379 Barbara Cox: The Muse Process
What does it mean to be in your authentic feminine power? For years many women business leaders denied their femininity and at a cost. Now we know the words feminine and power are not an oxymoron – and that the archetypal feminine attributes of inclusion, relationship, and empathy are giving women entrepreneurs a leading edge.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur, author and psychologist who is an expert on feminine power.
Dr. Barbara Cox is the author of The Muse Process: Unleashing the Power of the Feminine for Success and Fulfillment. She is a psychologist and executive coach who shares the power of the feminine archetype to build community, increase personal intuition, and create lasting change (and profit) in companies and organizations. She has been a featured expert in many publications, such as Cosmopolitan, NBC News, Bustle, and Euro News, as well as for UNESCO’s 2018 World Congress for the Organization of World Heritage Cities, where she spoke on the psychology of building community in groups and cities.
Today we’re going to talk about how women can leverage their innate powers of collaboration, empathy, and intuition in business … and why men increasingly are turning to these skills in business.
Her Muse Process theory came to be during a unique time in her life. A new mom, Barbara was also working as a psychologist and executive coach, helping women from all walks of life to rediscover their purpose and reconnect with the “spark” that drives them. In doing this work, she became acutely aware of a pattern that she would see over and over again in her clients’ lives – as they took on new roles, women seemed to lose their sense of individuality, which ignited feelings of isolation and invisibility. Being a new mom herself, Barbara could see opportunities for this pattern to unfold in her own life. It was that experience that helped her create The Muse Process, a five-step process to help shift people from hopeless and disengaged to empowered and seen.
In her research, she noticed that once her clients got married/partnered or had children, everything else in their lives (career, friends, hobbies, connections to others) became low priority and their overall well-being suffered. She also realized that this was not a conscious decision the women made. Certain life circumstances, like becoming a wife, a mother, or girlfriend even, can activate an unconscious belief system based on the collective mindset that altered their sense of self as women. The Muse Process teaches women how to access their inner feminine power to regain their individuality and make themselves a priority in their own lives again, which benefits their other relationships as well.
As you’ll hear today on wings Barbara’s work draws on the notion of the collective unconscious – a set of guiding principles that is passed down in society from generation to generation. People are born into these subconscious guiding principles that influence their individual choices, whether they know it or not. It’s deep, structural programming we don’t see, while it guides our feelings, decisions, and behaviors.
She teaches women how to shift their mindsets – both on a collective unconscious level and the conscious level – to reignite their state of power and visibility.
So are you ready to dive into the authentic feminine with Dr. Barbara Cox? I am. Let’s fly!
Melinda Wittstock: Barbara, welcome to Wings.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Hi Melinda. Thanks for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: Barbara, I am so excited to talk to you because on this podcast, we talk a lot about feminine power not being an oxymoron. That our feminine is actually a wonderful asset in business and yet, sometimes we don't use it. We step into masculine energy, perhaps, because we think we have to or those are our only role models.
Melinda Wittstock: So I want to start there with really on the positive. What is it truly amazing and inspiring about the feminine archetype in business when leveraged properly?
Dr. Barbara Cox: That's a wonderful question and I would love to give you more insight on what the research is and why it works. So, lots of research has shown that when we build in the feminine qualities into the workplace, people are more productive and the bottom line excels because that's basically what business is here for.
Dr. Barbara Cox: The feminine qualities are usually defined as collaboration, connection, intuition, those types of things, where you're building relationships, you're collaborating. You're building community. And in my work with clients, especially during … and I do some recruiting consulting. So interviewing people for different positions and seeing where they'd be a good fit for different agencies or organizations. One of the themes I hear time and time again is the need for people to feel at home. When people are interviewing for a place and looking for a place … and this is a lot of male techy engineers, stereotypical computer nerd types … I saw a common theme. They look for someplace they want to call home where they feel like they belong. They have a community and they're connected.
Dr. Barbara Cox: So, this is what my definition of the feminine archetype or the feminine energy is that you're working in that realm, where you're working on that collaboration and connection. So this is a place for both men and women and I'm seeing a trend where the men are actually valuing this. They're verbally acknowledging the importance of it and they're craving that and they're looking for it.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. I see that too. I see them really even as corporate cultures change from more of a … it used to be a command/control. Do it because I say so kind of attitude to a much more collaborative/inclusive one. And that presumably is this feminine archetype taking shape in business.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right. And I feel like that's kind of the natural next step of our evolution as a culture. So when you talk about the command level like “just do it”, that's what I consider the hierarchical model where it's like a pyramidal or triangular shape where there's one top dog and everyone else is somewhere down in the bottom. Whereas now, the structures that work well and organizations are more circular, where it's based on collaboration or different team groups that are working together on a collective goal.
Melinda Wittstock: Hmm, yeah. I see that the companies that actually have more of that culture actually doing better.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: And apropos of your point that people want to work at a company or an organization that they feel like it's home. They feel included. So to attract top talent, it's really important to have this sort of culture. What I find so curious though is how women tend to easily fall into real masculine energy.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: Like that I'll define that as do, do, do, do, do. Really focused kind of heads down, I'm going to, I don't know, spear the wildebeest and bring it back. And it can work for a time but I see a lot of women really burning out and being unhappy when they work that way. And yet, it's almost like they think they have to. Do you see that too?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right. And that's where I touch on what I call the collective unconscious and it's basically in a nutshell the programming we've kind of inherited from our culture, our group, our neighborhood, our team. Even companies have that. It's like this is the way we've always done it so people don't question it. And in American culture, it's kind of glorified that puritanical like work, work, work, do, do, do. I think you said like go after the spear the-
Melinda Wittstock: The wildebeest, yes.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right. I love that image. Go spear the wildebeest. That's masculine energy and my concept, the way things work, and the work happier is not that we downplay the masculine energy. It's not an either/or. It's both. It's and/and. And you know, we need sometimes that directive, do, do, do energy and we also need the opposite side of that pole is working more from a restorative place. The research, again, I always go back to that because people say, “Are you just saying this off the top of your head?” And yeah, it feels great to lay around and go to the beach but the research shows that when people take downtime, they do better coming back to the task later on. That it's physically impossible to work even eight straight hours. You have to take a certain amount of time to regenerate and restore for the creative faculties to come back online.
Dr. Barbara Cox: So, the action piece is the masculine energy. The restorative regenerative piece is the feminine energy. And we both have … we have both of those sides of the battery internally, if that makes sense.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. No, it really, really does. I think it's interesting though too that women have a tendency to multitask. And we can. Our brains are designed that way that we can have a lot of concepts all live and wired together in our minds at the same time which makes us uniquely suited to being able to multitask. We have to do that when we have young children. You know? All of that. And yet, is it a good way to work in business or not really?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Well, wow. That's a great question. My take is that multitasking, you kind of work … you apply it as needed. So again, I'm going to go back to the feminine archetype of intuition is considered more right brained. What I would call the feminine archetype. Left brain is more analysis. So left brain is an analysis of one thing at a time. Intuition is kind of looking at the big picture and multitasking. So again, just like the action versus regeneration pole, I look at life as always a battery. There's the masculine side and there's the feminine side. When you charge your car and you put the charger cables on your car battery, you put one on each side to make it start. You don't just clip the charger cable to one side because then it wouldn't charge. So, we need the multitasking and we need the focus.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. It's interesting. With all things in life, something that is a wonderful asset has a flip side to it.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: You know? It's really interesting. I see so many women though … I see a trend that a lot of us particularly in my generation. In our 20s and 30s, if we were ambitious women and we were entrepreneurs and career women, really going for it, going big, all of that. We were often the only woman in the room and our only role models and our only mentors, if we had them, were men.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: So, that's what we mimicked. And it worked for a time until it didn't. I've seen a lot of us kind of burn out or just what was working suddenly stops working. And it sort of forces you to have to think in a new way or step into your feminine. Or you're a dude all the time at home with your husband or partner who doesn't really want to be with a dude. Right?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Frustrating, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Because we don't really know how to turn that off necessarily. So, there's all kinds of things that happen to women I think in their 40s and 50s where it's like oh wait a minute. I'm a woman. Whoops. How do I do that? I've seen that so much.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah. And so, I think this is the kind of trend that with all the movements coming together of standing up for, honoring the feminine and I think in a direct way, men are honoring it too saying we want to find a home. We want to feel at home at work. We want to feel collaboration and community. Everyone is searching for that. So I think everyone as a collective is kind of saying, “Hey, we forgot about honoring the archetypal mother. We want to have someplace to go where people care about us. That's important.” Production, we've got to eat, sure. But that doesn't keep you cozy and comfortable. You know, producing, producing, producing.
Dr. Barbara Cox: So I think we as a culture are realizing that archetypal mom, the archetypal soft cozy spot is something we all yearn for and to get back to it, and the more we talk about it like this and be open and say, “Hey, this is useful too,” to just think about it in those terms.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. So your book is called The Muse Process: Unleashing the Power of the Feminine for Success and Fulfillment. And I'm curious about the muse process. What is the muse process?
Dr. Barbara Cox: I picked the word muse because people often associate it with a feminine spirit, a feminine presence that inspired artists and writers, back in the day. Muse talks about that feminine goddess-like energy that inspires people to do great things. So I'm speaking to that part of us that's like, “Hey, I want to get back to that honoring that feminine part of me that inspires me to do great things,” whether it's at work, with my friend's kid's product, or artwork. It doesn't really matter what the outcome is. It's the process of honoring the muse gets you that inspiration to help you feel better basically. And then, you have an alone time so it's basically kind of boiling it down to honoring that archetypal muse that we all have.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. That is so interesting. Yes, I was just curious about the word. I haven't heard that word used often. And when we talk about masterminding … right? … which has an inherent masculine … Someone's a master, someone is not.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: Whereas, I wonder if we have a new word for that. Maybe it's muse-mind, I don't know.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Muse-mind, right? Well, I just learned that the root of things like museum comes from that. Archetypally, I think that if you look at the etymology of the word, it means wise, elder woman. So going to a museum and looking at the art and learning about the culture, that comes from the root word of muse and it's an inspirational piece. So I want to inspire women to inspire themselves and each other.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's wonderful.
Melinda Wittstock: So women are often succeeding in business, say, or in their lives. Then they have children. How does … and in your own experience and generally with the women that you work with … how does having children help them in business or hinder them? What's the impact?
Dr. Barbara Cox: That's a great question, Melinda. Well, what originally compelled me … and I actually did feel compelled almost from whatever that archetypal muse is … I felt compelled to write this down because I found women often lost their sense of personal identity after they had kids. Some women used it in a way to propel them to learn how to multitask better and they just floated right on by and flowed with the work/life balance juggling. And others, myself included, felt a loss of a personal sense of self like a part of us had been subsumed by the partner role, the mother role, the nurturing role. So I really felt compelled to bring that issue up and help show women a pathway where they can have … I do believe you can have it all. You can have a fulfilling career, have kids, have a fulfilling partner, have friends. I honestly see it done more easily in other cultures and I'm very curious as to why that is. My theory is that certain cultures give women permission to have it all, so to speak. And American culture is sometimes a little bit either/or.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. We've been acculturated to think that success is somehow a trade off or requires a sacrifice. Or if we have this, we want have that. I don't believe that's true.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right. I don't either. And so, it's partly just speaking to those subconscious beliefs that we accidentally got from whoever saying, “Oh, it's a trade off.” Why does everything have to be a trade off? Why can't we just be inherently happy? That's my question.
Melinda Wittstock: Gosh, I agree. So I'm a kind of maniac who launched a business when my daughter was six weeks old. You know, the funding came through. It was taking ages and ages and meanwhile I was pregnant and you know, whatever. And then, boom. Like oh, okay. Launch. And she was six weeks old. So I really had no choice. I had investors. I had the whole thing. So off I go. And I had to make it work.
Melinda Wittstock: But when I look back on it now. She's 16 now, and my son is almost 13. And I look back on it and I think they made me a better leader.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: They made me much, much, much, much better. I think. And then, also my business makes me a better mom. Somehow, the two of them, I don't know, balance me in a way.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right. That's a wonderful mindset to really explore and bring up to awareness is that it really helped you on all levels. It wasn't like a choice either/or. Because the motherhood piece, it really toughens you up. Because I have a teenager … you have a teenager … one thing you learn from teenagers is not to take things personally. Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Oh God, yeah, exactly.
Dr. Barbara Cox: I could have never learned that through a class or from a male boss. I learned how to develop a thick skin so you use that in work so when something is going wrong or somebody whatever happens you don't say, “Oh, it's my fault.” You develop a thick skin and you move forward and you do what you need to do.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's so true. I think some of the things that are really interesting over time is that kids learn from what you do more than what you say. So they've been watching me and all of my ups and downs as an entrepreneur. Some businesses have really succeeded and other ones have really tanked. You know, whatever. It just comes with the territory in technology, media tech, and all the things that I've been doing.
Melinda Wittstock: So one day, my daughter who was in Montessori School at the time. She was 10. She was in fifth grade. And she said, “Hey mom, I'd really like you to come talk to my class about entrepreneurship.” And I was like so moved. I was like, “Oh, that's so lovely. Sydney, thank you so much. That's amazing.” She says, “But Mom, here's the thing,” and she did this motion with her hand that was like a hockey stick in the financial projections people put in front of angels and VCs. She said, “I want you to tell the truth, Mom. It's not like that.” And then, she did this wave motion with her hand for the ups and downs. “I want you to tell the truth, Mom.” It's like this is what it is, right? I thought that was incredibly astute because there are so many young people, young entrepreneurs, that I mentor who don't know that.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: And so, they learn things and they learn things about the mindset that you need. So as you're learning and as you're being confronted with all kinds of adverse circumstances or things you can't control and they see you react to change or uncertainty or whatever well without losing your ‘proverbials’, right?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: That shows them that that's possible. So, I think it's awesome to expose kids to business and entrepreneurship and all of that, as long as you're coming at it in a fairly kind of healthy mindset sort of way.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah. And a lot of times, one of the things I see myself as kind of mental head space cleaner, so to speak. So when women come in and they've had a stressful month with their cool jobs. You know, we do some techniques to clear out their head and get back in a place of regeneration so they can go out and do it all again for the next month. You know, we need a place to regenerate and clean out our heads, so to speak.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, this is so true. I have a question for you about women and perfectionism. We all seem to fall into this trap, maybe confusing it with mastery. I mean, it's great to be good at things but at what point do we just overdo that?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah. That's a good question. I don't know if I have it nailed down in a pretty little box yet but I think it's just about addressing it almost every day, especially as an entrepreneur, to know that things go up and down and that it's not personal and the less you get an emotional attachment to it, the more energy you have to achieve mastery which is really about being able to go with the flow and the ups and downs and not expect it all be a straight line.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. So when it good enough, good enough? It's kind of like that 80/20 rule, right?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: I mean, because the other thing that I see in business is women trying to do it all and hiring too late and not asking for help thinking that they have to do it all. So I had this real epiphany. A couple weeks ago, I was talking because I'm hosting this retreat for high performing female entrepreneurs where we can all get together and collaborate and talk about these issues and rejuvenate but also learn from each other and like that.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Wonderful.
Melinda Wittstock: And in talking to all of them, I was like, “Okay, how can we all play bigger?” And I started to notice this real resistance like something in the eye for a split second of pure dread at the words play bigger. And I'm like, “What's that about?” And then, I began to realize that okay, if you're the type of woman who's doing everything, play bigger sounds terrifying because it's like, “What? I have to do more?”
Dr. Barbara Cox: Way too much work.
Melinda Wittstock: And I'm like, “No. You can play bigger by using leverage. You can actually play bigger by doing less.” And so, this is something that men I think know a little bit more intuitively than we do.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah. I saw an interesting trend during the recruiting consulting too. It was like men just inherently have a gut sense. You mentioned about a look in the eye. It was like when you ask salary expectations, for example. They just have a gut sense of I'm just inherently worthwhile. It's just a way they ask and they … I think it's really subconscious learning that women can pick up too is just to really to not go from a space of oh, I need to play bigger in order to gain approval or gain that raise but that I'm inherently worthwhile just as I am and to play bigger for the fun of it.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. For the fun of it or for the social impact or for the mission. Right?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: Or just to create a life that you actually want. You know?
Dr. Barbara Cox: For sure. That is another to do check off list.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. To escape that. Oh my God.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's so true. My goodness, we are solving all of the world's problems together, Barbara, this is really … this is great.
Dr. Barbara Cox: When people listen to this, they get all their answers in just a few minutes. Right?
Melinda Wittstock: That's right. But I mean, you are hinting around the edges that so much of this is in our collective unconscious. Right? In our subconscious minds where we've inherited these beliefs that become habits that become character. And we've inherited them not from our own thinking. We got them when we were little kids and we didn't even have a frontal lobe.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: They could have come from TV. They could have come from our parents, our classmates, our teachers, just society generally. A conversation heard in a grocery store. God knows. And we imprinted all of it. And then, we're driven by all of this stuff.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And so, I'm fascinated by business as a catalyst for consciousness.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Because in a way, it sort of … it makes you face stuff. If you're going to overcome some of the things that life throws at you and this is kind of more of an extreme sort of living, you're going to surely either be defeated by it or you're going to become conscious.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Well, one thing I want to say about that because I read a couple articles for Conscious Company which I love is people before profits … or companies that focus on people while making a profit are making a difference. That's important. The whole reason that this kind of clicked in my mind was not that oh, we have these thousands of years of collective unconscious that we have to overcome.
Dr. Barbara Cox: But one, that it's gotten us this far. We've evolved past caveman days so we're doing pretty good when we look at that. And two, I've been visiting various countries over the years for various reasons and noticing the ones that overcome anything, the few beliefs that hold them back … I'm going to back up and say that I think for the most part, the majority of what we've inherited has helped us, otherwise, we wouldn't be here today doing all the wonderful things we do.
Dr. Barbara Cox: So there's a little bit that we need to tweak subconsciously to get to where we want to go to the next level. But human beings are always evolving. So I noticed this kind of as a practical example when I visited some distant relatives from Finland. And I noticed that over 50 years, they evolved from a very kind of basic, agrarian farming culture to an advanced technological society where they have very well addressed the gender equity, the pay scale. That whole question of women in business. Everybody is basically doing pretty darn well.
Dr. Barbara Cox: And so, I look at that and I say, “How did they jump from agrarian to this advanced in 50 years?” And I know that it's doable because they went head on and addressed these previously subconscious stereotypes of what role do women play and what role do men play? They just consciously said, “Hey, you know, we need everybody on board here to have work/life balance, to contribute to the organizations, and to bring in this idea of we all have skills and talents and how do we leverage those as women?” And just to bring that more consciously to the forefront.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's so, so important and such vital work. So Barbara, I want to just make sure that people can find you and work with you and get your book and all this amazing insight. What's the best way for them to find you and work with you?
Dr. Barbara Cox: Sure. The easiest way … well, my book is on Amazon so if you Google, The Muse Process, it's right there. But also if you want to read more about the book and detail and me, you can reach me at drbarbaracox.com. That's D-R-B-A-R-B-A-R-A-C-O-X.com, drbarbaracox.com. I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear how the book has helped you. From all the reviews, everyone says it's a pretty simple, clearcut, easy, helpful read so I'd love to hear how it's helped you.
Dr. Barbara Cox: And thank you, Melinda, for having me on the show. It's been a pleasure.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, so much fun. Thank you for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Dr. Barbara Cox: Have a great day.