It’s funny how small this world is and how interests tie us together in community. Last November, I was at a UN Women Board meeting with Marcy Stahl except we never spoke or met because there were so many things discussed that busy Sunday afternoon. Months later, someone said, “oh, I met someone you should talk to.” And there we were exchanging emails before talking on the phone.
With a father in the Navy, Marcy grew up in NC, NE, and HI before settling in Northern Virginia. Almost four years ago, she moved to Wake Forest, NC. Aside from her adaptability and knack for invigorating communities of women, she impressed me with her computer science and government contract work shifting to really focus on having a business to coach other women in business success. As many of us say, we need to lift each other up. Marcy is doing that and it’s marvelous! With pleasure, Women & the Ways We Work highlights her as story 22 and the first in June.
- The first thing I was thinking about asking you is not even about your job because too often, I think we fixate on our jobs as our titles, so I’m wondering what is something you see as interesting about you?
It’s really tough because I remember so vividly during part of my career I took a year off to just destress and get back to being a normal person again. It was so hard when people asked what I did. It was so hard for me to not have an answer. It made me appreciate how much of my identity is really bound up in my work. And so you, asking me that question, I’m just having that feeling again that so much of my identity is bound up in my work.
I have a pretty wide range of interests. I get interested in something and I learn how to do it to a certain extent and then I’m onto something else. At different times, I’ve taken salsa classes and then Italian classes. I just have a real love of learning. When something catches my eye, I just like to get into it and learn how to do it better up until a certain point and then move on to the next thing.
- It’s really good to be open to learning and taking in other things. So that’s actually another question I have. What is your best source of learning or how do you learn best?
I feel like it’s so much the nature of being human that it’s hard for anyone, including me, to learn from other people. So my most powerful experiences have come through the school of hard knocks. Secondary to that, I do a ton of reading and that ties to the way I comprehend the world in a lot of different levels. It’s through reading. That’s how the outside world comes into my head. It’s through the written world.
- I like that line, “how the outside world comes into your head.” What are some challenges you have faced and how you have tackled them?
That’s a great question. There have been many. One of my challenges has been giving myself permission to want what I want and really go after it. As much as I enjoy taking a risk, I’m less excited about emotional risks. I’ve done things in my career other people thought were risky. It didn’t really feel that way to me because it didn’t feel like there was anything huge at stake. When I went out solely on my own into the business coaching world, that felt far riskier to me. It was so much closer to me than any of my prior work had been. I had mixed feelings as to is it okay to want this and to go after this fully? It finally felt like there was something risky involved in my work. So that has been one obstacle for me. In terms of how I’ve moved through that, one of my best and worst qualities in some sense is a lot of perseverance. Sometimes I’m a bulldog and I’ve grabbed onto the bull, but the bull is tossing its head around. But, damn it, I’m NOT letting go! There are times when that serves me well and then there are times I wish I would have let go a little bit sooner.
There’s a lot of value in hanging in there and persevering.
I firmly believe that being an entrepreneur is the biggest personal growth journey anyone can go on because running your own business constantly brings you face to face with yourself. When you’re an entrepreneur you’ve got to think about the outside world, the economy and are you on Twitter — all these external things. What you’ve got to pay the most attention to, in my point of view, is what’s inside you because that’s the thing you’re always being confronted with. If your marketing is crappy, that’s probably due to some feelings or concerns you have that’s preventing you from really expressing yourself. If your sales are crappy, that’s probably some inner hangup that you’ve got around sales. So continuing to do my own personal work is probably the most important work that keeps me moving forward. I don’t foresee that ever ending. I will never arrive at being a fully developed person with no hangups. I keep uncovering them, hopefully healing them, moving on, and peeling back the layers.
- So talking about those risks and being a solo entrepreneur, what is your “day job” now and why have you chosen that?
My day job is being a business coach and working with women, like myself — women who are solo entrepreneurs and also women in direct sales or network marketing businesses.
- How did you get into business coaching? That’s not something you hear as often. It’s more unique.
When I started working in a career, my first job was working for a defense think tank. That was very much all about my computer science background. I ended up getting more and more out of computer science itself, writing programs and more into doing analysis, data and experiments from computer simulations. From there, I co-founded another government contracting firm with another woman. We ran that for 8.5 years. In that government contracting work, that was a lot of writing papers that went into government offices. Usually I was never quite sure what the impact was of my work in the defense world. Because it all defense and all technology, it was pretty much all men all the time, for probably the first 20 years of my life. So when I left that government contracting job, I knew I really wanted a change.
I realized what I loved about the government contracting work was actually looking at the professional development of my employees. So I knew I loved that — helping people grow– and I knew I also wanted to help other women grow their business. I had great expertise from being on that journey for 8.5 years through the government contracting firm. I also felt a real desire to work with people one on one where I could really see the tangible effects of my work with them so I wasn’t just writing papers that got handed over to other bureaucrats and I never really knew what happened with it. Directly touching someone and seeing what that was like was great. It was a variety of factors that made me feel like, “oh, this coaching thing, that’s something good.”
- That’s definitely an evolution. What do you enjoy most about it, in terms of the day to day?
For me, like most entrepreneurs, it’s that direct work. It can be intellectually enjoyable, but working with clients is the most exciting. In some ways, it’s always different. Each woman I talk to each day is in a different place. I just get so much of a thrill of hearing how my clients grow and change, hearing their “ah has.” When someone realizes, for example, “oh I’ve been operating under this ‘false belief.’” One of my client’s big “ah has” is how important harmony is to her and when she feels that her conversations with other people have harmony, then she’s in a position of power. She feels very confident, but the minute that’s gone she loses the harmony. Everything crumbles. She looks at how she feels: “am I in or out of harmony, confident or not?” Then the lack of harmony and how can she regroup. She learns to look at how to get that conversation back on track, which will be life changing for her to really revolutionize her work on some level. That’s really powerful. So sometimes I wonder how I get paid to do this great work because it’s so satisfying.
- Your work is definitely really focused on women so are there specifics — all three or one — advantages, barriers, and motivators for women that you have observed?
There are a couple things that I think are different for women than for men. I have one male client, but most of my work is with women. Women tend to compartmentalize less than men. Women are not just thinking about their jobs. They’re also thinking about their kids, their spouse, the sick dog, and the fact that their mother is coming to visit next week. There is a lot going on so a lot of my clients tend to feel guilty. There’s this sense of guilt — guilt when they’re with their family or guilt when they’re working and not with them. Women experience this more than men. Men are more conditioned to be competitive and ranked to understand who is less and more powerful, and they’re okay with that, whereas women want to be super collegial. They either get uncomfortable if they are feeling better than other people or uncomfortable if they’re not.
It can be harder for women to rise up out of a group and feel good about it, whereas men can be more okay with coming out and being the “top guy.”
- I think that is really powerful. I think that makes a lot of sense and I think I can relate to that too. Coming from that, what causes and organizations do you feel most passionate about?
I’m really passionate about helping women make more money and have more of a voice in making decisions to have more of a voice in the world. So obviously that’s a lot of what my business is about. People who have more money typically get more attention paid to them in some way. Another cause I’m really am passionate about is that I feel like having the majority of the decisions in the world made by men is ultimately harmful. We really need more women’s voices in the world. I was reminded of this last night, watching this show about WWI and there’s this scene with men walking around in trenches, with mustard gas, and these flame throwers. If women were in charge of the world, would those things have been invented and used? Modern violence in terms of warfare would be reduced. We look at the violence against women, by men. That’s another huge issue that I feel really strongly about that. I know so many women who have been sexually assaulted or physically abused. I find it truly bizarre that our country spends billions of dollars of defense, and feels like that’s our number one priority, when we should spend money on the issue of violence against women because that’s always happening.
- Yeah, I can relate to that too. That can be hard to deal with, hard to cope with. Those are difficult things. Some of those things that you’re mentioning, I’ve experienced those too. That’s big in the news right now too. How do you reconcile that? So, when you’re thinking about those things, how do you look somewhere different to find something else to think about? How do you feel most inspired, especially when there are lots of difficult things?
The issue of women participating more in decision making has gotten more into the public eye now so I feel like there’s a positive trend in that one piece. That’s something good to look at, especially with this issue of violence against women. Certainly, when it comes to the issue of sexual assault on campuses, that’s been another thing that’s really been in the public eye. So there are some positive trends that give me some kind of hope.
Probably one of my big loves is being in community with other like-minded women.
Being a part of women’s networking groups, in particular for me, is one of the things that helps me find inspirational moments.
It fills me up in a positive way. Whether those groups are really directed at those issues or not, it’s a really personal life boat.
- To wrap it up then, what is something you feel really proud of about how your life has evolved?
I think it’s that I have really become so much of a better person so when I look back at the person I was at 20 and then 30 and then 40, I can see how much I’ve grown. I can see how I’m a better friend, sister, and daughter than I was in those earlier times. It’s really going back to that personal emotional growth that I’ve experienced is probably what I’m most proud of.
Marcy Stahl is a Mindset and Marketing Mentor. Her motto is “Expand Your Mind, Expand Your Money.” I encourage you to check out her website, connect with her on LinkedIn, and add her as a friend on Facebook.
Thanks for reading Marcy’s story. Share in the comments how it impacted you or share it on social media. Check out next week’s weekly post on Women & the Ways We Work. Missed the others? Take a look at my blog to read the others. Know someone you think should be featured? Can I help you or your organization with a storytelling project? Contact me and let’s chat.