Core Strength: Being Happy and Having Impact in a World Run by Men
Lane’s latest book project explores not only what it takes for a woman to find and hold onto a mature and grounded sense of her authentic self and voice, but also how to leverage that self-knowledge to build a more fulfilling career path and navigate the tricky territory of a male-dominated world more effectively. In it, Lane artfully blends her own story and hard-won wisdom with insights from other women and the results of more than three years of broader research she conducted on the subject. The book explores why an authentic self and voice matter, what common patterns and hazards women face in the process of finding and holding onto them, and how women can use knowledge to become stronger and more resilient, have greater impact, and end up happier in both their professional and personal lives.
“In the spring of 1999, I became the first woman columnist in the 72-year-history of Flying magazine. Flying was founded right after Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight from New York to Paris, and in the years that followed, it became the leading publication for pilots and aviation enthusiasts in the world. I’d been a pilot since I was 24, and I’d been a professional writer for 10 years before being hired at Flying. But being the first woman in a company or industry role is always challenging, because it requires getting respect and support from co-workers who aren’t used to interacting with women in a professional capacity.
In my case, however, that inherent challenge was complicated by the fact that in order to be successful as a columnist, I had to gain the respect and support of not only my male co-workers, but also a significant portion of the magazine’s 300,000 readers—96% of whom were also men. And because I was the first, I had to figure out how to do that on my own. There were no other women to guide me; no support groups; no mentors to lean on. And yet, I managed to become not only a successful columnist, but also the West Coast Editor of the magazine—a position I held for the next 12 years.
How did I manage that? The short answer is that, by the time I was hired at Flying, I’d worked very hard to develop a strong sense of authentic self and voice, and I was able to bring the power of that knowledge to both my writing and my interactions with co-workers, industry contacts, and readers. At the time, I’m not sure I could have articulated exactly how that knowledge aided me, or how it affected my interactions with others. But looking back, I can see just how critical and central that grounded self-awareness was in my success—even if some aspects of how it played out were surprising to discover.
But the long answer goes beyond the happy ending of how I was able to use that kind of knowledge and voice, once I had a clear and determined hold on it. It’s about what it took to get there, and just how difficult it is for women to find and hold onto that sense of self and voice in the world.
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I was 37 when I was hired at Flying. There were certainly points before then when I would have asserted, quite adamantly, that I knew myself well and had fierce confidence in my voice. But in between those moments of clarity were stretches where I stumbled and lost my way or allowed my voice to be silenced. My job at Flying, in fact, marked my second attempt at making my way in the world of aviation. I’d gotten lost, the first time around. And before making the decision to try again, I spent four years thinking long and hard about who I really was, what still mattered to me, and not just where I wanted to go next, but how to get there without losing myself again.
It was an awareness of that dichotomy: on the one hand, the tremendous power and importance of a woman’s authentic voice, and on the other, the immense difficulty women face in finding that voice, holding on to it, and figuring out how wield its power effectively, that motivated me to write this book.
I knew, having walked the road myself, that there was no simple formula or prescriptive self-help answer to finding, following, or protecting a mature, grounded, and authentic voice. It was an explorer’s journey; a lifelong effort requiring courage, commitment, a lot of hard honesty, and more than a few tears. But as someone who’d done a lot of solo flying and hiking, I also knew what a difference it could make to have access to the wisdom of others who’d traveled that route before you, or a guide to what elements and equipment might be helpful, as well as markers or hazards to watch for along the way.
So I set out to gather and share as much of that wisdom and information as I could—not only from my own experience, but from the experience of others, as well. I spent more than three years reading, researching, and interviewing women all over the country. And the results were fascinating. When I compiled all the data and transcripts, there were, in fact, patterns that emerged; common elements that were important or helpful in every woman’s journey, as well as common hazards women needed to avoid.
In writing this book, I also thought about what else would have been helpful for me to know on my own journey: what information, wisdom, comfort or encouragement I wish I could have had.
Perhaps the most important thing I wish I’d had was a better understanding of what I was looking for and why it mattered. The term “authentic voice” has been so over-simplified, and so casually and glibly overused, that it can sometimes seem like a meaningless cliché. But mastering full and honest knowledge of who we really are, and then finding the courage to hang onto that truth and bring it into the world, even when that means enduring disapproval or rejection from others, is anything but simple or easy. So if I wanted to help other women, I needed to make sure I acknowledged and addressed the full complexity of that truth, and that struggle.
I also wish I could have had a better understanding of why doing the work to find that truth was so important, and what I was really up against, in terms of both the challenge itself and the complex expectations and pressures that might push me off course. Forewarned is forearmed, and having a clear sense of why the goal mattered would have helped me make some of the hard choices and generate the determination to keep going, even when the going got really hard.
In a more practical vein, it would have been immensely helpful if someone could have told me what elements or actions would help me identify and develop that kind of strong and authentic core and voice, as well as some of the hazards I needed to avoid along the way. If I’d had that, I could have saved myself a lot of time, wrong turns, and heartache. I also wish I had understood more about how to use that knowledge of self and voice to navigate the tricky waters of a male industry and the world at large.
I still would have lost battles and endured hits. Having a strong core and authentic voice doesn’t mean everything turns out okay. It just increases your ability to have meaningful impact, weather the storms, and figure out a good “Plan B.” And that matters, because while not every woman is battling for recognition and survival in a male-dominated industry, we all live in a world that, in terms of power, culture and voice, is still dominated by men. What’s more, the elements that allow a woman to be strong, effective, and resilient in a male environment are no different from what allows a woman to be both happy and successful in any environment where she has to interact with people not exactly like herself. Including her own home.
But the other thing I really I wish I’d had was the comfort of knowing that I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t the only woman who didn’t have it all figured out. So I’ve done my best to share not only my own story of stumbles, successes, and important lessons learned, but to weave in the insights and stories of other women who’ve walked the same road; explorers and brave hearts who were smart enough to take notes along the way, and kind enough to share that hard-won wisdom with me.
We all stumble. But if we can become good enough explorers to figure out who we really are and what matters most to us, and then hold onto that core self, using it as a compass to help us navigate all the pressures, expectations, responsibilities, changes and challenges in our careers and lives, we won’t stumble as often. And the voice we bring into the world will be not only authentic, but also grounded, powerful, and tinged with joy.”
If you’d like to hear Lane talk a little about the book and read excerpts from the introduction, you can watch her video here.