Last month, I had the deep pleasure of speaking with award-winning women's marketing expert and now playwright, author and actor Mary Lou Quinlan about her new book, play and programs called The God Box Project. I was blessed too to have a personal preview of the power of The God Box: Sharing My Mother's Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go. I attended Mary Lou's book launch party in New York City and heard her speak firsthand of her mother Mary's transformative ritual of writing notes in which she shared her brief prayers to God on behalf of everyone whom she loved, cared about and wished the best for in her life. Reading the book, I felt changed somehow, reminded of how, when I'm stressed and over-the-top busy as many of us are each day, we move away from the compassion and kindness in our hearts to thinking only of ourselves and our own self-preservation, closing ourselves down from our most loving and caring selves.
About The God Box
As Mary Lou explains, when her beloved mother, Mary Finlayson, died, her family was left bereft -- until Quinlan found her mother's "God Box," or rather, boxes. These simple containers were stuffed with tiny notes written by Mary, asking and praying for everything from the right flooring for her daughter's new home to a cure for her own blood cancer. Mary's petitions are presented with love and without expectation. Note by note, Quinlan unearths insights into her mother's compassion, faith, and perseverance, and revelations of her innermost thoughts -- nostalgic, surprising, and even a bit shocking. And through the journey, the author discovers her own more empathetic, more engaged self -- the woman her mother had believed in all along.
Curious as to Mary Lou's transformation from corporate and entrepreneurial powerhouse focused on helping advertising clients understand the inner thoughts of female consumers, to author and performer who is in essence a spiritual midwife of her mother's lessons in humility, compassion and care, I asked Mary Lou to share about that transition.
Mary Lou explains:
I realize in looking back that my mother supersedes all. In reflecting on my career, I see and appreciate deeply that I built a successful professional life and made my mark in marketing. I believe I followed a path that has been diverse, accomplished, and satisfying. My job as head of my marketing firm Just Ask a Woman (now a division of Mary Lou Quinlan & Co.) was to tell the truth -- the whole truth -- about what women feel and hold inside, and to honor those thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it's the time of my life now where I realize that I am strong enough to speak from my heart, fully myself -- to integrate the various parts of me and tell my own whole truth. The advantage of being an entrepreneur is that I don't answer to anyone -- other than my clients -- and in the end, with my business being about telling the truth about what women feel, why would I draw the line personally about what I deeply feel?
I've always been the same woman at work -- determined, funny, happy, passionate. But certainly in my years in advertising, my job was to win and retain the business of clients and doing so sometimes required of me to draw lines between my personal views and those of my clients. My messages were focused on my clients' interests, not my own. That's the job -- leading an advertising agency means putting my clients' needs first. But when I launched Just Ask a Woman in 1999, I created a company where I started to let my full voice be heard. The next wave of sharing my authentic voice was in 2005 when I wrote my book Time Off for Good Behavior. Telling the truth about women in business and in corporate America rattled cages in a big way. For instance, I shared in the book that it's okay to take a break from your job and do what you need to restore yourself. Sometimes work just isn't enough. And in another book, What She's Not Telling You, I also revealed that women often tell half-truths -- sometimes as a form of defense that keeps women stuck, but also as a way of detouring a probing marketer from getting inside their inner space.
As I've progressed, I've now hit a point where telling my mother's story -- one of spirituality and of practical life lessons, aspiration, love, and even death -- feels right for me. A friend said to me, "This is the job you were meant to grow into. This was meant to be your life."
Women and the Workforce
About women's challenges in the workforce, Mary Lou shared that women's advancement in business remains an uphill climb. Arguments made in the media and by many corporate leaders and managers about how women should behave and advance in business seem to continually force women into narrower and narrower avenues of compliance. Women are told they should network but not just network with women, for instance.
Unfortunately, there's been a focus on what women are not doing correctly. Career paths are not more free-flow as they should be -- they're getting tighter and tighter, and blame keeps falling back on women as to why they haven't advanced, as opposed to our looking at the broader culture, systems and support. I'm all about letting yourself be fully ambitious and internally sound -- not having to make a choice between the two. When do you wake up and say, "This is my life!"? When you retire? That's too late.
The ultimate outcome of The God Box Project, play and programs?
The God Box is a wonderful, sharing, compassionate way to bring hope to your life. It's also a comforting ritual particularly in our world today that feels so worried, tight, negative, divisive. To share something unifying and uplifting is a powerful legacy that I dream of passing on, on Mom's behalf.
My dream is that millions of people around the world -- men and women -- will begin the tradition of The God Box, and find in that little ritual some needed relief, hope, comfort that supports their own beliefs. I believe that The God Box can truly help make a more compassionate, kind and loving world. It also helps us rethink the relationships that were so fundamental in our lives and our upbringing -- our mother-daughter/father-daughter relationships and what they gave us. Reconnecting to our love for our family, and healing what let us down in our family lives, is also an outcome I dream of for The God Box.
To me, Mary Lou offers women the world over a powerful and successful role model for living an authentic, integrated and meaningful professional life. I for one am so grateful for Mary Lou's work -- for giving me a pathway to see and believe that supporting our deeply held spiritual beliefs doesn't have to be something we keep separate from our professional identities. Honoring our full selves and bringing forth our compassionate, loving hearts in both our personal and professional lives will help us heal the world back to health.
Check out The God Box Project.com (and don't miss the new The God Box mobile app on iTunes). Feel how transformational it can be to share your deepest hopes and prayers for yourself and for your loved ones and those you care about.
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