You are not alone. That is the first thing Lael Couper Jepson wants you to know. We all have dreams and desires mixed with fear. What we are most afraid of is being “caught” failing. We need to learn how to sit with that.
What if we faced that thing or idea that scares us with an element of play? Picture a dream or idea you’ve been carrying with you, and now think…”Wanna give it a whirl? Wanna try? Let’s go find out!” Take your idea for a spin.
Lael’s journey included visions of becoming a Rockette, A Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, and an attorney in Boston. What she is…is a writer, artist, performer, instigator of change, visionary, a champion for women’s storytelling and a community builder. She also rides shotgun for organizational business leaders to make the compelling case for change – breathe life into a new vision, or lay down the bigger bolder expectations of how to approach their work.
In this conversation, we talk about how Fear and Desire are linked. You know you are doing it right when it feels good. Go ahead and try.
Lael Couper Jepson Bio
Lael likes to add fuel to what’s already smoldering. She is a seasoned boat rocker and professional instigator of change, with a penchant for women’s leadership. She jumped ship in 2006 after eleven years as an organization development consultant in the corporate world and founded SheChanges to work with people who share her impatience with the pace of change – people ready to buck the rules, challenge the status quo, and dare to create the change they want to see happen – ready or not.
“Truth be told, my mission is to start a revolution – one that leverages the power of women to re-imagine our world. Whether it’s meeting one-on-one, facilitating a group, speaking on stage or leading a weekend retreat, there is always a call to action embedded in my work, designed to inspire, ignite, and unleash the creativity, passion, and ingenuity we carry inside ourselves.” Lael Couper Jepson http://www.shechanges.com
ERH: I am thrilled to be here with you just days after your SheSpeaks event which was a magical experience. And I am feeling blessed to be in the community where you are doing this work. With that, talk about what fuels you and how you got into your work.
Lael Couper Jepson: Yeah. Thank you so much for coming out last week; I’ve still got that in my bones.
So, powered every day and how I got into this could be two separate answers, but I suspect that one, laughter, is most important to me. Not taking myself so seriously and at the same time also seeing that I matter; taking this one life that I’ve been given and making it matter and making it count every day.
There is this balance that I hold for myself, sometimes imbalance between reverence and irreverence. And laughter is a big part of that. And assuming responsibility for my gifts and who I am and how I show up, good, bad or ugly is also part of that. So, that’s how I fuel myself, sort of tending to that balance. I think that’s a big key of how I got where I am is that tending, which helps me stay present to my life.
You know that question, where do you see yourself in three to five years? I’ve always detested that question. I don’t really want to see myself in three to five years because it takes away the Easter egg hunt that I see my life as. I am following where I’m being led and keeping my eyes open. And for me, laughter and that irreverence and that play that I insist on bringing to my life, facilitates that movement forward. And it’s also the same for the people that I work with, my clients.
ERH: The laughter was so present at SheSpeaks and the joy with the people in the room. I feel it whenever you walk into the room, and hear it in your voice. It’s much needed where we are today in this world. I love the Easter egg analogy too. I have used the word journey since childhood, because I feel like it’s what keeps us present to the miracles that are all around us each day.
ERH: What are some of the examples or stories that are coming to you, that really resonate with you that you’re on this right path right now?
Lael Couper Jepson: It’s a really good question. I always have my ears and my eyes wide open to the moments I know I’m on the right path, it’s those moments when things feel good.
There’s this great movement that I love, it’s called Qoya, by Rochelle Schieck, and I’ve referenced it on stage. The premise of her business of Qoya is that you’ll know you’re doing it right if it feels good. And I love it because I share that premise in my coaching practice with women.
I’ll say, “Take a step, movement, and if doors open, if it yields something, if it feels good, then let’s do another one and let’s keep going.”
ERH: Oh, I love that.
Lael Couper Jepson: If it feels hard, if it feels bad, I call it my wincey face moments, when my ego or my head is trying to make things happen. That’s when I catch myself and I step back and I’m like, “That doesn’t wanna happen.”
Here’s an example, Elizabeth, I work nationally with women and I have a lot of people who say, “Please do a webinar, can you do a webinar?” And every time I take a step toward it, I get this wincey face and my stomach flops and I’m shaking my head right now as I’m talking, and it just doesn’t feel right. It’s not that I’m scared because it’s new; I’m really good at discerning that conversation for myself. It feels like someone else’s path that I am trying to follow behind, which it just fails miserbly every time.
ERH: And that makes a ton of sense. Wenever we are out there and putting things into the world, people want to make sense of them or put it in their own view. And it’s a powerful thing that you’re saying, the difference between fear of trying something new and really holding to your heart of knowing if something doesn’t feel like the right fit.
Lael Couper Jepson: It’s like writing for me, I find myself in those pages, I never set out to be a writer, ever. Gosh, at one point I was going to be a Rockette, then another point a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, and at anoth time I thought about being an attorney in Boston, so go figure.
It is writing and the stage that it intimacy for me. When I’m one-on-one with a client, or I’m one-on-one with an audience or a reader, that’s where I’m meant to be, very clearly. Because it feels so right. And you know the other thing, Elizabeth? It’s easy. So that’s always an indicator that I’m right in my wheelhouse.
ERH: Absolutely. Like when you don’t want to put it down and you’re just so inspired by the women that you’re bringing forward and their stories and then the interplay with your path.
Lael Couper Jepson:When I’m tapping into it, I feel like it’s magic. I’m communing with something greater than myself, for sure. When we are working, I use the word co creating. I’ll often joke that the only stakeholder in my business, my advisory board, is the divine and the universe.
I’ll often shush people who say, “you know what you should do? You should do this, you should do that, have you ever thought about?” I’m like, “Shush, shush, shush.” That’s when I’m coming from my divine advisory. I appreciate your enthusiasm. So,
At the heart of everything I do, I’m an artist, I’m a creator. And that is a really deeply, personal conversation that I’m having with something that’s often unseen.
ERH: Yes. An ability for you to open to that and trust, which leads me to a question. When I’m in your presence, I just feel like there’s this beam of energy that’s flowing to you and through you -which is a beautiful thing. And I believe every human has that capacity yet a lot of us walk around not necessarily tapped into it. Can you talk a little bit about how you help people tap in?
Lael Couper Jepson:It’s an essential part of work that I do with people. I really trust when people find me and we get curious there. So all sorts of people find me, you’d think that they are a lot like me, but often they’re atheists, or they’re engineers or attorneys; a lot of attorneys and engineers.
Their brains, the logical, rational side of their brains are very well-developed and well honed. And they’re very linear and literal, so the work that I do is very not. We deal a lot with the unseen, with emotions, and with what I’ll refer to as magic, or the unknown. So that’s why I enter from the place of play, as opposed to talking about spirit.
And the people that are drawn to me will say there’s this element of playfulness. We can tap back into that place of what they were like when they were a kid, of like, “You wanna try? You wanna give it a whirl?”
Some will say, “How do I know what’s gonna happen? What if I do this? What if I do that?” And I’m like, “Do you wanna find out?” And I’ll give you an example from my own life, because I seek to be doing this work. I wanna be as brave as the people that I’m working with and the audiences that I’m standing in front of.
As I got off stage on Friday night after this two-day event, and I tapped into that event a deeper level than I’ve ever tapped into, of what I felt. And so I got off stage and I’m like, “Something’s happening, what’s happening?” Something’s coming and what is this, and I know I finished my second book and I’m launching that, but it felt something bigger and I realized I’m doing this sort of one woman show that’s coming up and then I had all these questions. “Well how does that look? How will that be formatted? How would I market that? Would it take away from SheChanges? Who am I to do that? Who do you think you are? You’re not gonna be able to fill up a house on your own.”
You know, all this logical brain just went into overdrive. And I caught myself, and I’m like, “Hey sweetheart, we don’t have to decided if this is gonna be the next strategy of your business, let’s just play.” And all of the answers to my questions that I was holding for myself are, “Do you wanna go find out? Let’s go. Let’s go. Take it for a spin.”
That will help me find out, because I’ll feel it. Feeling my way is the number one sort of technology that I use in my one-on-one work with clients. Feeling.
ERH: And that testing.
Lael Couper Jepson: Yes, testing. So not just sitting there and talking about our feelings, but embodying those feelings. I’m not a big fan of the word fearless, because I don’t know what I would do without the presence of fear in my life or my clients’ life. I’ve gotta have fear and desire. And they’re often both swirling around the same conversation. By embodying it, it’s like, “Let’s not just talk about it, what scares you, let’s move toward it.” I’ll often say, “Let’s run up and meet it halfway, see what it has for you.”
ERH: Yes. It’s beautiful. When I was starting my business, there was a healthy amount of fear in the air. Like, “What’ll people think? How could you leave a great job with corporate stability? How long will it take?”
Like, it doesn’t happen overnight, right? You talk to somebody two years in and they’re like, “So, what are you doing?” And you’re like, “Well, I’m still standing,” and it takes a while. So just trusting in that things are not immediate. We get so conditioned with the technology in our lives for immediacy. And that ability for people to come toward their fear and their desire, that doesn’t also have to be in that moment, right? You might trigger it in that moment when you’re with someone, and then they may sit with it for a little bit of time, is that right?
Lael Couper Jepson:Yeah. Yeah, there’s kind of two places that I play with it, when that fear comes, my response is generally, “Of course. Of course, you’re afraid,” because if you and I were bungee jumping, I wouldn’t ever try to talk you out of your fear. But there’s often two distinct conversations about fear. One is the ego side of us which is afraid to fail, or is actually afraid to be caught failing. Two, it’s to be witnessed.
And so I’ll often engage that … A whole section of my next book focuses on this, Are you willing to make an ass of yourself? Because if you’re not, we’re kind of dead in the water.
Everything that you want. I’m always engaging myself in that layer, and that’s the one that will talk to your ego directly. Because I’m actually afraid of falling down publicly and being laughed at. Am I willing to handle that? How will that look for me? But the second really powerful thread of that fear conversation is the desire. Often with women, this is what I find, is that the desire for what we do to be deeply of service.
Lael Couper Jepson:And that is what I plug into. This idea that so many people think they’re alone, so many of us think that we’re alone, and we’re not. So, to the degree that I keep telling my own stories and sharing the stories of the woman that I work with, we realized we’re not as alone as we might think, we’re not as crazy.
ERH: It’s so true. The second you start having conversations, like in the work that I do around mindfulness and helping people to be present in the day, this just happened to me last week. I was speaking to somebody in an organization and they said, “You know, it’s never gonna work. We can’t really bring this kind of thinking to work, because people don’t associate taking a pause with getting things done.”
And then another person from the same organization called me to say, “I really like the thought of this stuff, and we’ve been reading, et cetera, et cetera, but you know, nobody in the organization but me is interested in this.” And then, a third person from the same company was referred just to have a conversation. So there are three individuals within a company that’s not that big, that are talking about something they all want, and they all think that they’re the only ones that are interested in it. I find that really fascinating.
Lael Couper Jepson:Exactly. And it is, it’s actually very predictable because it’s a form of resistance we use. And this is where the bullshit calling comes out a lot in my work, is to what degree are we’re using other people to not get what we want, because we think they can’t handle it, right?
Lael Couper Jepson:Yeah. And then I bring out that question of, “Do you wanna go find out? You wanna go find out if they can handle it?” It’s amazing, and people are like oh.
Let’s assume responsibility for holding what we want and actually seeing if it will be of service to others. Because we’re operating on these dated assumptions. We are so much more, I think we underestimate each other constantly.
ERH: Oh, absolutely.
Lael Couper Jepson:In fact, at SheSpeaks last week I saw my own assumptions play out. I take my time dancing through to the audience to all this music, I take up a space, as you probably witnessed.
At the beginning of the event someone came in with this older gentleman, he didn’t seem like the type that usually comes to my event. He had everything but the pocket protector, he had the pants-high tie and his shirt tucked in and he looked like he came right from the office. As I shook his hand, I had made that note.
Later when I was dancing through the audience, he jumped in the aisle and started dancing with me. This guy, who I thought, “Well, he can’t handle me. I’m gonna freak him out.” Damn, if he wasn’t just getting in the aisles too.
ERH: Nice, “I’m gonna give this a whirl.”
Lael Couper Jepson:Yeah. We cannot continue to judge our books by our covers.
ERH: Very true.
Lael Couper Jepson:I’m catching myself constantly. That’s a perfect example of me catching myself, right?
ERH: It is. I think people are growing at the spiritual level much more than we all talk about. Perhaps with less organized religion that used to have us coming to these places of centralized discussion at deeper levels, we are innately seeking other ways of connecting.
We are starting to realize that we have to create places for these conversations that might be non-secular and still spiritual.
Lael Couper Jepson: And that feeling of storytelling for me, is where it happens. I describe SheSpeakls as the church I’ve always wanted and never found. Because wherein there’s tears, there’s laughter, there’s music, there’s-
Lael Couper Jepson:Yeah. It’s there, isn’t it?
ERH: And uniting.
Lael Couper Jepson: It’s the premise of so much of my work. I feel so strong about women leading more and getting out of our own way and really saying, “Come with me, follow me,” because I think women, frankly have more permission to gather in circles like this and gather in spaces and move their bodies like this.
And what I’m loving and seeing more of is how many men are starting to gravitate to those events.
Lael Couper Jepson:So many men since SheSpeaks have emailed me, texted me, come up to me saying, “I feel so fed. This is so important. We need more men at these events.” And they’re telling me, it was lovely because I was invited into this space.
ERH: We need more of that.
Lael Couper Jepson: Yeah. The actual inviting into a space. SheSpeaks is an open invitation to anyone who wants to buy a ticket, but there’s this assumption that where women gather, men are not welcome, and I want to break that down.
ERH: I’m totally with you on that, Lael. For so many years there were gatherings of men, and it was absolutely like, “Oh, I’m not allowed in that club.” For most of my career, there were plenty of places that I could not go.
As we gather in these circles of women and seeing men join…saying, “All right, I am going to that.” I love that you’re witnessing a greater and greater mix. I believe the true path forward is together and losing sight of our gender altogether in that way.
Lael Couper Jepson: I’m a big fan of actually not losing sight of our gender. I think it’s a celebration. It’s a range, it’s a gracing of diversity. When I was in the corporate world I didn’t do this. But man, being 50 now, I wish I could go back to that 30 year old in the corporate world and say, “As the only women in a room full of 80 men, I’d offer this perspective.”
Lael Couper Jepson: I honestly think that I was one of the guys back then. If I had said that, it might be like, “Wow. I never really noticed that she’s the only women,” and then, “Why is that?”
ERH: Right. I also think that gender is probably the wrong word. It’s about celebrating masculine and feminine energy in all of us, in every one of us, we all have both sides. And that to me is what I’m being drawn to.
Lael Couper Jepson:For sure.
ERH: So, Lael, what are your favorite methods of taking pause and refueling?
Lael Couper Jepson:That’s a really good question. Well, I mentioned play, and I have two sons who are now 11 and 16. And for years when they were younger, I was so grateful to have them as like my little excuses to play. So when there was a snow day, it was a snow day. We got to stay inside, we got to go outside and play with the snow, and in the summer we would color with chalk on the sidewalk.
These past two or three years, I’ve become aware that, almost panicked as they’re growing up. Will I still get dressed up for Halloween? Will I still color on my sidewalk or in the street with sidewalk chalk if the children are not around? Will I still get outside in nature, and make fairy houses in the woods? Will I still? Play is really important to me, and I’m having to assume greater and greater levels of responsibility for feeding that part of myself, regardless of who’s around.
It begins with me. That’s where the spirit lives for me, where my communion with the divine lives, that’s where my greatest creativity and my boldest ideas, my barefoot ideas live. That’s where I get my inspiration. So there are portals that I have, and I talk about these a lot in the women’s circles that I run.
My portals are making art. Or as I said on stage, it doesn’t matter if it’s art, I just make shit constantly. I don’t care if it’s gardening or if it’s painting or whatever I do, making shit is always gonna be important for me.
And solitude, I am gobsmacked by the amount of solitude I am requesting for myself. And it seems to be getting greater and greater. And the reason, I think, is because I’m an edge seeker, as are the people that I work with, so that means that the nature of the work that I do has me feeling alone. Anyone at the edge will tell you that they feel alone. Even if they might be surrounded by people, right?
ERH: Right, oh definitely.
Lael Couper Jepson:But that means that I need to be constantly developing my competency of learning how to be with myself when I’m alone, when I’m feeling vulnerable. So solitude, for me, and taking myself away has me really reckon with that and practice that, it’s practice.
ERH: That’s awesome. Thank you Lael Couper Jepson. What is the best place for people to reach you?
Lael Couper Jepson: The best is to check out my website at shechanges.com. On the homepage, there’s all the upcoming events that I’m doing. My book, like I said, is coming out this summer and I’m heading into three big rounds of editing. So I have a GoFundMe campaign. You can find that there, as well as all the upcoming events. And then I also hang out a lot on Instagram – It’s under Lael Couper Jepson