Real or RHONY: Ways that Women Connect
What if everyone’s idea of being real looked like the Real Housewives of New York version? Admittedly, I’ve been watching #RHONY Season 7. I skipped seasons 3-6, but I don’t think anyone’s experienced any notable personal growth or self-improvement. Watching the show actually makes me feel good that I don’t have a cougar status bank account. They seem miserable. Or what’s worse, they accept that every social gathering is full of drama and expect that everyone has ulterior motives. Maybe I am just too midwest for this south-of-the-border behavioral show.
But let’s get real. RHONY is just television. And does anyone notice how close RHONY is to PHONY? It’s certainly not a model for the way women should have real, lasting, supportive and empowering relationships with each other. I think I have a better way.
In December, upon the invite of a friend, I attended a meeting based on the concept of strengthening women’s relationships and careers. The orchestrator of this group then introduced me to who she deemed a like-minded woman with similar interests. I would say she was spot on. I met Jessica Altmann in January and felt an immediate connection. We shared similar values and approaches to career and family life. We knew we wanted more from networking than networking solely in a business sense could provide.
There is a thread of serendipity in our approach and style, believing that bringing your authentic self to all of your interactions — business or personal — leads to opportunities otherwise undiscovered through structure. As we began to craft the idea of our women’s group, the term REAL, kept popping up. So we played with it. Our group, Real Moms’ Club (RMC), emerged from this sense of action and vulnerability we wanted to create as well the idea that we’re a new generation of professional women and mothers carving out uncharted paths for our view of work life balance (think Fight Club (the movie) and You Can Do It (the mantra) mentality).
With RMC as our working title, we began to structure the make-up of our group and the content we’d discuss. Back to serendipity. While in discussions regarding the group’s format, Jessica took time out to have lunch with a retired attorney and mentor of hers. She mentioned our group and status and the connectivity light bulb went off for him. Soon after that lunch, he handed over his friend Pam Bartlett’s book, Women Connected. He shared that although Pam is no longer with us on earth, he promised her that he would share this with women he encountered who were seeking what the book has to offer.
When Jess and I next met for lunch, we dove into the book, focusing on page 12 for starters: What It Is and What It Isn’t. I immediately resonated with this idea, in fact it’s an exercise I do often to help me focus and determine a solid viewpoint. Our first interpretation of this went in our invite:
We’re not here to professionally out-do one another or focus on an uncomfortable exchange of professional services. We’re not your average book club, where intentions may be good, but way too much wine is consumed for thoughtful, self-improving conversation. We’re also not solely seminar-style, where you’re presented to. We ask that you get involved. These groups have their time and place, no doubt! We’re just different : )
In other words, a lot of the content and format of the group was based on experiences we’ve already had that fell short of fulfilling. Or networking or learning left us with professional knowledge, but neglected our personal growth and the building of our authentic selves. Our first task, then, was to seek out women who craved similar expansion and a willingness to explore. We consulted Pam’s advice in the book under the “Who to Invite” section:
Invite women you trust, the ones with whom you can share thoughts, feelings, dreams, knowing that they’ll keep your confidences. Invite interesting women who are curious about life and are willing to share their honest thoughts and feelings. Invite women who are open to change, who welcome looking at things in fresh, new ways — women who are flexible and willing to learn and grow.
The Afternoon of Exploration
Jess and I brought in one other well connected, like-minded woman named Linda to help us shape our group idea and reach out to women. We crafted and sent our first invite mid-May for our May 27th Afternoon of Exploration. Again, in reference to the book, we followed its structure which meant keeping track of time and being intentional to the point of lighting candles. Definitely not your typical professional networking meeting.
After this exploration, women were encouraged to take in the concept and decide if 2.5 hours monthly plus a few exercises in between for 11 sessions through April 2016, worked for them. They could graciously bow out if the group was not for them. At the afternoon’s end, we had our group of nine who wished to continue.
I couldn’t help but think of poor RHONY behavior while re-reading Pam’s defining statements surrounding Women Connected:
This group is not a place to gossip; to badmouth husbands, partners or friends. It is designed to create intentional, forward-moving conversations rather than the typical social conversations that take place in our everyday lives.
The book is chalk-full of insights into why intentional conversations in supportive groups move us forward. Pam’s personal story is so moving and inspirational that even if you don’t join a Women Connected group, you’ll find value in the read. It seems a shame to only share this insight within our RMC of nine, so plans to do a larger-scale event this fall to bring new women into the concept are already in the works. Drop me a line if you want to be kept in the loop.
Cheers to getting REAL non-housewives style!