects of our journey, the more we open up the better we can see our lives from a different perspective and make clearer decisions going forward. Putting our experiences into words transforms and heals.

With that in mind, I'm launching this series of posts on the power of storytelling.  Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Let’s begin writing the stories of our lives whether we publish them or not. In August, I'll be leading a writing workshop for the wives of wounded warriors in partnership with Hearts of Valor, and will dig even deeper into these themes! If you're interested in attending, you can apply here to join Hearts of Valor.

But for now, let's talk about storytelling as a tool for reconnecting with ourselves.

Exploring your inner past

Sharing our stories is vital to our healing processes. When we write, we show ourselves compassion.  Navigating the events of our past can help us access own inner Sage. Our inner wisdom, our intuition, what some call the voice of God.

Journaling requires more of us than just talking and thinking. Writing forces us to access different parts of our mind and opens up other realms within our psyche. Write drunk and edit sober! Meaning, write first uninhibited and don’t worry about the finished product. For some, the final transformative step in recovering from or understanding the past  is to edit on a computer and publish their work, but just journaling is transformative, too, and the first step toward publishing. Write truthfully and fully, but with great compassion. 

Telling your story, sharing your struggles and triumphs, is one of the most powerful actions a person can take. Casting yourself as the hero in your own tale, seeing your journey on the larger stage of the world, and recognizing your power to create change helps you cultivate empathy and perspective. And when you won't or can't tell your story, you can end up feeling trapped, alone, lost, and constantly wondering what's missing from your life. Telling your story to just one person will connect you out of your isolation and will heal other people realizing they are not alone.

So what's the first step in writing your story?  Mindful journaling.

Journaling exercise 1: What do you want?

Before you can undertake mindful journaling in earnest, you need to unlock your goals. Writing uninhibited about anything that comes to mind can be very freeing, but healing requires more focus. So ask yourself:

  1. What do I want?
  2. Can I admit this is what I want? Most of us feel guilty saying what we want or don’t even take the time to ask ourselves this question.  Can we give ourselves permission to ask for what we want and own it?
  3. What are my options? How can I move toward getting what I want?

Be honest and open as you answer these questions. You don't ever need to show your answers to anyone!

Journaling exercise 2: Changing vocabulary

Think back to a specific event in your past that was disturbing or difficult. Now make a two-columned list and label one column “Negative” and the other “Positive.” Under the first, make a list of negative words or feelings you are holding onto about this event and would like to release. Under the second, either try to capture the flip side of the negative word (instead of “frustrating,” try “challenging”) or just add a gentler, more positive word or emotion you'd like to associate with this experience instead.

We can do this in one of two ways.

  1. When you encounter a trigger and would ordinarily think, “I feel frustrated, pissed, angry” try removing yourself a little. Say, “Frustration is there” instead.
  2. When your “frustration” trigger comes up, think back to the flip-side version of “frustration” that you listed in your Positive column. (Challenging.)

These changes sound small, but they can have an astonishing impact!

Journaling exercise 3: Perspective and the active narrator

Consider a troubling event from your past. When you re-visit this episode, and feel the emotions associated with it, does it feel like something that is being done TO you? Step back, breathe, and re-envision it. Write a new version of this story from your past. You can do this in one of two ways:
Create some distance by writing the story as yourself today. When you summon the memory, you drop yourself back into a younger self. Instead be the current version of you, and write about the event as someone who has a different perspective, more knowledge, and the emotional support to cope with whatever happened back then.
Allow yourself to fictionalize the episode. Make yourself an active narrator, or even better a hero. Write a version of this story where you take control, shift the power dynamic, and create a more satisfying ending. Think this is lying? Well, the way we remember past events may be more influential and important than the events themselves. And in some cases, completely rewriting those events can help us heal.

Attitude and control

The events of your past are in the past, and you cannot change them. You can rewrite them, shift your perspective, and do your best to heal, but you cannot fully erase them. And you shouldn't want to. Instead, focus your energy on what you CAN control: changing your attitude toward them. These mindful journaling exercises will help you do just that.

If you are the wife of a wounded warrior yourself and would like to share your story in person with other spouses, I would love for you to apply here to attend SPA Day in April! By opening up to others you will heal yourself, connect with others to feel less alone, and help those around you begin the healing process.

Can't wait to share more on the power of storytelling with you next week!

Join Me at Kate Spade for Self-care, Sweets, and a Book Signing!

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, which means many of us are busily plotting ways to express our love to spouses, lovers, and family members. Hope you've got a fun and romantic Valentine's (or Galentine's!) Day planned!

But as you're splurging on chocolates, bouquets and champagne, I hope you'll remember the importance of self-love and self-care, too. Feeling loved by others is an unparalleled joy, and loving others is one of the best ways to ensure a rich, full life … but so many of us forget to direct some of that TLC toward ourselves. If your tank is empty, you can't go the extra mile for loved-ones, so always remember to be kind and gentle to yourself.

With that in mind, I'm thrilled to be partnering with Kate Spade for a special event in March! See details below:

Join Barbara for a Celebration of Self-care!
Sunday, March 19, 2017
11 a.m.
Kate Spade New York
Fashion Valley Mall, 7007 Friars Road, San Diego, CA 92108

Copies of my book won’t be available at the event, but if you purchase from Amazon and bring in your copy, I'd be delighted to sign it for you. We'll have some sweet treats, chat about the importance of self-care, and shop the gorgeous spring collection together. 

Military personnel and military wives will receive a 15% discount on any purchases with valid ID and everyone who brings a purchased book will have the chance to enter a drawing for a FREE handbag. How could you pass that up?!

I'm so excited for this event because it gives me the chance to connect with you fantastic readers in-person and hear your stories. Plus, unlike some of my other speaking engagements, I'm hoping this Kate Spade event will bring together wives of wounded warriors, caregivers of all kinds, and non-caregivers who want to support and encourage women doing this important and under-appreciated work. I can't wait to have you all in one place for great conversation!

Please join me for this unique event, bring your book to be signed, and bring your thoughts to share. I can't wait to meet you and learn about your own unique journey. We'll have a belated Galentine's Day together, complete with treats, laughs, and seriously stylish accessories!

Hidden Heroes Summit

San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer

in partnership with

Southern Caregiver Resource Center

present

Hidden Heroes Cities Summit

 

Thursday, March 2, 2017 9:30am – 2:00pm

Recital Hall at Balboa Park

2130 Pan American Road East San Diego, CA 92101

 

FREE conference for Military & Veteran Caregivers

For more information please contact 800-827-1008 or visit caregivercenter.org

To RSVP please click here

 

Join fellow military and veteran caregivers as we explore methods to build hope and resiliency. Participate in educational sessions on grief and loss, communication as key to advocating for yourself and your family, and planning and decision-making when your partner has a traumatic brain injury or post- traumatic stress disorder. Meet fellow caregivers and service providers and join us for breakfast, lunch, community resources and opportunity drawings.

Tiger Women of Asia: Cambodia's Complex Matriarchy

I've just returned from a life-changing three-week trip through Vietnam and Cambodia. I was humbled and inspired by the “Tiger” Women I met during my travels, and have so many insights to share from my conversations with them. Here’s the third in a series of posts on the surprising and fascinating things I learned while traveling through the rural countryside.

Women in power

apsara_dance.jpg

Cambodia has a long history of matriarchy—a culture in which women are considered to be the more powerful and important gender. Females, especially mothers, often hold the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property. In fact, the first person to rule all of Cambodia, Queen Liu Ye, was a woman and because of her history and power, many Khmer (Cambodian) terms that reference status and power reference women. Even to this day, husbands must offer a dowry and are expected to move in with their wives’ families after marriage.

Nearly 95% of Cambodians follow Theravada Buddhism, a religion that includes some fascinating female figures. Among them is Kwan Yin, who is sometimes referred to as the “female buddha.” Kwan Yin sought and achieved enlightenment, and has long been worshiped as a goddess of compassion, beauty, and grace in many Asian countries, including Cambodia.

Apsaras, female spirits of clouds and water, also hold a sacred place in Cambodian culture. In mythology, Apsaras are gifted in the art of dancing, and Cambodian classical dance includes a mesmerizing Apsara dance done in full costume.

Worshiped and controlled

kwan yin.jpeg

But this rich history of women in power is counterbalanced by a culture of “purity.” A facet of women's value and significance in Cambodia is the belief that girls and women are like clean, white sheets of paper that must be kept pure. Families tend to be protective of their daughters, holding them back from education since traveling to school puts them at risk for rape and assault by sex traffickers.

These conflicting messages make moving through life as a Cambodian woman complex and challenging, to be sure.

Moving toward modernity

IMG_4776.jpeg

The women I met during my own travels struck me as independent, wise, and grounded. I was thrilled to see multiple programs bringing bikes to young girls, allowing them to commute their way safely to and from school and further their educations. And connecting with pioneering entrepreneurs like Ms. Vy, who fearlessly built her business empire almost single-handedly, made it clear that many Cambodian women are moving beyond purity worries and toward a bright future.

Living within a culture that holds you in esteem but also holds you back from opportunity poses many challenges. But with their ingenuity, patience, intuition, and perseverance, it's clear that Cambodian women are ready to re-write the script and re-take their place of power in this traditionally matriarchal society!

Essential Archetypes: Honor the Sage Within Yourself

Last week, we continued exploring the four essential archetypes that inspired my foundation: Mother, lover, warrior, and sage. Today, let's discuss the Sage archetype.

A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.
— Maya Angelou

When you hear the word “sage,” you might think first about the fragrant herb that’s a traditional part of the seasoning we enjoy for Thanksgiving dinners. Sage has one of the longest histories of any culinary or medicinal herb, and was used thousands of years ago in ancient Egyptian kitchens! 

But today, I want to focus on the other definition. The word sage also means “a profoundly wise person,”  referring to someone who is wise through reflection and experience. When you give someone “sage advice,” you give them sound advice gained through your life reflections and experiences. Wisdom is something that we often confuse with intelligence. Both have to do with deep knowledge, but while intelligence frequently stems from study, wisdom can flow from sources other than books. In fact, it often does.

Having a sage within you isn’t defined by book learning. You don’t need any academic degrees to be a sage. And although we often associate wisdom with decades of life experience, having a sage within you isn’t limited by age. You don’t have to be old to be a sage. 

Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

In fact, one of the wisest women alive is remarkably young: Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize. In 2009—when she was just 11 years old—Malala wrote a blog post about living as a girl under Taliban occupation. She wrote passionately about her own desire to go to school, and how important she felt it was for all young girls in Pakistan to have the chance to learn. In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai as she rode home on a bus after taking an academic exam. She was punished for wanting girls to have access to education, targeted for her beliefs. Malala was only a teenager, but she listened to the sage within herself and spoke with courage about the importance of education for girls. 

Not all sages are battling for equal rights or embroiled in politics. Think of Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote so eloquently about her emotional explorations in her book Eat, Pray, Love. Her willingness to share her personal journey inspired untold numbers of readers to make positive changes in their own lives. Think of Rachel Carson, whose writings were instrumental in the birth of American environmentalism. Think of Harper's Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland who forced women to think differently about fashion, and renowned chef Julia Child who forced women to think differently about cooking. Think of Oprah Winfrey, who began her journey as a journalist and ended it by positively impacting millions of women with her insights, kindness, and generosity. 

All are sages in their own ways.

Sages possess wisdom in many different areas and express that wisdom in many different ways. But they are all brave, and they are all driven, and they are all eager to continue learning. About themselves and about their worlds.

It is impossible to live without failing at something. Unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.
— J.K Rowling

So, how can you get in touch with the sage within yourself? How can you tap into her energy and use it to talk about the things that are important to YOU? Where is YOUR platform? And when you find it, will you USE it? Accessing this wisdom and bravery within yourself has nothing to do with status or money or degrees or job titles or power. It is about self-reflection, dedication, and a thirst for knowledge.

In conducting interviews for my new book, Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife, I spoke with so many women who were thrust into overwhelming roles that made them feel anything but wise. But over the months and years, they found their inner sages emerging and guiding them. Many of the women I interviewed were still struggling to find their footing, but many more were grounded in hard-won wisdom gained through living the life of a wounded warrior's spouse. And the established sages I met were more than happy to reach out to the wives who still struggled. They were generous with their insights and eager to help their sisters comprehend and handle the complexities of their new roles.

And sometimes that's what it takes: An overwhelming new role or drastic life change that forces you to look inward. Sometimes the sage only emerges when you need her wisdom most.

But sometimes you can summon your sage just by focusing on your goals, your aspirations, the difference you want to make in the world. Or even the difference you want to make within yourself. As this new year unfolds, I hope you'll find a way to tap your inner sage and revel in her unparalleled wisdom.

“What you do makes a difference. And you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make."