09: Eleanor Beaton: Fierce Feminine Leadership

Melinda Wittstock:         Taking flight with me today on Wings of Inspired Business is Eleanor Beaton. Eleanor is an expert in women’s leadership development. She’s served as chair of the Visiting Women’s Executive Exchange Program at the Yale School of Management, and she received the 2017 Women Worth Watching award for her work in diversity and inclusion. And of course, she has a podcast of her own. It’s awesome. It’s called Fierce Feminine Leadership, the Success Podcast for Ambitious Women. Welcome to Wings, Eleanor.
Eleanor Beaton:               Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Melinda Wittstock:         So let’s talk Fierce Feminine Leadership. What is fierce?
Eleanor Beaton:               Fierce is boldness. Fierce is having grit and resilience, and ultimately, I think it’s an unwavering commitment to your intentions as a leader.
Melinda Wittstock:         So many women and men can live lives where it’s kind of easy to get blown off course, especially if you don’t know your why or you don’t know where you’re going or you don’t know your what. And so when you’re advising women, how often is it, when they’re struggling to achieve the success that they want? They haven’t even actually defined what they want.
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, I think that’s something that is very common for a number of different reasons. As women in particular, I think it’s … from a young age, we are in some ways trained to ignore the things that are most important to us. We’re trained to be pleasing. We’re trained to not make too much of a fuss about things. I mean, look at what’s going on today in Hollywood, this huge awareness around the degree to which women have been silenced for standing up for themselves. So this is a large sort of cultural force that can deeply disconnect us from really being true, listening to, understanding, much less expressing what it is that we actually want. So one of the first things that we as leaders need to do is to firmly connect to our vision, to our instincts, to our intuition.
Melinda Wittstock:         Are there practical tips for how women in particular can do that? I know that we often live life of should’s, and we’re not even aware of it. It’s like what we’ve learned from school or the media or our parents, and often, a lot of it’s subconscious. And whenever I find myself saying, “Oh, I should do that, or I should do that,” I’ve come to learn that that’s not me talking. That’s somebody else talking. So how do you help women get past the ‘should’ and into her authentic genuineness, in terms of what she really wants?
Eleanor Beaton:               I think that it depends on where in the journey I’m meeting the person, but typically, the women that I’m working with are at a level where they have achieved a degree of success, usually a really high degree of success. And often, it has been by understanding the rules and really playing by the rules. And now, they are in a situation where they have the connections, they have the influence, they have the power, they have the means to be able to start changing the game. And I think that’s where it gets really exciting.
And at that point, it becomes an act of really listening and listening to your intuition and trusting yourself that the things that you want to achieve … and they often kind of manifest as a vision or a yearning to create something, that those things are worthy and that you are capable of doing them simply because … by virtue of the fact that you’re dreaming them in the first place. So at that stage, it becomes about a couple of things.
Number one, it becomes about simply bearing witness and holding a safe and sacred place for women to express their BHAGs, their big, hairy, audacious goals. It’s so important, and Sheryl Sandberg has talked about this, creating safe spaces for women to express their ambition, because historically … And we have not, as a society, been kind to bold, ambitious women. So first of all, really creating that space … sometimes, that’s all it takes.
But beyond that, I think it becomes about really taking an audit of things like practices and networks that they may have, so really beginning to be very aware of … what are the practices? What are the thoughts? Who are the people that you have in your life that, perhaps, you need to release, perhaps you need to overcome in order to spend much more of your time in service of your intention and ambition than in service of your fear?
Melinda Wittstock:         Oh, beautifully said. Often on this podcast … and all of the women that I’ve interviewed in my book, this is a pattern that comes up again and again. I mean, it’s really who you surround yourself with. And sometimes, your friends or a partner, a husband can be well intentioned, perhaps, but they, in expressing their fear, can derail us from our ambition. So something even as sort of seemingly innocent as, “Are you sure you’re okay,” right, can subtly put us off track. It’s the subtle things that I think are sometimes the more difficult, because they’re harder to see.
Eleanor Beaton:               Totally, absolutely. I couldn’t agree me. The “Are you okay?” It’s crazy-making, really, the … “Are you sure? You’re working awfully hard.” And I don’t think men get those same questions, because quite frankly, when I think about the women who are really doing … When I think about the people who are really doing things, they are all working very hard. Like, you really cannot achieve great things without hard work. Now, this whole idea of working smart, not hard, I think is a load of BS, really, because I think you have to work smart and you have to work hard.
And so what so many ambitious, successful women can face sometimes is this lack of social acceptance around women working hard in service of their ambition. And so it becomes this quandary that we are supposed to make it look effortless and easy when, so much of the time, it is about making choices, setting priorities, and doing what’s required in service of … again, in service of your intention, of your goals, of your dreams. Whether you’re building a business, whether you’re trying to build a non-profit, whether you’re trying to drive social change at the community level. All of those things require a certain level of hustle and grind.
Melinda Wittstock:         Oh, yeah. No, that’s absolutely true. I mean, I find though, don’t you, that sometimes women have a hard time asking for help. And so when I come at this as a tech entrepreneur, I mean, the only way that I can build a scalable company is by getting out of my own way, right, and understanding the concept of leverage, which comes so much easier, I think, to men. It’s kind of like I’m going to double down on my strengths and hire my weaknesses. And for women, I think we often feel the pressure to do it all. Where does that come from?
Eleanor Beaton:               I think it comes back to this idea of perfection, for sure. There is a lot of … There’s a lot of social pressure on women to have all the elements of our lives be perfect. I think about Business Barbie. So it’s … Business Barbie has a fantastic business. She looks fierce in a bikini. Her kids are well adjusted. She does the carpool. She cooks amazing raw vegan meals. I mean, there’s whole sort of fetishization of successful women, which can absolutely be challenging.
On the other hand, we’re not all running around with completely frazzled hot messes. The reality is somewhere in between that. I think a lot of ambitious women are working hard. They’re serving in their communities. They are taking care of themselves, but our calendars are full. So do women have a harder time asking for help? Some do, and some … it becomes a discipline, and it becomes sort of a change in mindset that you don’t have to do it all, that you can absolutely ask for help.
Incidentally, I remember speaking to somebody once about the difference between families that have been wealthy for generations and the nouveau riche, and the big difference was that families who have been wealthy for generations … they don’t ask. Young Tommy or young Thomasina is … she’s graduated from university. She’s looking for her first big job. The families that have been wealthy for generations, they start asking around for connections and introductions for Thomasina, whereas the nouveau riche would be much more likely to do it all themselves.
So I think when you look at men and women, men have been in power outside the home for millennia, and for women, it’s very new. And so I see that same trend that we still have this belief that we need to do it ourselves. We’re still getting used to the idea that we can leverage networks, and that’s just … I think that’s going to change through time and through decades of having women in powerful positions really working our networks better.
Melinda Wittstock:         It’s interesting what you said about not only the networks, but this kind of creation of space to really honor ambitious women who are going and doing big, bold things in the world. Big kind of moonshots, creating, potentially, billion dollar unicorns. It’s often difficult, because it’s not just the men that are … “Wait. Wait a minute, what are you doing?” But often, other women can … I don’t know, not be as supportive as they could.
So what’s really exciting is to see you doing your podcast and this podcast. I mean, the mission of this as well is to really create that safe space. Let’s talk about it. Let’s support each other. Let’s create those networks, write checks for each other, really … I think you referred to it once as … I heard one of your podcasts. You were talking about the tall poppy syndrome. The woman that does really stand out, and she’s really bold and strong and all of that can sometimes get kind of cut down by her sisters. What do you….
Eleanor Beaton:               It’s so painful.
Melinda Wittstock:         Right. I mean, it is, and I mean, do you perceive that that’s changing? And how can we accelerate that change maybe a little faster?
Eleanor Beaton:               I think it is changing because of the awareness. The author Tara Moore has written on this, and I agree with so much of what she says, that typically when you have a disadvantaged group or a group that has been disadvantaged over time, it is not unusual to have this perception that there is only space for a few of us, because historically-
Melinda Wittstock:         A scarcity.
Eleanor Beaton:               That has been true.
Melinda Wittstock:         Yeah.
Eleanor Beaton:               That has absolutely been true.
Melinda Wittstock:         Right.
Eleanor Beaton:               So logically, when you think about it logically, it makes sense. It doesn’t make the experience any less painful. It is … and so I think a couple of things happened, and a couple of things are changing. And I absolutely think there is a growing body of women out there who have made it their mission to normalize women’s ambition, women’s accomplishment, and really start to change the narrative around what it means to be successful and ambitious as a woman.
And so I think your podcast, my podcast, and there are a lot of other people out there. I think about entrepreneurs like Cindy Whitehead, who … very, very successful. Billions of dollars in two exits, across two exits. Incredibly successful entrepreneur, and really, she is out there everywhere, talking about her ambition to really make women founders filthy rich so that we can go … It’s incredible. And these are the types of … we need voices like this to, again, help normalize women’s ambition and really shift the narrative.
So that’s part of it, but on a very basic level, I can remember having a conversation with somebody who … and I noticed that she was criticizing a woman entrepreneur for how she was marketing and the degree to which she was marketing her business. And I called her on it. In that conversation, I decided I’m not going to be the person that, through my silence, allows this narrative to take root and continue. So I think as women, we can absolutely help to amplify the narrative and support women and their ambition. And I think that we need to begin the discipline, the boundary-setting of halting the opposite narrative when we see it. So much of success is about boundary setting, and that’s one powerful boundary to set.
Melinda Wittstock:         That’s so interesting. A little bit earlier, you talked about women playing by the rules as opposed to going out and changing the game. And of course, as an entrepreneur, if you’re out kind of creating a product that’s never been created before, solving a problem that hasn’t been solved or disrupting a whole industry, by definition, you are changing the game. So trying to bring into alignment our acculturation of good little girls with our hands up, speak when spoken to … all that play by the rules stuff that we’re supposed to do, that we’ve been acculturated that way. And yet, we’re going out increasingly in larger and larger numbers to go do these big, disruptive moonshots. Is there sometimes a disconnect that is like a fault line in our potential success if we don’t align those two things better?
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, absolutely. So I think that to me, it’s all about taking … and great innovation happens … the best innovations have happened when you take a new idea or you take an existing idea and apply it to a different model. There are very few totally new ideas. What you’re generally seeing is somebody who has applied something from one industry or one place successfully to a new place. It’s that transfer of knowledge. So I think that to say the current model is totally broken … on the one hand, it’s very … there’s something very energetic around that.
But I think … when I think about founders that I know who are, for instance, in the technology space who are trying to bring new businesses to market, they are actively pitching investors. They are. They need to … so for instance, playing by the rules is, if you want to go talk to a VC, you’ve got to have an introduction, which means that you have to spend some time cultivating and building your network. That’s the rule of the game. And so if you go out and say, “Look, who cares. Screw the rules. I’m not going to play by those rules. I’m going to do my own thing.” It’s like, “Well, great. Have a lot of fun getting no money.” Right?
So I think we need to be … I think that we need to really understand. When I think about people who’ve been very successful, they have understood how the game works. They’ve been intentional about when they’re playing by the rules, and they are intentional about when they’re breaking them.
Melinda Wittstock:         Right. So it’s really a consciousness.
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, it’s total consciousness and self-awareness. Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock:         I joke with people that if you want to grow as a person or really … oh, just be … I don’t know all these different words for it, personal growth or whatever as a catchphrase. Become an entrepreneur. I mean, it’s better therapy.
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:         Than paying for it, actually, because it tests your being at every step of the way. There’s these kind of ups and downs and the rollercoaster of it. One of the things that I’ve noticed in my entrepreneurial career… because I’m one of those serial types, right? So this is like company number four.
Eleanor Beaton:               One of those. One of those.
Melinda Wittstock:         One of those, yeah. I’m one of those, and so … But I’ve noticed along the way that women are more likely to take failure personally or make it about themselves, and I know that I’ve done that with myself at times. I’ve just been much more likely to take responsibility for things that I can’t even control, and I kind of caught myself doing this. And I thought … I’ve taught myself now to say, whenever I’m falling into that trap, it’s like, “Oh, how interesting. Why am I doing that?” But I find that men are less likely to do that. How can we get out of our own way in that sense of when it is personal and when it’s not.
Eleanor Beaton:               It’s so interesting, and I love this topic, because on the one hand, I believe that our personal connection and personal investment in what we do is what makes women such powerful leaders. It really … it creates a whole different level of accountability to your company, to your investors, to your employees. And so in some cases, I wonder if we need to flip the argument and say, “Why aren’t men taking their losses more personally, and is it really a bad thing to take these losses personally? Is that the level of accountability that we want and need in order to have more accountability generally across society?”
So on the one hand, I celebrate that tendency in women, and I think it’s part of what makes us very strong, powerful leaders. On the other hand, you do, in order … business and entrepreneurship is ultimately a huge act of resilience. It’s facing your fears. It’s allocating resources appropriately. It’s making decisions, and it’s being able to bounce back. And so I see what you’re saying. That ability to kind of not take things personally, to be able to shake it off, is important.
It’s interesting. There’s some research from EY that looks at the link between women who are leaders inside large organizations and a history of competitive sport, and their study … they actually found that there was … that at that level, women were much more likely to have played a competitive sport than to have not played a competitive sport, and I found this fascinating, because what competitive sport teaches you to do … First and foremost, you’ve got to play as a team. You have to strive, and you must learn to take a loss. You must learn to take a loss, and if you can’t take a loss, your career in sport is going to be limited. There is no such thing as an undefeated hero.
Let’s take a look at what happened to Usain Bolt at the World Championships this year. He took some pretty devastating losses for him. That’s part of the game. So I think that we, on the one hand, need to celebrate our tendency to take things personally and as a sign of a deep commitment and investment to our work, and on the other hand, I think we need to see our losses for what they are. That’s what happens when you’re in the ring, and if you’re not willing to lose, it’s going to be hard for you to win.
Melinda Wittstock:         Beautifully said. So were you a competitive sportsperson?
Eleanor Beaton:               Girlfriend, yes, and I still am.
Melinda Wittstock:         Ah, okay.
Eleanor Beaton:               I still play a lot of competitive team sports, because … well, listen. I call them competitive. These are women’s leagues, but they’re filled with … it’s really fun. They’re filled with a lot of ex-university athletes, moms like we … People are bringing their kids to the games. But it’s amazing, because there’s a lot of heat, right? Like, when you are playing basketball or soccer … those are the two sports that I play, especially basketball. You’re in the key. There’s a ton of heat. There’s pushing. There’s all of that kind of thing. That’s part of what it means to engage and play, to engage in and perform in a field of play.
And so you learn to engage, to get annoyed, to get frustrated with your opponent, to shake it off, and then to shake hands afterward. And this is really important discipline. I think it’s that ability to lean in, to engage. One of the things that I’m always on the watch-out for with my clients is all the places in which they are tolerating false harmony, in which we are saying that we’re looking to build consensus. We’re looking to make sure everybody’s included and have everybody’s voices heard, and in so doing, we start to see conflict as a bad thing.
But when I think about business success, I know that having vigorous debate, being able to have heated discussions and disagreements about things in a boardroom and then be able to walk out those doors and still be friends, still have a solid working relationship, that is so important. And that’s what competitive sport teaches you to do.
Melinda Wittstock:         I can’t agree more, and yet, have you ever had this happen where you feel … say, for instance, as a woman, you’re engaged. You’re direct, and polite and everything, but direct, and being able to have that conflict, because I think that’s necessary. That’s part of the way the game of business is played. There is a rough and tumble. Doesn’t mean you don’t have to be nice or impolite, but so many times, other women have said to me things like, “Melinda, you’re very direct.” And I’m like, “Uh-huh (yes).”
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:         “And?” Right?
Eleanor Beaton:               Absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock:         What’s at the root of that?
Eleanor Beaton:               And I think this is where that sort of relentlessness happens. Let me put it this way. Agreed. Agreed, and for me, one of the biggest lessons that I had to learn was how to be more direct and how to … because I actually am not naturally direct. I may have been born that way, but my growing up, through all the different sort of social forces and learning how to be more acceptable … and plus, I’m a very tall, physically imposing person, so-
Melinda Wittstock:         How tall are you? How tall are you?
Eleanor Beaton:               I’m six feet, and I wear heels all the time.
Melinda Wittstock:         You are six feet? Oh, that’s awesome.
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, right? So it’s-
Melinda Wittstock:         Oh, I love it.
Eleanor Beaton:               Right? And so I … for me, it was … I definitely had the thing going on where I would sometimes … I wouldn’t slouch, but I was aware, so kind of downplaying that. So for me, I had to re-learn how to be very direct in certain circumstances to make sure there was no lack of clarity about what I think and what I feel and what I want you to understand. So what I had to learn to do that was very helpful was to learn how to be direct and how to do it in a way that enabled the person I was speaking with to hear me.
So typically, what I’ll say is I will be direct about something. Or if I’m getting into a conversation with somebody and there is some heat, because we’re working out some details about something, there is some heat in the conversation, I will always call that out and acknowledge it. And I’ll say what I want to say, and then I will say something along the lines of, “Listen, there’s some heat in this discussion, and that’s always uncomfortable. But what’s most important to me is that we are very honest with one another at this stage and that we both know exactly where we’re coming from. So I’m being very direct because I want to make sure that you get that.” So by acknowledging it, it calls it out. You can clear the air, and it give them permission to be direct, as well. And you can make a lot of headway in a conversation like that.
Melinda Wittstock:         When we have these conversations about the difference of men and women … I want to go back to this concept of this kind of equilibrium we were talking about before. I always get fascinated by … I guess in a Carl Jung sense, the archetypal feminine and the archetypal masculine. And we’re probably all … men and women alike are on some sort of sliding scale. But when we talk about feminine power and feminine strength, for so long, those words, strength and power, were associated with masculinity, which makes a lot of women think that to be powerful or strong, they have to be this kind of driving, tough … whatever. They go into a little bit more on the masculine side. What is feminine power? Is there a difference? And I suppose it’s different for everybody, but I guess I’m struggling with this question a little bit, because there’s no ideal. Like, everybody’s different, right?
Eleanor Beaton:               Well, yeah, and I love … and I think you nailed it when you talked about the idea of archetype, and I love this question. So one of the big kind of moments that happened for me … So I was … back in the day, I was working on a novel, and I was working on a masters in fine arts in creative writing. At that level, what you’re really looking at is structure of stories and so on, and I came across one of the sort of classic structures for any story is this idea of the hero’s journey.
So the hero, he hears the call. He goes out into the world, meeting increasingly difficult obstacles, overcoming them, and ultimately, the hero gets what he wants or what he needs. And that’s kind of the resolution. So there is an alternative, and it’s called the heroine’s journey, and it’s really … this is something that has been in society, but was really articulated by a woman named Maureen Murdock. And she talks about the healthy feminine and the healthy masculine.
So the healthy feminine … and what, I think, feminine power is, the healthy feminine is creativity, collaboration, innovation. The healthy masculine … get this, and I love this, is protection, provision, and backup. So what we often think about as very masculine is actually unhealthy masculine. Domineering, competitive, destructive, which is … and there’s unhealthy feminine, as well, and I think some of that … which is also competition, undermining.
So I think that inside all of us, in order to achieve what we need, we must have both the healthy feminine and the healthy masculine. We absolutely need both, and the problem is, as women, when we don’t have the healthy masculine, provision, protection, and backup … if we don’t understand that, deep within us, we have what we need to back ourselves up, we have what we need to provide for ourselves, for our families, for our ideas, and we can protect our vision, our creativity, all of that, we start to look for it outside ourselves. And that’s not a sustainable model, so it’s-
Melinda Wittstock:         So this is where we want to be. This is where we go in … back into our Disney fantasy of being rescued by the handsome prince.
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, that’s right, or … And it’s got to come from inside us, and so when I think about in the world of business, you’re going to get eaten alive. You cannot engage if you don’t have your own sense of preservation, backup, provision. We need both. We absolutely need both. That’s feminine power, when you got it all together, in my mind.
Melinda Wittstock:         That’s awesome. So on Wings of Inspired Business, where I often say, “Hey, welcome sheroes,” and that’s the way I talk about super sheroes, and people ask me what I mean by that. And I’ve come down to thinking of it this way, and I’m curious on your take of it, is really a female innovator who uses what I’d call a kind of gentle power or intuition, emotional intelligence, while demonstrating really dynamic execution. And so this is not the kind of alpha business woman, sharp shouldered, living this kind of unbalanced life or pursuing, I guess, what you just described as the unhealthy masculine, right? But there’s a real balance or sort of maybe an integration or just a higher level of consciousness. How does that resonate with you?
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, there’s a wholeness there.
Melinda Wittstock:         Yes.
Eleanor Beaton:               I mean, I think about … my kids do martial arts, and I’m a little obsessed with martial arts because of the … of what they teach about life, like the life lessons that they teach. And when you think about a master, a master warrior, a master in martial arts, a few things happen. Number one, they are looking to not have the fight. They are looking to avoid … they avoid getting into troublesome situations, so they know where to engage and where not to engage. That’s kind of first and foremost.
And the other thing I think about martial arts which is so important, when I think about kind of the hero/shero thing, there is a calmness, a steadiness. There is actually deep compassion and respect. And so when I think about sheroes and heroes and business leaders whom I truly admire, they are both incredibly courageous. They don’t engage where it’s unnecessary, but they are not afraid to engage when it’s important. And to me, it’s the classic sort of service leader, as well, understanding that we’re here to serve, to serve our intention, to serve society. And ultimately, and so importantly, to serve our team, the people who are there beside us building that vision alongside us.
Melinda Wittstock:         That’s beautiful. So when you look back … I always like to ask people about what their childhood was like, and you have already talked about sports, and competitive sports was a good thing. But did you always know that you were entrepreneurial in a way as a girl?
Eleanor Beaton:               No. Oh no, I was going to be a model/investment banker.
Melinda Wittstock:         Oh, but I love that.
Eleanor Beaton:               Right? Right?
Melinda Wittstock:         That’s pretty awesome, so-
Eleanor Beaton:               So actually, I was growing up when … it was the age of the supermodel. It was like Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and I was just … I remember being just obsessed with these ladies, and it’s so funny to me now. So yeah. And then, one of my heroes, my personal role models, was my aunt, who was a very successful investment banker at a time when there were very few women doing this. And she ultimately … she got out, because she wrote a series of bestselling financial thrillers. And so I was just completely in awe of her, completely in awe of Linda Evangelista. And so as a little girl, as a young girl, that’s what I wanted to do. I was like, “Yep, and I’m going to be a model and an investment banker at the same time.”
Melinda Wittstock:         But that’s great.
Eleanor Beaton:               Right, of course, because it’s what you-
Melinda Wittstock:         Yeah.
Eleanor Beaton:               So really, my dad was a prof. My mom was a homemaker when I was growing up. I really looked at very traditional jobs. I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to go to law school. I didn’t know what was out there. It was ultimately … but beginning in my mid-20s, I really saw that I wanted to kind of architect or design my own experience. And so that’s really what pushed me into the world of entrepreneurship.
Melinda Wittstock:         I love that you mentioned your aunt. I had a similar aunt. She was actually Canada’s first female stockbroker, like in the ’60s.
Eleanor Beaton:               Oh, I love it.
Melinda Wittstock:         And so it was interesting watching her, though, because she never married. And I remember as a young girl, this kind of dialogue around her. Like, “Oh, poor Bea. She’s a spinster.” And then … right? And then, meanwhile, there was a disconnect for me as a little girl, because I would look at her, and I’d say, “Well, so she’s driving this Austin-Healey Sprite, and she has a Lincoln Continental, and she’s golfing all the time. She has these amazing clothes. She looks incredibly happy.”
But it was fascinating, because in order to succeed at this, she had to go and create her own market. She figured out a way to serve women, either who were widowed or were just like stay at home women that had wealth but were normally kind of hanging around the Junior League or whatever, right? Or watching soap operas, whatever it was. But she created this whole market and educated women and ended up being one of the top producers at her firm.
And I understand it so much better as an adult, but I remember being fascinated by this, because there was this weird double standard around her. Like, oh, she sacrificed all of this in order to succeed, and it fell into that kind of double standard. Like, you can’t have it all, where she’s only in business succeeding because she doesn’t have a man. And so I remember as a young girl being a little confused by that. Like, what does that actually mean?
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, it’s the “Are you okay” feeling.
Melinda Wittstock:         It is. It is that.
Eleanor Beaton:               World’s most annoying question, “Are you okay?” Because you can feel the difference when people really … If I really think a friend is tired or exhausted, I’m not going to ask them if they’re okay. I’m going to go see them. We’re going to go … It’s a different … There is absolutely a narrative that we’re still dealing with, which is that for women to pursue their ambition, there must be something deeply wrong, or there’s another layer to the story there, which is so frustrating, because we don’t … And it’s this assumption of brokenness that we’ve got to release.
Melinda Wittstock:         Yeah, I love the motto of my daughter’s school. It’s “Find a way or make one,” which I think for … it’s a girl’s school, and I love that. I just try and think of that every day, and I try, increasingly, to apply that to people around me so I don’t end up being the person saying, “Are you okay?”
Eleanor Beaton:               Right.
Melinda Wittstock:         Because I know better, right? And every now and again, just unconsciously, you find yourself doing something. So it’s just always a battle to get kind of more and more conscious or more aware or present where you are and surround yourself with other people who are that way, as well.
Eleanor Beaton:               Oh, yeah. That’s huge. The existence of the supportive community is so important, and not just for women, for humans. It’s really important, not just a supportive community, but a community that supports the person you’re coming and not just the person that you are. Oprah Winfrey said once that people will support you until you exceed their expectations of you, and she talked about this from her own experience. And that’s kind of true. There’s this saying from the Bible … it’s not from the Bible, but it’s this idea that it’s hard to be a prophet in Nazareth.
So this idea that … it’s really important to find a community of people who support the person that you’re becoming. Shedding your skin, changing, growing … the birth of any new iteration of an idea, of a business, of yourself, it’s uncomfortable. It’s a very uncomfortable thing, not just for you, but sometimes for people around you. So I think that idea of really … and this comes back to this idea of networking and finding those people who support where you’re going. And this does not mean just start cutting people, like ghosting people from your past. It’s not about that, but it’s about making sure that you’re surrounded by people who hold space for you to grow and to become that next iteration.
Melinda Wittstock:         That’s beautiful. So when … I mean, I’m going to have to ask this obligatory question, right, which is the work/life balance question.
Eleanor Beaton:               Are you kidding me, Melinda?
Melinda Wittstock:         No, I just … I mean, I actually … I like to ask it better. I like to ask it more like work/life integration, because for me, it’s all the same thing, right? Like, right?
Eleanor Beaton:               Yep.
Melinda Wittstock:         But how should … just what’s your best practical advice, Eleanor, about how women should navigate this? Because I was just thinking, I have this word picture in my mind of the Business Barbie, and … right? And the pressure to do it all and be all things to all people. I mean, how do we … how do we-
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, how do we do that?
Melinda Wittstock:         You’re right.
Eleanor Beaton:               And I’m just kidding around, because I think from a practical perspective, this is a really useful and instructive question, because I think it reflects what we value, which is that we do value our ambition, and we do value the pursuit, but not at the expense of other things that are most important to us. So I always think about what are the … I am a deadline-oriented person, so if it’s just something that I do kind of consistently every day, there’s a few things that I can do consistently every day. Brush my teeth, get to bed relatively on time, but I like to set up deadlines, and I like to set up tasks … things that need to get done.
So for example, that’s why I want to keep in shape and keep healthy. Well, I love … I can honestly sit down and be running my business for 12 hours a day, because I love it. It’s fun, and there’s always stuff to do. So for me, that’s why I hired a personal trainer multiple years ago and I work out with her. We do high intensity weight workouts twice a week. That’s why I joined two sports teams, because I will absolutely get my butt to a game, because my team is depending on me. It’s why I recently signed up for a 10k run … not a 5k, because a 5k, I knew I could totally wing that. The 10k, I knew that I would need to do a little bit of prep, and so that was going to give me that external pew to exercise a little bit more.
So that … from a self-care perspective, that’s how I did that. On the personal front, it’s really about … for me, it’s about quality of experience over a certain time. So the other day, it’s Friday afternoon. I wrap up work early, and my son and I … my youngest son, we take the scooter to the school playground. We walk the dog there. We’re chatting. We’re hanging out, so it’s about … And so for me, it’s like I will spend a minimum of 30 minutes, one on one, quality time with the kids. And for some people, that might sound crazy little. But we’re having breakfast together. We’re around each other, but it’s for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, I’m going to be there for them and with them, and we’re going to have fun. You know what I mean?
Melinda Wittstock:         Yeah.
Eleanor Beaton:               And so it’s all … it’s about intense splashes of focus.
Melinda Wittstock:         Yes. I mean, all so often with our kids, we’re there. We’re in the same room, but we’re not really there. So actually dedicating that time to really being with them … 30 minutes is more than a lot of kids get. I think a lot of parents think they’re doing that, but-
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah. Well, you know the other thing, quite frankly, Melinda, is that there’s also been a fetishization of parenting. I mean, that parenting is even a verb. Parenting was not a verb when I was growing up, and to be honest, women actually spend … educated women today actually spend more time with their kids than they did. And correspondingly, we are also raising one of the least resilient, most stressed out, anxiety-ridden generation of kids, right?
So we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves this story that my kids need hours of my devoted attention, and that is not true. I think that, as parents, we definitely need to be present enough to listen. When our kids need to talk to us, we need to be there to listen. I don’t kid myself that I am the most supremely positive influence in my child’s life. To me, what’s important is that my kids have the experience of stability, that they know that we care, and that for me, I think my number one value is resilience. If I can raise kids who are resilient, they will find their own way.
And that is not from me spending hours and hours and hours and hours of time with them. It’s through me opening up my life journey to them, providing a stable base, being with them as much as I can, and sometimes being like, “You need to go play in the backyard right now, because I’ve got to do this, and it’s really important.”
Melinda Wittstock:         Right. Yeah, that’s pretty much how it goes for me. I mean-
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock:         I’m a single mom with an 11 year old and a 14 year old, and it-
Eleanor Beaton:               Props to you.
Melinda Wittstock:         Well, I mean, it is work/life integration.
Eleanor Beaton:               Right.
Melinda Wittstock:         But I mean, I think they see me go through sort of the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. They have … they’ve seen this journey, and I thought it was really funny when my daughter was in fifth grade. I mean, she’s a ninth grader now, but I remember she had me come to her Montessori class to talk about entrepreneurship and what it takes. And I remember the day she said, “Well, here’s the thing, mom. Please don’t do this.” And she did this kind of hockey stick kind of motion with her hand, so she kind of knew about the financial projections that you do when you’re doing like a VC. So she like kind of knew this. She said, “Don’t do that,” and then, she did this kind of wave motion with her hand. “I want you to tell them what it’s really like, mom.”
Eleanor Beaton:               I love it. I love it.
Melinda Wittstock:         And so I think your kids, by letting them in, I guess, to your work and what you do and them seeing you be resilient … because I think they learn more from what we do than what we say.
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, 100%. And it’s … yeah. And I guess … and I think that having those priorities … I mean, and it’s like running a business. There’s bright, shiny objects everywhere. It is ultimately about making choices and focusing on what’s really important. And for me, it’s really important that we have a stable home, and by stable home, I mean that they feel safe, that they feel that this is a place where they can come and be themselves, and that’s really important to me.
And the other thing that’s really important to me is that they learn how to be resilient, because that’s the gift that keeps on giving, and to achieve anything. Like, patience and resilience are just so critical, and in our culture, unfortunately, I think they are in … They are … we’re not the traditionalist generation, that’s for sure.
Melinda Wittstock:         That is for sure. So I want to end by asking you, what is inspiring you right now?
Eleanor Beaton:               What is inspiring me to no end is what we are seeing happening in our society right now about women using our voices together. It’s about collective acts of protest. It’s about collective sharing of stories and support of stories. And again, to loop back to what I opened with, what I found … and I don’t want to harbor on this. But it was a group of women. There were powerful women. There were women that you’d never heard about sharing their stories and openly sharing really vulnerable experiences that brought down one of the biggest titans in Hollywood.
Melinda Wittstock:         Right.
Eleanor Beaton:               And it was-
Melinda Wittstock:         The “Me Too”.
Eleanor Beaton:               Right? Right?
Melinda Wittstock:         The “Me Too” movement.
Eleanor Beaton:               The Me Too movement, and that was women banding together … and men, and sharing their experiences together. And I think that we are … it’s happening. There are major shifts happening, and to me, that is so incredibly inspiring, that as women, it really is about our voice. So it’s not just about our … it’s not just about having a seat at the table, it’s about having a voice at the table and supporting those voices to be heard. That, to me, is so incredibly inspiring.
Melinda Wittstock:         Wonderful. Now, you have a free gift for our super shero listeners today, and you talk a lot about confidence, that that’s the critical ingredient of leadership. And tell me a little bit more about where listeners can find this free video course that you’re offering?
Eleanor Beaton:               Yeah, it’s called … if there’s one thing that I hear again and again, even from women who have made it, this idea of confidence … it comes up again and again. And so to save myself saying the same things over and over about building confidence, I shot some videos, and it’s there for you, okay.
Melinda Wittstock:         Oh, fantastic.
Eleanor Beaton:               So it’s called confidencecourseforwomen.com.
Melinda Wittstock:         Okay.
Eleanor Beaton:               So just head on over there. It’s a free video series, and it really … confidence-building, it’s a process. And confidence can be deeply misunderstood, what it is, what it feels like, how to build it. So you can head on over to confidencecourseforwomen.com to get it.
Melinda Wittstock:         Wonderful. Thank you so much, and such an inspiring interview, Eleanor. I want to thank you for putting on your wings and flying with me today.
Eleanor Beaton:               Thank you. It was a lot of fun.
Melinda Wittstock:         Eleanor Beaton. Hey, thank you so much.

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