During the holiday break I deliberately spent a good bit of the holiday period away from my computer and social media and soaked up the pleasures of the non-digital world. During that time, an old friend of mine died, and it gave me great pause. I spent a lot of time thinking about his life. About what an ordinary, extraordinary life he’d had. He was a beloved husband and father of two small children, he was a nuclear physicist, and he was a guy who loved music, camping, and being with his friends. Although he’d achieved a lot in his life, it was his humility, his thoughtfulness and all his small kindnesses over the years that really stayed with me.
At that time I was also listening to season 3 of the podcast Serial (an excellent, and often distressing, piece of long form journalism about the criminal justice system in the United States) and I was reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz (a true story that was simultaneously heart warming and devastating). So there were more than a few bleak moments as I contemplated the complexity of human beings, and the horrors and pleasures of life on earth.
Following the parade of emotions that passed at that time, I was left with a desire for more simplicity. Over the years I’ve come to believe that simplicity is where you find the divine and that human beings act against their own best interests every single time we make things more complex than they need to be.
So I considered how we might simplify things at The School of Visibility. I reflected on how much I appreciated having clear time away from the business (something that’s so important and so easy to put off when you run your own business – the temptation being to keep things running all year and just check in while you’re on holidays, thereby missing out on the benefit that accrues from long stretches of deep relaxation).
I saw that the break was clearly setting me up to serve with more focus and presence when I returned to work.
I thought about the best way to support as many women as possible to feel safe and comfortable with speaking up and being seen and heard in the world.
Ultimately I decided to simplify in order to amplify. It’s difficult to reach ever increasing numbers of people if your business model is complicated or insufficiently streamlined. If you want to bring on a large team and financing and spend your time managing staff, then sure it might be possible. But that’s never been my dream. I’m interested in small teams producing maximum impact, and that requires a simple business model and plan.
Before I left for my holidays I wrote myself a note. It said; ‘Clear structure and term times are good. Do that in 2019.’
Then I shut my laptop for two weeks. I didn’t try to force a solution while I left or while on holidays. I didn’t try to work out every aspect of what structure and term times might look like. I just gave myself space for the highest and best solution to come to me.
As I was returning to work, I saw a note from my friend Denise Duffield-Thomas talking about her own move to greater levels of simplicity and working to term times too and I thought ‘Oh of course, I’ll run things like a regular school or university!’ (Earth shattering, I know. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the hardest to see.)
So with that, we’re tweaking things here at The School of Visibility.
Firstly, we’re changing the way we deliver our courses and classes in 2019. We’ll be opening the School for enrolment in January and July and we’ll be closed for enrolment the rest of the year.
We’ll be releasing the course curriculum next week and you’ll have the chance to enrol soon after that. Then we’ll move into the semester and focus on teaching, before opening for enrolment again in July.
We’ll also be bringing on faculty to start teaching in 2020 (stay tuned for more information about that).
Throughout the semester you can expect to hear from us weekly with short visibility tips (the promise of ‘short’ being a personal challenge for me, given I’m prone to long form verse).
And finally, each month I’ll share my visibility story. That’ll include a lot more behind the scenes of my career; what’s involved in building the School of Visibility (so you can see, first hand, the visibility challenges associated with being a business woman), and what it takes to grow your reputation as a feminist writer.
I have thought about sharing more behind the scenes information in the past, but I had a visibility block around doing it. I’m quite a private person, so there’s that. Plus I was worried about failure. I felt fear about being judged. I felt the pull from childhood to be good and perfect and never make a mistake. (Of all the visibility challenges I’ve worked through over the last 2 years of running the School, that’s one of the strongest for me.)
Now, after 2 years of visibility block clearing, I feel at peace with those fears. I’ve stopped judging myself. I’ve stopped thinking that I need to be seen a certain way. I’m comfortable with the fact that I have no control over how people will perceive me. All I have is my integrity and my truth and my willingness to show up and share my story.
And ultimately, that’s all that’s being asked of us.
We can make visibility this hugely complex issue, or we can make it simple; show up, share your story.
This year, we’re keeping it simple.
So I’ll talk more about our new approach next week – including the fears I had about going with this new business model – but for now, let me say this; life is messy. Death is inevitable. In between we have choices. It’s easy to over-complicate those choices. To tell ourselves a lot of stories about why we can’t show up. Why now isn’t a good time. Why next month or year will be better. Or we can remember just how precious every minute is. We can remember how much value we all gain when someone has the courage to show up and share something of their life with us. And we can choose to bring that value to the world.
I hope you’ll continue to join us as we choose to show up and share our stories – continuing to grow together as a community of ordinary, extraordinary women.