One of the most powerful insights I have taken from my journey as a coach came from a four-week period around two years ago. Within those few weeks came four coaching sessions which have stayed with me ever since: each with a different client, and each with a powerful emotional charge. These four people were all women, all in their late 20s and 30s, and whilst the things which brought this emotional charge weren’t exactly the same, the common thread struck me deeply. I had never before seen – so clearly and powerfully exposed – the incredible challenge that a modern woman faces at that time in her life.
I thought to myself, after the fourth conversation, What would happen if I could get those four women in a room together? What would be the power of that, for them? It felt important; it felt like the coincidence of these four conversations at once was too much, and that there was some important work to do in bringing women in this situation together. But I didn’t take action. Like so many ideas and creations, it died an early death – or, on this occasion, went into hibernation – when my insecurities left me feeling inadequate or underqualified to bring them together, and when possible collaborators didn’t have the space or time.
But I kept seeing that story. The story of the new generation of pioneering women in the world today. Women of my generation – born, perhaps, between 1980 and 1990, give or take a few years – are following in the footsteps of the women who broke so many glass ceilings and barriers over recent decades. Those women, their foremothers, were pioneers, too. But today, women are pioneering something different. They are pioneering choice. Real choice. For many women – in certain countries, and of certain backgrounds, of course – they have a genuine choice: they have the ability to have a career, any career they choose. They have more equal opportunity than at any time in millennia. They have more power in relationships: the chance to choose, the societal attitudes to be free with who they have relationships with and what kinds of relationships they have. And the choice about family, where societal and familial pressures are different and freer than for generations.
But choice isn’t easy: it brings pressure, and it brings responsibility. I’ve seen the paralysing nature of choice with so many of my clients, men and women. I have felt it myself.
Whilst choice can feel paralysing for anyone – for men and women – and whilst many things are becoming more and more equal, there is one enormous question facing women and not men, and that is the question of Time. And there, there things aren’t equal at all.
Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson has spoken about this, seeing it through his client work. “I would say that many women around the age of, I would say, between 28 and 32, have a career-family crisis that they have to deal with.” Peterson told journalist Cathy Newman, in a Channel 4 interview. “And I think that’s partly because of the foreshortened time-frame that women have to contend with. Women have to get the major pieces of their life put together faster than men, which is also partly why men aren’t under so much pressure to grow up! Because for the typical woman, she has to have her career and family in order pretty much by the time she’s 35.”
Faced with this choice, and this foreshortened time-frame, the modern woman can find herself alone, with an absence of the role-models she needs. The role-model she is seeking is a woman who has faced society’s expectation – and her own – that she create and carve out a career. She has balanced that with creating a relationship which enriches her and her life. And she takes her decisions around family from her heart, stepping into and out of family and work as she desires, free of guilt. These role-models don’t exist - or, at least, the ones who have faced these challenges in the modern, ever-changing world are few and far between. But they will exist. That is what the pioneering women of today will become.
Because with true, genuine choice - with freedom - we can create. Create what we really want: outside of the expectations of others, freed up from what our parents, our peers, our teachers, our partners, our colleagues expect of us.
With this freedom, you can create the life of your dreams: not betraying the pioneers of the past by turning down the chance to have a career; not ignoring the unique gifts of your femininity because our work and society doesn’t always appreciate them; not betraying the expectations of yourself and others to be independent of the men in your life; not ignoring the internal drives, when they are there, to motherhood. Embracing those things, embracing the opportunity, and creating from there. This is what the modern woman is pioneering. It is a journey that inspires me, and that touches my heart.
The Neighbours, a Police Car, a Boat and a Helicopter
There’s an old joke about a man whose house is being approached by a great flood. As the floodwater rises, he turns down offers of help from his neighbours, a police car, a boat and a helicopter. They each offer to take him away from his house - to save him - but he tells each one, ‘No thank you. I don’t need your help. God will save me.” The flood water, though, continues to rise, until the poor man drowns. As his spirit arrives in Heaven, he asks God, ‘Where were you, God? Why didn’t you save me?’ To which God replies: ‘I sent your neighbours, a police car, a boat and a helicopter; what more do you want?’
This project, and the idea at its core, feel a little like that to me. After that four-week period, and after I decided I couldn’t create something which brought those women together, I have felt again and again the power and charge of that moment in time which women face. In my own relationship, with a stranger at a party, with coaching clients and friends, in television and film. Then, late last year, in a conversation with my friend Susana, it came up again, and this sense, this sense of these women as pioneers came into a new focus, even clearer. But still I didn’t do anything. I had plenty of good reasons to avoid creating something new. Don't we always? Why me, for a start? What do I have to offer? ‘Well,’ said Susana, ‘I’d far rather speak about these things with you than so many of the people out there doing this work.’ But that wasn’t enough.
Then, earlier this year, my coach at the time, Rich, asked me, ‘What would fascinate you, motivate you and fill you with energy?’ And after a few weeks’ reflection I came back to those women, to bringing them, or women like them – who inspire me so much with their courage, creativity and deep hearts – together. When I shared this, one of the other coaches on the call spoke up. “The thing is, Robbie is the perfect person to do this.” Rich, of course, said, “Why? Tell him why.” And once she had explained, he said ‘Robbie, you need to go back to the recording of this call, transcribe this, and put it on a page on your website.’ And here is what she, Kristen Kosinski, said:
‘Robbie is the perfect person for this. Robbie is a dude, but has such a big heart, is so gentle and so intuitive and approachable. He’s the perfect guy for that – I would have wanted to hear it from a guy who is a guy, but also a guy that felt like I could feel safe with.’
Neighbours, police car, boat, helicopter. But even that wasn’t quite enough. It took me a few months, water still rising, as I got through an illness, and got married. But now here I am, launching a group programme for those amazing, inspiring, courageous pioneering women.
For some people reading this, it won’t resonate, it won’t make sense. It won’t reflect your experience, as either a man or a woman in this period of your life, in this modern world. You might even think what I’m saying is patronising or pretentious or just well wide of the mark. You might not like it at all.
But if it speaks to you. If you are a woman, feeling the challenges of choice and time, who wants to create a career, relationship and family that support each other and enrich you so you are deeply fulfilled as your best, happiest self. If you want someone to hold you to your convictions, to help you find your zone of genius, to live as your best self and to create the life that is calling to you, the life your foremothers have fought for. If this speaks to you, and if you want to do this in the company of the man Kristen describes and the company of other amazing, creative, successful women facing these challenges. If this speaks to you, then let’s talk.
The Pioneering Women Programme is a group coaching programme for a maximum of six women, who want to create a truly fulfilling life as a modern woman, where career, relationship and family support and enrich each other.