I love to write and previously published a regular blog aimed at other ambitious women – here are a selection of some of my posts for you to read at your leisure!
I have confidence in me
A mentor once gave me a tip which was to have a song in my head that would help me to feel more confident. My song used to be the Julie Andrews “I have confidence” song which I would sing in my head before a big meeting or if I was going to be presenting in front of some big cheeses.
I haven’t really used that technique in a while as I realise I have genuinely become more confident in myself. I was trying to remember when that happened but I don’t think it is something that was switched on in one moment…it happened over time, with age and experience. I know that sounds like a cliché but it’s true.
I heard an interview with the fabulous Margot Robbie recently talking about having more confidence to call out inappropriate behaviour as she gets older. Like most of us, she said when she was younger she might have let stuff slide or ignored it. This confidence linked with age thing also came up on a few years back on a project I worked on for an initiative called Brightlife, which was funded through the National Lottery to combat loneliness and social isolation in the over 50s. I was asked to go and interview some of the women who volunteer, designing and delivering projects in and around the Chester area. As part of their International Women’s Day initiative, Brightlife wanted to recognise these women as being amazing for the contribution they are making to the lives of others.
So I had the absolute pleasure of going to interview them about their involvement with the projects and about their lives in general. I asked each of them a series of questions, one of which was what advice they would give to their younger selves. I was blown away by the similarities of their responses…more or less all of them said that they would tell their younger selves not to be so scared, be more confident to go for what they wanted and not listen to people who told them they couldn’t do something.
Of course, all of this really resonated with me because that’s what I wrote my book ‘Ladder Climbing in High Heels’ about, hoping to share my experiences of climbing the corporate ladder to help inspire other women to believe in themselves and go for it. They each shared much of their life story with me and every one of them has worked hard and done exceptional things in their working lives and continue to do so now through the volunteering they are doing with Brightlife. I asked them what it felt like to be recognised as an amazing woman but not one of them thought that what they were doing was anything special. They were so humble and unassuming.
This is what most of the fantastic women I have worked with and I come across now are like. They don’t shout about their successes, or even really see that what they are doing is that exceptional. They just crack-on, do their best and focus on making a difference through their work.
One of the women I interviewed reminded me of something that I often came across in the corporate world, which was that if a man and a woman applied for the same job, the woman would go through the job description and say they couldn’t do something, compared to the man who would apply anyway with a view they could learn the things they had gaps in. This was explored in The Confidence Code, where journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that: “Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. At HP, and in study after study, the data confirm what we instinctively know. Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and over-prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.”
When I think about what I was taught in school, there was nothing on the curriculum about developing confidence. I was quite into Am-Dram which was as close as I got to any kind of coaching around how to be a certain way but I am not sure learning how to act like a witch in Macbeth really equipped me for the boardroom…or maybe it did? I know there was an awful lot of backstabbing and skullduggery in certain places I have worked. It wasn’t until I hit my late 20’s that I started getting really helpful self-development…learning about my preferences, my personal style, what made me tick and how and when I performed at my best. I have mentioned them before but personality tests are really great for this very basic understanding of your skills. The best free one I have seen is at https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test
Then I went onto have some fantastic coaching and development on my presentation style –I have mentioned this before but this really was some of the best confidence creation that I have experienced. Learning how to use my body to demonstrate more self-assurance, how to slow my breathing down to have more impact…basically how to fake it if it wasn’t forthcoming!
I believe we need to do more to equip women with self-belief and confidence skills from a younger age so that they aren’t afraid, they don’t hold themselves back and they do have the courage to go out and share their gifts with the world. So, if you are starting out in your career, find another woman to talk to who has trodden the path you want to take and can help give you advice and guidance.
If you are a bit further up the career ladder, look around you and talent spot. Chat to that new woman in Accounts, or that super-efficient PA and ask them about themselves and their career aspirations. You never know who might just need a little boost of self-belief to put themselves forward for that promotion or to apply for that new job.
Create don’t compete
Have I told you that I am a little addicted to Podcasts? Since working for myself I don’t really miss the commute to and from the office other than the time I used to have in the car listening to people talk about their field of expertise. You see, other than Desert Island Discs, which is a bit of a guilty pleasure, I love listening to people talk about the world of business, self-development and a little woo-woo too (more on this later).
I listened to an interview with Renée Mauborgne (a leading female management guru from the US) recently talking about the concept of Blue Ocean Strategy – something I hadn’t come across before. She talked about how in business the most successful organisations are no longer competing with each other, they are focusing on creating different solutions, or blue oceans, through innovating.
As a business strategy it is basically describing how rather than following the competition in any given business industry, getting into bloody fights which create red oceans, you should not let existing ways of working or how your competitors work crowd your thinking. Instead focus on the needs of the customer or end-user. Giving real-life business examples, she talked about the concept of blowdry bars which have grown massively and are an add-on to traditional hairdressing, rather than competing. The Actifry turned the whole concept of frying food on its head and boutique hotels have disrupted the luxury hotel market by offering 5-star quality at 3-star prices. All of these have focused on being customer centric and not just following the crowd.
Renée talked about creating rather than competing with one another being a way of life and that sounded right up my street. Now if you’re working in an organisation, you might not think there is much relevance to this concept as an individual but the thing is that when I worked in corporate, I constantly felt like I was being pitched against someone else – for a project, a development opportunity, a promotion. And when I say someone else, very often it was another woman, most likely a fellow colleague. I used to get seriously frustrated with this…I wrote recently about staying in your own lane and not comparing yourself to anyone else, which is something I have tried super hard not to do during my career. The difficulty came when it was other people doing the comparing, especially when it was someone in a leadership position.
I came across this on more than one occasion and I have to say, it was bloody difficult not to end up feeling as though I was in a competition. Luckily, I am not really a competitive person – aside from playing Scrabble with Simon which I am ruthless at – but I know a lot of people are and it must be really horrible in a corporate environment if you are wired that way because a lot of people like to create competition between individuals or departments.
I have always believed that collaboration is better than competition, for example when I led a Communications team in the North West, I wasn’t interested in being better than the team in the North East. I wanted to focus on the bigger picture and work out how we could learn from one another and be even better as a whole Communications department – this helped when I eventually led the whole function across the country, as I had demonstrated I wasn’t parochial and championed the greater good!
The world’s top life and business strategist, Tony Robbins, says: “If you do what everyone else does, and you do it better than everybody else, you get a tiny competitive advantage. But if you do something no one else is doing in your space and focus on offering overwhelming value, if you create a blue ocean, you get a gigantic advantage.”
There’s that blue ocean again. So rather than competing, getting blood in the water and having tussles with your colleagues, what are you doing to look outside of your immediate job, team, function, organisation and questioning what your customers or end-users actually want? How are you innovating, considering how to fix the problems that exist in your sector, in your wider industry?
I have created this blog, written my book (which I have now pitched to Unbound for crowd-funding…fingers crossed) and am now developing an online course, which I hope will support women with the issues they face when climbing the career ladder, because I couldn’t see anywhere else offering this in a really accessible, untraditional way and it is something I am really passionate about.
My question to you is what blue oceans are you creating or could you create? If you find yourself in a competitive environment, bumping up against the same people for the next promotion or project, where are you able to stand out and be different? If you can demonstrate you are adding value and consistently delivering more than is expected of you, guess who is going to stand out during the next interview or team meeting. As a recruiting manager, I would always want to recruit the person who had done something a little extra-ordinary in their job or at work…you create a blue ocean, you are definitely ahead of the game!
That said, I am a big believer in fate and (here comes the woo part) alignment…if something is meant to be, it will happen for you – if it isn’t, then it won’t. Now sometimes this is a bitter pill to swallow – especially when you go all out for that promotion you really want and don’t get it. The thing is, this happens to all of us and it is through these experiences that we learn and grow, developing ourselves further so that the next time we take the plunge and apply for another job, we are even better prepared.
Plus, through creating something that didn’t exist before you came up with it, you can get an amazing sense of achievement and satisfaction…and who knows, you might be invited onto a Podcast one day to talk about it – I’ll be listening!
The power of words
I have always been aware that there is power in the words that we use and with my background in Corporate Communications, my job was to use the right words in order to get a message across effectively. I also believe that the words we use to describe ourselves and others matter.
As women I think we are particularly prone to talking ourselves down – I hear it all of the time…I can’t lose weight, I can’t afford to, I am not happy with x, y, z. Did you know that talking in this way is sending out those thoughts to the universe and attracting more of what you don’t want back to you? I am talking about the Law of Attraction, or LOA.
Anyone who hasn’t heard of LOA, it is all about focusing on what you want and manifesting those things into your life. That everything you have in your life right now, you have created through the power of your thoughts and if you want to change anything, you have the ability to do so by only focusing on what you want. This might switch some of you off but I really believe in this and have started to live and breathe it in everything I do.
A lot of it is about mindset and believing you have the power to change anything in your life that you are not 100% happy with…also that your thoughts become things. So if you are stuck in a job you don’t enjoy or you want to do something else, you need to focus on what you do want in your life rather than what you don’t want.
There are many different ways of using LOA in your life but it starts with being grateful for what you have right now. I have started keeping a gratitude journal and write in it before I do anything else in the day – I write a whole page of everything I am grateful for in my life. Then on the opposite page I write a ‘pray-rain journal’ which is writing as if I already have the things in my life that I want. The term ‘pray-rain’ comes from author Gregg Braden in a story about his Native American friend who visualised on rain during a long drought in the 90’s…rather than praying for rain, he focused on feeling the rain coming down, imagined it had already happened. The story then goes that it actually rained so much that it flooded!
By asking for something, we are acknowledging we don’t have it so the trick is to feel it and try to experience it as if it has already happened. That helps to put us in the energy of having it and that is how we manifest what we want. This is why affirmations and mantras are so important…they are retraining the subconscious brain to believe that the things you want have already come to you. So affirming ‘I am fit and healthy’ when you are unwell, affirming ‘I am a money magnet and money flows easily to me’…you get the idea. The brain is like an iceberg – the conscious brain is the tip of about 5% and the subconscious brain is the 95% you don’t see under the surface. If you can retrain your subconscious with a new script of abundance and success and happiness, amazing things will start to happen.
It’s called ‘conscious creation’ and we are all doing it all of the time. This is why I hate gossiping and bitching about people because I believe that if you speak ill of people, it will come back to you! Whether we like it or not…the words we speak create our reality. This is nothing new – in ancient times they even had a word for it that we now use in a slightly different way….abracadabra. This is said to be an Aramic word (the language Jesus spoke), meaning ‘as I speak, I create’. Interesting, hey?
I’ve always been interested in spirituality and all things woo-woo like angel cards, tarot, clairvoyants, crystals but I turned my back on it for several years after being influenced by other people telling me it was all a load of rubbish. Last year I was re-introduced to it and realised that it actually really lights me up and I have since met lots of other women who are applying these so called ‘woo-woo’ techniques in their businesses and doing very well!
Many of you will have come across The Secret which made the concept of LOA popular a few years back. The thing with The Secret is that it is all focused around thoughts. I believe you also have to take action on what you want as well as thinking, journaling and talking about it. So, if you want to be a published author someday, you have to write, if you want a promotion at work, you need to show up as your best self, do a great job and get yourself noticed.
The key is really getting to grips with what you want and then starting to align to the energy of having it already. I didn’t get the energy thing when I first started reading more about LOA but now I get that it means you need to feel good about what you are doing. If it feels difficult or a struggle, it isn’t aligned to your goals and you won’t be able to manifest what you want. Sometimes it is the feeling good part that is more important than the visualising, the pray-rain journaling, the affirmations. Getting outside for a walk if you are feeling stuck, reading a book or just taking time out to meditate for 10 minutes.
Meditation is something I never really got before I started opening my mind to this woo-woo stuff but now I totally get it. The corporate world has even cottoned on to the power of it, calling it ‘mindfulness’ which focuses on relieving stress and getting people to be more effective at work. For me it is about opening up my connection with the universe – some of you might say God or Source – whatever you call the thing that we are all part of which is bigger than us. ‘The universe has your back’ is a popular saying and it is nice to believe that we all have that support available to us if we open up to it. So the question is, what are you creating for your life?
I’m starting with the woman in the mirror
Remember the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror”? It is one of my favourites because I just love the whole philosophy of the lyrics “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change”.
Ghandi also said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. I remember when I first heard that I was a bit flummoxed at how I might go about ‘being the change’ that I wanted to see. I want all sorts of change – world peace, equality, the end of racism, violence, homelessness and all kinds of abuse – those big, societal things that many of us share a desire for. How do I go about being the change in all of these areas? The thing is that these things are so big and so challenging that most of us scratch our heads, think ‘well there’s nothing I can do about any of it’ and then just carry on living our lives as we always have, feeling pretty helpless.
But I have come to realise that it is in the small things we do every day that we can choose to do things differently and be the change we want to see. As a mentor, I hear a lot of stories about how women feel frustrated in their workplaces. That they are over-looked for promotions or aren’t getting noticed by their superiors, or that the people around them constantly moan about how fed up they are and it gets them down. This is exactly when it is a great opportunity for you to be the change you want to see in the world.
When I worked as part of a larger team, inevitably there were people who would enjoy moaning and groaning about every single thing. You know the type, the ones who seem to revel in things going wrong, almost waiting (hoping?) for it to happen. The toxic individuals who want to drag everyone down to their low mood. The glass isn’t half empty, it’s got a hole in the bottom! The trouble is that misery loves company and once one person starts moaning it can start others off on that path and soon you are surrounded by people complaining that nothing ever works for them in ‘this place’. If you work anywhere near one of these individuals, my advice is to get the hell away from them as fast as you possibly can! If you can’t escape them fully then protect yourself from their negativity by not engaging with them or zoning out of the discussions by wearing sound-proof headphones. And if you recognise yourself then please do yourself a favour and stop moaning – the reality is that no-one likes a Debbie Downer!
I was recently asked my opinion on what makes a high performing team and I talked about the importance of recognising people as individuals. Understanding their motivations, ambitions and working together to help one another achieve those, as well as achieving the collective goal of the team/organisation. I love to help people clarify their ambition and develop individual goals to support them towards achieving it; breaking their big aspiration down into sizeable chunks can make the impossible start to seem possible. When you work for yourself, clearly more of this is in your gift because in theory you are more able to control how you spend your time and choose the work that you do, but what about when you are an employee? How do you articulate your ambitions and seek out the win-win for the organisation you are working for? This is what I call “The Sweet Spot”, where employees are delivering what is needed for the business whilst at the same time as doing things that tick their personal ambition boxes.
It requires a high degree of trust and mutual respect amongst colleagues, something I appreciate isn’t always in existence within organisations and teams. We will have all had examples of working in teams where this wasn’t the case, where people were far from open, preferring turf guarding over collaboration; not an environment that is conducive to high performance. However, if a culture of openness is engendered then people are far more likely to share their personal ambitions with the wider team.
It got me thinking about how you create an open and trusting culture in a business. Where people want to work together and enjoy doing so; where the sweet spot is the norm and everyone wins. Of course, the leadership has a big role to play in creating, reinforcing and rewarding these behaviours but it is too easy to pass up any personal responsibility by just saying it is down to the leaders. I believe that there is something every individual can do to play a part in shaping the culture of the business, no matter where you sit within the organisation. Everything starts with you realising you have a choice.
Exercising choice is the practice of an emotionally intelligent individual. When you exercise choice you accept accountability, see your options and are open to change, choose to be open and seek to understand – ultimately you feel empowered. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t exercise choice and feel ambivalent, blame others or circumstances, give up and act like a victim.
But what if everyone suddenly woke up and realised they actually are in control of their own lives? That you do have a choice, that you can make a change to your life – no matter what the situation is that you are currently in? Because that is the truth. Unless you are reading this from a prison cell or are being held captive somewhere, you are not a victim unless you choose to be. If there are things you don’t like where you work, ask yourself what you can do to change them. If you want to be in a different place in your home, work, life in general, what small steps or changes can you start doing to make that a reality?
Problem solvers, fixers, doers – they are the ones who rise to the top. Wherever you are in a business you can play your part and make a difference by seeking out opportunities to get involved in different things which play to your strengths. It starts having a voice and being heard by the right people. If you are someone who see solutions where there are problems, don’t wait to be asked to do something – volunteer to help! Be focused on a positive outcome for the business and seek out other people to support you. As the American Anthropologist, Margaret Mead, said: “Never doubt that a small concerned group of citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
So whilst it may be impossible for you to see how you can make a change to those huge things like world peace or homelessness, feel empowered to know that there are always things you can do to make changes around you in your workplace. If you are looking to get ahead in your career start finding out what the big issues are in the C-Suite or Boardroom. Make it known what your career aspirations are, where your skills lie, what more you would like to get involved in. Don’t be defined by your job title or role profile, seek out opportunities to shine your light!
We have nothing to be guilty of
I read something recently – show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilty and I will show you a man. In my experience, that is true. Skipping the gym, working too much, not working enough, eating unhealthily, not spending enough time with family…and that’s before you throw any children into the mix…we all spend a lot of time feeling guilty, don’t we?
Why do us women suffer with guilt more than men? It’s baffling really – I mean we are in the same boat, juggling careers, healthy living, stress and, for some of us, parenthood on top. But it is us women who beat ourselves up and apologise continually for doing things or not doing things that we feel we should be.
I don’t know any men who would beat themselves up in the way that I and so many of my friends do. When I started to read a bit more about this whilst researching themes for my book, experts say that it is because women are more likely to blame themselves for any failures, while men will look to external factors.
A woman fails her driving test and will blame herself for not concentrating enough but a man fails and it will be because of the weather or because the car wasn’t functioning right. I know I have a tendency to beat myself up when things don’t go right or I haven’t done everything I feel I should have done. Trouble is I set high standards for myself and ambitious goals – I think a lot of us women do. We want a nice home, a fit body, happy kids, a good relationship, time with friends, a successful career…not to mention nice hair and clothes – all of these things take time and effort. It seems to me that time and guilt go hand in hand. If we had more time we perhaps wouldn’t feel so guilty for skipping the gym to meet that friend for a drink, because we could squeeze it all in.
So many of us these days talk about being busy – we are always busy, lots on…too much to do. And I think we are busy – we are busier than we have ever been as women. When I was young, my Mum and my friends’ Mums worked but they all had jobs…I don’t recall any of them having careers. They certainly didn’t have businesses. It was their husband’s career commitments that came first – they had to flex around them. Nowadays I see more and more of us women choosing not to let motherhood stand in our way of success…and quite rightly so I think, but this does mean we all have more pressure on us than ever before.
When it comes to having children and a career, that is when guilt can really kick in and if you’re not careful, take over. Perhaps it is because we carry them as babies for 9 months but when we first leave them with anyone to go to work, the guilt we carry as Mothers is so hard. And it never really goes away – when they cry being left with the nursery nurses or the childminder. When they aren’t feeling 100% but you can’t stay at home and look after them, so you dose them up with Calpol and hope for the best. Then they get to school age and they get upset when you have to miss a school performance because of a work event, or they tell us we are never at the school gates when the other Mums are. As soon as they can talk it seems that children know how to flick our guilt switch.
I have worked with men who have teeny tiny babies but no-one asks them if they are leaving the office soon to get back to their child. That is the experience I had on a regular basis when I worked late in corporate, particularly when Daisy was smaller…for some reason people used to think it was ok to tell me that I SHOULD be home with her if I was late in the office. It would sometimes be under the pretence of caring about me, or somehow giving me permission to leave work but it just made my blood boil. I have never heard anyone say this to a man, a father…I’d love to know if you have! And it isn’t just us working Mums, my friends who don’t have children are hectic too – they are running businesses, or juggling busy careers and managing their home commitments. It is a never-ending story of cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing…even if you are fortunate to live with someone to share the load with, it never goes away.
I also think it is us women who worry and care about all of this more than men and that doesn’t feel right as we continue to take on more of a leading role in the corporate/business world. Earlier generations of women worked less outside of the home, therefore picked up more inside the home…now we are equals in the office, surely the men should be stepping up more in the home?
I have heard women say they need a wife to support them and I totally get what they mean! It would be great to have someone remember that we need to have three different varieties (not just flavour….varieties!) of crisps stocked in the cupboard because every child likes something different in their packed lunch boxes.
Don’t get me wrong, Simon is by no means the worst at these things but I don’t see him feeling guilty for not remembering things like I do! It is something I have been working on though and I don’t know if I am alone but the older I get, the more I think perfection is over-rated. I have started to care less about getting everything right when it comes to juggling all this stuff. Obviously family is my number one priority but sometimes work and business has to come first…just because it does. I used to envy friends of mine who seemingly have perfect homes and they wouldn’t dream of leaving an airer full of clothes to dry in the lounge all week. Me? I think life is too short to worry about this stuff.
It’s harder being based at home because I am surrounded by it all of the time. When I was working in a corporate office, I could leave it behind when I closed the door. Being based at home means I can’t escape it and no matter how hectic I am in the day, I will still find myself loading the dishwasher or putting some washing out. That said, I am quite disciplined about work and really don’t care enough to put the housework first! Thank God I am not OCD – how those people cope with life, I have no idea!
And what about apologising? That is something I find myself doing all of the time and really wish I could stop it. I think it stems from childhood and being a people-pleaser…if I don’t do something that I think I should do, I will apologise for it. I will even say sorry for things that are out of my control sometimes – it’s a bad habit and something I know I am not alone with as a busy woman.
In reality, we would all like to be in a position where we could do everything and be there for everyone we want to, but sometimes life gets in the way. I do feel guilty that I don’t see some friends and family for months on end, but I appreciate that everyone has got stuff on in their lives and hope they feel the same.
When the kids are making us feel guilty over forgetting something or missing an event, we should remind ourselves (and them) that working hard and having a career is part of who we are. That you might have missed that one event but you will be there next time, or you will make it up to them by doing something else with them. Remember you are a role model next time you feel that inkling of guilt or they flick the guilt switch on in us. We are all juggling far more than we used to and as women, we will put ourselves under enough pressure without needing anyone else to add to it. So, let’s give each other a break – give ourselves permission to relax and not feel guilty about everything – we are trying our best and from what I see, we are doing a bloody good job!
Sharpen the saw
I first came across the strangely-worded concept of ‘sharpening the saw’ at a time management course I once went on. Some readers will be familiar that this is ‘Habit 7’ of Stephen R. Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. It is about self-improvement, self-care, self-respect and self-renewal. It was introduced on the time management course to emphasise the importance of scheduling it into your daily/weekly routine.
The concept of ‘self-care’ always makes me cringe slightly, probably due to the fact I have read far too many articles suggesting regular bubble baths as one of the ways to do it (I have nothing against bubble baths but sometimes after a long day of work, it just doesn’t cut it!). But ‘sharpening the saw’ I can get on board with because it is more about feeding your soul and making time to improve yourself.
No matter who we are, none of us are perfect and if you are reading this thinking that you are, I suggest you are in the wrong place! There is no such thing as perfection – Einstein said it himself. It is our imperfections that make us human and also unique. I believe it is when we learn to love and accept our imperfections that we truly begin to shine our light. Knowing we aren’t perfect yet following our dreams and goals anyway is courageous. As is continually working on improving ourselves.
I liken myself to a large onion – there is always another layer to peel, another lesson to learn, another level to achieve. To me, that is what being human is all about – there is always more to do! But that doesn’t mean I am not enough. You are enough exactly where you are, right here, right now.
I understand the struggle with this one because if we are imperfect and can always do more to improve ourselves, how can we actually be enough right as we are in this moment? Accepting who we are is the key to unlocking our self-worth. I see lots of people getting their self-worth from their job title or the size of their bank account or the car they drive. I admit, I used to be like this – I never felt enough so I would continually strive for the next job title, the better car, the more expensive handbag. External validations of being enough.
I am sure we all know people like this – the fact is they are probably the very people who do not believe they are enough. Who may feel insecure in themselves and therefore need these external badges of honour so that the world knows their value. In reality though, none of that matters. It is our relationship with ourselves that matters and knowing that we are enough without any of those trappings.
My awakening to it was like a thunderbolt when I was fortunate enough to go on some intensive emotional intelligence training. We spent a week exploring how we felt about ourselves and others. In one exercise we went through a management model known as the ‘OK Corral’ (a play on the famous gunfight but I promise you involved no fighting!). It explored the concept Transactional Analysis and the ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ matrix. Now, I have written about this before in one of my earlier blogs and readers of my book will know it is the first thing I share, so to avoid repeating myself I will just say that when I realised that I had a choice to believe I was ‘OK’ my whole world opened up to me. I saw how I was holding myself back, how I was constraining myself through my lack of self-belief and ‘not enough-ness’.
So how can we get to the point of believing that we are enough? I am not sure there is a quick answer to this because a lot of it stems from our previous experiences in life and what we might have picked up in our childhoods. What I do know is that it starts with going inward and understanding where our ego is running the show, as opposed to our inner guidance.
As Eckhart Tolle suggests in ‘A New Earth’, detach from ego and focus on your essence — the deeper being within — your true self — perhaps even your soul. Let go of the external and focus on how you really are inside. You are already perfect, lovable and enough just the way you are.
The word ego has certain negative attachments and can be difficult to easily describe – but it is our sense of self. To use it in the spiritual sense, it is our beliefs, judgments and stereotypes that stand in the way of love. It is our ‘Inner Mean Girl’ or inner critic, the voice inside that tells us we aren’t enough or which sabotages us when we are trying to give something up that isn’t good for us. Becoming aware of when your Inner Mean Girl is at play and quietening her is a good step forward on the path to ‘I am enough-ness’.
Recognise when you are allowing her to take over and where she is playing you on your fears and insecurities. Learn to practise self-love – for instance making a list of all of your achievements at the back of your journal and remind yourself of these regularly. Write ‘I am enough’ on your mirror or put it as a reminder in your phone. Take time to meditate and connect in with your inner guidance – zoning out of all of the ‘noise’ and clutter of your mind.
It is all about recognising and then reprograming. You might be able to do that alone or techniques such as hypnotherapy and NLP can help too. I have tried something called Rapid Transformational Therapy which is a mixture of the two and can really help because it goes deep into your subconscious to find the root cause of the feeling of not-enoughness. Like anything new, it takes practise but it is worth it. And if you’re struggling to find the time or putting it off, blank time in your diary for ‘sharpening the saw’!
Perfectionism = Procrastination
Growing up my Mum said I was always like that song “it’s got to beeeeee perfect”. Whilst I would say that was possibly a little extreme, I will admit that I do like to make an effort and if I am going to do something, I will always put my all into whatever it is. My motto tends to be ‘go big or go home’!
What I have come to realise is that waiting for things to be perfect can often lead to procrastination and that sometimes ‘done’ is better than getting everything right to the exact minutiae. Now it helps that I am not a brain surgeon or heading up a production line of expensive cars – clearly in these kind of roles the need for precision and accuracy is going to be pretty high on the agenda. But let’s face it, if I write a press release and it has a comma in the wrong place, no-one is going to actually die, (that said, I would be mortified if the Grammar Police picked me up on it!).
I was thinking about that crazy statistic which suggests that many women won’t put themselves forward for a job unless they feel they tick at least 80% of the boxes, whereas men will at around 40% (don’t quote me on the stats, I am writing this on a train without Wifi so there is no way of checking!). This is classic perfectionism leading to procrastination, isn’t it? We will wait and wait rather than just going for it.
I definitely recognise that in myself but it is something I have been working on and I definitely feel like I have turned a corner with it. Maybe it is being out of the corporate bubble for a while, that has definitely helped. I work with some brilliant women online and the biggest thing they have taught me is that people warm to you if you are real. They don’t want to see uber-polished Kate jumping on a Facebook Live, they are happy to see you with your hair a bit scraggly and a lack of make-up. Why? Because it’s real! It makes us relate-able. Don’t get me wrong, this is totally out of my comfort zone and I still reach for the lippy anytime I am preparing to get on a camera, but hey, I am working on it!
This year I have been creating lots of content that is designed to engage and help other women to be their best selves, to be confident and ultimately to stand out and shine, whatever it is that they do. This has required me to get over myself and stop worrying about people’s judgment of me. Take this blog – it is on a WordPress DIY website. It isn’t perfect but at least it is actually here on the world wide web!
It was the same with my book. Was that perfect? Ummm, it is fair to say I don’t think so. I initially published it without any design input and the pages were all over the place! And ok, I then paid someone to format the pages for Amazon and changed the front cover so it looked a little more pro but when I pick it up now I still see 101 things that I would tweak or rewrite. But at least I did it. I started doing what I have wanted to do forever…write. I started putting myself out ‘there’ (here!) when I am less than perfect. And that is my message to all of you reading this…what are you waiting to be ‘ready’ to do? What is stopping you from just having a crack at it now? Are there steps you can take today that will get you closer to whatever it is that you would like in the future? It’s that saying – not waiting until you’re ready to start something.
But if you need a bit of extra encouragement, here are my top tips which might help you stop procrastinating and start doing.
- Avoid comparing yourself to anyone else. This can be a major factor in getting things off the ground and I hear it all of the time from people. Not doing something because someone else already is or because it already exists in some other format or other…so what? Your slant on it, your input, your uniqueness will make it different.
- Not being able to do everything yourself to get it off the ground is an excuse! Do what you can yourself and if you need advice or support, seek it out.
- By all means talk about your friends and family but don’t get overly influenced by the opinions of other people, stick to your guns.
- Visualise yourself achieving the end result, imagine it in as much richness as possible (e.g. if it’s publishing a book, stand outside a bookshop and visualise seeing your book in the window).
- Set yourself milestones and celebrate the small wins. If it is a big project, break it into smaller chunks and give yourself some kind of reward when you tick each one off.
- Get an accountability buddy. If you know you’d benefit from a bit of extra encouragement from time to time, ask someone to hold you to account and check-in on your progress.
- Eat the frog and start with the hardest tasks first. Putting off the inevitable is only going to niggle in the back of your mind so get it out of the way first.
- Make it a habit and show up, even if it is just 10 minutes a day. You can find 10 minutes to do something and when it becomes a habit you might find you want to spend longer at it.
So, what are you waiting for?
Top 10 tips for authentic communication
Have you ever had to unlearn something? Try to undo something that you previously found useful but which no longer serves you? That is what I am currently working on and I can tell you, it is not as easy as you might think!
The thing is, I spent a long time in the corporate world learning how to present professionally, how to speak with impact and act a certain way to get ahead in a male dominated environment. When I say act, it was literally like putting on a performance and in fact as part of our leadership development, we were sent on courses led by RADA to learn acting techniques to help us.
Now at the time, that training was some of the best I had ever been on and I was like a sponge soaking up as much as what they could teach me so that I could be taken more seriously. I learnt some really valuable things, such as how to use my breath to punctuate my sentences when I was talking and how to make my body as big as it could be to take up more space and therefore increase my status when I walked into a room.
It’s not easy to describe in a blog post but believe me when I say it is really useful stuff to learn when you are a diminutive young(ish) woman in a senior role surrounded by self-assured middle-aged men. I spent such a long time learning how to fake confidence until finally something clicked…like going to the gym, if you work-out enough, eventually your strength increases.
Having a corporate veneer undoubtedly helped me to progress up the career ladder, as readers of my book will know (shameless plug I know – you can get a copy here: https://amzn.to/2LRsaKp) but now I am self-employed, I am finding that people don’t want to see that glossy, uber-professional Kate…they want to see and get to know the real person!
Unlearning those corporate ways is harder than I thought it would be. For instance, last night I gave a talk to a group of women and my previous conditioning led me to prepare notes and handouts to give to them! Actually, we had a laugh about it and it has become something that I can now talk about as part of my mentoring – to communicate with your authentic voice and ditch all of the things and ways you think you ‘should’ be.
Being authentic is when our actions and words are aligned with our beliefs and values. We are not being what we think we should be, or what we have been told to be – we are being ourselves. So, to communicate authentically, you need to know yourself and what you stand for…then not be afraid to talk about it.
Here are my top 10 tips for finding your authentic voice:
- Connect with yourself and really get to know what you believe in and stand for. Know what you are passionate about, what makes you tick and talk about it (this is actually another point on my shine your light star model).
- Accept yourself for who you are and don’t try to be someone or something that you aren’t to fit in with anyone else. It can be tempting to try and sound smart in certain situations, or to go along with the views of a crowd even if you disagree. These eat away at your authenticity.
- Be vulnerable and real. The human experience is one of contrast – we all have ups and downs, we all face adversity and things that have shaped who we are. Don’t be afraid to talk about these to people, it might surprise you how other people share similar stories.
- Value what you have to say – your voice matters as much as anyone else’s. Perhaps you grew up in a household where children were seen and not heard, or you were drowned out by overpowering siblings who stole the limelight and this has made you less inclined to speak up in situations. Practise some self-love and recognise the value of your contribution.
- Stop people pleasing. Perhaps you are a natural people pleaser and worry about sharing your views in-case they aren’t shared by others or may be judged in some way. Unless you are likely to cause a major offence, it is ok to have a different opinion and you shouldn’t be afraid to share it to keep others happy.
- Be interested, not interesting. This is a great saying that reminds us all of the power of listening in our communication. If you are focusing on being interesting and having something ‘valuable’ to say, chances are that you aren’t focused on really listening to what is being said. Rather than listening to respond, listen to understand and you will find that people warm to you.
- Fear less. If you are worried about being authentic in-case you don’t get the job or people won’t like you then please stop. Don’t let your inner mean girl take over and prevent you from being you.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t generalise or make sweeping statements such as ‘everyone thinks this’ because it can undermine your personal power.
- Do what you say you will do. There is nothing worse than committing yourself to something you know you won’t, can’t, or don’t want to do. Be kind to yourself and only commit to, and say what you know you will actually do, because you want to.
- Tell the truth – if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to say so. We have all been there when you know someone isn’t telling the truth and there’s nothing more inauthentic so give it up.
Finally, I will leave you with a quote from Dr Phil: “Be your authentic self. Your authentic self is who you are when you have no fear of judgment, or before the world starts pushing you around and telling you who you’re supposed to be. Your fictional self is who you are when you have a social mask on to please everyone else. Give yourself permission to be your authentic self.”
Go with the flow and let go
I talk a lot about having a plan, a vision, goals, hopes, dreams, desires…you know the drill by now. But what about when life doesn’t go according to your plan? When actually it feels like you are wading through treacle and nothing is moving forward the way you want it to. I’ve had a few months like this and it has been tiring and felt, quite frankly, a little soul destroying! My go-to mantra when life feels like this is to say “everything is as it should be” and trust that whatever I am facing now is serving me in some way for the future. Some might call this positive thinking, others might call it deluded but for me it is simply the way I, and others I know, cope when stuff gets thrown our way that doesn’t feel great. But sometimes that trust wears thin and I can feel myself slip into bad habits like self-criticism, frustration and I do anything I can to try and overly control the situation. But in better moments I remain mindful and focused on the here and now, reminding myself this is exactly where I am meant to be. I try to go with the flow and let go.
I am sure you could look back on things that have happened to you in your life that at the time felt really tough, but actually changed the course of your life or opened other doors, or simply helped a change occur. But when you are actually in the middle of the tough stuff, it’s really hard to stay zen and trust that the universe has your back and whatever crap you are facing is for your highest good! Sometimes it just feels like you want to say “enough is enough, I want to hand back the keys!” not in a macabre kind of way but just in a “I really don’t want to keep fighting this same fight”.
Knowing that it is ok to feel like this sometimes and in fact, it is perfectly normal to feel like this, really helps. Because no matter how many positive quotes you read or time spent meditating or trying to tap out your emotions using Emotional Freedom Technique, sometimes you just have to feel the feels and ride the waves of whatever particular storm you are facing. And we all face storms. I was talking to a dear friend of mine recently who has had a super-tough year with her health but has come out the other side stronger and more determined than ever. Her outlook on life is so inspiring and when I was reflecting what a tough time she had been having she simply said, “Kate, no matter who we are, life gets us one way or another!”, and I think that is true. It is one of those things that is totally relative.
When we are tempted to have a little pity party when things don’t go to plan or the way we hoped, it can be the start of a downward spiral of feeling that things aren’t fair or comparing your situation to others and feeling hard done to. But the reality is that everyone goes through stuff in their lives and we never know what someone is facing or feeling, so it is important to be kind to one another, as well as ourselves. If you think that sounds a bit naff, or worse still naïve, then this blog isn’t for you because if there is one thing that this year of working alone in business has taught me, it is that kindness counts. It also costs nothing to be nice.
Last week was World Mental Health Day and there were lots of posts across social media reminding people that you never know what someone is battling. The post I particularly liked was one that said: “Check on your strong friends, check on your quiet friends, check on your “happy” friends, check on your creative friends, check on one another. Be kind.” I am a big fan of the ‘check-in’. It is a concept I learned on an Emotional Intelligence course and have used ever since. You can also check-in with yourself and I recommend that you do. Ask yourself daily “how am I feeling?” and remember that fine is not a feeling! Give a name to your feeling (if you want some inspiration Google ‘feelings wheel’ and you will get a whole host of actual emotions to use) or if that doesn’t float your boat, look to the world of emojis for some inspiration! That’s how I do it with the kids – I ask them how they feel according to an emoji and it usually makes way for a great conversation.
So back to the plan and things not going according to it. I believe the key thing to remember is that even the best laid plans can go awry and it is about learning to go with whatever is being thrown your way; staying the distance even when you can’t see what the next step is going to be. Having the resilience to keep focused on your big vision even when things don’t appear to be working out the way you wanted them to. Choosing to respond positively to the situation and try and work out what life lessons it is giving you. And rather than trying to control a situation you have no control over, just doing something to stay in the game can help you to feel like you are still progressing forward, even if it might not be exactly as you expected.
And that’s the final bit – expectations. I read recently that expectations only lead to disappointment because inevitably things don’t ever live up to them in reality. Whilst that initially sounded quite pessimistic, I think it probably is true to a certain extent. When we have hopes or expectations of someone or something, we can be easily disappointed compared to a situation or person without. Think about it – how many times have you gone somewhere and expected good customer service, only to be frustrated and disappointed when you didn’t get it? Or when you have planned an amazing weekend away, only to find that the hotel is more bootleg than boutique?!
Saying that though, how about challenging yourself to see how you can delight other people and exceed their expectations? Why not make this a new game, to see how far you can go? Remember that the way someone treats you does not determine your behaviour. You never know what is going on for them so be nice, be kind, no matter what – just because.
And remember that mantra “everything is as it should be” so if things haven’t been going the way you planned, hoped or expected recently, learn to go with the flow and let go.
It ain’t what you do
The saying goes that we are human beings, not ‘doings’ so why is it that many business folks are obsessed with asking what it is that we do? In my experience it is so that people can quickly size up and categorise you, providing them with an opportunity to make a quick judgment. This is why I am not a fan. I think it can be a shortcut to labels and stereotypes because the person asking the question will be making a perception on you based on their experiences of what they know about other people who do your job. So for instance if you work in sales they might be tempted to think you’re pushy or forthright, an accountant may be a boring numbers geek…ok this is an extreme but you know what I mean. It becomes less about who you actually are.
I was at a networking event recently where we talked about how this question is becoming less relevant in a world where people ‘do’ so many different things. The concept of a portfolio career, which is where someone might have two or three different business activities or jobs, is one that has been around for a while. And the days of a job for life are long gone with the norm for people to have several different jobs within their career or even sometimes several different careers!
We all wear different hats when it comes to the roles we fulfil outside of work (mothers, partners, carers, etc), so why should it be any different in our work? Maybe it’s because employers want to label everyone neatly in terms of job titles and hierarchy but let’s face it, life isn’t that straightforward! Recently I have been applying for jobs where I have read job descriptions and seen so many direct transferable skills from my career experience. Yet when I scroll further down there is inevitably a statement which says something like ‘you will already be in a similar role’ or ‘you will have proven experience in this sector’.
Now I am not denying that some roles will inevitably benefit from taking someone from an existing industry and slotting them straight in but where is the bigger picture thinking? If I am hiring someone in my team I don’t want to rule out any talent that comes forward, puts their hand up and says “I am interested in this job and I want to do it!”. In a previous post I mentioned that statistic about women waiting until they are 100% qualified before applying for a job compared to men who would go for it if they met 60% of the criteria. I decided to dig a little deeper into this research because it is often cited that it is women’s lack of confidence in their ability to do the job which is what holds them back, which as you know is an area I am interested in.
The original research was an internal report conducted by Hewlett Packard and interestingly in a follow-up piece of research in Harvard Business Review, women’s leadership expert Tara Mohr, suggests that isn’t entirely the case (https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified). She surveyed over 1,000 men and women, finding that women don’t apply because they don’t think they can do the job but because they don’t believe they will get the job if they don’t meet all of the hiring criteria.
Tara suggests that this is because women are more afraid of failure than men and also that we are more conditioned to follow the rules from a young age. She says that during the 20th Century, more women have made it into professional roles by obtaining degrees, certificates and accreditation, which may have led to us over-estimating their importance, under-estimating the importance of self-promotion and networking. Tara suggests that when women know that others are giving it a shot even when they don’t meet the job criteria, they feel free to do the same and that we should believe less in what appears to be the rules.
I would have to agree with Tara. I am still a firm believer in people buy from and hire people, which is why it is important to utilise your network when you are looking for new opportunities, be that in a business or career. I know it can be scary to put yourself out there but when it could make the difference between landing a role of your dreams or not, what do you have to lose? Clearly if you are already in a job and there are sensitivities about you openly applying for other things, you may need/want to be more careful about it by approaching people privately but it is still important to do so.
In my book I make the case for being selfish in your career because it is never going to be as important to anyone else as it is to you. What does this look like in reality? Well to me it is scoping out what you want to achieve and then going for it. Not being deterred by what someone else might consider you can or can’t do. Too often I hear women saying that they have received some feedback which has held them back from going for the next move or another role. Having been on the receiving end of many an unhelpful piece of feedback, I would encourage you to consider what you might do if 1% were true but always remember that you are in control of your life, no-one else.
A friend recently wanted to apply for a new job but had to ask her current line manager’s permission to do so. This jarred with me because I really don’t see why that should be the case and I think it creates issues where there doesn’t need to be any. If the line manager refuses to allow the job application, then the individual is likely to build resentment against them. I understand the need for business continuity and resilience in a team but if someone has ambition or wants to do something there should be no stopping them! Let’s face it, if that individual was struck down by a bus the world wouldn’t stop turning, the work would get covered somehow. A good leader should always encourage and support their team members progress in my opinion…if this isn’t your current reality then I’d look to move to a business where that culture is encouraged!
And back to that question of what it is that you do, well as tempting as it is to reel off a whole list of things (let’s see now, I am a mother, author, trainer, mentor, communications expert, business owner, not to mention being a cook, cleaner, driver…have I missed anything?!), try focusing on how you help people or what you are passionate about. I might say something like I help companies create amazing employee experiences at work. That seems infinitely more interesting and a powerful conversation starter than simply answering with a job title, don’t you think?
You’ve got to have a dream
What did you want to be or do when you were growing up? 30 years ago, I would have no doubt said a popstar or TV presenter (although I do also recall a hairdressing phase), before the reality and education system kicked in and I settled down my expectations, choosing instead to follow a pretty traditional career path.
I spend a lot of my time telling my kids that they can do or be anything they want to in life and that they shouldn’t be constrained at all! It seems to me that something happens between the ages of 10 and 20 whereby the environment and world around us seems to knock that kind of thinking out. In the main we conform to what we see around us. But what if we dared to dream now, at 26, 34, 46, 57? Whatever age you are, there is that quote I love, ‘it is never too late to be who you might have been’.
When did we stop dreaming and let reality take over? Why does it have to be that we choose a career, job, family commitments, mortgages and student/car loans to get in the way of following our dreams? Ok so being realistic I am not about to embark upon a singing or TV career now but that is no longer my dream anyway! My dream now is to help people fulfil their potential.
For just one person to tell me that something I have written or talked through with them has made a difference in some way is so motivating and inspires me to do more, share more, create more. Had I stopped and thought too much before I started on this path, I might never have actually got going. I might have got caught up in thinking who was I to give advice to others? I might have worried about putting myself out there and being rejected or no-one reading what I had written. I could have got wrapped up in my ego so much that I never got out of the starting blocks. Sadly, this is what happens to many people and I see it all of the time. Friends with fantastic talents for all kinds of crafty or foodie things who say they will start it next year when the kids start school full-time, or they earn more money, or they have more time. Next year always comes and goes.
Or I meet women who feel the need to embark on a three-year degree course before they get started doing something that really lights them up. They procrastinate and delay because they don’t feel ready yet, they aren’t qualified, they need more letters after their name. My advice? Start before you are ‘ready’! Ok, some things you do need to have qualifications in – for instance I don’t suggest you start operating on people if you have a burning desire to be a surgeon – but there are lots of other passions you can just start running with.
Everyone starts somewhere. Look at someone you admire right now – it could be an entrepreneur, an author, a motivational speaker – they may have known at 20 what they wanted to be when they grew up and so they worked hard early on in their career and are now an international superstar at 35. But that doesn’t mean to say you have an excuse not to start because you are 45. Let’s face it we are all working longer, so if you are hanging around in a job because the pension is good but inside you are dying of boredom and know there is so much more you want to do and could be doing, it is time to take action.
I am not saying you jack in your job and run away from your commitments to go follow your dream tomorrow but how about starting one thing, something, that nudges you closer towards achieving it? If you want to be an author, start writing, if you want to make jewellery, get creating. Want to help people in some way? Start helping. Volunteer, reach out and offer assistance in some way.
There will always be an excuse not to start – usually time and/or money – but I am going to call BS on that and tell you it is an excuse. How much time do you waste during the working week? Do you take a lunch-hour at work when you are entitled to one, or do you work through it? Do you hit the snooze button for 45 minutes every morning when you could be up and creating? If it is money, how much are you wasting? Why not challenge yourself to see how much you can save in a week? Swap your morning Latte for a homemade cuppa, make a sandwich rather than buying one.
We can all hide behind BS excuses but if you have a dream, it deserves to be given an opportunity to become a reality. If you still aren’t sure what you want to be when you grow up, then I suggest you take some time out to consider what you are passionate about doing and start there.
Don’t dim to fit in
I had something of an epiphany when I left the corporate world which is that the journey that I went on during my time climbing the career ladder was important for me and that I need to share it to help other women who are 10-15 years or so behind me.
By sharing the experiences I had and the so called ‘ladder lessons’ I learnt I hoped to help pave the way for other feminine women to follow their dreams, do whatever it is they desire to do, achieve what they want to achieve and know that they are not alone even when it feels like they are.
I have always loved the world of self-development and learning but never thought it would become a world I would end up stepping into myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have been on coaching courses galore and got the certificates to prove it, plus I have had the experience of leading large numbers of people for well over a decade. But to move into mentoring rather than doing…that has been the real epiphany!
I have to say though that I really love it. There is something about holding a mirror up to someone and allowing them to see what everyone else around them can see but they often can’t, which really excites me. There are so many people playing small and dimming their light so that they fit in and don’t rock the boat or risk judgment from others. It might be that they are full of energy and enthusiasm but working in a corporate environment where that isn’t valued (been there and got the t-shirt!), or it could be that they are stuck in a job that doesn’t fire them up or excite them, so they are just going through the motions living weekend to weekend, pay-check to pay-check (yep I have that t-shirt too!).
Now there isn’t anything wrong with living like this if you are truly happy but everywhere I look I see women (and men) in this situation literally letting their inner light go out. They don’t feel able to shine because the people around them either feel threatened by them doing so, or it would be career limiting if they did. So, they dim to fit in.
I am on a mission to help women shine their light onto the world – wherever they are, whatever they do. A few years back I developed a programme to help women really get to grips with what I outlined as the 5 C’s:
- Connection with self and others
- Communication with an authentic voice
- Clarity of their own story
- Confidence to be who they want to be
- Courage to try things out
This whole concept of working your light and lightworkers seems to be everywhere I look now – even though it is only recently I realised that is what I have always done in my career – the only difference being that I used to promote and light-up the businesses and CEO’s I worked for as a Communications expert/people leader,
The term ‘lightworker’ has been around for a while with famous so called ‘spiritual junkies’ like Gabby Bernstein and Rebecca Campbell using it to describe someone who is called to help and heal others. So, for me now it is about encouraging women to step out of the shadows and shine their inner light. Now I know we don’t always necessarily feel like doing that – some days we would prefer to stay small and shrink behind our computer screens – well I know I do! But deep down we all have a light within that deserves to be switched on!
Here are my top 5 tips for brightening yours…
- Quieten your mind – this is a big one for me which is why it is number 1. It doesn’t matter if it is 5 minutes or 5 hours, just stopping and closing your eyes to breathe deeply is important to develop that connection with yourself.
- Have an attitude of gratitude – ideally daily, write a list of everything you are grateful for in your life right now.
- Make an act of self-love – you need to put yourself first more often…I know you’re busy but I want you to make a conscious act of self-love everyday – it could be giving yourself a pat on the back when something has gone well, making time to read your book uninterrupted, or having a bath with some scented candles. Whatever you enjoy, make time for it and don’t feel guilty!
- Set intentions – for your day, week, month or year – whatever feels good to you. Make a list of things that you want to achieve or do in the present tense, for example: I intend to put myself first and feel good about doing so; I intend to forgive myself and others; I intend to love unconditionally.
- Put your superhero pants on – next time you feel afraid about talking up, volunteering for something or giving someone some feedback just do it anyway. Our minds have a way of keeping us safe but can also hold us back. Seriously, what is the worst that could happen? Get comfortable pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and you will see that the size of that zone grows bigger.
So there endeth the lesson! I hope this has encouraged you to think about what you are doing to shine your light a bit brighter.
Beware the curse of projection
When I was a line manager, I was very conscious of my responsibilities and how things I said to them could be misconstrued or have an impact on them. I am naturally an empathetic person, so I care about how people feel, plus I had some negative experiences with my own managers earlier on in my career which influenced me to never want to be like them.
Not all people are naturally as considerate of other people’s feelings and unfortunately not all line managers have been given training in how to ensure their own thoughts or biases need to be kept in check when managing others. A friend recently shared a story of how a line manager gave her some feedback about her performance and it didn’t resonate at all. In fact, it was in direct conflict to other feedback she had recently received about doing a really great job. Of course sometimes we are not always as self-aware as we want to be but since I have learnt about the psychology of a thing called projection, I have been hyper-aware of spotting it happening.
Projection is a defence mechanism which some people use subconsciously to cope with their own feelings and emotions. Instead of addressing these feelings and emotions themselves, they project them onto someone else. It would be great to hope that this doesn’t happen in a workplace environment but of course when we are dealing with humans, we can’t control this type of behaviour and it is actually quite a common phenomenon.
I first heard about the term when I went for some counselling after my divorce. I was blamed by my ex-husband for the end of the marriage (and pretty much everything else that had gone wrong during our relationship) and needed some independent counsel to help me process it. I am a massive fan of counselling and anything that helps me to grow and learn as an individual – if I had my time over, I would love to have done something in the field of psychology as I find it fascinating. Through chatting it through, I realised there had been an awful lot of projection taking place by my ex and what he said he didn’t like in me were things he actually didn’t like in himself.
I started to read more about projection and realised I had experienced it quite often in my corporate life as well as other relationships. It is really interesting to look out for it now I have become aware of it and by writing this blog, I am hoping to highlight it to you because I think it can be potentially damaging to an individual’s self-belief and confidence.
My experience of it with my line managers varies in terms of the impact it had on me from when I was early on in my career and soaking up what my line manager said to me like a sponge. I used to think that what anyone in authority said to me was gospel…they were right because of where they were in the hierarchy. Later on, when I was more confident in my own abilities and equipped with a better understanding of emotional intelligence principles, I was more able to see what was an opinion rather than fact.
There were a couple of occasions when I suspected the former and actively sought wider feedback from others that I worked with to gain a rounder understanding of where I needed to improve. Very often in these instances, the feedback I would receive from other people was different and I would be able to put what I had heard from my manager into a wider perspective. On one of the many leadership courses I went on, we were posed a question regarding feedback which was that if only 1% were true, what would we do differently? This is a good way of taking some of the feedback you have been given, applying it to a bigger picture but still taking some learning from what has been given.
For instance, I was once given feedback by my team members that my standards were incredibly high and that I could make people feel inadequate if they didn’t deliver to my high expectations. Part of me saw that it was my role to progressively increase performance standards and that I wasn’t doing my job properly if I let people coast. But taking their feedback on board was also important to me and if only 1% were true I would want to work differently not to have a negative impact on how people felt. So, I adapted my approach in terms of how I drove the team and made sure I wasn’t overly excessive in pushing people too hard, whilst still striving for improvements.
First and fore-most as a manager, I see the role as being supportive, someone to help guide and support you to be the best you can be. Yes, that sometimes involves giving someone a piece of feedback that they may not like but it is important that this is grounded in evidence so that the individual can recognise it and become more aware of what they might want to do differently in future.
In my friend’s instance, it appeared that the manager in question had no evidence to present to her, it was simply a barrage of feedback that came out of the blue about how she worked was having a negative impact on the wider team. She felt like some of the things she had been given to her as feedback were actually a reflection of how the manager operates – which is where my intuition kicked in and I wondered if this was actually a classic case of projection. My advice to her was to seek some wider feedback from others so that she could put it into perspective and see if there is an issue and where she might benefit from adapting her approach. But not to take the whole lot on her shoulders because there is without question other stuff at play. If she gets the same feedback from at least two or three others, there is something to look at adapting…if not, it is a projection of her line manager’s issues in my view.
There is a saying ‘you spot it, you got it’ which basically means whatever we criticise most in others is what we dislike about ourselves. Of course, everyone makes comments about others from time to time but when someone continually talks about a flaw in someone else, that is a classic sign of projection. This reminds me of a great quote: ‘We are all mirrors of each other…if you don’t like what you see in me, then make that change that in yourself’ by Sally Castillo.
Think about it yourself – if you are honest there are probably times you have done this. I am sure there are things you have moaned or complained to your partner about someone else doing or not doing that could actually be a reflection of yourself. I know I have! Once you recognise this classic hypocrisy in others it is good to check in with yourself and spot yourself doing it. This can also apply to positive traits we might see and be envious of in others, especially when we aren’t acknowledging these things in ourselves.
Once we understand some of this simple human psychology, it is easy to spot it happening and recognise what is play. We might not want to tackle a line manager head-on with it (in fact I really don’t advise this!) but at least we can put some of the feedback or criticism into a wider perspective and consider what we would do if only 1% were true.
Speaking your truth
As women we sometimes find it difficult to speak our truth or ask for what we really want. Generally speaking, we are more likely to be people pleasers than our male counterparts and that means we might worry about other people’s feelings and may put others ahead of ourselves.
I get it – we don’t want to appear selfish plus we respect the family, friends, colleagues around us and like to be seen as easy-going; happy to go with the flow rather than put our head above the parapet and shout up for what we actually want.
There is a part of me though that worries about the impact these seemingly small compromises have on our own personal power as women. Especially if it is something that happens more often than not. I recognise it in myself, a seemingly easy decision of where we want to go out and eat as a family will almost never be my choice! Unless it is my birthday, I am far more likely to go with the flow and end up where the majority choose.
Now, in a blended family, I think this strategy can be the best one for a quieter life when it comes to eating out – especially as my choice is almost always an Indian and usually someone ends up sulking that they don’t like it and then refusing to eat a thing…thus ruining the whole experience. But when it comes to business or your career, continually bowing down to another or passing over decision making to others is not something I would advise.
For many years we lived in a patriarchal society, where men were in authority over women in pretty much all walks of life. It has taken over 100 years to really start to shift the dial on this and we still haven’t got full equality everywhere, although there has definitely been a rapid change over the past year or so. The so called ‘rise of the feminine’ doesn’t equate to women replacing men in boardrooms and positions of power, it actually refers to the energy that people (of all genders) are choosing to operate from.
As people choose to listen and trust their intuition more, they are stepping into the feminine energy, toning down the pushing and struggling of the masculine. Neither energy is better or worse than the other, the rise of the feminine is just working to balance the masculine energy which has dominated for so long and become so ingrained in our society.
As we see the feminine rising, women are stepping up and speaking their truth far more openly, which can only be a good thing. Obviously, the highest profile version of truth speaking was in the #MeToo movement which sent ripples worldwide. I don’t believe it has to be something as earth shattering as this for women to simply start the process of owning and speaking their truth. Like I say, even getting your choice of restaurant when you would never normally can be a pretty big victory for some of us! For me, the reason speaking our truth is so important is because it gives us back some of that personal power that many of us quite naturally give away all of the time.
Getting comfortable with asking for help or support is another way women can make a habit of speaking their truth – again something many of us are notoriously terrible at. Being vulnerable and admitting that we are not always able to manage and do everything, is not an admission of weakness. I used to think it was – in fact this is probably the biggest hurdle I have had to overcome as I have had people come into my life who I can actually lean on and who I trust not to let me down…something that has been rare for me in my life.
Another big one many of us are blocked with is being honest with ourselves and others when we really don’t want to do something, for whatever reason – rather than politely declining, we will go and do something we don’t want to for fear of upsetting someone else. I fall into this trap A LOT. I hate letting people down and in my corporate career, it was drummed into me that you just suck up the bad with the good and get on with it. But if you really don’t want to go to that networking event, or that business dinner, or even that coffee with someone – DON’T! Every time we do something we don’t want to do, we are giving a piece of us away.
We don’t have to be rude about it, we just need to speak our truth at the time of the invitation and politely decline. There is that saying that the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter won’t mind – I firmly believe that. And please don’t make up an excuse or lie…I really don’t think that is good form and equally takes away a piece of our power. I am not saying I have never done it of course, I am only human! But if owning our decision makes us more powerful and stronger, then let’s try that out for size. Of course, it means all of us also stepping up and respecting our sister’s decisions, even if they don’t suit us! But don’t be afraid to have a sensible discussion about it. Rather than playing these awful ‘tit for tat’ games that I have experienced over the years with women, where because one cancels something, the next time the other one won’t go – you know the kind of thing…quite frankly game playing was for the school playground and we all need to woman up!
When we speak up for what we want or don’t want, we are stepping into our power as women and, I believe, collectively removing some of that patriarchal hangover that exists. A big part of my passion around my ‘shine your light’ concept is for women to totally and completely own our voices, our emotions, our feelings and our decisions.
So, have a think about where you are speaking your truth and it feels good or where you can practise stepping up and owning your decisions – perhaps in a safe environment to begin with while you get comfy with how it feels, if it is totally new to you.
Success is an inside job
What does the word ‘success’ conjure up for you? As I write this the UK is gripped with World Cup fever so it might make you think about winning something. Maybe it is achieving a goal or something that you set your mind to…or maybe it is about having more money or having the freedom to do anything you want to do.
Recently I read a book by Gabrielle Bernstein called ‘The Universe Has Your Back’ which is a great introduction to spirituality and connection with Source energy/ the Universe. I have mentioned that this year I am full on into the woo-woo and love anything and everything to do with increasing my capacity to be awake to the opportunities there are available to us through the power of positive thinking. This book has some great concepts which the author slowly walks you through so you get deeper into it in each chapter. One of the soundbites I took from the book is that ‘success is an inside job’.
So many people spend a lot of their time and energy pushing and striving to get ahead – I know I did. I don’t think I ever took my foot off that accelerator pedal…in every job I had, I always had an eye to the next one, always pushing ahead and wanting to be so called ‘successful’. My definition of success was set by what society deemed as success – the big salary, fancy car, expensive handbags. Only a few years back I lived with the ‘satisfied when’ mentality – thinking I would be satisfied when I got the next promotion, or the next pay-rise, or the next job title. I am sure I am not alone in living like this…
In the past couple of weeks, the world has been rocked by the very public suicides of two very successful people. Firstly Kate Spade, a wonderfully talented fashion designer seemingly at the top of her game; closely followed by Anthony Bourdain who was a celebrity chef, author and also a truly inspiring human being who championed the underdog and always talked about never giving up on your dreams.
From the outside looking in, they were at the top of their game, so called successful individuals. But clearly that wasn’t how they felt inwardly as it was reported that depression was to blame in both instances. Now I won’t go into the whys and wherefores about depression but I will say that the pressure of being in the public eye must be difficult to deal with when you are suffering from any kind of personal battle. You would hope that the people close to them would have spotted some of the signs but having lived with someone with depression, I know that isn’t always the case and people can seem outwardly happy when inside they are struggling.
So that saying ‘success is an inside job’ is true – if you aren’t happy and joyful inside, aren’t living your truth, aren’t fulfilled in what you are doing…it can really only lead to negativity. Clearly depression and suicide are at the very extreme end of the scale but there are lesser degrees that show up in people’s lives in the form of things like pain in the body or illnesses. The body has a way of communicating with you and if you choose to tune in and listen to it, you are more likely to be able to nip these issues in the bud before they escalate.
Regular readers will know that I have become a fan of meditation which helps me to connect with my inner self as well as opening myself up to receive guidance from the Universe. I am acutely aware that some of you reading won’t be as into this as others but I am going to share it all the same, because it is something that has really helped me to get clear on what my soul purpose is. I have always loved writing and I started this blog with the intention of helping women to climb the corporate ladder by sharing my experience and hopefully inspiring them to go for their dreams. Something that started seven months ago as a bit of a pet project has turned into my business, as I have started to lead with my passion rather than my profession.
I have developed my offer as The Comms Coach to help women to communicate effectively and promote themselves through my ‘Shine Your Light’ approach. I am reminded of another Gabrielle Bernstein quote which is ‘Allow your passion to become your purpose, and it will one day become your profession’. That to me is the key to success. If it feels like a struggle and a strain, you are not going to perform at your best. If you are in the flow and feel lit up by what you are doing in the world, you know you are on the right track. If you are there already – I am really pleased for you – you will be experiencing that same sense of excitement and anticipation I am feeling!
If you aren’t quite there yet and you don’t feel as though you are yet truly living from a place of passion, I invite you all to take a look inside through meditation. If you are new to meditation, find a guided one on You Tube – this is a very relaxing one I have found: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uooParUJIXo
I like to sit up relatively straight with palms facing upwards. You don’t need to spend hours, I usually find between 7-10 mins works for me. If you are still working out what your purpose and passion is, you might be inspired straight after your meditation to do some free-writing with a pen and paper – just write whatever comes out – don’t judge it or try to edit it. Try it daily for a week and see what starts to come through for you in your free-writing or through your thoughts later in the day.
As well as the daily gratitude and pray-rain journaling I told you about in an earlier blog, my daily meditations are now an absolute must-do…I just don’t feel as good if I don’t do it! This opportunity for me to connect with my inner-self and open up to guidance from the Universe has helped me to see how I can run my business from a place of service and help others through my experience as well as my expertise.
My Upper Limit Problem
I recently read a fab book called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, where he talks about something called the ‘Upper Limit Problem’ (ULP) which is where we sabotage ourselves when we have some success.
In a nutshell, each of us has a kind of internal measure for how much success, health, love and general abundance we will let ourselves to experience. When we exceed our own expectations or get out of the comfort zone of our normal success limit, we will unconsciously sabotage ourselves so that we get back to where we feel comfortable and in control.
Typical self-sabotage looks like falling out with our loved one when we have been having an amazingly loved-up period or starting a fight when you are about to go away with them somewhere romantic. In relationships and friendships, it is things like hiding your true feelings, bickering and not speaking the truth to people (I hate it when people tell me that so and so is really annoying them…tell them, not me!). Getting sick when you are doing really well at work or in business is another classic case of upper limiting – others might be smashing your phone, having an accident – you get the idea.
After a mastermind call a couple of weeks ago with my mentor, I took the decision to self-publish my book (she told me to get on with it and what was I waiting for?). Then BAM…I got the flu.
Since the beginning of the year I have been running at a million miles an hour – finishing my book, establishing my business, meeting with new clients, writing blog posts, plus constant marketing and self-promotion. And I was feeling amazing and really positive about the decision I have made to leave a cosy corporate career and start my own business.
Then I decided to self-publish and since then as well as getting ill, I have had a major case of the worry weasels (see last week’s blog) and my inner critic has been having a field-day, giving me proper mean girl treatment. Classic ULP!
What I should have done at the first sign of my illness was to stop, rest and allow myself time out to recover. What I did instead was continue working every day, push myself to do too much, try to fight the illness and pretend it wasn’t happening.
The thing is we are all capable of waaay more than we give ourselves credit for and when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones and make the big leap into what Gay calls our ‘zone of genius’, this is when the upper limit problems kick in. In our zones of genius, we are doing things we love to do, it doesn’t feel like work, it gives you so much satisfaction. For me that is writing…I love to write and the thought I can make a difference to even one person through sharing my experiences or feelings makes me really happy.
Since reading The Big Leap I can at least now recognise when I am ULP-ing and that’s something you can do too. Notice if you have feelings of worry for no reason…question where they are coming from and if you can do anything about them. If there aren’t any actions you can take to influence what you are worrying about, consider what the worrying thoughts are really trying to tell you.
I believe my getting ill, worrying and negative self-talk has really all come down to fear about what people will think of my book. This stems from me not feeling good enough – that feeling of ‘who am I to write a book’? Same goes for the inner mean-girl, then comes the deflection when someone has praised my achievement (oh writing a book? It was nothing!).
I think anyone that puts themselves ‘out there’ to do something has that fear of being judged as not being good enough or being criticised and not liked for it. Should that stop us from doing it in the first place? Personally, I don’t think so – we are all here on this earth to have a go, have a try and see how we get on. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone in the process, I don’t see why you wouldn’t do something that made you happy. Writing my book made me happy, writing this blog makes me happy so I am going to give myself a break, try to stop upper limiting myself and allow life to take its own course.
So after recognising my illness and behaviour as being a case of the ULP, the next step is to manage it and make room for more abundance of health, wealth, love and success. Gay suggests making time to be in your zone of genius even if just for a few minutes every day. When you notice any upper limiting behaviours of worry or deflection, focus on what you are trying to keep away – is it more love, more wealth, success? Take time to be grateful for what you have and consciously allow room for more. I am a big fan of that one – the attitude for gratitude.
As I recover from the flu, I have decided to try and let go of any feelings of concern I have about the book. The fact is I have absolutely ZERO control over how it will be received or even if anyone will buy it! Three of my friends have bought it and like it, that’s a start, hey? It is like writing this blog…I do it because I love it…I am aware that I don’t have a gazillion followers and that some weeks I only get a few hundred visits to the site but that isn’t what it is about for me. I have a passion to do it and it is aligned with something I really believe in, which is women helping other women to achieve their full potential. If that is only a handful of women, then so what? It is still better than not writing anything and not helping anyone!
If there is one thing us women are good at in life, it is worrying. Ok so I am generalising here but looking across all of the women I am fortunate to have worked and be friends with over the years, I know that we do spend a lot of time and energy worrying about all kinds of things…much of which we have absolutely no control over.
Whether it is about our love-lives, our children, our appearances, our finances, our homes, our family, our work; there is always something to worry about. They say that women worry themselves into living to an older age because we end up taking greater care of our bodies for fear of becoming ill, whereas men are generally more relaxed (or reckless perhaps!).
There is science behind this, with the female brain firing 30% more neurons at a time which can lead us to overthink things more than males. Plus, the cingulate gyrus – the brain’s ‘worry wart’ – is larger in the female brain, making us better at recognising our mistakes and more prone to ruminating over them*.
Add our hormonal make-up into the mix and we have a perfect recipe for becoming vessels of worry. I wouldn’t describe myself as a bigger worrier than anyone else but this week I have been unwell with a flu-bug and it is like a load of worry weasels have come out to play in my mind.
For me, worry comes from a place of fear. Starting a business has been a massive leap of faith for me and I cannot believe how much it has exposed all of my worries – some of which stem from waaay back in my childhood when I was told I wasn’t good enough. I am afraid of failure (who isn’t?), I am afraid people won’t like me or my work, I am afraid of getting things wrong and letting my family down.
The thing is it is really early days in my business but I have always been impatient and wanting to run before I can walk! I am also my own worst critic and push myself really hard on the next thing and the next thing, rather than taking time to stop and consider how far I have actually come. Imagine if we spoke to our friends the way we ‘speak’ to ourselves…I suspect we wouldn’t have many!
My mentor keeps reminding me that the mind is wired to keep us safe – it doesn’t want us to step outside of our comfort zone – it likes the safety and security there. From a young age we are told to ‘take care’ not ‘take risks’ and so the worries and fears that crop up for us are designed to hold us back! The only way to achieve success is to acknowledge them and push on regardless. The saying goes ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ and I do think that is true but you need to apply some strategies initially for this to be a success.
First of all, there is acknowledging what is the worst thing that could happen and very often it is nowhere near as terrible as what you have conjured up in your mind. The Roman stoic philosopher Seneca said; ‘We suffer more often in imagination than in reality’. Tim Ferriss is a business guru / motivational speaker who suggests we should define our fears as well as our goals so that we can face up to them and see that in reality they aren’t as bad as we are imagining.
This exercise can also help you work out what is in your control and what isn’t – there really isn’t any point in worrying about what we can’t control; even though the mind wants to. And if you are like me, once you have a list of fears you jump to wanting to write a list of actions to take to prevent those things from happening. And that is the next thing I find that works for me…what is the action I can take to ensure those fears do not come true?
Next on the list is to try and change my mindset from one of fear and worry to one of positivity. Rather than thinking ‘what if’ in a negative way, try and focus on the ‘what ifs’ from the best case scenario. I do this in a very old-fashioned way by grabbing a pen and piece of paper and journaling as if I were at the place I really want to be. I write as if the things I want have happened and it always helps me calm down.
A really great tool I have discovered to help me shift my mindset really quickly is something called tapping. I was introduced to this through a wonderful woman I met online who is an Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) practitioner, Keisha Dixon, known as ‘The Tapping Queen’. Combined with modern psychology and affirmations, tapping with the fingertips on specific points of the body whilst addressing the negative emotion helps to calm the nervous system, rewire the brain, restore the balance and remove those ‘fight or flight’ feelings.
Whatever you are facing in your life that is worrying you and holding you back from success, tapping can help. It allows you to stop, acknowledge those thoughts and allow your body to release it. If you haven’t tried it – I recommend giving it a go…it helps in all kinds of situations for fears and phobias. Whoopi Goldberg famously used it to overcome a fear of flying and pro-athletes and celebrities use it a lot before big matches and performances. I promise you, it works! Check the Tapping Queen out on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0I_atXmKuiPw96vlafe5Yw/videos
I have also started to practise meditation – this is something I have always resisted because I have such a ‘busy’ mind and find it difficult to switch off – which I realise means I need to do more of this, not less. When everything seems like too much, it is the perfect time to put on a meditation session and focus on being in the here and now. It is fashionable at the moment to talk about mindfulness and living in the moment but in reality, it is so important for our wellbeing to do so. Rather than worrying about the future all the time, I am making time to enjoy the now and to be grateful for what I have, rather than thinking about what I don’t have. As I get older I am also realising that true happiness is not found from external sources but from within (oooh am I growing up at last?!).
So, while I am not promising all of your (or my) worries will ever disappear, these strategies can help you to keep the worry weasels in check and not allow them to take over. The fact is we are all in the same boat, we are all doing our best, trying things out, having a go and some things will work, some won’t.
What is even worse than the fear of failure for me is never trying things in the first place – people who are letting the fear take over and stopping them from potentially achieving the life they have always dreamt of. That to me is something to really worry about – don’t let that be you!
*According to a Pub-Med study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11906225