Journal Excerpt: The Fall of C.E.O. Women, The Start of brown girl surf
December 18, 2011
I’m alive and I have all my limbs so I’m trying to put the closing into perspective. A lot has been done to dismantle the (C.E.O. Women) office. We’ve sold most of our assets last week and this week is the final push. The only thing is that we have no staff left – I’m the only one and so I have to manage all of the following:
I sent this list to my board chair and treasurer to let them know … But as it is, I’m left as the only one trying to manage the final three days of closing of the office. People expect way too much when you are a Founder. The good news is that I raised an extra $15,000 from foundations and donors and that the government approved our $20,000 reimbursement request so we will have enough for payroll, which will limit the board’s liability. They were going to float a loan for payroll as well which I was happy about but now they don’t need to. My friend and board member gave me a $1,750 (personal) loan to tide me over until we can collect on all the grants.
… I have been actively trying to find a home for Grand Café in it all … because we owe the bank for our line of credit … It is a hard decision because that is nine years of work/research that went into building that asset (and $500,000) and I’m not sure what the bank will do with it at this point but I want it to land somewhere good, but I also want this to be done, so I’m torn …
I have been surfing which I’m glad about but skipped my Friday session down in Santa Cruz as I normally do. I just felt like last week was intense and I couldn’t focus so much on my surfing, but I did get out on Friday and Saturday to Ocean Beach which I was really glad about. I also started to get a lot of momentum on brown girl surf …
I am so proud of the (web) site and honestly it has been like therapy. After coming home dismantling an 11 year old non-profit I built on my back, I can work on creating something new which gives me a lot of energy. I’m excited that I am so excited about this …
… If it weren’t for surfing and brown girl surf, I’d be in bad shape I think. But I feel calm and collected … but I just want this saga to be over with …
I have such a wide range of emotions regarding the board that it’s hard to make sense of them. On the one hand, I have felt left in a lurch by them all year – only half of them fundraised and did what they could … On the other, they are my personal contacts and networks, and amazingly, not one member resigned since the crises … most of them have given or raised significant donations (totaling over $96,000) …
So it’s not bad for a small board … I’m glad that brown girl surf will not have one going forward. I just want to be free from this all - free from the blame, free from the stress, free from this identity that I have held for what seems way too long. I am Farhana and I am the Founder of C.E.O. Women, but it is not my baby and I don’t feel that way about it …
… It sucks being a Founder. Your DNA is imprinted into the organization and work until the day you leave/ relinquish it but I feel trapped and not in a position to relinquish at this point. I can’t wait until it’s all over. I can’t wait to run with brown girl surf and it’s exciting to see it come alive …
Farhana Huq is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Surfer, Global Explorer, and Founder of Surf Life Executive Coaching and Brown Girl Surf
I founded and ran a non-profit organization for 11 years with an amazing mission – helping low-income immigrant and refugee women to become entrepreneurs and learn English. After 10 years of running it, I took a needed sabbatical to reflect and rejuvenate. An interim leader led the organization in my absence. When I returned a few months later, it was operating a $50,000 deficit, the first ever deficit in the history of the organization.
As a Founder, this was devastating. It was like coming back at halftime to a 0-4 World Cup game and you’re on the losing team. It’s not impossible to bounce back, but it would take a level of effort I did not have in me after an already exhausting 10 years. The organization eventually closed. My last official day was the 21st of December eleven years ago.
While I made peace with the closure, I never quite got over the loss of its most innovative program - a soap opera series designed to teach English and entrepreneurship skills to immigrant women. I worked on this idea for 9 years, raising about half a million dollars to develop 6 of 18 episodes. Upon closing, the series was given to the bank as collateral for a line of credit that leadership took out in my absence in order to finance the deficit.
Giving over the program felt like a miscarriage, like it never got its fair chance to run. And truth be told, perhaps it was a little too early of an innovation for its time. Many funders resisted the idea of a remote, media-based learning program, now an ironic sentiment in these Covid times. This summer, on a long shot, I decided to reach out to the bank. I asked them to release the program series for me to resurrect. They agreed with full support. It was one of the best pieces of news of my career and life.
If I learned anything through this experience, it’s to not lose faith in your ideas. Ideas take courage. Creativity takes courage. Speaking up takes courage. Honoring and holding worthy your ideas takes courage. And perhaps most of all, I’ve learned that there’s no timeline for courage. You are ready when you are ready.
While I worked on this idea for 9 years it was the amazing team around me that brought it to life. Angelica Matsuno was the ah-mazing Co-Producer and Co-Writer who has been helping me to resurrect it. We were probably the most attached emotionally to this project. Nina Serrano was the incredible writer of the series and Marissa Aroy was the talented Director along with the ever capable Producer Niall McKay who all used their artistic skills, creativity, time and talent to give this idea life. There was also the programs team that worked on distribution, countless advisors, board members, clients and volunteers who helped take the idea to where it was. I’m forever proud of the work our organization did. And I am proud to return to this creative idea, with new eyes and wisdom, in service to all the people it was meant to impact.
To view the program trailer, see below:
When is it really time to move on? People come to me wishing to make a transition, but sometimes what holds them back is they have not yet logically convinced themselves it is time to move on. They can feel it in their bodies. They know something is not right. But somehow they use their mind to convince themselves otherwise. So what are some ways to tell if it’s time to move?
1. When your misery of staying outweighs the benefits
Some people come to me for coaching and they incessantly complain about their company - the lack of integrity, their boss, their situation, their disdain for the meaninglessness in what they do. BUT, they stay and often, they are miserable. They stay because they have a kid in college, or another one headed there. They don’t want to leave for fear of not finding another job soon enough. So I ask them: does the benefit of staying outweigh the misery they are feeling? If the answer is no, it is time to move on.
You do not do yourself any favors by staying, nor do you do your company any favors by staying either. The move may take a thorough assessment and some coaching, challenging you to look at your limiting beliefs, doing financial projections for your transition (cash flow, monthly expenses) and the like. But once you have come to terms with the feelings and start to see a logical path of how you can move forward, it is much easier to move on. Think about whether your misery in staying outweighs your benefits. If it does, what is your next step?
2. When you are flat lining
If you are no longer being challenged in what you do at work or on a project, you are flat lining. We all need to feel like we are growing or are being developed and exposed to new thoughts, ideas and ways of doing something. Flat lining is the feeling that you’ve hit your own glass ceiling, that you really don’t feel like there is a place for you to move up and to develop further.
I remember speaking to one woman who was completely flat lining. She just didn’t have enough work or challenge in her day, so much so that she’d take off in the middle of the day and go to yoga and have a nice leisurely lunch. She was making a good salary and things weren’t horrible. So her choice was either to figure out a way to feel more challenged or to figure out what could be next. She actually felt GUILTY for taking a paycheck from her work because it didn’t really feel like she was earning it, though she was gainfully employed. In her case, she chose to stay and was eventually put on more challenging projects. However, if there were no change, she would have left.
If you are flat lining and the place where you are isn’t terrible, think about what you would need to do to feel more challenged in your work first. Oftentimes, a frank conversation with your boss can equip her with the information she needs to help you on your growth path to build new skills and gain new experiences.
3. When you know you are just not happy
I had the experience of having a very deeply unhappy employee at the organization I ran. What did it do? First, it caused a ripple effect. It drove one of the other key directors out of her position. (The #2 reason this director gave for leaving was due to the unhappiness of her co-director, which rubbed off on her in a negative way.) Just as happiness is contagious, so is unhappiness. If you are not happy, you risk making others around you unhappy. (Remember the mirror neuron effect?) You do both yourself and your company a favor when you choose to leave and go to a place where you will inevitably be happier. You win because you’ll be closer to what will feel fulfilling, and the organization will win because it will be free of your unhappy energy, which can seriously weigh down innovation and engagement needed to really drive results.
It’s true that some people will be perpetually unhappy. Sometimes it’s less of a function of your environment and more a function of the own internal work you need to do so you can be happy. So when assessing this, ask yourself – am I unhappy because of something in my life, or some unresolved childhood issue I’m having that this situation keeps bringing up (feeling-wise)? Or am I happy when I am out of this space but become unhappy only when I step into this space? Pay attention mostly to what your body feels and you will get the best data to help guide you forward.
4. When your body starts to manifest chronic symptoms
They body never lies. Period. If you tune into what you are feeling in your body at any given time, you can tap into immense data of what a person, situation or organization gives you. We have a physiological response to stress all the time – from hair loss, heart palpitations, chronic colds, and yes, even cancer. When you are getting chronically ill and stressed out, take that as a sign that it is time to shift and change things up. There are numerous studies now connecting our physiology to stress and our mental well-being.
One of the biggest developments in coaching has been using embodiment to work with people. When we are communicating, 96% of what we are saying is communicated through our body. Some neuroscientist believe that the heart knows first and knows best, sends information to the brain, where it gets interpreted, put into words, and where it often gets denied. The brain often interprets the information incorrectly and shuts it down. Research says the brain just justifies what the gut and heart want to do. So, tuning into how your body is feeling may reveal more about a situation and it’s impact on you than cerebrally processing it.
I remember my last few years of being an executive and I was sick almost monthly. It was embarrassing sometimes to be at a graduation ceremony for our students and be blowing my nose incessantly due to a sinus infection. However, the financial anxiety of money, cash flow and managing so many different strands of the organization weighed on me over time. What I didn’t realize was that my body was speaking to me. It was begging me to take a break. I took a 4-month sabbatical during which time I never got sick and upon my return did not get sick for an entire year. I did come down with a cold the last day we closed down the organization. Go figure. It’s important to start to understand and map how your body responds to stress, and to figure out what it is saying about where you really thrive. Then you have an indicator for making healthy decisions for you. We all react to stress differently and some people are more sensitive than others. But make no mistake tuning into your body will give you a wellness of information on what to do in a situation.
5. When you realize your values are at odds with where you are
This is a big one for folks. Oftentimes when we feel dissonance in our relationship to something or someone, it is because there is a values clash. What one party values is not what the other values. It’s not to say one is right or wrong, but differing value systems can often be cause for a break. The problem is when you do not realize there is a difference in value systems and you just resort to blaming and pointing fingers. It’s important to say that this is what I value – integrity, honesty, small-scale operations, putting the client first – or whatever the value is. Then see where the dissonance is and where you feel you are out of integrity with a value. Perhaps there is a conversation that could be had in terms of how you could assist with bringing this value more into your work place or perhaps it’s just not possible as your value systems are just too at odds with your organization. If this is the case, it is a good time to consider a move. Again, if you are in dissonance and are unhappy with the structure, you either can make efforts to change it from within or leave if you feel like you cannot make a difference.
So those are a few ways to tell when it’s time to leave. How and when to leave is a totally different question, and one that needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis depending on the situation of your team or company. Those aspects are just as important, if not more, than identifying when you should leave. This will have to be a topic of another blog post to come.
What were some of the signs that told you it was time to leave?
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I had such a crush on this guy when I was growing up. I was 15 at the time and he was two years older than me (which is a big age gap when you’re a wee teen). We would talk on the phone for hours about anything and everything. He had asked me on our first conversation who I liked, in that cheesy, teenager sort of way. Without giving it much thought, I said I liked him. He said he also liked me. These calls were a kind of fantasy space for me. I had girlish dreams that one day I’d marry him and live happily ever after in a house with a white picket fence in suburbia. Until one day, he casually mentioned needing to go and get a tuxedo for his prom, along with a corsage for his date. Unfortunately, the date was not me – it was another girl. I was crushed. My first real rejection in love.
I stopped talking to him, spiraling into a confused state, wondering what all those months of long phone conversations had meant and where I now stood with him. I turned my feelings of rejection into moping around my room for hours on end, finding pathetic solace in Chicago’s Greatest Hits, feeling completely sorry for myself. I felt like the poor, heartbroken victim and could empathize with all the narratives of shattered love strumming melodiously from my double deck cassette player. My best friend at the time played the rescuer, commiserating with my victim-hood, trying to help me make sense of it all, empathizing with my feelings, and allowing me a space to talk things out. Though well-intentioned, this paradigm bled into months of feeling crappy and unresolved about the whole issue, and trying to figure out ways to get him to like me as much as I liked him. It also didn’t help that I was a teenager and had to contend with the added elements of raging hormones, a still developing brain, and plots to subvert the parental empire that was designed to protect me from getting mired in such drama in the first place. After all, I should have just been studying, playing soccer and volunteering at summer camp.
When we’re in conflict, it’s easy to get caught up in the age-old victim, perpetrator, rescuer paradigm. In this model, there is always a perpetrator wronging someone. There is always a victim, or the person being wronged. And often, there is someone who takes the role of rescuer and comes along and tries to fix everything. This is a common relationship paradigm and is often referred to as the dreaded drama triangle (Karpman Drama Triangle). The idea is when we are in conflict, we are taking on any one of these identities. I mean, it happens even at the most basic level in our interpersonal interactions. Oh, and roles shift within the drama triangle too. Someone can start off the rescuer and then fall into being a victim etc…
But what if we could shift this paradigm? What would be possible for us then during difficult transitions, in our relationships and in our lives?
One day a coach I was working with brought to my attention a most interesting diagram. It flipped this paradigm on its head from drama triangle to what is called The Empowerment Dynamic. In this paradigm, the victim becomes the creator, the perpetrator the challenger and the rescuer becomes the coach. When I learned about this paradigm, something clicked in me. I started to think about all the situations in which I felt victimized, and imagined instead creating my way forward from them. To put it in neuroscientific terms, it was as if a new neural pathway started to fire in my brain! Suddenly, those situations where I was feeling sorry for myself because something didn’t go as planned, looked different. Right away I could see the traps the old framework set up, and I started to recognize some of the narratives I had that kept me stuck instead of moving forward.
Looking back on my first bout with heartbreak, I have to wonder: What if I had the ability to simply re-frame this situation? Instead of seeing my crush as the one who did me wrong, what if I could have seen him as a challenger, and see myself as someone who could create my way forward in this – be my own rescuer? How empowering and different an experience this might have been for me. For example, I might have started being curious and created some questions to ask him. Maybe, “Oh I’m curious – why did you take her to the prom and not ask me?” Or maybe I could have spoken to him and created the space for a kind friendship to ensue in the future, one that wouldn’t necessarily warrant talking on the phone for hours on end.
I didn’t realize it, but at the time, I was being challenged to set boundaries, get clear on my feelings (a skill that would become so important to me later in life), and to step out of my shyness into confronting one of the things I dreaded most – the feeling of not being worthy of one’s love. I was never taught to communicate like this let alone share my feelings – when ever are we at that age? Would I still have been as disappointed knowing I wasn’t the one? Maybe so. Would it still have been hard? Yes. Would this have even been possible at the tender age of 15, with a barely developed brain (remember the adolescent brain doesn’t fully develop until our mid-20s’, and in some cases it takes until age 30)? Who knows? But it would have built a new neural pathway for me to practice getting clarity, a skill which would eventually prove to be extremely valuable in all of my future communications, whether personal, romantic or professional. When things are clear, at least you can heal and set your own direction forward for freedom. I also probably wouldn’t have fretted so much, feeling like I fell short in some way. I might have began to understand my worthiness and might have even gained a good friend.
So what if we could cut the teenager out of us, whose delusions of love didn’t go as planned, and see ourselves as creators in conflict instead? Rather than stay stuck and hurt in a situation that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go, how do you create forward movement? Or, I guess the more powerful question is: What narrative do you need to let go of that’s holding you back? What’s the new narrative you dare to create?
Back to the teenage crush. After a few years of not speaking, I ran into him when he was back home visiting from college. Out of nowhere he apologized for his behavior, for not being up front and for the impact it had had on me. I heartily accepted his apology, and it felt like such a relief to clear the air. Looking back at this experience through the empowerment dynamic, where I’m the creator (and well, coach – the coach being the one who asks powerful questions and lets you figure it out on your own vs. saving you and solving problems for you) and he was the challenger, I can shift my narrative.
Teenage heartbreak wasn’t about whether something did or did not materialize fully into something; it was about necessary experiences I needed to have in service to my full spiritual evolution.
These are the type of experiences that would deliver lessons in understanding, non-attachment, forgiveness, and an even greater capacity for me to hold love for others and to realize my worth. They were also necessary to help me eventually understand the qualities I needed in others that would bring out the best in me. Being disappointed early in life is fuel for learning, and gives us the opportunity to reflect and to set ourselves up for greater success the next time around.
We will always face challenges on our journey, in our transitions and in our relationships. We may not have power over what happens to us. But we do have power over our own personal narratives and how they are framed. We can keep one narrative and be stuck in it, or we can choose to re-frame it. I guess that’s why victims of very bad incidents re-frame themselves as survivors. There is something so much more powerful about that label, one that connotes an heir of creating and thriving as opposed to suffering and blaming.
In my work as a coach, I speak to many people in profound transition – those who have gone through a tough divorce after 20 years of marriage, competent executives who have had painful and unexpected breakups with their employers, and those who veer off an old path to venture onto a new one, terrified that they aren’t going to come out on top. When they turn to, “But it can’t work because of this …” or, “In the past, this is what happened …” and I sense that they are stuck, I challenge them to see themselves as a creator instead of a victim, and ask what part of their own narrative or limiting belief needs to be rewritten. I don’t mean to say processing real feelings is not a necessary part of our work. It is in order to fully heal. But once the feelings are processed, I ask, “What would you want to create going forward?” and “How would you do it?” It’s surprising to see what new narratives emerge, the new insights, the new way of seeing things, and the gratitude for understanding the purpose in their greater spiritual evolution.
Think about the narrative you might be living in now. Where are you the victim, the perpetrator, or perhaps the continuous rescuer? How would you rewrite this narrative as if you were the creator, challenger, or coach?
I challenge you to do this. I bet you’d be surprised at what you could create if you tried.
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