During a recent coaching session, I was exploring vulnerability and the hurdle I had created for myself since moving to self-employment. My coach asked me to use a metaphor to describe what was going on for me and I said that I had worn a suit of armour for such a long time but now needed to show the chink in my armour so as to connect with potential clients. Marketing had become my Achilles heel, not in terms of the process but more in terms of story writing and sharing my personal story. I often talk to leaders about the merits of showing vulnerability, yet I was not following my own belief.
The bumpy road
Whilst I have always worked hard on my personal and career development and had some great achievements, I have also had plenty of challenges along the way both internally and externally. I have got in my own way with self-limiting beliefs which resulted in self-limiting decisions and also a couple of bouts of imposter syndrome. I have worked with some very difficult, confrontational, ego-centric business leaders and gone to great lengths to avoid internal politics. I have often undersold myself and sometimes lacked confidence in pursuing bigger career goals. Sometimes I have found myself stuck in a fixed mindset, no more so than moving into self-employment. However, to the outside world I stand strong in my shiny armour.
NLP breakthrough & reflections
I recently completed my NLP Master Practitioner Certification and as part of the process we were tasked with writing a short life history highlighting the highs and lows in our lives. It was quite cathartic and made me reflect on my journey, acknowledging the highs, recognising the lows, spotting patterns of behaviour and missed opportunities, and focusing on what I really want out of life.
I started early adulthood as a young mum with only three GCSEs and not a lot of work experience – not exactly my life plan. I lacked confidence and I was full of self-limiting beliefs, painfully shy and self-conscious from an early age. However, on becoming a mother I then had an important purpose in life which was to be a good mother, role model and breadwinner. Whilst challenging, I spent several years working part-time and studying to further my prospects whilst bringing up my son.
Not fitting the conventional model - after completing my HR degree and CIPD studies, it took me a further 18 months to successfully obtain a HR role – I was repeatedly informed that I was over-qualified and under-experienced which was really frustrating. I just needed someone to give me that break and even when I got the break, I had to fight for it, but I was prepared to start at the very bottom of the HR career ladder just to get on to it. Within 6 months I was completely bored and unfulfilled. Fortunately, a HR Officer role became available but again I was informed that I did not have enough experience. I knew I could do the job and do it well, so I was not prepared to be passed up. I managed to persuade the HR Director to allow me to take on half of the role whilst retaining my existing role. Several months later I asked for the other half of the role successfully.
Ego / self-limiting beliefs - in my HR career I never made life easy for myself, I always moved into a different industry each time I progressed between companies so as not to get pigeon-holed. I always volunteered for additional responsibilities and projects to expand my knowledge and experience. I was fortunate enough to be promoted on numerous occasions but also got passed up on a couple of HR leadership roles where the process and experience felt disingenuous. These left a bruised ego and some of the old self-limiting beliefs crept back in. It did deter me from going after some really exciting opportunities.
Imposter syndrome - on a couple of promotional occasions, I suffered with imposter syndrome having an overwhelming feeling that I was not good enough, accompanied by the fear that, one day, I would be 'found out'. The most recent occasion lasted for a period of 6 months until I finally accepted that I deserved the promotion, although I still had to remind myself on numerous occasions.
Difficult stakeholders - I have also had my fair share of working with difficult business leaders, which to someone with quite strong introvert tendencies and a dislike of confrontation really tested me. I have had several standoffs which occurred due to me challenging inappropriate leadership behaviour and refusing to stand down in the face of strong, sometimes hostile, defensiveness. I have stood up and questioned ethics and flagged bullying despite the potential of being ostracised.
It's lonely at the top for senior women - as I took on more senior HR leadership roles in my career, I worked closely with senior leadership teams who were predominately male. Being female and the representative for HR brought its own challenges in terms of being heard, being taken seriously and being seen to add value. Competing with strong personalities jostling with their own agendas and egos and losing sight of what is best for the business overall and their teams.
As I worked through my life history during my NLP coaching session, I reflected on how I had overcome the various challenges in my life:
Have a clear purpose and goals - much of what I have achieved has been as a result of having a clear purpose and outlined goal steps, sometimes subconsciously although I knew at the time which direction I was going in. When I have not been able to progress as I expected, I now recognise that this was as a result of not having a clear purpose and goals with structure, routine and discipline.
Invest in development - I have invested heavily in my personal and professional development over the years, both in terms of time and money. I wanted to ensure that I have a high level of knowledge, skills and experience in the areas of role remits that I was undertaking and the services my business offers. I am naturally curious and open to learning and new experiences which I believe also benefits my clients.
Have a Mentor - I have been very fortunate to have had a couple of excellent informal mentors over the year. These have been individuals passionate about people development, the organisation and making a difference by prioritising the people agenda. They have been great advisors, sounding boards, insightful and intuitive and most importantly cheerleaders. Because I have benefited so much through mentoring, I have actively mentored throughout most of my career as I wanted to give something back.
Invest in Coaching - I engaged in a formal coaching relationship a few years ago for circa. a year and it had a life changing impact on me. It helped me to find peace with some negative emotions from earlier in my life, work through some limiting beliefs, increased my confidence and freed me up to dare to dream big. Similar to mentoring, I chose to pursue coaching as a next career move as it was a natural extension from the people development aspect of my HR roles, and I was completely sold on the significant benefits that coaching can bring having experienced it myself. Coaching challenges me and holds me to account.
Ensure your values are aligned - over time I have noticed periods of incongruence and when explored further it became apparent that more often than not this would be as a result of a misalignment of my values. After doing some work around my values inventory and hierarchy levels I was much clearer about my core values and related triggers. This now provides me with clarity on my thoughts and actions, and also the types of companies and people I want to work with.
Focus on your circle of Influence - in my earlier career I could become quite bent out of shape over certain events and struggled to move forward. Over time I consciously worked on finding acceptance and moving on quicker. When I discovered Stephen R.Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People I really related to the circles of control and influence recognising times when I had wasted energy venting about things completely outside of my control, instead of focusing on what I could influence and moving towards positive action.
Operate from above the line - in NLP we refer to operating above or below the line. When we operate from above the line, we are taking ownership, accountability and responsibility which means that we are in a resourceful state, whereas when we operate from below the line, we blame others, find excuses or are in denial which are all unresourceful states. With this in mind, I am aware that my response to events determines whether the outcome is ultimately positive or negative.
Adopt a Growth Mindset - on the whole I would say that I have always had more of a growth mindset tendency, although I have got stuck in a fixed mindset on occasion. I look for the learnings in situations, especially the more trying ones, otherwise there is a tendency to focus on the negatives which is not helpful. When I discovered Dr Carol S Dweck’s book on Mindset I found it insightful in terms of the setbacks of a fixed mindset versus the opportunities of a growth mindset. When I am really struggling with something, I ask myself which mindset I am operating from and how is that serving me. I then look at reframing in order to open up my mind to possibility and opportunities.
Practice self-reflection - I only really began to practice reflection properly during my coach training a few years ago and it is now something that I fully embrace. I find introspection powerful in terms of prioritising carving out time to think about what went well, what I can improve next time and how I want to choose to act, instead of rushing onto the next action. Pausing and being in the moment allows me to have more insights and to be more creative.
Be authentic - I have always worked in a corporate environment and predominately in HR so naturally I adopted a professional, ethical and sometimes too serious persona at work. Expectations were always that HR are the face of the company, should be seen to lead by example, etc. which is correct. However, somewhere along the way it almost felt like you could not be yourself as all of your attention needed to be on doing and saying the right thing at all times. It was only during my last two significant HR roles that I was able to step out from behind the HR façade and be myself. I was fed up with being referred to as ‘HR’ and seen as the ‘enemy’. I had so much to offer and genuinely wanted to be an integral member of the business teams I was supporting. I found that just being myself helped me to build rapport more rapidly and deepened business relationships. As Brene Brown says "authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are". By doing so I found that I was able to operate from my core values of ethics, trust, integrity, humour, fun and creativity.
The advice I would give to my younger self
Follow your passion and dreams, face the fear and do it anyway and do not worry about what other people think – those that want and need to hear, will. Surround yourself with people that influence you positively and ask for help when you need it. Keep your purpose clear in your mind, recover from setbacks quickly and learn, ask for feedback and practice reflection. Enjoy yourself.
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