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An uncommon woman offers Uncommon Confidence


OK, I’ll be honest. When I first visited Elizabeth Johnson’s Web site I had a bit of a problem. It’s so


pink . And brown. In her photo on her pink and brown business cards, Johnson is wearing pink and brown. Her online magazine is called "In the Pink."

 

Now I’ve nothing personal against pink or brown or pink and brown. But it all seemed a bit much. And, dare I say it? A bit cute. At least for a woman whose business is "redefining confidence, power and possibility for women through Authentic Living." (Her caps.) Hmmm.

However, when Women’s Support Services offers her nine-week Uncommon Confidence course (a new one is starting next week), places go faster than tickets to opening day of the World Series. Clearly, there’s something there that women want. And there’s a growing coterie of women in the Northwest Corner, enthusiastic graduates of her program, who if given a half a chance will sing her praises to the sky.

So a visit to Johnson’s downtown Lakeville office was clearly in order. In person, Johnson is thoughtful and earnest and quick to laugh; should I be surprised that she was wearing a pink and brown jacket? Or that the coordinating colors of her office are you-know-what? Like Johnson, who favors chunky jewelry and engine-red nail polish, it’s also a little funky, filled with vintage furniture, books and odds and ends, pithy quotes hanging on the wall. There’s Play-Doh on the coffee table. "I love the smell of it," says Johnson, who confesses she’s been obsessed with the stuff since nursery school.

Pink, says Johnson, is not a cute color, but a color of power. As befits a woman who came of career age doing corporate coaching (at Linkage, Inc. in Lexington, Mass.), Johnson is trying to build a brand image. See pink and brown? Think E. Johnson & Company.

Johnson’s corporate background is important in another way: It forced her out on her own.

"I knew I was living a life out of synch with who I am," she recalled. After taking a few months off to think about what to do, she joined her fiancé in Sharon. She put together a program, called AwakenYour Passion (a version of which she still offers), and asked five women she knew to play guinea pig and take it. "The feedback was, ‘This is good stuff.’"

That was about five years ago. Johnson designed a Web site, developed her brand and looked for venues where she could hold her courses. Originally, she also offered monthly "passionales," where women could get a taste of the courses in an introductory, two-hour discussion group. As her business has taken off, Johnson has handed those groups over to trusted graduates of her courses.

That original program, which focused on helping women figure out their personal values and use them to plot a future, included a small piece of self-esteem work, which participants consistently said they wanted more of.

The result was a second program, called Uncommon Confidence, which covers issues like dealing with perfectionism, guilt and toxic people. The course meets once a week for nine weeks in three-hour sessions and involves homework and group activities.

"It’s dense," said Johnson. "It’s not talk therapy. You’re asking yourself some tough questions."

Initially the courses attracted women in their mid-50s looking to make a change in their lives, but now the participants are of all ages. What unites them, Johnson said, is their need to know they’re not alone in their feelings of inadequacy, confusion or guilt.

"One of the biggest pieces is ‘It’s not just me’," said Johnson. "That’s huge. We’re physically isolated. Women don’t have enough strong support teams. Family and spouse are not always enough." In the Northwest Corner, that isolation is exacerbated. Especially in winter.

Johnson said she can see a visible change in women who take the course, starting "at about the fourth week."

"They use less self-depracating language," she said. "And there are visible changes. They laugh more, make eye contact and even carry themselves differently. Other members of the group see it, too."

And ultimately other changes come: Johnson had just taken a phone call from a woman who had said, "I wouldn’t call myself an artist" in the workshop. She was calling to say she was about to have her first exhibit. Johnson has plenty of similar stories of workshop participants taking small but brave new steps.

Women often see themselves as the center of a hurricane, Johnson said, with things out of control all around them, but they don’t feel they have the wherewithal to change them.

"I want women to see themselves as leaders of their own life," Johnson said. "Our society equates success with big. But success is often in small, doable steps." And: "Small risks always build toward taking bigger risks."

Johnson, who is earning a master’s degree in women’s studies at Southern Connecticut State University, also offers one-on-one coaching, most of which she does by telephone. She would like to take her program into prisons or to women in the sex trade, but admits "these are very tough areas to get into." The owner of five rescued greyhounds, Johnson once overwhelmed herself with rescue work and would like eventually to get back into it, but "gently."

Johnson is quick to point out that in her life she has struggled with all of these issues herself, something she shares with her classes. "I couldn’t do this if I weren’t walking the walk." Women ask Johnson all the time if she has always been so confident. "I’m a lot more confident today than I was five years ago," she said. "I try to do something that scares me once a day."

On Johnson’s very pink Web site, ejohnsonandcompany.com, you can sign up for her bi-weekly e-zine, order a pack of Confident Women Coaching Cards or the self-help book, "Breaking Through." You’ll also find more information on Johnson and her courses.

 


Just Us, a column by Judith Linscott, appears periodically and focuses on the people, places and traditions that make this region unique.


 

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