Trusting Your Gut
I had the most spectacular experience with the women of Johnson & Johnson at a WIKN seminar on Wednesday. The three star executives with me were Lisa Uthgenannt, Melissa Maret and Deb DeRosa. If I were to give them themed titles, they would be “The Ice Queen,” “The Idealist,” and “The Rationalist.”
Lisa, The Ice Queen, was nothing of the sort. But that poorly-chosen high school nickname sums up how misunderstood and deficient she felt in high school. Melissa’s idealism prevented her from seeing that she could never succeed in the highly-political workplace where she stayed for much too long. Deb’s predilection for analysis and rational thought led her to discount her emotional needs in the same way that her husband was discounting them. We talked about revealing ourselves—even the universally dreaded act of crying—at work and the power of someone else’s unshakeable belief in you.
So—whew—it was very emotional. And FUN because it was the first seminar where I showed Brad Paisley’s tender, wry “Letter To Me,” which he was inspired to write after I interviewed his wife, Kimberly Williams Paisley, for If I’d Known Then. He is writing to himself at 17 and for the music video went back to his real high school and featured real teachers that he mentions in the song. Definitely check it out.
At the seminar, I was struck by the conversation on trusting your gut. That’s a message or sub-theme that comes up so frequently in women’s letters to their younger selves. And yet—we are never taught how to do it. Or we are taught to suppress those gut-messages. I certainly trained myself to dismiss them and forge ahead anyway, undoubtedly trampling all over instincts that would have served me well.
It’s a murky business, sorting out the “true” messages that guide us and the non-messages that have more to do with fear or nervousness about an upcoming situation. For Melissa, who had a powerful instinct that guided her the right way as a young girl, the signal actually comes from the gut. Lisa mentioned the heart or chest area as the source. Ilona Rubino, who ably organized the entire event, had a chills-down-the-spine story about how trusting her gut in high school saved her life and someone else’s. For me, when it’s a “warning” message, I feel something like a stubborn lump in my gut. But affirmation, a positive signal, is something I sense as my heart actually lifting.
I think meditation–which I resolve to do regularly, but never quite get to–is one way to quiet all the brain noise in order to hear those signals more clearly. Do you ever hear those signals? How have you learned to separate true, useful instincts from all the other nonsense swirling in your head? And, what I’d really like to know so as to do a good job passing this on to my kids, how would you teach someone how to trust their gut?
What’s the difference between rapid cognition, which Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Blink, and trustworthy gut guidance?