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Overcoming The Loneliness Of Leadership

Lissa Rankin's picture

loneliness of leadership

I’m not sure if any of you have noticed, but the featured posts we put on OwningPink.com’s home page lately have been pretty much ALL LISSA, ALL THE TIME, when we have 30-something killer bloggers who write for Owning Pink.

So What’s The Skinny? Why Am I Stealing The Show?

Because that’s what you all are asking for -- both directly and through Google Analytics. My least read blog posts still get double the traffic of any other blogger on Owning Pink, even bloggers whose blogs have way more traffic than Owning Pink. In fact this post got 2.5 million hits in one freakin' day! I so want to showcase the writing and work of people who are doing awesome work in the world to empower women. But the reality is that the Owning Pink community wants me to write more. Period.

And this TOTALLY bums me out.

I don’t like to be the center of attention. I took my photo off the Owning Pink banner for more than a year because I didn't want to stand in the spotlight. I only had six people at my wedding because I didn’t even want to be The Bride. And yet you -- the Owning Pink community -- seem to want me to stand tall and BE UNAPOLOGETICALLY ME, at the helm, in a position of leadership, with my mug on the banner (as it is now -- there's me! Say cheese, Lissa!) and my blog posts front and center.

I was hoping I could become invisible.

Well, maybe not invisible, but I hoped that one day soon, I would just be one of 30-something writers who brings her mission to Owning Pink in service to the collective whole. I wanted this site to be about YOU, not me.

The Discomfort Of Being SEEN

So why did I start blogging and launch into such a public career? When she did an intuitive reading with me, Caroline Bobart told me I made an agreement with the Owning Pink community. After lifetimes of feeling unseen, the agreement was this:

I’ll love and accept you. I’ll SEE you. As long as you SEE me and validate me.

And yet, I cringed when she said that. What? Are you kidding? I don’t want to be seen!

She said:

When I look at your spirit, I see that you have a huge capacity above your 7th chakra to take in spiritual energy. You connect easily to your higher self, and that’s what others sense about you. They see a lot of spinning, lovely energy, which is nurturing, healing, and validating to others. The growth for you lies in coming to terms with the effect you have on others. There’s a shyness you have about this. Part of you recognizes the effect you have on others, while another part of you thinks, “Holy shit.” You feel some trepidation about the role you are playing in the lives of others and your ability to affect their lives. You ask yourself, “What do I do with this power? Who am I?” You struggle to label it and aren’t sure what to do with this. Your growth comes in realizing that labels are being exploded -- you’re not just a doctor or artist or writer. But the dust hasn’t settled yet, leaving you in this in-between place. You’re still exploring where you belong.

Whoa. That was a year and a half ago.

Getting Out Of My Own Way

Once upon a time, a mentor told me, “Owning Pink will tell you what it wants to become if only you get out of its way.”

And yet, I am still doing it. Every day, I’m working through it, because I’m realizing it’s a spiritual practice, not something you do once so you can start resting on your laurels.

Today, one of the Owning Pink bloggers wrote to ask why the featured posts on our home page have been mostly me lately. And I read the email with a sense of panic in my gut. ACK! We’ve been found out! How was I going to tell these bloggers that we’re doing an experiment and posting mostly my writing in the feature box for a while because Owning Pink traffic had stalled out. And because, when it comes to running an internet business, it’s all about traffic. And as Marie Forleo so aptly reminds us in her B School, “If your business isn’t making money, it’s not a business.” On the internet, traffic = money. So I’m owning my place at Owning Pink. This is where I belong. This is MY home -- and you are MY tribe. And you have no idea how hard it is for me to write that. To OWN that.

And our experiment is working. Owning Pink's traffic has tripled since we started posting my blog posts every day and featuring the other bloggers on the side.

It’s Lonely At The Top

This is good news. I should be rejoicing, and yet, part of me is bummed out. I think this all harkens back to my childhood and is so familiar that it’s challenging to articulate. I’ve often felt the loneliness of being “special” (a word others apply to me that I’ve always hated). In fact, when I had a daughter, my one prayer for her was that she would be ordinary. I’m not kidding. And of course, since The Universe is crafty that way, she’s not.

Even back when I was a kid, I wrote this pitiful poem about being the tall tree among all the smaller trees who the kids climbed on (you can read it here). I’ve often been hoisted up on pedestals by others, and I speak from a lifetime of experience talking to people who have accomplished great things when I say that nobody wants to be on a pedestal. It really is lonely at the top.

I know. Poor me. The struggles of being special. (You say as you roll your eyes there in the back).

But this is what’s up for me. And I’ll betcha anything I’m not alone in feeling this way. (Right? You over there in the front row. Yeah, you. The one looking down. I’m talking about you.)

It’s only recently that I’ve started to make peace with how to rise to the top of what I’m meant to do without shrinking away from it. I’ve met Succulent Wild Women who lift me up and alleviate the loneliness, and they’ve been a salve on a long-weeping wound.

But the scab got ripped off when I had to tell the Owning Pink bloggers that the community wants me to step it up a notch.

I was so resistant to this idea that I thought about starting my own blog -- off Owning Pink at some other URL like LissaRankin.com. And then my mentors told me I was crazy. “But Lissa. Owning Pink IS your blog. The others are just visiting.”

But still, telling the other writers about our experiment left me feeling this knot in the pit of my gut. This closing down, this shrinking. Because it’s not what I want. I want to shine a light on our writers so you will read what they write -- and love them as you love me. I want to lift them up so they can heal you as they heal me. I want this website to be about collaboration and community, but I also want our traffic to grow so the site can be financially solvent and viable.

But it’s not about what I want. This is a business. And I am here to serve the ministry of Owning Pink. And this is my calling. And I have to listen to the guidance that is leading me forward.

I have to overcome the loneliness of leadership.

I know I’m not alone. I have an incredible support team of staff members at Owning Pink. I have incredibly powerful rock star friends and a loving family. I have all the Owning Pink bloggers lifting me up. I have all the Succulent Wild Women in this community.

But it makes me so uncomfortable.

And then I think about Barbara Stanny’s Most Important Financial Advice You’ll Ever Get. And I remember that stepping into your power and doing something big isn’t hard. It’s easy. It’s just UNCOMFORTABLE.

So here I am. Sitting with the discomfort. Allowing myself to be seen. Seeing you. And asking you to bear with me while I struggle through this process.

I think I’m getting there. Things are afoot. So stay tuned.

Have you struggled with this stuff? Do you shrink from your “bigness” and diminish your power? Do you find it lonely at the top?


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Lissa Rankin's picture

Richelle, thank you

I so appreciate that you shared the discomfort you felt with reading this post. I seriously considered not posting it, even though this is genuinely how I feel. I feared that people would misunderstand it. But Owning Pink is ALL about being real, even if it's uncomfortable. And I hope that by putting myself out there- even if it means accepting public slamming- I will inspire other women to speak their truth, live out loud, let their freak flags fly, heal, connect, thrive, and get their mojo rocking.

Welcome to our community and thank you for being here.
With love

Richelle's picture

All of you is welcome... Yes, even that!


I am new to your blog but found this post refreshingly honest and authentic. How rare to find a doctor who is willing to be real and even put her real self in such a public spotlight.

Unfortunately, many people are still living in a reality where this kind of honesty and self-reflection are often mislabeled as narcissism and or some other mental disorder. There is nothing that we can do for these women except hope that they can one day understand the pain and suffering that comes with such harsh judgements( both in those they judge as well as in themselves). Obviously, your brutal honesty in expressing your discomfort in the spotlight can strike a chord of discomfort in other people as well.

Personally I started out reading the blog feeling VERY uncomfortable and critical, only to read on and understand that my discomfort was coming from my own fear of the spotlight and owning my power. What a beautiful realization :)

This is a blog, not a medical journal, and I think this post was very well written and incredibly inspiring for a young woman trying to find her own voice and maybe one day, spotlight.

Thank you for creating a place for women to know that *all of you* is welcome!

Love and peace,


Lissa Rankin's picture

LOL (re the "spicy version")

Oh, Grace- you caught me. I edited the hell out of that clip before calling ABC and having the repost it for me!

I needed that giggle, sweetheart. Thank you!

Grace's picture

re: the spicy version

Hey Lissa, After all you've given to so many, I'm happy to give back in some way ;-).

To the anonymous blogger: I offer compassion. There's some past history where maybe someone hurt you, and the concepts of leadership or recognition must have really touched a nerve. None of us are perfect. Think of everybody, including yourself, as beautiful works in progress. We can help each other shine.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you Grace and Becky

I so appreciate your sweet words. And Grace, here's that TV clip she's talking about. You tell me:


Hugs and love to you all

Grace's picture

I need the spicy version, please

LOL, I think you must have sent me the censored link.

My observations: I thought you were extremely gracious and noticed you always waited to be asked a question before speaking. You never interrupted the host or your partner Christine Arylo. The host gave you and Christine equal air time and you both shone. As for the comments about making time to have sex with your husband, thank you sister, for celebrating that and reminding us to prioritize it! Women should feel good about themselves for making love to their husbands. The show is obviously geared towards women, and airs the same time as daytime soap operas which contain many sexually explicit scenes(and usually not between married couples who are married to each other...).

Can you please send me the other video where you constantly butt in, ultimately knock Christine onto the floor, and then start doing a play by play of the last romantic interlude you had with your husband? I promise to watch it after my son is asleep.

Becky's picture

Beautiful words, Dana!

Sad, sad 'stuff' by that "anonymous." But I tell you something, that's no "Anonymous"! It's the She Gremlin, and its making no sense at all... as usual!
Thank You Dana for getting the pixie dust flying again!
Thanks Lissa for coming out of your shell and inspiring SO MANY PEOPLE!!! Keep going!!

Grace's picture

Go Ahead and Shine

After reading this post I decided to finally print this out so I could see it every day, as a reminder to stop shrinking from the power I know I have and to stop getting in my own way to greatness:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Harper Collins, 1992.)

Lissa, you are the leader of the Owning Pink community and you draw more people to it every day. Although you've been at it for a while, I am relatively new to the tribe and it's inspiring to see you actively involved and accessible. If it's sustainable for you to be so visible, then great. If not, I suggest you slowly weave your awesome writers into your main posts as a joint discussion. After all, leaders do delegate. I was happy to see Dana and Melanie chime in, as it helps me get to know them as well.

As for the negative critics, I have two suggestions. First, see if there is any merit to their comments. Most challenges are really opportunities for growth. Was their something you did, even unconsciously, that led to this person's perceptions? Watch the TV broadcast. If this person had a point, own it and grow from it. You draw people to you because you are human and so transparent about it, it makes others feel safe to share. This is a journey.

Second, realize that some things you say will trigger fears that people have about themselves. If they are not ready to own it, they'll attack you instead.

Thanks for putting yourself out there for us. Go ahead and shine :-)

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you Laurie

This is such an awakened comment!
Sometimes that can be painful to watch. But when it makes me uncomfortable, I ask myself why and often realize its because I have the same doubts, etc.

I know that is true. I know that when my blog makes people uncomfortable, it's often because, by exposing my junk, I'm triggering the junk of others.

Thank you for recognizing that and validating the business decision I had to make at Owning Pink. It has not been easy for me. But I also don't want to pretend it's all hunky dory...

Bless you, my friend! And thank you for being a wonderful person and such a fabulous contributor to the OP community!
With love

Laurie's picture

I get it.


As one of the Owning Pink bloggers, I get it. This is your house. But you have lovingly opened it to the rest of us to play and spread our wings. I am grateful for the space you provide and the pixie dust you blow my way. But at the end of the day, its your house to rearrange as you wish. Each of us needs a forum to share our voice. You have shared yours. For that I am mucho thankful.

You are not the first to say it is lonely at the top, and you won't be the last. Even if you booted your guest bloggers, I would still read what you have to say. You are rare in that you are someone who will share your doubts and fears - a behind the scenes view of going for what you want. Sometimes that can be painful to watch. But when it makes me uncomfortable, I ask myself why and often realize its because I have the same doubts, etc.

Thank you for sharing your platform and being in your power.


Lissa Rankin's picture

Bless you April

I needed that validation- especially today...
Thank you my dear.

Step into your beautiful power, my love, and don't let your fear of being exposed keep you from embracing your greatness. Yes, it can hurt, and some of the comments on this post have gotten me down today. But the joy that accompanies the freedom to just be UNAPOLOGETICALLY YOU surpasses all words. Be free. Be you. And let the chips fall where they may...

Much love

April Cooper's picture

I Get It

Lissa -

As a woman who is right in the middle of a similar process of claiming my power (on a significantly smaller scale, but that doesn't make the process any less significant), as well as having recent experiences of leadership loneliness, I completely understand and relate to what you've shared here.

Thank you for shining your Divine Light so brightly. Thank you for being transparent about your journey. I believe your transparency and accessibility are the qualities that are driving people to the site and to your blog posts. Leaders generally hide their personal process from their followers. You are bold enough to expose your process, your shadows, doubts and frailties along with the bright gifts. You are courageous in your vulnerability, which is a much needed example for the rest of us. (See Brene Brown's TEDX talk on the power of vulnerability if you haven't already - it's the number one quality of whole-hearted, happy people!)

You inspire me and I know you are inspiring many, many others. I am grateful from the depths of my heart for you.

Hugs, April

Melanie Bates's picture

Where is the LOVE

Where is the love? The compassion? The pixie dust we usually use to lift each other up on Owning Pink? How did this hate and negativity seep in overnight to a forum that is about empowering each other and sharing our different viewpoints in a loving and accepting way?

What's going on in this loving forum? How are folks being so cruel and personally attacking the woman who birthed this website and has given her ALL to it over the past few years? And bringing her family into it? I call FOUL! Breaking a mom's heart the day after Mother's Day by saying something so cruel to her daughter. Shame.


I feel like I'm in the twilight zone here - the episode where a few women are cruel and mean and stabbing other women in the throat with their high heels out of spite, envy and anger. On the side stage is the patriarchal society sitting up in the balcony laughing at us as these women tear each other down.


With compassion,

Lissa Rankin's picture

No wonder women are afraid to expand into their greatness

Wow, Anonymous. Is this why most women, when good things happen to them, shrink, rather than stepping forth into their greatness? Is this why we support each other when someone dumps us or we get laid off, but when we get a book deal, we feel like we have to keep quiet about or someone will call us a narcissist or tell us we need psych meds?

This was a HARD post for me to write because I feared exactly this kind of response. And this is exactly what kept me small for years, hiding my face, crawling in holes, feeling disconnected, towing the line.

And please, do NOT bring my parents into this. I hate the best parents EVER. And they allowed me to have compassion for people who must lash out at others.

I'm sorry the mirror I'm holding up is triggering something hurt in you. I'm sorry you feel like you need to cut down another woman instead of lift her up, especially if you think I"m that sick.

My heart goes out to you love. May you find peace and compassion in your heart.

Anonymous's picture

Good Lord....any psych meds for Dr. Lissa????

You have got to be kidding us. I think I'll pack up a bunch of mirrors and mail them to you so you can keep on admiring yourself....hope the rest of your tribe will also
consider mailing you mirrors in all shapes and sizes so you can keep on navel gazing, and do it in style.

Momma Trisha, how did your daughter Lissa get such a swollen head. You and David seemed like such down to earth folks. What happened?

Lissa Rankin's picture

Wow, Anonymous

First, if you feel like bashing me, please use your name.
And second, I have invited many MD's to blog on Owning Pink- and some have. But most are simply too busy.
And third, I asked Michelle Medina's permission to tell her story using her name and would never have done so otherwise.
And fourth, if you don't like me or my blog, that's TOTALLY fine, but must you say things like "Get over yourself?" What makes you say such a thing?

If you're an MD and you genuinely think I need help, why not approach me with compassion, rather than spewing hate at me? Why not help me, rather than hurt me? And why hide under anonymity? Show me your face, my friend, and let's have a real conversation, the way we encourage people to do in life and on Owning Pink...

With love

Anonymous's picture

Unapolagetically Oneself vs. Clinically Narcissistic

Please Lissa, get over yourself. Start comparing yourself to women who are your equals. If you included female physicians in your posse of bloggers, you would dispel your sense of terminal uniqueness and giftedness. Get the right metric for comparison in place, and you will see that you will not be feeling lonely at the top. Of course you are more popular on this website...you created the site, and people are impressed by physicians...and for good reason.

Start including female physicians who graduated from one of the ivy's (as oppossed to Duke, South Florida Med, and Northwestern), and let us see how you fare once you are side by side with other female doctors.

Your accomplishments are noteworthy and you have impressive gifts....it's just that you don't seem to distinguish between being "unapologetically you" and clinically narcissistic. I want my girls to feel good about themselves, and to feel confident and optimistic about their ability to make a difference for themselves and others. I don't want the narcissistic streak that you model...it's offputting, sad, and not helpful.

Anonymous's picture

Erasing Comments You Can't Face

You can erase comments your ego can't handle...if the comments were off base, you would have not removed them, and you would have allowed other bloggers to come to your defense.

Anonymous's picture

Unapolagetically Oneself vs. Clinically Narcissistic

If you had other female physician bloggers on Owning Pink,
you would not be posting this self aggrandizing post. You seek out women who are not competition for you in the real sense of the word. I bet if you had Christiane Northrup, MD,
Judith Orloff, MD, MonaLisa Schulz, MD, Lisa Masterson, MD,or Gail Saltz, MD blogging on your site, that your google analytics would look quite different. I find your repeated self aggrandizement, be it your identification with Jesus, or your terminal uniqueness, etc, just pathetic.

Granted, you are accomplished, energetic, ambitious, and highly creative....we all get that, but enough is enough. You do hog the spotlight. Just a couple of months ago, when I saw you on TV (7 by the Bay, I believe), you basically pushed your partner to the side in a rude and inconsiderate way....you did not let your female partner shine, and you inappropriately took over the spotlight, and made a fool of yourself by behaving inappropriately (making explicitly sexual comments on a TV program that children and adolescents could have been watching). The TV host was caught off guard by your sexual comments, and I felt embarrassed for you and your partner. When I saw you, I thought you may be suffering from bipolar II disorder, you were that impulsive and inappropriate.

So, yes, it's lonely at the top....only because you have set it up that way. Start competing with women in your own educational league, and you will see that you are not
"all that."

I believe your message about being unapologetically (spelling may be a problem here)oneself is a great message---all that said, I think there is a difference between having good self esteem and being clinically narcissistic.

You are a great writer, and I like reading what you have to say....but, please....do us all a favor, and get some help, once and for all---and compare yourself to other female MD's...not to women with other degrees, or women in recovery from whatever ails them. I think you might start to see yourself more realistically if you
compare yourself with other women who are in your same educational/professional league.

Lastly, please preserve confidentiality of women who you befriend on this site. I was concerned that you explicitly outed a young woman who had been suicidal. You listed her first and last name on owning pink after you described your self aggrandizing heroic rescue of her in one of your posts. I could not believe you would be so insensitive about that troubled young woman's confidentiality. She may have been too troubled to realize that she should protect her confidentiality, but you, as a physician, should have known better. Here is another example of how your narcissism, needs a good thorough check up. Please pause, and get a grip before you continue on this path. Don't use others in a exploitative way to get ahead...sometimes less is more.You
have many gifts and you can get that TV show, or whatever else you want without the "shove it in your face" brand of specialness.

Dana Theus's picture

Not either/or

Whatever Owning Pink wants from you, it is a journey for us all together. I like to think it's not "you or us" but "you and us". Not either/or but both/and. Want to get rid of the knot? Allow yourself to be seen privately as well as publicly. Love you.


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