On Content People, host Meredith Farley interviews creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media, and get inspired to find contentment in your own creative career.
Episode #4 Summary
Lisa Marchiano’s wisdom is at once centering and energizing. In her conversation with Meredith Farley, she examines the importance of self discovery, and how bringing your full self to your personal and professional endeavors can make a dramatic difference in your career, life and relationships (including the relationship you have with yourself). Listen, learn and take these insights into the new year with you.
Content People: Clarity, Self-Reflection and Once Upon a Time
In the fourth installment of Content People, I had the unique pleasure of speaking with, and learning from, Lisa Marchiano, co-host of “This Jungian Life” and author of “Motherhood — Finding and Facing Yourself.”
Lisa is also a teacher, lecturer and — yes — a mother. Her background as a Jungian analyst guides her ability to make sense of her own story, and allows her to help others do the same through her podcast, “This Jungian Life.”
Our chat covers a lot of familiar territory for anyone in a career that demands creativity. It’s wide ranging, but all centered around the theme of herding the many parts of yourself into something that resembles a team. Here’s some of what you’ll learn:
- The role of ambivalence in life and careers.
- How to listen to, and reason with, doubt about your decisions.
- The relationship between motherhood and creativity.
- How to reclaim creativity for yourself (so it isn’t just in service to your employer).
- Why imposter syndrome can actually be a good thing.
Whether you’re a mother, a creator, a Jungian analyst or everything at once, you’ll learn something from Lisa.
Thanks for listening!
– Meredith Farley
COO at Brafton & Host of Content People
More Content for Content People
Motherhood — Facing And Finding Yourself: Check out Lisa’s book on motherhood and a whole lot more.
This Jungian Life: Listen in as Lisa, along with co-hosts Deborah C. Stewart and Joseph R. Lee, chat about dreams, life and so much more.
Brafton: We might not be Jungian analysts, but we have a lot to say about the world. Check out our digital marketing newsletter.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Content People, a podcast where we talk to smart people about
creative work, creative leadership, and their career journeys. This podcast is produced by Brafton.
Brafton is a content marketing organization powered by a global team of creative professionals and marketing experts. My name is Meredith Farley. I’m the COO at Brafton. I oversee our creative production and service teams. I’m here with Ian Servin. Hi, Ian.
Ian’s our creative director video who is producing this podcast. Ian, thank you for doing that.
Absolutely. We have a really great episode today. I’m really excited for it.
I know, me too. All right, so today we talk to Lisa Marchiano. Lisa is a young Ian analyst, author, and podcaster whose writings have appeared in numerous publications. She’s the co-host and creator of the popular Depth psychology podcast, This Jungian Life. She’s on the faculty of the CG Jung Institute of Philadelphia, and she lectures and teaches widely.
Lisa recently released a book called Motherhood, Facing and Finding Yourself, which is a deep dive into the emotional and symbolic journey of motherhood drawing from her practice as a young Ian analyst and her personal experiences. I loved getting to chat to Lisa. I’m a huge fan of her and the podcast, This Jungian Life. What did you think about the convo Ian?
It was so fascinating. I felt like I had no idea what to expect going in, because I wasn’t familiar with Lisa, and I’m not super familiar with the Jungian philosophy and how that works. What ended up happening was this really great conversation, and I think connecting the dots to creative leadership and management and working in this space that we work in, the thrust of what she was talking about was in order to be of service to others and be your best self, you really need to know who you are. You need that level of self-reflection and self-awareness.
Doing that is really challenging, and it’s a skill that you have to work on. There are approaches and methods to doing it, and it was really great. I came out of it feeling really energized. I really liked that conversation.
I think Jungian psychology is very interesting. I think anyone who is creative or a creative craftsperson, we’re kind of balancing your internal and personal creativity with other tensions in the workplace, deadlines, parameters, briefs, etc. I think there’s a lot to explore and gain from engaging with some of those ideas.
Was there anything in particular for your work that you took away from what she was talking about?
I think just the idea of pausing and thinking about how am I bringing myself fully into this conversation, this interaction, this meeting, this project, rather than just sort of ticking the boxes, rather than just sort of going through a rote workflow or a process. I’m really process-oriented, so I like that kind of thing, but bringing my full self to the table is really important from the creative aspect. I think that was the thing for me. It was slowing down and just adding that level of thoughtfulness into the process.
Yeah, no. That makes sense to me. I think that resonates with me too. With that, we’ll throw it over to our interview with Lisa. We hope you enjoy.
All right. Well, Lisa, thank you so much for joining us on Content People.
Thanks for having me.
It’s our pleasure. I’m a huge fan of your book and podcast, and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to talk to you and ask you some questions. To intro you to our listeners who might not be familiar with you, Lisa Marchiano is a licensed clinical social worker and a Jungian analyst, author, and podcaster. Her writings have appeared in numerous publications. She’s the co-host and creator of the popular depth psychology podcast, This Jungian Life. She’s on the faculty of the C.G. Young Institute of Philadelphia, and she lectures and teaches widely. Lisa lives and practices in Philly, and she’s also the author of Motherhood, Finding and Facing Yourself, which came out in May of 2021. It’s available wherever books are sold, and I read it and I absolutely loved it.
So a big portion of our questions are going to be diving into that later, but Lisa, anything there I forgot or missed?
No, that’s a great summary.
All right. Well, first, I’d love to talk about your podcast, This Jungian Life, for a bit, and then maybe get into the book. For anyone who’s not familiar with this Jungian Life, I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about the podcast, the origin, and why you guys decided to do it, and also why you think it’s been so resonant and successful with listeners.
Well, I guess I’ll start by just saying that myself and my other two co-hosts, or we’re all Jungian analysts, and we actually went through Jungian training together and we became very good friends. Jungian training takes a long time and is fairly demanding, and so we were soldiers in arms throughout that process, and all graduated about a decade or so ago. And then, I think we sort of missed having this, we stayed friends, but we no longer had that glue of being involved in a common endeavor.
And so, you know, I had been interviewed on a podcast and found myself curious about the process and sort of wondering what that would be like, and I thought, well, it’s nothing I would want to do alone. So then I was at a meeting with Deb and Joseph, and I said to them, would you guys want to do a podcast with me? And Joseph said, yes. And Deb said, yes, what’s a podcast? So they were game, which was just so great.
It’s one of the things I love about them. I was like, let’s go play. So it really just started as just something honestly kind of for fun. We did have a process about how we envisioned it and sort of why we saw ourselves doing it, what our personal goals were in doing it. Definitely part of our goal for each of us was to have this way to be connected, to have this kind of chance to play together as it were. And we initially said that we would do it for a year and just kind of see how it went. We didn’t really have, you know, high ambitions for it, I would say, but it did really take off almost right away, which was just incredibly exciting. And you asked me kind of why it’s resonant.
And maybe I’ll maybe I’ll first just say a little bit about sort of, you know, the concept of the podcast. And to do that, I feel like I need to sort of explain a little bit about Jungian psychology. Is it okay if I do that?
I would love that.
Thank you. I don’t I don’t want this to be sort of like a wall of words. But, you know, young Carl Jung was a contemporary of Freud. And at first he was sort of Freud’s heir. He was part of the early, you know, psychoanalytic movement starting in the early part of the 20th century. And he eventually kind of parted ways with Freud and went on to develop his own school. He was a Swiss. And many of his ideas have found their way into the popular culture. So words like introversion or archetype or shadow or collective unconscious or Jung’s ideas that we may now be familiar with and at least have some idea of what those things are. So he developed this approach to the human psyche that is maybe a little bit more mystical, I might say, or at least spiritual.
He felt that wholeness was, you know, a central goal of human life and that we’re all kind of working toward that in some way. And of course, he felt that the contributions of the unconscious and the ability for consciousness and unconscious to kind of work together or inform each other was very important. And to that end, he was very interested in dreams.
And he developed a way of working with dreams that was very different from the way Freud worked with dreams. And I would say most people that do dream work now do it more or less in the Jungian vein. So he’s been tremendously influential, doesn’t always get as much credit as I feel like he deserves. But I feel that the podcast really resonated because people are hungry for depth.
And Jung really offers this depth perspective. So what the podcast is really just the three of us kind of having a conversation, we pick a topic. We just did the topic of, let’s see, a recent topic we just talked about. Oh, a vocation, that was one of our recent episodes.
I haven’t listened to that one, but I love Jungian ideas intersecting with work. Maybe we’ll get into that later. But that sounds fantastic. Is there an episode you’d recommend someone start with if they’re curious, but they haven’t listened to anything so far?
Well, you know, you could sort of dive in and see whichever one appeals to you. There is an episode, I really, I really would say very much in keeping with Jung is just go look at our episode catalog and pick one that speaks to you. It will be your, it’ll be your fate for one that. You know, let the unconscious speak and say that one looks interesting.
For anyone listening, I would say who’s not super familiar with Jungian, I can’t come to be like anything close to super familiar, but I do really love engaging with a lot of the ideas. And I think it’s one of the reasons I was so particularly enamored with your book that not the only reason I feel like for creatives, the collective unconscious and our intuition and a lot of the ideas that he gives a lot of space to are really, they’re meaningful and impactful to me and wholly worth digging into if you work in a creative field.
So if you’re listening, you’re a writer, designer, artist or professional creative of some kind, I think it could be a really, and you’re not familiar with it, I certainly recommend it. And I think that when it comes, what I have a question, which is that in my mind for some reason, when I think of Freud and Jung, I think of Jung as the, for some reason, slightly more accessible from a feminine perspective. And I think I could be totally wrong on that. What does that, why do you think, is that a reasonable impression to have? Or is that just my own weird bias?
Well, I would say that that is an extraordinarily complicated question. But as a kind of first pass, I would say, I think you’re right about that. I think that there’s a lot of Freud’s writings that are sort of objectively on the face of it, pretty sexist, just including his notion about sort of penis envy, as if that’s the greatest thing in the world to have and who wouldn’t want that. Well, what about womb envy for heaven’s sake? I mean, how cool is it? We can like make other people. But no, he talked about penis envy. So I think that there’s something that can be very off-putting about Freud’s thinking in those terms. Whereas Jung really valued what he referred to as the feminine.
Now, when Jung talked about the feminine, he wasn’t talking about women per se, he was talking about a psychological principle. And I think this gets very difficult and tangled right away because, okay, what is the feminine psychological principle?
And you start saying things like, well, it’s the sort of receptivity, it’s relatedness. And they’re like, wait a minute, aren’t we crossing over into the land of sexual stereotypes? And suddenly, we’re all in a bit of a mess. But I think there is something to what you’re saying that there is. Jung valued women, he valued the feminine perspective. Many, many of his close colleagues were women. And so there is a sort of ease there.
Got it. Well, I guess speaking of womb envy, I’d love to talk to you a little about your book and some of the ideas and themes in it. And I don’t want to be presumptive. I could take a crack at summarizing the book, but I think you’d probably do a better job, obviously. So how would you summarize the book for folks who might not be familiar with motherhood facing and finding yourself?
Well, I guess I’ll just say that I was really interested as a mother, I was really interested in how the role of motherhood was affecting me and my psychological growth. And I found that it was having an extraordinary impact on me. It was changing me. I was growing in ways I couldn’t have imagined it before. And I thought that that was really interesting. And I wanted to explore that. So it isn’t a book about how to be a mother. I mean, that’s a good thing to write and read about, but this is not one of those books. It’s more about how does engaging in this really important demanding human activity helps us to grow and in fact, express ourselves more fully? I really loved that perspective of the book.
So I don’t have children. And I think that sometimes I have, you know, it’s something that I think about and I feel I’m 35. so it’s a decision on my mind in some ways. And I feel like I’ve had a lot of hesitation around motherhood over my life. I think I have a kind of negative or maybe shallow or decontextualized perspective on it in some ways. And often I think I see it from the outside. I think how hard it looks and how limiting it could feel or it gives me kind of at times it’s given me a sense of like panic or being trapped. And I feel like your book is so unique in that it doesn’t shy away from pain, grief or complexities of motherhood. But as you’re saying, it presents it as maybe not the ultimate but an ultimate path toward growing one’s own psyche.
And it feels really unique and singular in the perspective of just don’t feel like there’s a lot of content out there that’s like, yeah, it’s really, really hard. But there’s an incredible amount of riches there to be had. It seems like maybe I’m not familiar with it, but it seems to me there’s kind of a lack of content in that space. Would you agree with that? And if so, why do you think that in some ways I was like, man, it’s so raw what you say, I wonder if some people are hesitant to speak to the challenges of it.
Yeah, I mean, let’s see, I do think that I couldn’t find anything out there like this book. I mean, when I first got interested in exploring it, I was right in the weeds with a newborn and a toddler. And I would have, you know, it’s that kind of classic thing. I sort of wrote the book I needed. You know, I would have loved to have read my book back then. But I couldn’t, I couldn’t really find anything just like it. I mean, there’s been some wonderful books that are sort of adjacent to it that I learned a lot from, but there wasn’t anything just like it. So, yeah, I mean, I think that it is not, it’s not a perspective that’s spoken about a lot that we have a tendency in our culture to want to, I don’t know, sort of focus on the good things to kind of rest into this belief that we can sort of have what we want without giving something else up. But of course, that’s never true.
Whenever you get something, you give something else up. And so holding both of those things is difficult for us. You know, you said that you were, you sometimes feel like motherhood might trap you. And I would say, oh, yes, it absolutely will. And so will anything that’s worth doing. And that something’s going to trap us. And in a way, we should be grateful for it, because whatever kind of traps us or pins us down or in some sense limits us also allows us to come into being fully in space and time and live out our unique destiny. And that may be motherhood, and it might be something else.
Yeah, I’m sure I’ll get the words wrong. But I feel like maybe early on in the book, you spoke to that a little bit, the idea of commitment being inherently limiting because you are giving up infinite possibilities for this one possibility that you chose. But the idea that only by committing to something can you live an imperfect but embodied life, kind of, which I found to be so, I was like, it was great, I loved it, it really spoke to me.
And you also, I think in a similar, maybe in the same chapter talked a bit about learning to honor our ambivalence about our commitments, which I found so interesting. I was like, could you speak to that a little bit?
Well, first of all, I think you did a great job of summarizing that. Yeah, I mean, I think as therapists, I think hopefully most therapists know this. The truth is, we’re all ambivalent about almost everything, almost all of the time. From little decisions like, do I want Indian or Chinese tonight? Do I want kids? Do I want to go to graduate school? Do I want to stay married? We get, we have mixed feelings about just about everything. And I think that that can be very hard to bear. It feels like tension. We hold it with some degree of tension. And so we tend to want to push aside any doubts or mixed feelings because it’s not comfortable.
I mean, if I’m just taking this a biggie, like, hey, do I, you know, I’ve been married for a couple of decades. Do I want to stay married? You know, I’m not, I’m not always happy. It’s like, wow, that is a big thing to be walking around with. So sometimes we just want to sort of push it away. But, but it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s sort of important to give ourselves permission to have mixed feelings about things and to recognize that just because we have mixed feelings about things, you know, it doesn’t necessarily mean, for example, that our marriage is terrible and we should end it. It’s like, well, okay, I guess I’m just, I’m having a bad week. And I, you know, there are some things that maybe I need to work on, or maybe even I just need to come to terms with that I’m not going to be happy with in this marriage. And that’s just kind of the way it is.
It sort of invites this acceptance rather than having to live in this kind of like a neurotic state of splitting off a whole part of what we know and feel so that we have this experience of kind of a a sort of false experience of sort of unanimous accord with whatever is going on in our lives, instead of sort of accepting that, that there’s an inner committee and there’s going to be some dissent.
I love that visual. Yeah. And I think when I think of it from the perspective of maybe like people I talk to or manage who are maybe in their mid 20s, late 20s, I think there’s a this perception that when it comes to work, for example, that everyone who’s successful was totally clear and committed on what they’re doing the whole time. And being ambivalent means you’re failing you’re somehow not measuring up by not feeling super clear on what you want or how to get it or what to do. And I feel like when I was reading that bit in the book and as you’re talking, I feel kind of like a freedom of being like, yeah, it’s okay to be ambivalent.
Yeah. In fact, Jung says somewhere fanaticism is always a sign of a repressed doubt. So I I in my life, I find that it’s a good policy to mistrust certainty to mistrust it in ourselves and to mistrust it in other people. And when I’m working with someone, for example, who’s trying to make a big decision, like for example, you know, a lot of people come into therapy with relationship problems. And you know, do I want to leave my relationship?
And what I’ll often say to people is my wish for you is not that you become certain about what you want to do, not that you find certainty, but that you find clarity. Because you’re probably never going to be 100% certain about anything. And if you are, it’s probably a sign that you’re repressing something. But you might get clear. And that is a lovely feeling to get clear. And it’s different than being certain.
Does being clear mean understanding how you feel as opposed to feeling a certain way?
I think, as I’m using, I think clarity, there’s room for ambivalence. And also recognizing that doubts, let’s call them, can play this really important role. And it’s important that we have a sort of right relationship with doubt. So we don’t want doubt to paralyze us and not be able to move forward. And we also don’t want to ignore doubts. And so somewhere in between, there’s this thing about like, well, a doubt comes up, like, let’s say I’m going to order Indian food, I’m going to be silly here for a minute, for dinner.
And let’s say I have a doubt about that. And then so I want to stop and I want to think, well, why am I feeling a doubt about that? Let me sit with that doubt and let it talk to me. And maybe, maybe the doubt is like, gee, I really have eaten out too many times this week and I’m going over budget and I really should just make pasta tonight. And maybe that’s a doubt I want to listen to. But maybe it’s a different kind of doubt. And if I sit with it, I think, no, that’s a doubt. Maybe that’s a doubt because maybe I’d rather have Chinese. It’s like, okay, but I can have Chinese another night and tonight I’m going to have Indian, even though there’s a part of me that still feels ambivalent, I can move forward and order my Indian takeout.
I mean, hopefully, in spite of my insipid example, you can sort of see how that works, that it’s sort of being in a dynamic relationship with doubts or ambivalences and recognizing that sometimes there’s something really valuable there. Well, there’s always something valuable there. But then it’s like the conscious part of the personality sort of has to make a decision about what to do. So getting back to the idea of clarity, I think it’s allowing for the doubts, figuring out maybe where they’re coming from and what part of them, if anything, needs to be listened to or acted upon and then feeling freed up by that to move forward in spite of the doubts perhaps continuing to be there.
Yeah. So I think, okay, well, how do you think doubt and ambivalence play into motherhood? It’s a very broad question, but I feel like it’s a present element throughout the book a bit.
Well, I think that in a way, it seems silly to have to say this, but perhaps it’s important that when you’re a mother, you will not love every minute of it. You will really hate it at least sometimes, at least some moments. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible mother. That there will be real losses and you will feel deep regret about those losses. And that’s okay too, that there’s sort of room for all of this.
Yeah. Well, I mean, throughout the book, the writing, it feels so accessible and it reads so effortlessly. I felt like, oh, I couldn’t put it down. I was so compelled to read it really quickly. And but I do feel like, you know, you’re dealing with complex subject matter and complex concepts.
And I know from our work at Brafton that they’re editorial team that sometimes the things that are the easiest to digest are the hardest to write. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what your writing and editing process was like when you were writing the book.
Well, I’m so glad to hear you say all of that first of all, because that was explicitly my goal. I love Jung’s ideas. They are very deep. They can be very hard to understand. They can be very difficult to communicate. And it feels important to me to make them more widely available to people. And so how to do that without sacrificing the depth or kind of dumbing them down, that’s really the challenge. And I’ve always admired writers who could do that. And there have been many that have come before me. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do. So I’m really glad to hear you say it was accessible.
And at the same time, it felt like the complexity of the ideas was coming through. And I guess, you know, for me, I think that, you know, in terms of that aspect of the writing process, it’s really important to me when I’m dealing with these ideas that are that are that always relate to something that’s somewhat ineffable, you know, that these, these sort of inner psychic truths are not concrete things that you can pin down easily. So when I’m writing or speaking about them, really, what I’m trying to do is express them in a way that that that has a that has a little kind of ring of solidity to it, it’s like I want to be able to kind of tap it and feel that it, it feels really solid.
So I’m sort of reaching up into the ether and pulling down this very delicate, difficult to pin down truth, I want to say. And then I’m looking for words that will make it just very clear. And, and, and like an idea you could work with, like you could give an example, you could see it in your own life, you could find another way to say it. And so I think that that is sort of in essence, the thing I’m always doing when I’m doing this kind of writing, yeah, looking for those words. And, and, you know, it helps using examples, and it, and it, it helps, you know, using the fairy tales, because it, you know, essentially what I’m trying to do is move between a couple of different realms, I’m trying to move between the inner sort of symbolic truth realm, which is sort of the realm of, of poetry and metaphorical language, and, and can be beautiful, but can also be difficult to kind of transport into a different realm.
And then I’m trying to make it very applicable and bring it over into the, okay, so I’m here,
I am living my life, I’m a mom with three kids, I’m busy, I’m not a Jungian analyst, what the heck are you talking about realm? Okay, so here’s how it looks like, you know, in, in, in the world.
It’s, it’s interesting that you talk about how you’re like striving for it to be kind of like tangible, because I feel like I could feel that makes sense to me, because I, at no point did I feel like, oh, I’m reading something that there is no moments of like, oh, this feels woo woo or fluffy or not actionable.
It’s very concrete, despite how ethereal, I suppose some of the ideas are. And I guess I should mention for folks listening who haven’t read it that there are a structure of the book is that there’s a number of classic fairy tales throughout that kind of speak to the theme of the chapter and are, well, you could probably describe it better than me, I guess they’re speaking to certain truths about motherhood or feminine experience that it’s helpful to know and engage with. You might articulate it differently.
Well, yeah, I mean, every chapter has at least one fairy tale, and it’s a fairy tale that lifts up the, the, the theme of the chapter, essentially. And so, you know, I use all of these, these fairy tales that usually involve, you know, a mother and her child, and, and kind of bring forward the universality of this experience.
I’m curious. So of all the fairy tales in the book, do you have a favorite or is there one that speaks the most to you personally?
There, I mean, there’s so many. There’s so many.
Oh, great. I mean, they’re wonderful.
Yeah. I mean, I’ve always loved, well, I would say that one of my favorites in the book is actually Rumpelstiltskin. I just think that that is a beautiful, beautiful fairy tale. And it’s so rich. And, you know, you love it when you’re a kid, but studying it now, I feel like I see something different every time I look at that fairy tale. And it’s, it’s fun. And it’s just got gorgeous imagery in it. And it’s just, I mean, it’s a fantastic fairy tale.
Yeah. That one’s great. I love The Handless Maiden. I found that one to be, it just, I feel like I got a lot out of it. It spoke to me. And then I just, I love them. I’ve always loved fairy tales too.
I have a couple of questions about them. So, like early in the book, you suggest that all the stories are interpreted as if they come from one psyche, kind of like a dream. So all of the characters, desires, et cetera, in the tale are an aspect of what would be the heroine of the story’s mind. And so I was noticing that so often in these stories, this was not Rumpelstiltskin, but often the female figures are like the tricksters or the villains of the tale. I was trying to compare it mentally to other fairy tales, which I don’t have that great of a mental library of, and wondering, do you think that in female focused fairy tales, there are more often female antagonists because women have more critical inner voices or self antagonism than men? Or is it not true? Is it generally like across the board, would you say like, no, that’s just because these were female focused that there were so many female villains or tricksters?
You know, my hunch about that, and I would probably want to sit with this and sift through a bunch of fairy tales before I would say something really more definitive. Well, my initial hunch is that, I mean, very roughly speaking, like a witch in a fairy tale is likely to be an expression in part, this is kind of according to classical Jungian fairy tale interpretation of what we would call a negative mother complex. And a kind of evil sorcerer in a fairy tale would be an image of a negative father complex. And I think that, you know, daughters have negative mothers and daughters have negative fathers, and sons have negative mothers and sons have negative fathers.
So I think that it’s probably pretty well mixed between the two. And yeah, and that you could sort of look at it like that, like, okay, well, this is sort of a negative mother fairy tale. And this is a, you know, if you look at one of the other fairy tales in the book, Vasileis of the beautiful and Baba Yaga, you know, there’s a there’s a there’s a there’s a there’s a wicked stepmother. And there’s also this terrible witch, Baba Yaga, and oftentimes they go together in fairy tales, by the way, there’s often a witch and a stepmother, and they’re sort of like Hansel and Gretel.
And they’re they’re often sort of an exact sort of a sort of two different versions of the same thing, right, you’ve got you’ve got the negative witchy stepmother, and then you have the actual witch. And oftentimes as Hansel and Gretel, when the witch is dead, look at that, the stepmother is dead at the same time, you know, it’s kind of proves that they’re really just kind of two aspects of the same energy. And in some in some sense, in a little bit more of a it’s a little bit more complex and Vasileis, it’s kind of the same thing, there’s a negative stepmother, and then there’s the witch. And when she when she she doesn’t vanquish the witch by killing her, but she enlists the witchy energy, kind of on her side, and then she’s able to go back and defeat the stepmother, which is a really interesting, interesting thing.
But, you know, and the father sort of absent, you know, as in, as in a lot of fairy tales, he’s like a nice guy, but he sort of leaves her he’s off somewhere. And he’s kind of leaving her to, you know, the clutches of the evil stepmother. So, so I think, I think a lot of times that’s maybe a way to start thinking about that.
That’s really fascinating. And so maybe it would, could I ask you to talk about Rumpelstiltskin a little bit and kind of explain what it means and why you like it so much?
Sure. Well, I, I chose, I want to say, first of all, that there’s, there’s so many different ways to understand fairy tales that I don’t, I’m not claiming that this is the way to understand Rumpelstiltskin. But I chose Rumpelstiltskin for the chapter on creativity, which to me, that’s a really fascinating topic about motherhood and creativity, because typically, as I go into in some detail in the book, you know, motherhood and creativity don’t always play well together. I mean, it can be very difficult to have a creative life when you’re a mother, because, you know, any, any free time that you might have, you know, is kind of taken up with your kids. But, there’s an interesting way that I suggest that being a mother can also kind of support creativity in a way.
And that’s what I was, that’s why I was interested in Rumpelstiltskin. And the way I see it is that it is a fairy tale about a father wound. Because if you all remember, there’s a miller who has a daughter, a beautiful daughter. But she’s lazy, and she’s not very good at very many things. But he goes out and he runs into the king. And he boasts, you know, I have a daughter who can spin straw into gold. So he does what a lot of narcissistic parents do, which is sort of trade upon their child’s talents to make themselves look good. So we talk the psycho babble for this is that the child becomes a narcissistic extension of the parent.
So for example, if, if, if there’s a narcissistic parent and their child is very good at the piano, then the parent becomes sort of overly invested in the child’s musical abilities and is kind of driving the child and taking the child to piano competitions and that sort of thing. And the parent is overly wrapped up in the child’s success or failure because of how it reflects on the parent. So this would be a case, the poor miller’s daughter, you know, who, who I think did have quite extraordinary abilities. But the father is really kind of selling them. He’s kind of trading on them by boasting about them to the king. And of course, that gets, that gets the miller’s daughter in this terrible position where she’s stuck in this dungeon with a whole bunch of straw and said, spin it into gold.
And I just, I love this image of spinning straw into gold because straw is pretty much useless. It’s really just the byproduct and it’s not good for very much at all. But to think that you could take sort of nothing and turn it into gold, that is a lot, creativity is like, I mean, when you, when you write a piece of music, or you make painting, or you write a story. And in the, in the book, the, the biographical example I use is JK Rowling, who, you know, just out of thin air creates Harry Potter, you know, that’s really spinning straw into gold.
But she’s not able to do it in a way that feels kind of autonomous and that is under her control. It can only happen when she kind of pays off this little demonic character who we later learn is named Rumpelstiltskin. And the truth is that when we have a father wound, when we have a narcissistic parent, it often does feel like our creativity doesn’t belong to us. It has to be in service to a kind of, to our parents’ desires or, or, or we can even sort of internalize that. And then it kind of feels like our creative output is in service to an almost kind of demonic inner driver that’s pushing us and kind of make, you know, it’s people who maybe are single-mindedly focused on a creative path, but seem really unhappy while they’re doing it.
It feels, it feels compulsive and, and it makes people kind of miserable. So just to kind of quickly wrap up, she, she can’t kind of get a handle on her own creative abilities until her child is at stake. So that’s a different kind of creative output, right? It’s an, it’s not a creative child, it’s a biological child. And, and it’s important enough to her that she needs to kind of take back what she was split off from through this father wound. And that’s when she’s able to discover Rumpelstiltskin’s name. And in a sense, in the end of the story, he disappears, we could also look at that as her being able to integrate this creative capacity.
I love that story so much. There’s so much there. And the imagery, I picture the straw is gold. It’s turning into gold. She’s got beautiful blonde hair, I think. Is that right? There’s, it’s, but as you’re talking about it too, I’m wondering, or what it’s making me think too is I know plenty of creative people, creative professionals who when they are at work and in service of a brief, a product, a deadline, they have to turn a bunch of straw into gold pretty fast. They can absolutely do it beautifully.
When it comes to their own, how they spend their Saturday afternoon, they would love to do that,but they feel blocked because it’s in service of themselves or their own creativity, I think, which it feels like you need a different type of permission for. What do you think about that?
I think that’s spot on. I think that’s spot on, that somehow this is something that you can sort of do for another master. Just like the prince, the prince, sorry, the Miller’s daughter does it because she’s kind of forced to, but can’t access that within herself until she’s sort of has to learn how to do that to save her child. Then she’s able to integrate that. That in a sense was what happened with J.K. Rowling because as we sort of famously know, she was on public assistance and she says, I just knew I had to finish that book and her baby daughter was in the stroller and she would walk around and when her daughter fell asleep, she’d get out her notebook and start writing. There’s a way that we can get in touch with our own creative potential. We can reclaim that for ourselves. You don’t have to be a mother in order to have that kind of integration. I just used that as an example in the book because the book was about motherhood, but I think what you’re talking about is the challenge that we can feel if we’re creative professionals to reclaim that for ourselves. That is what the Miller’s daughter does at the end of the book, at the end of the story is that she reclaims it so that it is hers and she can use it then however she wants. She can use it in service to her boss, let’s say, if you’re a creative professional or on a Saturday afternoon for your own creative projects as well.
How does one do that? Well, yeah. This is kind of like your question before about how do we bring it out of the theoretical, hypothetical, symbolic realm and into our own lives. What does that look like in our own lives? I think the fairy tale is instructive in that sense because naming something, it means that we have this sort of intimate familiarity with something. There’s a power in naming, there’s a power in knowing the name of something, and there’s an intimacy in knowing the name of something. The nature of the task to learn Rumpelstilkin’s name tells us a lot about what we have to do.
If we want to think about that, what that might look like psychologically, it’s actually recognizing what that thing is. If you’re a creative professional, let’s say, who has no trouble turning straw into gold at work five days a week, but has trouble finding that for yourself, naming Rumpelstilkin might be like recognizing your own creative genius. I’m using that in a very specific sense, not the common sense that we usually use it in our culture, but in the sense that the Romans meant it. The Romans said we each have a creative genius. It’s this spark of something. We all have one, and we have to have a relationship with it.
In a way, the Rumpelstilkin figure is kind of a daimon, which is the Greek name for genius, or the Roman name for genius. To have a relationship with that, to recognize it, to know that it is ours, to see that it’s not us, it isn’t the same thing as us. But it is ours, and we have a special unique relationship with it that we can claim. What that might look like in the life of a hypothetical person, let’s say there’s a young woman who’s a creative professional who maybe doesn’t fully understand or feel that she can fully claim her own genius. But being able to understand the power of that, recognizing it, coming into a relationship with it, owning it, not in the sense of identifying with it, but in the sense of having this relationship with it and recognizing that it’s hers, might put her in a situation where then she could call upon that genius even on Saturday afternoons.
Kind of just accepting that that Rumpelstilkin daimon genius is an aspect of herself that’s at her beck and call, as opposed to something that she has to hunt down and negotiate with. And I would say not necessarily at your beck and call, because it’s a little bit more, it’s not like the ego’s in charge. It’s more like it’s ideally like a team. But you can’t totally control that thing, and you shouldn’t try.
So you’re in collaboration with and not managing. Okay.
That’s a perfect way to say it.
I’m going to go back and reread that story. I love that. And so thank you for sharing it. And so, well, one of my questions, which I feel like we’re kind of touching on was, you know, I feel like engaging with fairy tales and archetypes, I find to be very creatively inspiring. And I was, I think lots of folks do. And I was wondering if you agree, and if so, if you could kind of maybe touch upon why, like, why are these archetypes so powerful, and why are these stories so compelling to us? I feel like just reading it that, as you’re talking on the imagery, like, you read a novel, maybe you’ve got imagery going, maybe you don’t. But I feel like you can’t read a fairy tale and not see it happening in your mind.
Well, let’s see, that’s a great question. What about the nature of the archetypes and the collective unconscious and the unconscious? And again, if I’m going to try to sort of put it in very user-friendly language, what I think I want to say is that these archetypal images and these archetypal stories, first of all, are universal. And also, they tap into, they tap into sort of the wisdom of the left brain, if I can use that language a little bit. It’s nonlinear, it’s non-rational. It goes to the nature of metaphor and symbol, which kind of goes deeply into embodied existence. It touches on instinctual knowing and kind of implicit knowledge rather than explicit knowledge. And there is a lot of stuff happening at that level.
And in some sense, that’s the spring that kind of feeds the rest of us. And so, being able to have this conduit into it is really renewing. So, these like, archetypes and ideas are so tapped into our unconscious mind that it’s almost like a bit more of a direct, I don’t know, way in than different types of writing content stories where it’s a little more linear, right brain.
It makes total sense. I do feel like it’s an experience to read them, not to be dramatic. Sometimes I’m like, oh, I’m feeling this in my body as I read it And I think, I do find them very creatively inspiring. How did you choose which stories you were going to talk about?
I’m thinking about that because, you know, I don’t know that there was sort of one way. There were certainly times when I had a theme I wanted to talk about and then I went looking for a particular story. And there were other times when I had a story and I knew it suggested a certain theme. So, sometimes it was the tale that came first and then I kind of built the chapter on the tale. And at other times it was like, oh, yeah, there’s this thing I need to talk about and then I need to go off and find a fairy tale about it.
Well, this is a little bit of a segue. And one thing I wanted to ask you about is I’m really interested in imposter syndrome. I think that it comes up so much. I don’t feel it myself now, but so often folks who I’m working with and are managing have it and I just want to shake them and be like, you’re amazing. Like, stop this. But I feel like my layman’s hypothesis, which I’m happy to be corrected on, is that I feel like it seems very closely tied to shame or feelings of inadequacy that are coming from the inside. And there was a passage in your book, though, that gave me a slightly different perspective on it.
And I realized I’m doing something here, which maybe I should not do, which is taking this book about motherhood and thinking about the principles and applying them to work.
Why wouldn’t you do that? That sounds great.
Sometimes I think, oh, it’s a typical thing for me to do, first of all, and second of all, like maybe applying deep human truths to things like the workplace. But I think it was chapter three or four, you were talking about instances in which mothers, new mothers are really struggling to suit their babies. And they felt a deep sense of inadequacy or shame. And then they maybe would start to feel actually like avoidant of their babies and or those caretaking emotions. And I might be getting that wrong. But it was making me think how important feeling competent and validated and receiving. Or feelings of knowing that you’ve done well is toward like anything where you’re going to have a repeated interaction.
Then I was like, well, maybe it’s not about shame or maybe it’s partly about shame, but maybe imposter syndrome too is just about working in a vacuum where you’re doing something but receiving no human input back at times and feeling like, am I doing this right? Am I messing this up? I’m not feeling validated. I feel avoidant over time. That’s a whole tangle of things. But I’m really curious for your take on imposter syndrome and how it might relate to some of these stories and themes.
Well, I think that’s a really interesting question. I want to say, first of all, that I think it’s absolutely valid what you’re doing, and I hope people would do that, right? Because I mean, there’s a way that the book deals with just like you said, sort of human truths and I’m applying them to mother, but that’s not the only place that could be applied. So I think that’s interesting to think about that kind of feedback loop that can happen with mothers who don’t have that experience of, say, being able to calm the baby and then it brings about this sense of disconnection and that can sort of become a negative cycle that these neuroscientists call blocked care. And the interesting thing about taking care of a baby versus working in an office is that with the baby, there’s only one source of feedback. And it’s like, did the baby stop crying? And if you can’t get that feedback, it does make you want to just sort of recoil because it doesn’t feel good.
Hopefully, if you’re working in a job, maybe you have the satisfaction of finishing and you feel good about it and maybe one boss likes it or the customer likes it or something. So hopefully, there’s like a bunch of different ways of getting feedback. I think I’m very interested in imposter syndrome as well. And I suspect that it might be something slightly different because what I’m aware of is there’s some research about imposter syndrome. It’s been a little while since I looked this up. So I can’t quote chapter 1, but my memory is that what they found is that the only people who experience imposter syndrome are extremely competent people.
Oh, wow. Oh, well, I take it back. I do have imposter syndrome. No, I’m kidding.
No, and it’s not that all highly competent people have it, but that pretty much the only people that have it happen to be highly competent.
Interesting. That’s fascinating.
And the thing is that people can have imposter syndrome even when they’re getting lots and lots and lots of positive feedback. So I imagine for some people, it’s some kind of horrible shame gnawing at the roots of their being that I’m thinking about Judy Garland at the end of her career who just, please, please keep the applause coming. She couldn’t live without the applause. I don’t know if that’s exactly imposter syndrome, but maybe something like it. But I suspect that it might actually have a positive purpose almost, if you will, because the thing about imposter syndrome is it keeps you checking yourself. It’s sort of like, okay, well, I just did this amazing thing. But was it really as amazing as what this other person did? It was amazing in this way, but I think I really fell down here. I think it was good, but maybe it wasn’t really as good as it could be.
And ideally,there can be a positive effect there that it sort of keeps you from getting overconfident. It keeps you evaluating yourself and perhaps helping you see how you can do better. So I think the negative part about imposter syndrome is when it stops you. And it might be that as with many things in life, if you can kind of reorient yourself to it, not see it as this horrible thing that’s going to stop you in your tracks,but sort of like when it comes up, do this thing like, oh, there’s that again. Oh, that’s just a thing. That’s a thing that always happens to me.
It doesn’t mean it’s true, but let’s say you’ve just given an amazing presentation. And then what happens is, eight hours later, you think, oh, god, it sucked or something like that. It’s like,
if you can go, okay, well, that’s a thing that happens to me. And then you could even do something like, okay, and I have to remember that the only people that have that thought are people who are actually good. Because it’s sort of, excuse me, but it’s kind of the blow hearts who think they’re so great that they don’t ever think, oh my god, maybe I’m not that great. It’s like, okay, so the fact that I’m thinking maybe I’m not that great probably means that I did a really good job. But let me see. What is my honest appraisal of my performance?
Is it, maybe I could have done better? Maybe there’s something I’d like to do better next time, not in a sort of self-flagellating kind of way, but in a like, oh, maybe I can use this.
I love that so much. It’s like embracing the shadow critic a little bit or the professional benefit or personal benefit. Seeing if you can make that a member of the team. I love that. So you’ve got your genius, your critic.
And like the critic has a place as long as he or she stays in that place. This is my most favorite interpretation and advice on past your syndrome I’ve ever heard. And I’m going to immediately talk to like four people I work with about it.
Thank you so much. This has been such a fun conversation.
Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed it too.
All right, everyone, we hope that you enjoyed our chat with Lisa as much as we enjoyed having it. Next week, we’ll be coming to you with an interview with Kimberly Brown. Kimberly is a
career and leadership expert, and she’s defined her mission as helping women and people of color navigate the workplace and become industry leaders in their own right.
She is also the author of Next Move Best Move, a book about transitioning into a career that you will actually love. You can also find her column, Your Next Move, on New York Magazine’s The Cut.
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