Being real

I was looking forward to my coaching session this morning to explore how I can be more myself in the workplace. I’m aware that so often I pitch myself as ‘happy Amy’, ‘helpful Amy’, ‘glass-half-full Amy’ when that’s not what is truly going on for me. And while I don’t want to leave myself unfiltered at work to berate the lack of sleep I have, how I feel frustrated by X, Y & Z or be unconsciously careless about what I do share, I’m questioning the lack of realness in the workplace and am feeling uncomfortable with how little I show up authentically in order to feel safe.

This thinking started since I’ve been running a training session for managers in the workplace. It’s the one thing at work that I’ve actively disliked doing, because I feel like I’m constantly questioning myself about whether I’m enough, what people think, how I can get people to like what we’re teaching. Being like this, whilst pretending that everything is ok, keeps me safe, but it’s arduous and I’m not myself as I teach it. I’m an overstretched, overwhelmed, overcompensating version of myself and as a result, for the two weeks that this course runs every month I am exhausted to my bones. It’s been a struggle because I’ve not let myself be truly myself.

It’s not just me going through this too. I think people don’t feel able to show up fully in the workplace. For example, I was really saddened by a colleague of mine saying she wouldn’t sing in the work choir because the group is going to do a Christmas carolling session at each of our work hubs and it wouldn’t be professional to do this around colleague who she might be taking through a disciplinary or performance management process as an HR professional. I understand the tension but surely she’s allowed to be herself whilst also having a serious role to play at work?

I found myself sense-checking a blog post I wrote for work in which I shared that I’ve struggled with eating disorders and suffer to this day with anxiety. It felt uncomfortable to share this on a public blog read by a number of my work colleagues because I associate any mental ill health in myself (and others , if I’m honest) as weakness. This perception of weakness makes it hard to feel comfortable being real at work and, in the same way, it also feels weak to be vulnerable at work; to show anything of myself which isn’t 100% positive or professional.

So what have I done in the past? I’ve shied away from being vulnerable and in doing so have sacrificed showing up as my true self. And while I didn’t talk with my coach about how I’m going to make changes to be more vulnerable at work, one thing came out for sure – I’m no longer comfortable living behind a mask.

It no longer feels right.

Staying safe at the cost of my authenticity and vulnerability feels too restrictive, almost like I’m in clothes that are too tight for me. I want to take them off…but I also know that I can’t strip myself of these clothes in one go. Change this deep doesn’t work like that.

Instead I’ll need to summon the courage (along with a bucketload of patience for myself) to take off these ‘clothes’ bit-by-bit, experience-by-experience. I’ll need to remove being seen as bulletproof, always right, constantly competent, unable to be bruised and step into conversations that talk more about people than processes, more about hearts than heads, more about feelings than facts. I’ll need to be enquiring; to question assumptions about how we’re unable to be our full selves at work.

I’ll also need to hold this desired way of being with humour and grace. Knowing that I’ll fall down more times that I’d like to admit. Knowing that there’s no fixed end point to this way of being – there’s just more experiences of sharing fully of myself.

I feel excited about the potential of bringing my full self, being vulnerable and authentic, to the workplace. And while I feel like I end more posts than I’d like with the words ‘I can’t wait to see where this takes me’ they are true. I can’t wait to see where things go from here!

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Acknowledgement

I had another coaching session yesterday – there’s a common pattern starting to emerge that each session brings with it a blog post. Because each session allows me to reflect on some aspect of my life and make small steps towards where I want to be – able to love myself unconditionally.

So what did my session bring yesterday?

In a way, not much happened. I reflected on how challenging I had found my recent break away. It was lovely to see friends and beautiful to be in Wales, but it was not the restful time I needed it to be. Because I didn’t let it be.

The one day when I did nothing – I let the others go off on a walk and spent 5 happy hours in my own company – was the one time where I felt myself relax and unwind a bit. The one time that I felt I gained a bit of energy and resilience…which was taken away when Jenson awoke at 2am and wanted to play for two hours before going back to sleep.

I reflected with my coach that I’d have really done better if I had stayed back every day. Let the others go on walks, rambles, trips out and instead stayed and cocooned by myself for a few hours. But I hadn’t even seen that as an option because I hadn’t checked in with myself about what I truly needed each day until I got to breaking point.

So I ended the session with the acknowledgement that I need to get more in touch with myself to know on a moment-by-moment basis what I need. Whether it’s to go out, stay in, say ‘yes’ to an invitation or gracefully say ‘no’. But I don’t know how to get more in touch with myself…the voice that said ‘ENOUGH!‘ when I was at breaking point only comes out when I’m on my knees through fatigue, over-stretching myself and doing things that are not right for me for an extended period of time. It’s something that I’ll mull over for the next few weeks – how to listen to myself more without piling on another task for myself to do (i.e. committing to meditate for 15 minutes each day).

I also acknowledged that motherhood is hard. Beautiful, rewarding, exhilarating, but HARD.

Oh so hard!

It has stretched me thin with sleep deprivation, requirements for more patience than I’ve ever had, selflessness that I’m not used to. A surrendering of myself again and again and again to protect and nurture and raise my little son.

And I also acknowledged that this deep heart work I’m doing – the sort of thing I do with the people I coach – is hard.

Oh so hard!

It is work that involves looking deeply within myself, leaving no stone unturned on my mission to live with greater courage, truth and love. Actively looking at why I don’t consider myself as being ‘enough’ and asking why that is, reflecting on where I still people please and analysing why that might be, looking at the internal critical voices that drive my behaviour to start to rebalance them with kinder, more loving voices.

So I didn’t leave my session with any great revelations, but I know that being able to acknowledge what is going on for me is really important. As I write and reflect on this, I realise that it’s the start of rebalancing the critical voices with a kinder voice that says ‘you’re doing important work Amy, and it’s ok that you find it difficult. Keep on going, dear one’.

So I’ll keep on going, even if it is hard. For I sense that while the price of being here is high, the reward is going to be great.

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Creator of my own destiny

I had another amazing coaching session yesterday morning with my coach. Honestly, if you have something you want to make progress on, I’d really encourage you to get a coach. I can do a free coaching trial session for anyone interested or can link you up with a coach (potentially a free trainee one) if you think that we know each other too well and you wouldn’t feel comfortable working with me. But I’m not here to talk about coaching…I’m here to share what happened in my session. So here I go!

I’ve noticed in myself that I have a propensity for taking on too much of other people’s stuff. With almost a saviour complex (albiet a well-meaning one), I often feel responsible for other people’s happiness. From trying to avoid my parents having arguments when I was younger to taking on responsibility for people enjoying themselves at social events, to trying to bend myself in half to get people to be happy with what I do at work. It’s how I’ve always been.

I want to change but don’t know how.

When talking to my coach about this situation, I couldn’t see how I could be anything other than the two polar opposites that I described as this:

At one end, caring so much that I take on everyone’s stuff and at the other, not giving a damn about anyone or anything. 

We talked about the assumptions I make – that people want to be rescued, that it’s my responsibility to change stuff, that people aren’t able to make changes in their own lives…and it surfaced a thought I’ve been having for quite some time about how so much in life – our education, job hierarchies, the way society works – seems to breed a false impression that we are unable to change our own lives.

You’ve probably known people who hate their job (or you may recognise this in yourself!). They find it boring or think they’re underpaid or are frustrated by it on a daily basis. But they don’t do anything about it. They stay there stuck, moaning, unhappy, resentful of what they have to do.

But it’s not like they’re imprisoned in their job. They could do something to change their situation. They could look for a new job, talk to their manager about changing some of the things they do, start proactively changing how things are done, volunteer to get involved with other stuff at work to mix up their day, cultivate gratitude for what their job does give them (a pay-check, stability, nice co-workers, ability to pay rent/buy food for their family).

I’m not saying this from a privileged place, never having been unsatisfied at work myself. I know how hard this can be. I’ve been stuck in a job for what seemed like far too long whilst I searched for a new one that suited me better. It sometimes seemed agonising but I kept on looking, got some coaching to figure out what I wanted to do, kept on applying for new roles and, in doing so, I took control of my own destiny.

It paid off when I found a role – about six months down the line – that satisfied me more than I could have ever imagined.

In the same way that I did, I believe we can all take charge of our lives and shape them to our liking. We might not get there perfectly every time because of our circumstances (my new role didn’t pay more but was more mentally satisfying) but we can take small steps to improve where we are with every aspect of our lives – our relationships, health, work, money.

We are the creators of our own destinies.

And that is when inspiration struck me and I could see the middle way which was not taking on responsibility for other people’s happiness nor hardening my heart to others. In the following two phrases I outlined how I want to live my life:

I want the best for you and I know you can go out and shape your own life. 

I want the best for me and I know I can go out and shape my own life. 

It brought me such clarity. I want the best for others but my job is not to shape anyone’s life (not that anyone has ever told me they want me to!). My job is to shape my life.

With this knowledge I feel freer, less burdened and hopeful for myself and others. We all have the ability to take steps towards creating a better life for ourselves. It’s up to each and every one of us to look for opportunities and seize any chances that come our way.

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Perfection

I’m sat here at 4am next to a sleeping baby who was, until a few moments ago, wide awake and more wriggly than a sack of frogs. Now that he is sleeping I find myself unable to get back to sleep so thought I’d share my thoughts about the coaching that I’m going to invest in for myself over the next few months.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I’m a coach and will also probably know that I’m really passionate about the power of coaching to help people make the changes they want in their life. And over the last few months I’ve become aware of some changes that I’d like to make for myself.

  • Stopping the negative self-talk and self-berating when I don’t do something ‘perfectly’
  • Getting some support as I go back to work and find myself stretched and pulled between wanting to be the best I can at work and doing my best for my son
  • Finding kindness for myself as I find my way along this new journey of parenthood

For me the perfectionism is where I really want to make some progress and I can see it in all three statements above. I know that the high standards I hold myself to have meant that I’ve achieved a fair bit in life (cue Ms Perfectionism – “have you really achieved that much?! I mean, it’s not like you’re in a really high flying career or have done something really significant with your life”) and I’m not looking to get rid of my desire to strive. It’s such a big part of me that I don’t think I could change this even if I tried.

But I do think that I could be kinder to myself when things don’t turn out perfectly. I could learn to change what I measure my perfection against. I could expect myself to try my best in any given moment and knowing that this is enough.

I was struck by the blame I put on myself when I wrote about how Jenson put on such little weight over a three week period. I felt I should have done more but I know that I didn’t knowingly take actions that negatively impacted his weight gain and I know that I did my best in each and every given moment. I wasn’t perfect, but I did my best.

And I’m taken back to all the other occasions in my life where I’ve blamed myself for not doing enough – the development programme at work that had some hitches, a reflective session I ran with my previous employer which tanked, the coaching sessions I’ve done which didn’t go as well as I wanted, the Christmas presents I agonised over which weren’t the best.

I don’t want to live like this any more.

Yes, I want to strive, do my best, achieve greatness through my efforts. If it wasn’t for my strong drive:

  • I wouldn’t have completed my professional HR qualifications alongside working full-time,
  • I wouldn’t have become a coach in the year that I started a new job, had a hectic social life and was growing a baby,
  • I wouldn’t find the energy or time to build my beautiful website alongside raising a baby,
  • I wouldn’t have such big future plans, goals and dreams for myself

But there must be a kinder way to be with myself. A way that can bring greater ease into my life. A way that I can also role model for my son so he knows that his best is enough.

And that’s what I’m hoping to get from my coaching. I can’t wait to get started.

The promise of spring

A few people have asked me if I mind going back to work just when summer arrives. You see, I’m sharing my maternity leave with my husband and he’s taking 6 months off from July onwards to look after our son instead of me taking the full year off.

I have to say, I’m not sad about ‘missing’ summer at all. Because I’m so glad that I’m out and about with my son and get to experience all of spring in it’s splendour. It’s the season I love the most.

There’s so much promise for me when I look at the spring season starting to unfurl. Trees sprouting little buds of leaves, cherry blossoms coming into bloom and the sun appearing earlier and setting later.

Unlike many people, I don’t get fed up of winter and the cold, because I get to enjoy the frosty and festive lead-up to Christmas when it starts to get dark and cold and once New Year has passed, I can already see the early signs of spring starting to appear. The slightly later days and early birdsong you hear on a mild winter day holds with it the promise of spring.

I’ve been thinking over the last week about how the experience of spring gives me hope on a wider level and reminds me that whatever is going on in my life, new possibilities are always around the corner. As much as there are seasons of hardship, there are also seasons of new beginnings never too far away.

When Jenson is going through an unsettled spell, I know that it will pass and he will soon be back to smiling and being content.

When I’m frustrated that I don’t have enough time to devote to taking on lots of new coaching clients, I know that there will come a time when I have my evenings and weekends back to be able to do so.

When I feel sad with the lack of community as I shared in my last blog post, I know that things will change and I’ll one day find my tribe of people in Brighton.

I’m so grateful for this season and all the promise it holds and hope you enjoy the beauty of spring too, dear friend.

Knowing myself

I’ve been thinking a lot about what truly matters to me. I think it’s to do with the changes of becoming a mum and finding myself with different priorities. But it’s more than that.

It’s to do with me starting to know what I want from life and being clearer in my resolve to go after it. I know this is possible for me only because I’ve started to fully accept who I am and become comfortable in my own skin. Before I used to feel that I was too much. Too bossy, too headstrong, too headstrong, too different.

But now I am able to accept myself as I am with less judgement. I know I don’t need to base my decisions on whether I’ll please other people or whether my actions will make me seem less bossy/intense/headstrong. I accept me and know that’s enough. I’m enough.

It’s so exciting to feel this way; able to go after what I truly want. I feel able to follow what feels right to me and go after what I truly want.

But what does this mean in concrete terms? Well, an example of what I’m talking about is with my coaching.

Some of you may have seen my coaching pages on my website. For those of you who haven’t looked, they explain who I am as a coach and detail what types of coaching I do.

When I first started out coaching, I worked with people on every type of coaching under the sun and advertised all the coaching I did – coaching for those starting a business, looking for a change career, people wanting to improve relationships, increase their self-esteem or overcome comfort eating. Technically, I can coach on all these areas…but I realised recently that I don’t want to do all these types of coaching. Instead I want to coach in the areas which really light me up and where I know I can make a real, deep and profound impact in other peoples lives:

And so that’s what I’m going to do – coach in these areas and, if someone contacts me wanting career coaching, for example, I’ll refer them onto some great coaches who specialise in these areas.

It feels so good to know myself and to go after what I really want in life.