Gail McMeekin: An interview by Bob Morris

Gail McMeekin

Gail McMeekin loves to inspire people to envision and then achieve their personal and professional goals. She is a licensed psychotherapist who became fascinated with the concept of “why so many people hate their jobs.” She then shifted her focus to a passion for helping people to find their own Creative Success, which is the name of her coaching/mentoring/writing business in Boston. As her own creative renaissance unfolded, she started painting, writing, and studying the lives of creative men and women. She then became outraged that there were not more positive, viable role models for modern-day, sane, creative women, so she wrote her first book, The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor (Conari Press, 2000), In 2001, Conari Press published her second book, The Power of Positive Choices. Her most recent book is The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women: A Portable Life Coach for Creative Women (RedWheelWeiser/Conari) and a new book, The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women Journal, will be published in November  to celebrate the 10th anniversary edition of her first book.

McMeekin now coaches and mentors men and woman all over the world to help them to turn their best ideas into successful heartfelt businesses and creative products and services. She earned a B.A. degree from Connecticut College, an M.S.W. from Boston University, and a certificate in Human Resource Management from Bentley College, and completed the coursework for the Coaches Training Institute.

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Morris: Before discussing your two 12 Secrets books, a few general questions. First, other than a family member, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?

McMeekin: I have been blessed to have many wonderful mentors and insightful friends, but I have to credit a very special woman, Andrea Szmyt, formerly of Cambridge, MA, who died unexpectedly several years ago, with helping me to get on the path of creativity and personal empowerment. Andrea ran entrepreneur groups and taught prosperity workshops and her work impacted many people, some of whom I am still in touch with. In fact, one woman I met through Andrea, Marilyn Veltrop of Pathfinders, Inc. in CA, is my daily email partner to do this day.

Morris: On your professional development?

McMeekin: Again, I have had many teachers and mentors and a rich life of learning and stimulation. Two of my major mentors, who I interviewed for my new book The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women, are Ali Brown and Baeth Davis. Both of these women are both spiritual and businesses leaders and profound teachers and they have inspired me to keep thinking about taking my visions to the next step, in alignment with self-care and prosperity.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.

McMeekin: When I was 35, I came down with what was then a mysterious illness, CFS, and I had to stop living my life the way I had been and I totally shifted my energies and priorities. I got married, left corporate training, released burdensome clients and non-mutual relationships, and started writing again, which had been a lifetime dream, and doing expressive arts and many forms of healing. When you have less energy, you get very clear on how you want to use it and preserve it. This set me on the path to writing my first book on successful creative women and pondering how to best live that kind of expressive life and not fall into the starving artist trap.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to the success of your career thus far?

McMeekin: My educational background has been a solid foundation for the work that I do today as my knowledge of psychology, human development, creativity, and career development serves me everyday. But I am always learning and taking personal and professional development courses and I am currently learning the complex art of Scientific Hand Analysis to help people quickly discover their life purpose and their special gifts, as well as their life lesson, which can sabotage their dreams.

Morris: What do you know now about business that you wish you knew when you launched the “Guided Growth” career consulting and organizational workshops and projects in 1982?

McMeekin: I am very intuitive and right-brained in my thinking and I test out in the 99th percentile of Ideaphoria, which is a rapid flow of ideas, and I always have way more ideas than time to pursue them. So I have had to learn to be ruthless in focusing my time and energy. It is interesting that I come from a family of MBA’s who are great at running the numbers and very strategic in their evaluation of ROI and financial analysis. While I have a great business sense in terms of people and their empowerment, I am now learning to focus more on metrics and have hired new staff to help me to track efforts and their effectiveness in terms of money and results. I have plans to start a Foundation for Successful Creatives and I need to generate additional resources to do that.  Do I wish I had gotten an MBA? No–but a stronger business partner who has the analytics down would have been helpful earlier on.

Morris: To what extent has Guided Growth’s original mission since changed, perhaps after the firm was renamed “Creative Success”?

McMeekin: Guided Growth is still an underlying concept to Creative Success. But as my own thinking progressed, I wanted creativity to be a central concept of my business, as people came to me wanting help with a change in their lives as well as a longing to bring into being something new. Success simply means a positive outcome or result and my mission is to help people to develop a clear vision of what they truly want in their hearts and souls and then be able to plow through the obstacles and bring that vision into being. My partnerships with clients and readers certainly involves guidance and stimulants for growth and mentoring, but the coaching part of the work I do keeps people accountable, provides feedback and challenges as needed, and encourages people to keep their promises to themselves.

Morris: Of all the women throughout history, which five would you invite to a private dinner party? Please explain your reasons for each selection.

McMeekin: As a child I was fascinated with women of courage. Two in particular were Joan of Arc and Mary Queen of Scotts who were willing to die for what they believed in. I would also invite Princess Diana who overcome the horrors of bulimia, the scorn of the Royal family, and an unloving husband and became an ambassador of peace and healing in the world. Her ability to hold those children with AIDS in her arms is something I will never forget. I would invite Oprah as I think she too overcame abuse and went on to promote truthfulness, literacy, and healing and became a spiritual leader. I would also invite Meryl Streep who is my favorite actress and I so admire her ability to play so many different characters and I would like to hear what she has learned from that.

Morris: Opinions are divided, sometimes sharply divided, about the nature and extent of progress that women in business have achieved since (let’s say) 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro was selected by Fritz Mondale to join him as candidate for vice president on the presidential ticket. What are your own thoughts about this subject of “progress”?

McMeekin: Certainly as one looks out over the US Senate and Congress, women are grossly underrepresented and their interests are way down on the priority list in today’s political climate and the introduction of new legislation. Women are still only making 80 cents on the dollar at work and many Boardrooms only have one token woman or none. Many women have dropped out of corporate America and are starting their own businesses to escape the sexist games and workaholic hours that are non-family friendly. Certainly there are more women as sole breadwinners so they are pursuing educational opportunities and striving to have more influence and affluence.

Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge today that women face who aspire to become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Any advice?

McMeekin: They have to have a vision that is multi-faceted and financially viable, as well as humane, and are able to lead from that vision.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women. Frankly, when I first saw the title, I incorrectly assumed that you would discuss creative or performing artists such as Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, Agnes deMille, Margaret Bourke-White, Katherine Graham, and Twyla Tharp. By which criteria did you select those whom you interviewed?

McMeekin: My intent was to interview modern day women who were alive, sane, creative, and prosperous as they defined it, who would provide a wide range of role models for aspiring creative women. Also, these women had to want to be interviewed and participate in this book project and I had a policy of not chasing people. They either intuitively wanted to contribute and mentor other women with their stories, or not.

Morris: Did you encounter any head-snapping revelations during any of the interviews? Please explain.

McMeekin: The vital importance of movement and exercise in the creative process.

Morris: For women now seeking success in their career (however “success” may be defined), which are the greatest challenges they face that are unique to their gender? How can creative thinking help them to prepare for, avoid or overcome those challenges?

McMeekin: They have to be willing to go out on a limb for what they believe in and tolerate not being liked all the time. They must believe in their vision and be willing to take on the quest. Creative thinking can help you to find a way to get your message heard and experiment freely until you find the best model.

Morris: I wish I had a dollar for every occasion on which someone said, “I’m just not creative.” What is your response to that?

McMeekin: That statement continues to break my heart. So many women have looked at the title of the 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women and said, “I can’t read that as I am not creative.” Everyone is creative but our software has often been underutilized or damaged along the way and we have to repair it and rebuild our trust, confidence, and competence with it. That is where a daily creative practice and lots of support are essential.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women. To what extent is it significantly different from Highly Creative Women?

McMeekin: This new book is an advanced “class” in creative success. It tackles the hazards of learning to bounce back from failure, taking bigger risks despite our terror and the inevitable criticism. It talks about business plans and a new kind of personal heartfelt success and the importance of preventing burnout and not taking care of ourselves and our creative soul. The women in this book are playing a much bigger game and my advice for the readers urges them to stop playing small, unless they choose to, and dream big, be of service in the world, and lead creatively.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does Highly Successful differ in final form from the book you originally had in mind? Please explain.

McMeekin: It was much longer than I planned as I put in all these exercises and much of my management development advice too.

Morris: Part of the material in the book was generated during interviews of about 31 women. However different they may be in most other respects, what do they all share in common?

McMeekin: A willingness to take calculated, positive risks to pursue their passions.

Morris: Long ago, Thomas Edison observed, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” I was reminded of that quotation as I worked my way through the book. With all due respect to the importance of having a vision, my own opinion is that one of the most important keys to success (however defined) is being results-driven. What do you think?

McMeekin: Yes, except that sometimes we don’t know exactly what we want until we do our process of discovery and then we often change it again as we evolve.

Morris: You insert dozens of “Exercises” throughout your narrative. Why?

McMeekin: I want people to do the work of personal and professional growth–not just read about it. All my books are workbooks too.

Morris: Your discussions of boundaries and space really caught my eye. They remind me of what 3M’s then chairman and CEO, William L. McKnight, observed: “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” In your opinion, what must supervisors do to accommodate the needs for both boundaries and space in a workplace?

McMeekin: They need to create a climate where experimentations and mistakes are allowed and take away the fear of being fired for having tried something that didn’t work. Failures are great teachers and can lead us to the next level of discovery if we don’t let our emotions drag us down. We need to be rewarding workers who come up with clever ideas and support their implementation. People need time to think and ponder and go out and research new options and we need to give to them.

Morris: Thank you for including so many excellent quotations in both books. In the spirit of reciprocity, I will share a few of my personal favorites and ask you to respond to each. First, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

McMeekin: Peter Drucker is quite wise. So often the key to success is doing the right things, even if they are imperfect.

Morris: From Darrell Royal: “Potential means you ain’t done it yet.”

McMeekin: As a coach, I give my clients homework each week and insist that they get into action immediately so that the learning can begin.

Morris: From Steven Wright: “The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

McMeekin: That second mouse had thought things through and had a strategy.

Morris: Of all the success-limiting beliefs, which causes the most serious problems? Why? How best to avoid or overcome that belief?

McMeekin: “I’m not good enough” is an almost universal limiting belief in women starting on the creative journey. Most women need some kind of coaching, therapy, or mentoring to smash through that belief. I often tell people to send their inner critics to Antarctica in the beginning so they can turn off the tape that keeps chanting that belief.

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Gail McMeekin cordially invites you to check out the resources at her website by clicking here.





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