The most successful women also are the most creative, according to Gail McMeekin, a Boston-based psychotherapist, writer and career coach. But how do you leverage creative ideas and passion into a viable business? We talked to McMeekin, author of the best-selling book, The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women: A Portable Life Coach for Creative Women, about her definition of success and how to achieve it.
Q. What specifically inspired you to write this book?
A. So many women are trying to live up to a dream that they aren't passionate about and that doesn't suit them. I interviewed an astronaut who clocked the most hours for a woman in space, a doctor who invented a revolutionary treatment for fibroids and a celebrity nutritionist who helps people with serious food allergies and has a TV show, among many other women. So creativity isn't just for artists and writers. We all have the software to be creative, but we may have forgotten how to use it or we may work in an environment where it isn't safe to experiment with new ideas.
Q. Many women are stuck in jobs that they don't love. At what point should they take a risk and make a change?
A. Women who are in jobs that don't reflect their interests and talents are unfulfilled, unhappy and stressed out. I urge women to discover what they're best at, research the fields they're interested in and then develop an action plan to get there. What blocks most women is fear, lack of confidence and not thinking strategically.
Q. How should women determine which interest to pursue as a career?
A. I thought many years ago that I might like to become an interior designer. So I talked to a few people who were encouraging, and then signed up for a course. On the first night, we spent the whole time measuring a very crooked room and then using those numbers to decide what went where. It was not fun, and reminded me that my best skill is ‘ideaphoria,’ not spatial relations. So I quickly gave up that idea. So you need to try things out—take a class, talk to people, volunteer someplace—and see what resonates. But you also have to allow yourself to learn a new field. Interior design wasn't for me, but if I'd loved it, I would have hung in there and gotten an assistant to help me measure things.
Q. You talk about healing your fears and improving your self-esteem. Do you find this is more difficult for women than for men?
A. Most men have been programmed to be competitive and to be winners. Many successful women fear that they'll never find a life partner if they appear too smart or in charge. In both of my 12 Secrets books, I talk about dealing with inner saboteurs such as the inner critic, and outer saboteurs such as our programming to be accommodating, to take care of everyone else first, to not ask for what we need and to want to be liked all the time by everyone.
Q. You believe there is a difference between ‘female burnout’ and ‘male burnout.’ How so?
A. Many men are more logical about what they can and can't do. Women have to learn that their needs are important, and to not get taken advantage of. Women need to learn the art of self-focus, which is not about being overly narcissistic, but about learning to take care of ourselves. For example, over the years, I've noted that when a man starts a business, he always finds a secretary. A woman often will try to do it all on her own.
Q. Who is the most successful person, by your definition, that you've ever met?
A. The word success simply means ‘positive outcome.’ That's it. All of the women I interviewed defined success on their own terms, and crafted their lives and their businesses to support what they valued and what they were meant to contribute to the world. Each of them is a shining star.
Q. What is your personal definition of success? Have you achieved it?
A. I feel very blessed to have written six books, to coach and mentor wonderful clients and to provide creative leadership training for women and organizations. I have positive relationships with family and dear friends and get to spend part of every year on Cape Cod, which I adore, as well as to travel with my husband. I also love to paint watercolors. I have an interesting and creative life.