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Marsha Clark  0:00  
This episode is being sponsored by Amazech, which is a women's business enterprise that has a proven track record of driving business transformation through technology and talent. Amazech's culture is defined by two key values, making a positive impact at every step, and giving back to the community. Visit to learn more about them.

For our longtime listeners, you may have noticed something different about this podcast... We have our very first sponsor, and I'm really pleased and proud that we have come this far on the podcast journey. And I want to specifically call out Shanthi Rajaram, who is the CEO and founder of Amazech whose sponsorship ads you just heard. And I can't think of a better supporter of women supporting women than Shanthi. And I just want to say a very special thank you to her as our initial sponsor. It's a new and exciting thing for both of us. So thank you, Shanthi. And thank you Amazech!

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:18  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, I mean, whoa, Episode 90. We're only 10 weeks away from 100. Can you believe this?

Marsha Clark  1:37  
I really, I can't, Wendi. I mean I never would have imagined that we'd be sitting here this close. And we do have some fun things planned for some of our upcoming shows so that adds more excitement. And we'll be kicking off the episodes focused on Book Two which is coming out, "Expanding Your Power", right after our 100th episode. So it's just been an incredible journey. And we have even more to look forward to.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:05  
That's right. And we're just gonna make the announcement that Marsha is in the top 2% of all podcasts. We're just gonna like do a little mic drop on that. And today, we're settling back into our familiar routine where it's just the two of us. So Marsha is the focus today. And I know that this, the title of this episode is very near and dear to Marsha's heart. So...

Marsha Clark  2:30  
Well, you're absolutely right, Wendi, and it's bittersweet, because, you know, my original goal was that we would include someone from my know, love and trust circle in this conversation but sadly, we lost her recently. And today's episode is entitled "Choose!" and we're dedicating this show to my dear, dear, dear friend, colleague, woman extraordinaire, that was also my co-author for the book "Choose!", the same title, and that person is sweet Dottie Gandy.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:03  
Yeah. So today's episode is entitled "Choose!" which is in reference to this book that you wrote with Dottie. And I think it's important to share that the full title of that book is "Choose!: The Role That Choice Plays in Shaping Women's Lives". And we're actually going to be diving into all of the messages from that book. And I think the complete title gives everyone a more clear picture of where we're going today.

Marsha Clark  3:03  
I hope so. And this is choices of all kinds. So I want to be clear about that as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:37  
Yeah. And, you know, so I'm glad that we're talking about this, because I'm not sure that everybody in our listening audience is aware of the fact that you actually had written a book before "Embracing Your Power", which we've been talking about for the last 89 episodes. So why don't you tell us a little bit about Dottie and how the two of you ended up writing a book together?

Marsha Clark  3:58  
Well, Dottie had started a group that we as a collective ended up calling The Up To Something Group which I still love to say that out loud. And it was fun and it was made up of about a dozen or so people, and we met on a monthly basis at different people's houses. And inevitably, someone in the group was always up to something, right. So we were always dabbling in different things. And Dottie and I had discovered as a part of that group, that we were both very passionate about supporting women. And you know, a few months in she asked me if I wanted to co-author a book, and, of course, I said yes. I love Dottie with all my heart and she was a powerful force. And, you know, I really couldn't wait to collaborate with her on this book.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  4:44  
Yeah, I mean, and the book itself is what I would call a pool read or a Sunday on the sofa read, by which I mean, you can easily sit by the pool one afternoon and get through the entire book. And the whole premise behind the book is that you had five key teaching points about the power of choice. But instead of writing a nonfiction self help type of book that delivers those five teaching points directly, you both decided to present this as a work of fiction by creating five different personas, five women who were facing issues that brought each of those teaching points to life. And, you know, I just want to say that it was really a clever and compelling way to deliver that message. So before we go into details on the five key messages around choice, I'm curious to know why the two of you decided to use that writing device of persona.

Marsha Clark  5:43  
Well, for our listeners who have been listening to us very long, they've heard me say women learn through stories. So that was, you know, a major consideration in all of this. And because we had talked to so many women, just in our life's work, and in supporting women, it was hard to create just one story and follow it. So we created these composite characters so we could bring all of the different pieces and parts of the many, many women we had worked with, talk to, supported, and so on. And we wanted it to be in such a way that many women could relate, so connecting to the collective persona, not a single persona.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:26  
I like that. And then one last thing I want to point out before we get into the five characters, and how they explore the five main points about choice, there's a foreword in the book by Edie Seashore. And like Dottie, Edie was another woman who played a very real and important role in your life, Marsha, so will you share a little bit about Edie and her influence over your choices?

Marsha Clark  6:51  
I will absolutely. So Edie was a professor in my master's program at American University. And what I learned through that master's program was that Edie and her husband, Charlie had played a key role in really shaping the field of organizational development and organizational behavior. And that's what my master's program was, Masters of Science and Organizational Development. And she saw the need in organizations to bring a more human touch. She was smart, she was funny, she was warm, she was charming, delightful is another word I would use. And I connected with her instantly. And in reality, I wanted to be Edie. And so she was a role model, for sure.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  7:35  
Well, she sounds like a wonderful woman and a mentor for you. And I will say that reading the foreword that she wrote, she sounds a little bit feisty, too. So I want to share a few things that she wrote because I think she really sets up perfectly what our exploration into these themes of the book are going to be throughout the podcast. So she starts with "How did it all begin? The beliefs we held that we were less than, second class citizens, voiceless, unable to lead interruptible, invisible, all because we were women. Where did all that start?" Wow. Like, I think I'm going to add that into my journal, the thoughts, notes. I mean, how how did it all begin?

Marsha Clark  8:24  
Yeah, you know, what I found fascinating is she could put into words in, you know, a sentence, right, what many women that I knew and was supporting and were in our programs, she represented their thoughts and feelings, and she certainly represented my experience, right. And even though she was older than me, here we are, we're still hearing it, seeing and experiencing it. And she was a tireless and fearless, fearless and fierce advocate for women's rights. And even in her obituary, they pointed out that her birthday, March 8th, fell on International Women's Day, no coincidence I'm sure.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:04  
Oh, how lucky is that? I liked that she acknowledges the changing landscape for women she wrote that "We have gone along, up until now." which is a phrase that you use a lot. Was that an Edieism that you picked up?

Marsha Clark  9:20  
Absolutely. It sure was. And as I worked, you know, with women and the narratives that started with, "I've never", or "I never could", you know, all of those things, and I would respond, I would cut them off and say up until now, right? Because for me, it was me channeling the Edie in me. And it was also such an important lesson that just because I haven't ever done it doesn't mean I can't choose to make a different decision now.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:47  
Exactly. Exactly. So I was wondering when I saw that because I can hear you say, especially through the Power of Self Program. So she said "Up until now. Now we realize that we can make our own choices, deliberate, intentional, conscious choices. We are changing our beliefs, we are choosing to take control of our actions and our decisions, become the people we would like to be, no longer dupes. And it's becoming clear to us that we can reframe our beliefs and greatly expand our choices about the roles we want to fill." I mean, what a powerful setup to these stories of the characters in the book who are doing exactly that - reframing their beliefs, getting clear and expanding their choices.

Marsha Clark  10:39  
Well, that's exactly right. And I want to be transparent. Edie had read the transcript before we asked her to write the foreword, because she needed to know what she was writing it to. And in my loving eyes as it relates to Edie, it was a perfect forward.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  10:54  
Okay, so we're going to get to the stories in the five key messages. But now I'm wondering how much of the messages in the book were autobiographical. I know you said you and Dottie interviewed more than two dozen women, but how much of your own life was reflected in these personas as well?

Marsha Clark  11:13  
You know I would just say ours were two other voices that added to the chorus, right? Because as I said, there are many similar aspects and a few nuances and distinctions. And as you and our listeners know, by now, I've worked with women from over 60 countries. And there are some universal stories that no matter where you live, what you do, how old you are, you know, country cultures, corporate cultures, and so on. The stories are common and the experiences are similar that we can share together.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:43  
Exactly. Okay. So in the introduction of the book, you explained that the five different characters lead very different lives. But they find themselves intersecting in their desire to attend a woman's conference that is set in Dallas, called the Intention Convention. And this conference, this Intention Convention, as it turns out, is focused on helping, quote, "examine the role that choice plays in the quality and outcome of women's lives." So you guys, both you and Dottie, created a fictitious women's leadership conference that was set in Dallas, Texas, it was called the Intention Convention, all of this to set up your book. I mean, this sounds awesome. I think I want to go to the intention... I think I need to go to the Intention Convention.

Marsha Clark  12:33  
Well, not to give away the spoiler, but guess what? We did host an Intention Convention in Dallas when the book came out! (That's fantastic.) Yes, it really was. It was all a part of the launch of the book and, and a way to really practice what we were preaching and teaching in that way. And it was fun. It was the first time I'd ever done anything of that magnitude as an entrepreneur versus working with all the resources of a big company, you know, in contrast, so it was amazing.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:01  
I, you know, and now I'm wanting to entitle a podcast episode The Intention Convention. So we're gonna have Tracie work on that, we'll have to add it to the list of future shows. Okay, so back to the book, the first major choice the characters in the books have to face is whether or not they can even attend this intention convention that they find out about because they're busy women, full lives, lots of commitments and obligations. They can't just drop everything and fly to Dallas to spend a weekend learning how to make more intentional thoughtful choices, right?

Marsha Clark  13:37  
Well, that's right. And you know, this book was published in 2004. So we had about four years of Power of Self behind us. And these were the very things we were hearing from people who wanted to come be a part of the Power of Self, but they were busy women with full lives, and lots of commitments and obligations. And that really was part of a first major tension that women face all the time when it comes to doing something for themselves.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  14:02  
Exactly. Okay. And so we're going to unpack some of the different reasons or challenges each of these characters is facing. The first character we meet is Rachel and her chapter begins with us getting to read her thoughts as she is procrastinating after a long, hard day by cleaning out her inbox. (That's right.) Sure. Some of those who are listening can relate.

Marsha Clark  14:24  
When under stress we tend and befriend. So, okay, she was tending to her inbox. And I love that we get you know, to peek inside her thoughts and see her... chastising herself for what must feel like, you know, wasting time by cleaning out that week of, you know, accumulated old emails. And she even remembers an article she had recently read about women who often manage stress differently than men by tending and befriending instead of responding in some kind of fight or flight mode. So as Rachel is tending to her stuffed, overwhelming inbox, she runs across an invitation to a women's Intention Convention and it catches her eye.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  15:08  
Okay, so the Rachel persona seems to me to be the iconic, corporate working mom  - happily married, dual incomes, two well adjusted kids, a job that morphed into a successful career over a decade. And yet, when she sees this invitation, she catches herself reflecting on her choices.

Marsha Clark  15:28  
That's right. It's the wording on the invitation that really catches her eye. And it kind of starts those gears turning. The invitation reads, "Women's Intention Convention. This conference is specifically dedicated and designed for women who are learning to ask for what they want, who are seeking clarity of purpose, who are gaining confidence in holding their boundaries. Are you that woman?"

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  15:58  
Okay, wow. That's a little scary question. I mean, I'm with Rachel. I would begin to wonder about my choices if I saw an invitation like that.

Marsha Clark  16:07  
Yeah, she does, and not so much from that place of dissatisfaction. It's really more from a curious perspective, how does this relate to me, right? So she acknowledges she that she enjoys her life, but she also realizes that many of her choices have been driven by putting others first. So then she starts to wonder what would her future life be like if she took a more active role in the choices that affect her. She had had other dreams before taking the job at the manufacturing plant, and she had been working there for 12 years. The invitation sparked the question of what happened to those old dreams and could the convention rekindle some of those dreams like finishing her degree. She had given that up in order to be a mom and a wife, and a worker and all of those. And so her scenario, Rachel's scenario, really speaks to one of the key messages from the intention conventions agenda and that's in recognizing the impact of our choices on the direction and quality of our lives. And not only recognizing the impact, but just as importantly, to accept the concept of, as Edie would say, up until now.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  17:22  
Oh. Say more about that.

Marsha Clark  17:24  
Well, as I said earlier, it's one of my all time favorite phrases from Edie. And, you know, we can't go back and erase our past choices. Life just doesn't work that way. But by acknowledging that our most potent, most powerful tool is choice, we can make new choices moving forward, choices that may even have a magical effect, if you will, of turning our lives around or putting us in a different direction. And so in Rachel's case, the invitation to the intention convention has created a bit of internal tension in her and she's beginning to question her past choices.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:05  
Okay. So I love in the book how Rachel approaches her husband when she gets home with the idea of going to the convention. She has this whole plan worked out mentally on how to ask for what she wants with her boss to negotiate supporting her either financially by paying for her to attend or giving her some time off so she doesn't have to use that vacation time which she and her husband were planning to use for some house repairs. And once she has all this whole mental plan laid out to her husband, his response is one of my favorite moments in the book. Marsha, I'm gonna let you share that.

Marsha Clark  18:43  
Yeah, mine too. You know, we wanted to have an example or present her husband as a supportive ally because we had many women that we had, as I said, had in programs, clients, who did have supportive men in their lives. And his response is something like, I wondered when the time would come that you wanted to do something for yourself because it was right for you.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  19:08  
Wow. Yeah, that's a big highlight right there.

Marsha Clark  19:12  
Yeah. And and that said, we also knew that not all the responses from partners, were going to be that easy, if I could say that. So so we wanted to highlight that we had a collaborative, cooperative conversation that would happen between a husband and wife, and that Rachel's positive experience in presenting the idea to her husband, then boosted her confidence to pitch the idea to her boss. And, you know, after a temporary moment of some imposter phenomenon, something else we've talked about on this podcast, that inner critic voice jumping in, you know, she was ready to go to the boss and negotiate with her on how they could give her that week off with pay as long as she might cover her own expenses. So that gives you an idea of it was a compromise. You give me the time off, I'll pay the expenses. And, you know, it was also acknowledging that Rachel's company was in the middle of some financial struggles. So that's also a reality that any of us could relate to. So she agrees to the compromise, calls her husband with the good news that she was going to be able to attend the conference.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:23  
Well, happy ending. Not all the personas in this book find it quite so easy, do they?

Marsha Clark  20:29  
No, because that isn't real either. So we were intentional about including scenarios that, you know, added some tension beyond finding the courage and clarity to ask for what you want.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:42  
Okay, so next character certainly had some additional tension wrapped around her attempts to commit to attending this convention. Tell us about Jennifer.

Marsha Clark  20:52  
Yeah. So you know, as they say, the plot thickens, right. So Jennifer is Rachel's friend and her former colleague, who opted to become a stay at home mom after her twins were born five years before. So when Jennifer calls Rachel to talk to a grown up, as she would say, after spending a particularly challenging day with the twins, as well as her 18 month old, Rachel is excitedly telling her story and sharing about how she got the intention convention invitation and that she planned to attend and that it included the support of her manager as well as her husband. And so it kind of ignites a spark in Jennifer and she starts thinking about how much she would love to attend something like that, so now her gears started to turn. And not only does she think it would be great to attend with Rachel, but she also thinks about her college roommate Lynn, who would also probably get a lot from a program like this.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  21:49  
Okay, but Jennifer has some extra hoops to jump through, right?

Marsha Clark  21:53  
Yes, you're right. As soon as Jennifer brings the idea up to her husband, John, as they're on the way to his sales awards banquet that night, his immediate response is, "You're not going to turn into one of those feminists, are you?"

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  22:08  
Okay, um, so let's remember that this book was published in 2004. So you were probably writing this in 2003. So that's 20 years ago now, right Marsha?

Marsha Clark  22:18  
Oh, yeah, yeah, but let me just tell you, I get asked that question on a regular basis today.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  22:23  
True. Are you one of those feminists? Yes, the F word. Okay, so I know this is fiction. But what made you and Dottie decide to make John such a challenge? Challenge. I mean, he was immediately this unlikable person. I'll put it that way. Was that intentional?

Marsha Clark  22:43  
Yeah, at the time that we wrote the book, we had husbands of women in our programs, male bosses that were asking those kinds of questions. And using words and phrases like feminists, women libbers, man haters and the like. I even had one husband say are you creating she devil?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:05  
Oh, that's exactly what we are doing. We are doing that on our podcast. Next episode.

Marsha Clark  23:10  
So we were trying to represent both the trends of reality and describe, you know, really the many ways that women may or may not be supported by husbands, bosses, and so on. And eventually, Jennifer promises her husband that there won't be any bra burning on her part at the convention, and that she would work out all the logistics of getting her mom to come and stay with the kids so then, in fact, she could go.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:37  
And then there's a twist in the story.

Marsha Clark  23:40  
Yeah, we like the twists and turns. So yes, that night at the sales award dinner Jennifer's husband ends up winning National Sales Manager of the Year, a thing to be celebrated,  which meant that he had qualified to attend that award event in San Francisco later that year. And of course, it was the same date as the Intention Convention.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  24:07  
Of course, and Jennifer would be expected at that event as arm candy with him as the ever supportive wife, correct?

Marsha Clark  24:17  
That's exactly right. That was definitely John's expectation and when she mentions the conflicting dates to John on the car ride home, he suggests that there will surely be intention conventions other years and that it's important for you to be here when I get the award. I'm counting on you to be there. Of course he is. I know. Yes. So again, we were very deliberate in Jennifer's response to John. She basically doesn't back down, to her credit. We want a strong woman model here and says, "I don't know if there will be another convention next year. But I've been to dozens, you know of the sales meetings with you." And what we added there was that Jennifer was wondering to herself how it happened that the assumption that their marriage contract not only meant that she'd be a stay at home mom, but that it also including putting her husband's needs above her own. And that again, familiar stories we've heard over and over again.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  25:14  
Yeah. And so I'm assuming that the conversation in the book says they drove home the rest of the way silent.

Marsha Clark  25:21  
Yes, it does. That's exactly right.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  25:23  
Okay. So I've had those conversations before, not with my current husband, Scott. But yes. And we all have, we've all had, I'm sure we've all had these conversations. So I love how Jennifer represents some creativity and resilience in her story, but she doesn't end up taking no for an answer, does she?

Marsha Clark  25:43  
No, she does not. Thank you very much. And even as she is getting ready for bed that night, and John reinforces that, quote, "He sees no way for her to attend the convention", she starts to wonder that while she loves being a mother and wife, why does that have to mean that she has to choose to put everyone else's desires above her own, every single time?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:06  
So Jennifer discovers a compromise solution, doesn't she?

Marsha Clark  26:10  
Yes, she does. So she realizes that the dates, the actual specific dates now that you know, kind of she's looking at the calendar, for the convention and John's sales awards, his event, only conflict on the final closing session for the convention. So if she skipped the last day of the three day convention, she could fly up to San Francisco and be there for all her husband ceremonies. And to her, it seemed quite like the perfect compromise. And she called her mother to check on her availability for staying with the children. She was going to put the plan in motion.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:42  
Right, here we go. Okay, so now I remember being a little sad, but not surprised by her mother's reaction.

Marsha Clark  26:49  
Yeah, you're not alone. And yet again, these are this is the compilation of stories we'd heard. Her mom's rather lukewarm enthusiasm for Jennifer's trip to the convention didn't deter her because as long as her mom was at least willing to stay with the children, it didn't, it didn't matter that she wasn't fully on board with the reasons for the trip. So even though, again, some additional resistance, she wasn't backing down. And I will add for our listeners, and what the reason we put some of this in the book is, we'd heard a lot about the guilt tripping that mothers and mothers in law do, both in the interviews of the women as well as women we knew in real life and had, you know, supported over the years.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  27:33  
Right. So that short paragraph in the book of the interaction with Jennifer and her mother, that wasn't just a throwaway conversation. (No.) What were you and Dottie hoping to represent with that little peek into the mother daughter dynamic there?

Marsha Clark  27:48  
Well, in short, the struggle is real, right? And I, you know, I have a theory about relationships between mothers and daughters just from my own anecdotal experience. You know, with the guilt trips, I think some mothers are trying to justify their own decisions about putting everyone else's needs before their own. And so I'm looking for affirmation as that's the quote unquote, "right thing to do." And in other situations, I think this is my mother's story. She was living vicariously, you know, a mother through her daughter's options, careers, choices, because many of those were not available to her or for that generation, and it can get pretty complicated.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  28:30  
So Jennifer ends up working out all the logistics and plans to attend both events. And I love that her realization after jumping through all these hoops was already a sneak preview into the the lessons from the convention.

Marsha Clark  28:46  
Oh, yes. So Jennifer was already becoming aware that you can make choices for yourself without being selfish. So honoring the needs of others, while also being able to take care of her own needs. And that was one of the convention's themes which was to understand the distinction between self and selfish when it comes to making critical choices.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  29:10  
That message or lesson about the distinction between self and selfish, when it comes to the choices, that's one that I've found so relevant to my own life and to the women I know. Will you elaborate on what's going on underneath that message?

Marsha Clark  29:30  
I will because I bring it up in every program I've ever done. And we dig deeper into that message during what we call the keynote address at the convention, and offer a few more teaching points in the book as part of the the breakout sessions. But during this keynote address, the women hear this message: "As women we have been encouraged to do for others, often putting our needs and ourselves last. And that's assuming we allow ourselves a place on that list at all. Initially, we feel rewarded when we are praised for our helpful support of others in their time of need. Even when we reach the point of exhaustion, we tell ourselves that somehow we must find a way to continue putting the needs of others before our own."

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  30:18  
Yeah. We're rewarded for that.

Marsha Clark  30:19  
That's right. And so this is one of my favorite lines from that keynote address: "If always serving others first has become a habit, finding time to honor your own needs quickly can become labeled as selfish." And I also share a quote in my work today as it relates to this setting boundaries in order to have some time for ourselves. And the quote is that "Givers need to set boundaries because takers rarely do." And I can't tell you every time I utter those words in the class, it's like, oh, yeah, you know, I mean, everyone can relate to that. And when you couple that with, you know, another phrase, "We teach people how to treat us", we just end up leading an exhausting life. And we realize that taking care of ourselves is exactly what allows us to be resourceful enough to support others. You know, when we would do our little presentations about the book, Dottie would often cite the airplane instructions about regarding the airbags, you know, always put your mask on first before helping others. And I often say, you know, along those same lines, you wouldn't drive your car until it ran out of gas and just left you stranded on the side of the road. And yet, if we're not careful, we can drive ourselves to being quote, unquote, "out of gas" and we experience health challenges burnouts or relationship issues.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  31:41  
Yes. Exactly. So one other really impactful comment for me from that keynote address was the idea that on page 53 of the book, you'll see this, there is no one right answer that defines the distinction between self and selfish. It is a choice each woman must make for herself. What is selfish for one woman may be an act of self for another. And the key is taking responsibility for defining our own labels rather than allowing others to assign those labels. So Marsha, please elaborate on what that point means to you.

Marsha Clark  32:24  
Yeah, you know, I'm going to now kind of do a little bit of a fast forward to the "Embracing Your Power" book because it's what I would call an extension of this principle. If you love having Thanksgiving dinner for your whole family at your house every year, you know, I say, go for it. Now, that means you're gonna do all the shopping, you're gonna do all the cooking, you're gonna do all the serving, you're gonna do all the cleaning up, I mean, if it means all of that. But if you love that, do it. Because in some way, if you love it, you're doing it for yourself as well as others. But if you resent it, then it's a whole different story. So you know, again, going back now to the "Choose" book, at the end of the keynote, it talks about giving until it hurts is just that - a hurtful experience. Giving as a choice that embraces your own needs as well as those around us is the ultimate act of self. I'm giving because I love to give. I want to give. And so replenishing ourselves is not selfish. And I want to say that again. Replenishing ourselves is not selfish. In fact, it enables us to be available in meaningful ways to those around us that we love. So while we've been talking about fictitious characters all along, I do want to ask our listeners to take a moment and reflect on that lesson, around these lessons that we've talked about around choice, that it's a potent tool and that we must understand the difference between selfish and selfish.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  33:59  
Exactly. Well, in Jennifer's story, there are also two other characters introduced, her college roommate Lynn, and her babysitter, Patricia. So Jennifer wanted to invite Lynn to the Convention also. Right?

Marsha Clark  34:13  
That's right. Okay. So she had originally thought that the lessons from the convention invitation seemed like they'd be good for Lynn, who had also left her career to become a stay at home mom. But when Lynn calls Jennifer back, she shares that not only is she not going, but that her husband accused her of violating her agreement to be a full time mother to their children. He didn't agree that some women's convention was a good excuse to be away from the family and since he paid the bills, he wouldn't pay for such nonsense.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  34:49  
Okay, Marsha, I'm really struck by that mentality. And I'd like to think that in the 20 years since you wrote this book that women don't live in these types of holds anymore. A bit, sadly, just watching the news on a daily basis or reading social media tells me that it happens even today.

Marsha Clark  35:09  
You know, not only is it still happening, it's happening everywhere and it's not just in some third world tyrannical type of environment. It's happening here in our own country, in our own state. I mean, the crux of the issue between Jennifer and Lynn comes down to the question Jennifer asks. So your choice is to go along with that response, the husband's response? And Lynn's reply is, "I have no choice." And, you know, I always oh, the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear anyone say that. But Lynn truly believes that she has no choice. And Jennifer honoring their longtime friendship and Lynn's situation, she doesn't push it any further. And so Jennifer walks away from the interaction believing that we do always have a choice. And we may not realize it at the moment and we might not even see all the options, but we always have a choice. And that is one of our major messages in the in the book. And Jennifer understands that Lynn has made her choice. And it's not her place to question or challenge that because we thought this was an important point to make as well. We can't make decisions for everybody else. We've got to make them for ourselves.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:21  
Exactly. And, you know, that's so tough, I think, to see someone who's making choices that seem limiting or bad, you know, by our own definitions, but then to remember that they're not our choices. And outside of someone being truly injured or in danger, it's their life.

Marsha Clark  36:42  
Right. That's right. And, you know, that's a part of why we include, dare I said, this little drama, so that we can recognize that sometimes our choices to support the choice of others, right, that's a choice for for as well, unconditionally. And that's what Jennifer decides that she's going to do with Lynn. And the other lesson we introduced in that little vignette is that Jennifer remembers another condition of choice. And this is one of my favorites as well, that there is no such thing as a bad choice. There is only a next choice.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  37:16  
Absolutely. So, Marsha, say more about that, because I know it was another of the key lessons from the Intention Convention.

Marsha Clark  37:24  
It was. And so to understand there is never a last choice, there is always the next choice is about helping each of us discover the choices that are right for us at any given point in our lives. I may choose to do X and I get to X and figure out that that was not the best choice. I don't have to tolerate X or live in X or try to survive in X. I can make a different choice. And you know, from the convention keynote, how many times have we said to ourselves that if we had it to do all over again, we would make a very different choice. I don't know anybody that can't say that. And you know, before I go on with the keynote, I want to just pause and ask our listeners that very question. Have you ever found yourself wondering, if you had X, Y or Z as a do over, would you make different choices? And if you do find yourself wondering that, how does it inform you today as you're considering your choices for the future? Because as I said early on, you can't erase past choices. You can make new and different choices.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  38:30  

Marsha Clark  38:31  
So I hope that gets your gears turning out there. As we talk about the gears for the women. I hope it does that for our listeners. And something we point out in the book also is that as women, and I think this is true for women, we often wear, I'll call our past mistakes around our necks almost like an albatross, if you will. And it chokes off the possibility of any future other than the one we're currently facing. And we carry our guilt around with us. And simultaneously resent that guilt, because we know in our hearts, we did the best we could at that moment with the information that we had at hand. And you know, this is a huge pivot here. We don't and this is from the book, we don't have to keep making choices that don't serve us or those around us. We can make choices about where we want to go independent of where we've been. And I want to read that again. We can make choices about where we want to go independent of where we have been.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  39:38  
Yeah, and then there's a there's another one that you've I want you to repeat that's in the book. We don't have to keep making choices that don't serve us. So tell us about that one too.

Marsha Clark  39:50  
So knowing that we've never made our last choice is refreshing because it allows us you know, to make choices that move us forward. And this requires us, we need to be very clear, both about who we are and about where we want to go. And that clarity gives us a much wider variety of choices, that that is not necessarily available for those of us who still want to stick in the past or blind in the past or be victims, if you will, of the past.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  40:18  
Right, right. It's such a powerful lesson on choosing knowing that we haven't made our last choice, like it's just the next choice. Like it's incredibly liberating. So the three other characters or personas in the book are Maria, a single mom holding down two jobs as a teacher and a reservist in the Air Force, Grace, who is a former journalist who became a minister in her middle years, and Kathy who is contemplating running for mayor in her town just as she is retired from years of paid public service. How did these lives intertwine and what are the dilemmas they face as they draw closer to the Intention Convention?

Marsha Clark  40:19  
Yeah, so I'm going to start with yet another character, Patricia, who is Jennifer and John's babysitter. Okay, so she was watching the kids the night of the sales award dinner. And Jennifer had mentioned the Intention Convention to Patricia before leaving for the event. And Patricia thought it sounded perfect for her mom, Maria, that mom holding down two jobs as a teacher and a reservist in the Air Force. Okay, so when Patricia gets home from that babysitting, she practically begs her mom to go to the convention. She tells her about it, reminding her that not only has she been a single mother, pretty much all Patricia's life, but also a loyal school teacher, a great soldier, a terrific mom. And she tops it all off by saying to her mother, it's about time you reward yourself.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  41:25  
Hmm. What a tribute.

Marsha Clark  41:57  
I agree. So the out of the mouths of babes, right? Yeah, so her daughter was so insistent that Maria attend the convention, that even when Maria realized that the convention dates would conflict with Patricia's homecoming game and dance, Patricia put her foot down and said that she wouldn't go to homecoming if Maria wouldn't do this for herself and attend the convention. And Patricia offered up some other solutions, like making a video of herself, reminding her mom that she would have other homecomings, and so on in the future, and I just love that, that I can pull myself away and help you see possibilities that may not be obvious to you.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  42:34  
And she probably learned some of that from her mother. So Maria's situation is yet another example of getting clear on the difference between selfish and selfish.

Marsha Clark  42:44  
That's right. And as she's trying to work through this internal dilemma, she reaches out to an old friend from her time serving in the Air Force in Germany. And so Maria emails Grace, who had been a journalist at the time and she had been interviewing women in the military. So you see how this is all connected, right? So Maria seeks Grace's advice, since quite honestly, and we hear this all the time, she's feeling guilty about doing something for herself. (Yes.) So Grace immediately responds to the email with a reminder that just because you do something for yourself, that doesn't automatically make it a selfish act, once again, reinforcing that message. So Grace suggests that the best place to sort out the difference between self and selfish could very well be the convention. And so you know, all the elements conspire and Maria decides to go and her daughter Patricia is very happy.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  43:36  
Awesome. Awesome. Okay. And in the meantime, now, Maria has planted the seed in Grace's mind.

Marsha Clark  43:43  
Yes. And as it turns out, Grace is facing some of her own life changing decisions. You know, she's been very happy, leading her own small congregation in New England for the past three years and feels quite content and settled, a place we all would like to be. But just recently, she received a letter from her denominations headquarters asking her to consider taking on a larger role focused on women in the ministry. And this role would mean leaving her congregation, which has basically become family to her, and moving to the headquarters. And the request has kind of shaken Grace, you know, at the core, at her foundation, since she had really felt like her ultimate calling had been to lead a congregation. So she asked herself, is God now calling her to do something else or is this a test of her commitment to her congregation? Those are the things she's agonizing over.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:42  
Right. So Grace is really wrestling with this dilemma, which is a wonderful reference to the biblical story of Jacob wrestling. As she's mentally wrestling, she prays: "Lead me where you need me and speak to me in ways I cannot possibly understand." What a great prayer for clarity.

Marsha Clark  45:02  
You know, I love that prayer. I have prayed it every day since I first heard it. It just so happens, you know that as soon as Grace speaks that prayer, you know, lead me where you need me and speak to me in ways I cannot possibly misunderstand, the email from Maria comes through mentioning the Intention Convention, so speak to me in ways I cannot misunderstand. So Grace begins to wonder is this, you know, invitation and is this convention an answer to that prayer? And am I supposed to attend to find out more about what God's direction might be for me. And so Grace ends up telling her congregation about the Intention Convention the following Sunday. And although she doesn't mention the opportunity to take on the larger role in the church, she gets such an outpouring of support and encouragement from her congregation that she decides to go ahead and register for the Convention.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  45:58  
You know, I think that Grace's key takeaway from the convention is maybe one of my favorites, because it feels so realistic, or maybe relevant to me personally. She goes to this convention with an open mind and tons of questions about what direction she should take with the options in front of her. And I can't tell you how many times I've been faced with choices or options that, you know, on the surface look good. And it's not like I'm choosing between option A which is amazing, and Option Z which is horrible. You're choosing between option A and option B, which are both good but they'll take you in different directions. So I really related to Grace.

Marsha Clark  46:41  
Yeah, and I think that is right, it's not always obvious. There's a lot of gray and nuance and all of this. And that was definitely our intention, you know, no pun intended, but not all choices are so black and white, that it's obvious which ones to select. And so, in Grace's words, and this is, we have this written in the book, "I'm beginning to understand that there is no one right answer for any of my questions, I guess I thought there would be a right choice and a wrong choice, or a good choice and a bad choice. And the convention would help me sort those out. For the most part, our choices are rarely between good and evil. Rather, our choices are often more between that which is good, and that which is better, or between which is better and that which is best." And from a calling perspective, you know, I'm beginning to conclude (this is Grace talking) that God trusts me to determine which choice is best for me. I guess there's no escaping that any way you look at it, our choices truly are up to us. And it helps to be clear about what we want so we can have a good idea of what the best choice is. And I just want to say to our listeners, I say with every choice we make, there's a trade off. And to me, always I hope that I can get more, and get more not just doesn't mean for me personally, it means in service, right? That I'm going to get more than I give.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  48:11  
Right. So Grace, does she make a decision at the Convention on which way to go?

Marsha Clark  48:16  
She does, in a way. She decides to be totally transparent with her congregation and tell them about the opportunity to lead the larger project at the headquarters. And she chooses to trust their relationship and know that whatever they all decide, it's a win.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  48:36  
Okay. All right. So we're ready to talk about our fifth Intention Convention attende, Kathy, who was the public servant retiree who's now contemplating running for mayor in her community. How does she fit into this group and what does she learn from the Convention?

Marsha Clark  48:36  
Yeah, so Kathy and Grace are connected because they both served on a New England Council for Family Violence, which by the way I did in Collin County many years ago. So where do these things come from, right?  So Kathy was the chair of the Council and Kathy and Grace had begun working together on the council two years earlier. And Kathy admired Grace's brave choice of switching careers at midlife and moving from being a journalist into the clergy. And by the way, one of the women that we interviewed, that was her true story. (Wow.) So when Kathy and Grace meet for lunch before the official meeting, Grace updates her on all of her impending life altering choices, and Kathy shares that she too was facing some significant choices. She had recently retired after a lifetime of public service, most recently as the Public Information Officer for her town of Quincy. She was in her mid 50's and was looking forward to not only her own retirement, but also having her husband, who is the head of the math department at the local high school, join her in her retirement. But recently she was being approached by respected members of the community asking her to consider running for mayor of the town. And if elected, she would be the first woman in the history of the community to serve as mayor. So between the responsibilities of serving a growing town, she understood the challenges of running a contested campaign.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  50:23  
Okay, this is the first time that I'm realizing I may actually know who this persona was modeled after. This is similar to our very own first and only female mayor here in our town, isn't it?

Marsha Clark  50:36  
Yes, it is. Okay. Let me just say Kathy Seei. Yes, yes. And she was married to a former educator. So the story is quite true. So this character does, you know, bear this resemblance. And in the story, Kathy and Grace realize that they're both being faced with what we could call midlife choices, in some ways to reinvent or to rebrand themselves, you know, kind of thinking about today's language. And the questions center around, are they up for the challenge, is the effort that's required to do this worth the payoff or the potential costs? You know, it's not easy running for mayor of a city. So Kathy decides that the Intention Convention, which takes place in a couple of weeks, she's going to have to make, it would happen before she had to make a formal decision to file for office. And maybe that might be the perfect place for her to work through her questions as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  51:34  
So for those of us who are listening and live in Frisco, Texas, we know how Kathy's true story ends. She does run for mayor and she wins all three terms, but in the story, we don't get quite that far in terms of closure.

Marsha Clark  51:49  
That's true. So Kathy does attend the Convention. And as it's wrapping up, what she realizes is that regardless of whatever her final decision is, in the end, trying to please all the people all the time is hopeless and a frustrating ambition. And she knows that she has to choose what is best for her in the context of all the roles she enjoys, which includes public servant, mother, spouse, grandmother, and community activist. And while she has, you know, had been successful at balancing these roles, before, adding mayor to the mix would shift that balance. She realized that she could balance it all that then the bigger question for her became, did she really want to. And as she reflects on everything she learned at the conference about making deliberate choices, she becomes even more convicted that she needs to choose what is best for her and then get everyone around her to support her decision. And she felt grounded in the knowledge that regardless of her choice, it wouldn't be her last choice. No such thing. She would never run out of choices.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  52:58  
I love that. And I know that in the epilogue of the book, we learn that Kathy does decide to go ahead and file for office not only considering the impact on herself, her husband and their family, but also acknowledging that her decision to run and hopefully win would influence and inspire other women in the future who were considering running for public office.

Marsha Clark  53:21  
Yeah, it was important to Dottie and to me to not only to the as well as the women we interviewed who made up this composite of the Kathy persona, but really for all those personas that this aspect of making choices that impact a larger sphere beyond our immediate families or colleagues, that we take that into consideration in the stories that we were telling. And it was one of the unexpected bits of wisdom that continued to emerge as we designed and wrote the book.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  53:51  
Marsha, I'm so glad we had a chance to sit down and explore these lessons learned from "Choose!: The Role That Choice Plays in Shaping Women's Lives". So for all of our listeners who may want to pick up the book and read it for themselves to get all of the details of the stories and the Intention Convention, I discovered that you can actually still buy the book on So as we wrap up today, I'm going to... well, first of all, I'm going to make sure that the link to that is in our text transcript for this episode. But as we wrap up today, what's something that you'd like to share in closing with our listeners, Marsha?

Marsha Clark  54:29  
Well, I do want to share this but I also want to tell you that I went in my garage and I looked in some of my bins and I have some books at my house, too. So we're going to actually get those put on my website so they can buy them from me and be autographed and more to come on that as we get all of that set up. But I didn't even know that there was a much less that my book was out there. So I'm again getting educated. But for our listeners, here's what I want you all to hear. Here are the five key messages that I speak about often in the work that I do in support of women. One is that choice is a powerful tool and in fact that the gift of free will, for us to make our choices, that taking them seriously, making them intentionally, making them with clarity, it creates a powerful, empowering decision for us in our lives. I also want to say that we like our choices best when they're aligned with our values. I can be a great wife, a great mother, and still do things for myself, because I'm valuing all of that. Know the difference between selfish and selfish. Know that there's no such thing as the last choice because there's always a next choice. And the last one is, you know, a forever you always, always, always, always, always have a choice. And anyone, someone says to me, I don't have a choice, I'm going to challenge you every time. And I also want to just take a moment Wendi, for our listeners to hear that working with Dottie on this book was one of the biggest highlights of my life. Her passion, her intellect, her clarity, her warmth, and our loving friendship was a real gift to me. And quite honestly, it was for all who knew her. And so I often say here's to women supporting women, and I will say that. But before I say that, "Here's to you, my dear, treasured friend, Dottie."

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  56:37  
Well, thank you, listeners, for joining us today. This was a very important episode for Marsha and I'm honored to be witness to it. So please continue to download, subscribe and share this podcast from wherever you'd like to listen. Visit Marsha's website at We will have a link to how you can get your own autographed copy of "Choose!" and obviously, you can also get her latest book "Embracing Your Power". And we're starting to gear up for book number two. So Marsha, you want to close this out?

Marsha Clark  57:12  
Yes, I do appreciate our listeners joining us today as always, and if there's any kind of choice that you're in the middle of or you think we can help you with, we're here for you. And we often need that, you know, objective set of eyes or ears to hear us and and see things that maybe we can't see. And it just reinforces this important message with which we close every episode. And so, to each of our listeners, "Here's to women supporting women!"

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