The Handmaid Archetype

Have you ever been enthralled by a leader’s energy and completely wrapped up in their brilliance that you ultimately start to lose a little bit of yourself? There seems to be a safety in being in service to someone else’s vision that can blind us to what we are missing out in our own lives.

This Could Be You

I’m going to tell you the story of one friend whose name I have changed. Know that I have seen this happen to many other women. Too many. In fact, I think we’ve all taken on this role to some degree at some point in our lives.

Sally is new on her entrepreneurial journey. Her kids are in school full-time now and she is ready to redefine her career with the freedom of working from home. One day, she takes a workshop with a modern-day guru—a female Tony Robbins, Gabriel Bernstein, Brene Brown, Susan Evans, Martha Beck type person. She is completely in alignment with their mission to change the world and the way they go about it, so she signs up to be a certified teacher of their program. Invests money in their training and immerses herself in their system. This is all well and good. These people have amazing insights and methodology to share and there’s a lot of benefit to the world to practice what they preach. She’s found her calling.

The Handmaid Trap

Problems start to arise when Sally doesn’t take what she’s learned and make it her own. She doesn’t become the star in her own life. Instead, she is the servant to the star, teaching for the star, using the star’s name on all her handouts, following the star’s rules of conduct, living within the limits of the branding. And, inevitably, resentment starts to slowly seep into Sally’s heart. But the resentment makes her feel guilty because she owes so much to this guru who taught her everything and exposed her to so many opportunities, to say anything about the limitations of servitude would be biting the hand that feeds her.

Without even realizing it, sometimes the guru sets the handmaid up for failure by having her so dependent that the handmaid can never leave. But, if and when she does leave, it is not a smooth goodbye. There is an incestuous network around the star and Sally knows she has to unplug from that whole entourage as well if she is going to make it on her own.

I know some servants who stay in the handmaid role forever, I know some who leave one guru and move on to another, but Sally managed to break free and rebrand and make a name for herself. She went within and did a lot of soul searching and work on herself and eventually became a thought leader in her own right. Shining like a brilliant star, weary of employing handmaids.

Writing as a Handmaid

As a writing coach the handmaid energy comes up most often when I see someone who has written several chapters in several anthologies but has not yet dared to write her own book. I also sometimes have clients come to me for help with their stand-alone book, finally ready to break free, but waver and choose to pull out of our engagement because they decided instead to invest in a trip to serve alongside their guru at a retreat or a conference. But mostly, I have clients who just need a little extra help when writing their book to realize that they have original and important messages of their own and they don’t need to be quoting today’s other gurus. It can be difficult at times to find a balance because as women we thrive in collaboration and community, but community should never be at the expense of being your true self.

Becoming the Star

Part of my life’s mission of giving women a voice involves holding up a mirror to the handmaid and asking her to see the star inside of her. I want all women to know that we are all born with a unique gift for this world and to put it to use. Sometimes our life’s purpose is to end a cycle of abuse as we raise our kids, sometimes we are here to offer amazing services or products in a career or as an entrepreneur, and sometimes we are here to lead by example and impact people we will never even meet in a way that might change their life.

And so, I offer to you now, check-in with yourself and see when you might be living in the handmaid energy with some relationships and explore how you can make a change. Be true to your calling and rise up!

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