One of my good friends died from cancer last November. Coming out of my grief, I had a strong urge to do more, to achieve more, but something was holding me back. If I’m honest, whatever it was had been holding me back since I was pregnant with my first son. While I could blame different issues over the years, like restructuring and gender discrimination in the workplace, this wasn’t helpful. What was helpful was the dawning realisation that I was holding me back…. which also meant it was within my control to get back to being the “me” I want to be.
Two important realisations
I’ve learned many things on my rapid journey of self-discovery since December. The two that have resonated most when speaking with others are:
- The importance of space – head space, physical space, space in time.
- Self-limiting beliefs – the inner voice that we all have, which can sabotage our emotions and behaviour.
My first step was accepting an invitation to a group coaching session. Even though I was drained following Steph’s funeral, I’m glad I trusted my instinct to say yes. The theme was “Letting Go and Moving Forward”. One exercise was based on the Wheel of Life, which marked out eight different categories on the floor. As I stood in the section on “physical environment” and reflected on the areas where I spend most of my time during the day, I felt a strange, tightening sensation come over me.
Reflecting further, I thought about the fact that at home, I didn’t really have a space that I could call my own. I would find myself drifting between sofa, kitchen table, bedroom… no wonder I couldn’t focus! So this was the first change: we have a rarely used guest room , which is now MY space I can go to in the evening, instead of sitting on the sofa mindlessly scrolling on my phone. Having this physical space, I’m now able to create mental space, which allows me to focus and prioritise my energies, and get more things done.
Space to attack the saboteurs!
This positive experience with group coaching led me to seeing a coach on an individual basis. Naturally there was a cost, but I saw it as an investment in my own wellbeing and future. One of the first exercises I did with Natalie when we started in January was to look at my self-limiting beliefs. These are beliefs that have evolved from previous experiences and are there to protect us, or make us happier. The problem is that they don’t reflect current reality and end up getting in the way. I completed a free online test to identify what they call “self-saboteur” characteristics, such as avoider, pleaser, restless.
A characteristic that I rated highly for was “hyper achiever”, which is not as good as it sounds! I did really well at school and in my early career, and my brain is still striving to be the best. Now, in a professional environment, surrounded by highly talented colleagues, my inner voice wants to protect me. “You won’t be able to excel at this, you won’t be good enough, you might get negative feedback.” Listening to this voice means I put myself forward less, leading to fewer opportunities to achieve, and further reducing my confidence – and the vicious circle continues. When my coach asked me to list everything I’d achieved at work in the last five years, my first response was “Nothing!”.
My moon landings
It clicked for me when a colleague said, “if you shoot for the stars, you may make it to the moon”. Ohmygod! Yes! While I may not have reached the stars – yet – I have certainly made it to the moon and back many times. Now, when the self-limiting belief kicks in and cautions that I’m not good enough, I can challenge the inner voice, reframe what success looks like and provide overwhelming evidence that I can do well and re-engage with my to-do list.
Steph’s death gave me the kick I needed to flip out of the vicious circle and into a virtuous circle. My journey of self-discovery is not over, but I feel that I’m back on track to reaching my full potential. Now I’m better able to support change processes in the office or for IUCN Members on business engagement, and to bring new energy to the local village newspaper. I’m getting closer to being “the me” I want to be.
I encourage you to think about the space that you have for yourself and to be curious and open about your inner voice and start challenging it more. As we only have one shot at life, please don’t wait: get on track to achieving your full potential too.
This post was adapted from an “icebreaker” presentation for a potential offshoot of the Nyon Toastmasters club on 26 April 2018.