The power of collaboration: why I don’t believe in competition

I’m naturally an introvert so networking hasn’t always come easy to me.  When I started my business though I knew it was crucial so I started to attend different women in business groups for support and socialising.  One group I attended had different groups set up across the city but the one closest to me already had a coach in it and they had strict rules on non competition, “We’re only allowed one coach per group” they told me.

Now I know many coaches who are all very different; business coaches, fitness coaches, life coaches, wellness coaches and the list goes on – why would these people be competing I thought?  Surely this would be a space for collaboration?  It’s like an author who writes kids stories versus an author of travel guides – the same job but different audiences.  Some of my good friends are coaches who do exactly what I do and collaborating with them on pieces of work has been some of my most enjoyable and successful events – whilst we all share a mission of empowering women to be their best we do this in our own unique voice.

It got me thinking about competition and the behaviours it drives – that there’s only room for one of us, that we should operate in isolation, that its every man (and woman) for themselves.

When I put on big events and invite other women to speak on the stage people say; ‘but what if they steal your customers?’  The speakers I invite to share the stage are generally women who want to empower women, just like me – that’s the whole point.  This work enables me to provide a platform for these women to showcase their work but also helps my audience hear different perspectives that may resonate.  Yes, it may also mean that someone may become a follower of them not me, off the back of my own event!  But in all honesty it’s because the connection has been made in a way I could not have achieved.  If I don’t resonate with that person they are not my customer and it’s great I’ve been able to help someone else in the process and connect them to someone who does – we can’t expect to always resonate with everyone.

One woman who came and spoke at my recent Auckland launch confessed afterwards – I was worried our subject matter was too similar and given my topic was so close to yours I thought ‘shall I even get up and give my talk now?’ – she did and it was great, it resonated in a totally different way and reinforced some key messages around authenticity we both share.  However, she delivered it in a totally different way and told her own story which of course will always be different person to person.  In this example we’re both women who’ve quit our corporate jobs to focus on empowering women to tap into their authenticity and use mind-set to succeed – pretty similar yet collaborative rather than competitive.

This has been a lesson I’ve had to learn. A younger me totally brought into competition, I wanted to be first and prized my success on winning at all costs. I played a lot of sports and even as part of the team would strive to be the stand out individual, top of the class. To win player of the year even though there were eleven other plays in that team. At work I believed I had to look after number one and focus on my own success to make sure it was me that won. It’s not that I wasn’t competitive rather that I’ve learned how we succeed together and now put collaboration first that we can live in a world where everyone wins.

I believe we’ve been taught for too long to compete, that it’s about survival of the fittest and that our success needs to be at the expense of someone else’s.

It comes from a place of fear, of threat, of insecurity and can lead to poor behaviour that is unsupportive – you’ll have all heard of examples of women who move up the career ladder only to pull the ladder up behind them rather than supporting others to do the same.

It is at odds with the lift as you climb approach I strongly believe in – where we help and support each other in a way we can all succeed.  We can only do this though when we feel secure in ourselves, aligned to our values and believe in our product/service.

It’s the same reason some of my on-line course material is freely available, do people rip it off?  Of course they do, like most things that are available on line these days it gets copied.  However I’m comfortable and confident in the message I have, the product I deliver and from that comes a place of strength and support rather than fearful competition.  Despite who copies my work they will never deliver it the way I do because they are not me and that’s what’s special about us all.

No-one will ever tell your story the way you do, no-one will ever deliver your content the way you do and this is what makes each of us powerful and we are so much more powerful together than we are apart.

It’s why I’ve put so much energy behind Women Support Women and will continue to do so because I believe we all have a gift to share and even those with similar gifts will all resonate with difference audiences and supporting each other doesn’t just help us but those we serve too.

The superwoman balancing act – how perfectionism sets us up to fail

We are all on a mission to be the best we can be, to be happy, to have the perfect houses, families, partners, and jobs, to complete our to-do lists, to complete our bucket lists, to make our parents proud, to get promoted, earn more money, and be successful. Good enough is no longer enough. We live in a world where we are so developed, we can have everything and instant gratification. Normal is what we have, but it’s not what we want to settle for—it’s no longer enough. We expect to have everything and for the fairy tale to be a reality, and it won’t be. We set ourselves up to fail; our imperfect lives (which are the best they can be) are never going to be perfect. We aim for perfection and are then disappointed because it never arrives.

All this against a backdrop of not quite feeling good enough those nagging feelings of self-doubt.  According to the International Journal of behavioural science 70% of us think we’re not as good as others believe we are, it’s called Imposter Syndrome.  It’s exacerbated by our fear of failure, trying to please everyone around us, striving for perfection but worried we’re falling short all rolled into one!  It’s particularly prevalent in women and given rise to these superwomen tendencies that so often end up in busyness, burnout and breakdown.

Woman are good at being perfectionists; this comes from our need to please people but also our very high standards and expectations of ourselves. It can be a strength and what makes us good at what we do, but can also be our undoing. It’s where we set ourselves up to fail, expect too much, and lose touch with reality, and where the bar actually is – often we raise it far higher than it needs to be. 

Perfectionism is also our fear of failure manifesting. Sometimes our self-doubt means we’re so scared of not making the mark or falling short that we go way over what’s necessary, work twice as hard, to make sure we don’t fail. Whether we’re applying for a job, having our hair done, going to the gym, or just doing our day jobs. We want to be the perfect parents, workers, friends, and partners; we want to look like a perfect cover of a magazine and live in perfectly clean, tidy houses with perfect lawns. 

We place massively unfair expectations on ourselves. To work hard at work but not feel guilty if we can’t be at the school gates at 3pm everyday or to be a good mother and not feel bad for arriving to work at 9am. Much of this guilt comes from ourselves – we feel bad for leaving at 3pm even if we arrived at 7 – we worry what others will think and we are constantly trying to prove ourselves worthy.

It’s no wonder we’re so busy and can never find time for ourselves.  We are so busy in our modern world, the pace of life has quickened, expectations are higher and we’re all trying to do more things in less time. We have this superwoman complex where we try to juggle multiple roles in life all masterfully – with overflowing to do lists and excessive demands on our time – there’s never enough hours in the day.

We’ve also attached our self-worth to being busy.  It means we’re needed and valued and that we’re contributing.  Often is can be martyrdom at play as we struggle through our busy lives feeling secretly pleased the family/workplace might crumble without us.  So we wear busy like a badge of honour and attach our identity and worth to society in just how busy we are – this means we’ve deprioritised rest, relaxation, time out and anything that is the converse of busy – no wonder burnout is becoming more common!

Often its our own high expectations that drive this behaviour – especially if we’re perfectionists.  So what can we do about it?

Top Tips

It’s not about not doing our best or lowering the bar but resetting it to a realistic level.. Understanding the difference between excellence and greatness and perfect and what is achievable in reality.  If we’re perfect in one area of life there’s bound to be another far from perfect that’s not getting the attention it needs!

  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes – we are human
  • Knowing that we don’t have to be superwomen to be enough and to be worthy
  • Stop comparing to others
  • Putting ourselves first for a change
  • Making time for self-care – balance the busyness and build resilience
  • Leverage your strengths rather than trying to be good at everything
  • Asking for help when you need it and delegating tasks (both at work and at home)
  • The to-do list will never be complete.
  • You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and that is enough

“We don’t have to do all of it alone – we were never meant to” Brene Brown

Top tips to help women thrive #IWD2019

It’s International Women’s Day this month and a time to celebrate what makes women great and bring awareness to the importance of a more gender balanced world.  It’s also the one year birthday for my second book, Like A Girl and a special 2 for 1 deal throughout March is on offer to celebrate!

The theme for IWD2019 is #balanceforbetter and I’m a firm believer that equality for women is not about the downfall of men – equality is everyone’s business and balance is definitely better!  Likewise, equality is not a women’s problem that can be solved by women alone, we’re all in this together. 

I’ve heard many awesome successful women as well as mentioning abhorrent stories of bullying, sexual harassment and gender bias also talk about men who have been their sponsors & cheerleaders. I’ve also been privileged to work with some great men. We often forget this bit.  It may be true that some men (& women) are part of the problem but many more are also part of the solution.  Men are a key part of us making change towards a more equal society, they still make up the majority of our positions of authority, not to mention important parts of our family too, so it’s critical we bring them along on the journey with us.

Having said that though it is still harder for women, things are not yet equal.  In gender pay, in leadership numbers, in the way we are treated, the expectations on us and how we are judged.  Many women are doing the lions share of housework, social organising and child caring despite having full time jobs.  We also have a habit of beating ourselves up for either having career ambitions and not being at the school gates at 3pm each day or for not contributing financially whilst that career is on hold so we can be at the school gates at 3pm every day – no wonder we feel we can’t quite win.

Quite simply if you walk in a woman’s shoes life is different than if you were a male wearing those same shoes.

Often though some of these issues are with us; who are the people who have the highest expectation of us, those who judge us most harshly, those who think it’s not ok to ask for help or say no – most often, as women that person is ourselves!  So what can we do in light of IWD2019 to ensure we’re being our best and thriving at life?  Here are 6 tips to enable women to thrive.

Be you and let that be enough

We’re always trying to be more, never feeling good, pretty, clever, rich, fit, strong, thin (place your word here) enough!  We have so many moulds to try and fit as women, in the workplace and at home.  It can leave us feeling like an expat living in a foreign country far from who we truly are and adrift from what matters to us, and it’s exhausting trying to ‘be someone’.  We live in a society though that puts pressure on us to fit in, to be liked, to follow the norm.  At work we have to tread the careful line between being more assertive but not labelled a bully, or be more vulnerable without being labelled as weak – it’s no wonder authenticity is so hard!

Knowing who you are, what you want and what matters most is key.  Making decisions in line with our values and doing things that align with our passions ensures that our schedule matches our priorities.

Speak up, lean in, take risks, back yourself

We can be guilty of standing back, waiting for permission, waiting for that idea to be 100% before sharing or waiting for someone else to speak before we ask the question, not speaking up at meetings or apologising too often before we speak or ask a question and waiting for a bit more experience before we apply for the promotion.  When we do this we can miss out.  If we lean back rather than lean in the opportunity will go to someone else.  Sometimes we have to back ourselves, lean in and take a risk.  This is how we grow and develop.  It’s easier said than done though and here’s why:

Face your fear, challenge yourself and have permission to fail

Generally fear is what stops us!  Fear of what people think, the unknown, leaving a familiar space, what if we make the wrong choice, what if fail.  We can be guilty of playing it safe to avoid failure, our fear of rejection sometimes mean we don’t even ask.

It’s called our comfort zone for a reason and sometimes we think it’s better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.  We’ve been taught to avoid risk and to play it safe – we don’t want to fail at any cost.  However getting out of our comfort zone is the only way we grow and develop, challenging ourselves and taking risks is a key part of this and yes sometimes we might fail and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

So often failure is a stepping stone to success, it’s how we learn and grow.  I’ve learned things from many trial and error moments that I’d never have otherwise known. 

It’s easy to look at those we admire and think they’re doing it right and we’re doing it wrong but quite often they’ve made mistakes, learned from them, bounced back from failures and that’s got then to where they are today.  Even the best fail in fact it’s often why they succeed.

So give yourself permission to fail and know that it’s often how we learn to succeed.

Let go of perfectionism

This can be difficult though if we’re perfectionists.  Sometimes we’re so scared of failure we go right to the other end of the extreme.

The irony with perfection though is it sets us up to fail, it’s not real.  Whether it’s an airbrushed photo in a magazine we’re trying to look like or a perfect side of someone’s life on Facebook we’re trying to emulate – we’re always going to fall short because we’re not comparing full stories, real life!  Yet we still beat ourselves up when we fall short and compare ourselves in this way.

Navigating perfectionism isn’t about not doing a great job, it’s about resetting the bar to a realistic level and understanding that sometimes done is better than perfect and being in touch with the imperfect reality that exists.

We are a breed of people pleasers and always so concerned with what others think.  We’ve probably spent our whole lives trying to make our parents, teachers, friends, bosses etc proud of us.  We feel we have to work twice as hard, exceed expectations and constantly keep raising the bar on ourselves to a point where we’re struggling to keep up.  We all know where this leads and it’s why so many of us are busy and burnt out.

Balancing busyness and avoiding overwhelm

We do have a tendency to be superwoman!  To do everything and do it perfectly.  We take on too much, over schedule ourselves and then feel like we’re failing when we approach burn out.  Saying no and delegating is a key part of avoiding this overwhelm and manging the busyness.

Resilience is key but so is having good boundaries and taking time out, prioritising self-care, prioritising us.  For people who put others first, don’t like saying no, feel we have to do everything and do it perfectly, please everyone around us – this can be tough.

We also have an attachment to being busy though.  We wear it like a badge of honour, it makes us feel valued and attaches to our self-worth.  This leads us into the trap of not taking time out or feeling like down time is lazy, selfish or unproductive.  However this stuff is the foundation we build on, to enable us to be superwoman, without it we’re always fending off burnout and exhaustion.

Celebrate success and own it, get comfortable accepting praise

We are so busy focusing on what we haven’t got, the things that didn’t go well, the bits about ourselves we don’t like that we forget about the good stuff.  Our brains are wired to think more negatively and as women we’re often taught to down play our success and wave away praise to avoid being a tall poppy and to appear modest.  So often we put our success down to something outside of ourselves or we respond with things like ‘it’s nothing really’.

If you’re receiving praise or acknowledgement it’s because you’ve earned it, saying thank you is a great start.  Remember to celebrate your success, own the praise and know that it helps address the negativity bias in our brains as well as doing wonders for our brand!

We are more powerful together than we are apart

We are often taught to compete and that our success must be at the expense of someone else’s.  I’ve learned that we are far more powerful together than we are apart and collaboration is key for us to flourish.  In the spirit of #balanceforbetter we are all in this together regardless of gender!

IWD2019 recommended viewing for more inspiration

Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability

Sheryl Sandberg – Why we have too few women leaders

Inspiring TED Talk – why do ambitious women have flat heads?

Gender bias, equality and why its still harder for women

Navigating perfectionism blog

Imposter syndrome resources page

Navigating Perfectionism

Tomorrow I fly to Auckland to do a TV interview. Thankfully I’m not as nervous this time around having now done one I feel slightly more comfortable knowing what to expect. You can watch my last TV interview on Imposter syndrome here. What you can’t see is that out of shot my legs were shaking!

The producer told me after the show ‘that was great, can you pitch us some more ideas and we’ll have you back on’ so I did but heard nothing. I thought perhaps she was being nice or said that to all the guests (Imposter Syndrome in action – right there!) but then they got back in touch recently and here I am now preparing for an interview on perfectionism on TV3s The Café this week. 

This is something I know well. I remember as soon as the last interview was over the first thing I did was re-read my script to see what I’d missed, which bits could have been better and the parts that had not gone perfectly – do you find yourself doing that with meetings, presentations, conversations with family?

We are all on a mission to be the best we can be, to be happy, to have the perfect houses, families, partners, and jobs, to complete our to-do lists, to complete our bucket lists, to make our parents proud, to get promoted, earn more money, and be successful. Good enough is no longer enough. We live in a world where we are so developed, we can have everything and instant gratification. Normal is what we have, but it’s not what we want to settle for—it’s no longer enough. We expect to have everything and for the fairy tale to be a reality, and it won’t be. We set ourselves up to fail; our imperfect lives (which are the best they can be) are never going to be perfect. We aim for perfection and are then disappointed because it never arrives.

Woman are good at being perfectionists; this comes from our need to please people but also our very high standards and expectations of ourselves. It can be a strength and what makes us good at what we do, but can also be our undoing. It’s where we set ourselves up to fail, expect too much, and lose touch with reality, and where the barrier actually is, often we raise it far higher than it needs to be. 

Perfectionism is also our fear of failure manifesting. Sometimes we’re so scared of not making the mark or falling short that we go way over what’s necessary to make sure we don’t fail. Whether we’re applying for a job, having our hair done, going to the gym, or just doing our day jobs. We want to be the perfect parents, workers, friends, and partners; we want to look like a perfect cover of a magazine and live in perfectly clean, tidy houses with perfect lawns. 

Rather than settling for a standard “good enough,” we find our “good enough” can be way over real expectations. So on a scale of 100 percent, where 80 percent is good enough, perfectionists feel they have to deliver 120 percent—that’s their good enough. Even 100 percent, in a perfectionist’s eyes, is failure, despite this exceeding good enough on the scale.

It’s not about lowering our standards, but being more realistic and understanding that sometimes as a perfectionist, our bars will be set way higher than everyone else’s and higher than they need to be. It’s exhausting and often leads to disappointment when we fail. Sometimes done is better than perfect, because perfect isn’t always possible.

If we have our hearts set on perfection, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. Things don’t exist in a perfect way. It may seem like this when we compare our lives to others on Facebook or celebrity magazines, but what we see is the perfect side of what is always an imperfect life. For everyone, no matter how rich or successful, imperfection is always present. There will be parts of their lives not going to plan, a bit about themselves they’d like to change, something outside of their control that upsets them.

When we meet our soul mate everything seems perfect until the novelty wears off. We get to know each other better and find out that as humans we all have imperfect flaws. We may not always agree and be less tolerant of our differences. New jobs have bits we don’t like, and even our bodies age and change in ways we don’t view as perfect eventually. Adjusting our mind-set on perfection is key to helping us thrive. If you aim to look like an airbrushed picture in a magazine, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a Mr. Right without any faults, you’ll also be disappointed. If you’re searching for the perfect job, you’ll find there are always downsides; this is true for me, even now with the job of my dreams—I have to spend time doing my accounts and marketing! If you make plans, they won’t always turn out right. It’s not being negative; it’s being realistic! Rather than aiming for an unrealistic goal of perfection, we need to be more realistic and enjoy everything for the good that it brings to our lives. Everything has its perfect and imperfect side—our jobs, our partners, and our lives. Embrace and appreciate both sides!

I spent years striving for perfection in all I did, at work and at home, trying to conform in a bid to please people, and it made me unhappy and unfulfilled. The perfect life always seemed just out of reach, and yet my life on the outside might have looked ideal to everyone else. During my life transformation I learned a lot about myself and learned, from others about how we can live an authentic, perfectly imperfect life:

  • Things won’t always go according to plan.
  • The to-do list will never be complete.
  • You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and that is as perfect as it can be.
  • No one has a perfect life (despite what it may look like on Facebook or in a magazine).
  • Happiness is not a point you arrive at in the distant future when you resolve all your problems and achieve perfection. It’s available all along in those imperfect moments scattered throughout our everyday lives.
  • Often, it’s our quest for perfection that stops us from being happy.

So give yourself permission to make mistakes and stop beating yourself up for being human. Ask for help when you need it, say no from time to time and stop worrying about what people think. It means we’ll take more risks, get more done and accept our life just the way it is – perfectly imperfect.

Lessons learned on a business anniversary

Fear, Authenticity, Self-worth, growth and not giving up

Facebook reminded me this week that 4 years ago today I graduated from my Yoga Teacher training in Byron Bay – I’ve not taught much yoga since but have done so much else and learned so many lessons which I’ve been reflecting on.

I’d quit my corporate career a few months prior and had embarked on a year out to discover my passions and try and find a new career that aligned with my values – and a new life really having just walked away from a seven year relationship too as part of a process that resulted in me come out.

This journey took me to places like Bali, the Kingdom of Bhutan, teaching English to novice monks in Northern Thailand, silent meditation retreats, debuting in public speaking, starting my own business and writing my first book.  A book that was published a year later and contained much more about the inner journey that had unfolded.

4 years on I look back, incidentally on the verge of a holiday back to Byron Bay next month with my wife to be.  I’m now an author of two books with my own business and invited to speak at events and conferences across the world.  I’ve discovered my passions and feel comfortable aligning with my values to be my authentic self – it was a long time coming and hasn’t always been easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Here are some lessons I’d like to share with you following that journey:

Just because you’ve never done it doesn’t mean you can’t do it

When I left my job I had no idea what else I could do.  I’d trained all my life for one career which wasn’t fulfilling me.  I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or if I’d be capable of anything else, I certainly wasn’t qualified.

When it came to running my own business I didn’t know where to start.  There’s been a lot of learning over the last few years, trial and error and a lot of failing too!  I’ve learned to do things like accounts, marketing, social media and more that I’d never had to consider in my former career. 

It’s also pushed me out of my comfort zone in other ways – networking, building a reputation and a brand as well as being the face of my business (having been someone who prefers to be in the background!)

I used to think – I’ve never done this before it’s not in my skill–set, I’ve no experience in this but I’ve learned over the years that just because we’ve not done it doesn’t mean we can’t, it’s just something we haven’t learned to do yet.

It’s so important that whatever we’re doing we make sure we always learn new things, push ourselves and take on challenges so that we learn and grow.  It also leads me nicely onto my next lesson

Get out of your comfort zone – don’t play it too safe

I avoided risks because I didn’t want to fail but taking on my own business, re-inventing my career meant I could no longer avoid this.  I had to take risks and I became familiar with failure as I battled through the trial and error of learning so many new things. 

I faced many fears as I embarked on this journey; leaving the certainty of what I knew, a career I trained 15 years for and knew well, a regular pay check and company car, an image people had of me – what would they think now?  What if I failed?  What if I’m making the wrong choice?

I had no choice but to get out of my comfort zone but sometimes it seemed tempting to stay there – better the devil you know!  As I stepped out of my comfort zone I faced the fears, uncertainty and risk and at times I also failed.

I put on events that no-one showed up to.  For the first couple of years I earned no money from my business.  Most of my speaking was for free and my first royalty cheque was worth less than $5.

After each rejection letter from a publisher I could have decided to give up.  In fact there’s been many times business got hard, I was out of my depth, I wasn’t earning money and it felt like I’d failed, reached the end of the line, I was tempted to give it up.

One of the things that always kept me going was asking “What has this taught me and what can I do about it?”  This solutions focused reflection forced me into action, rather than wallowing in the fact it was hard and I’d failed it immediately turned my mind towards – what am I going to do about it and scanning the options I had.

Failure is how we learn and grow and is often how we learn to succeed, it’s also something that’s unavoidable if you push yourself, take risks and face challenges, I now see how it can be a positive.  But we can see failure as a sign of our lack, a mirror of our self-worth and it encourages us to devalue what we’re capable of.

Don’t under estimate yourself – you’ve earned your place

We often doubt our abilities, underestimate ourselves or think that our success must have been down to something other than our ability – luck, a mistake, being liked etc.

Throughout my career I would wave away success and down play my achievements almost embarrassed by praise.  I can’t say I’m there yet but I have since learned to respond to praise and recognition with ‘thank you’ which is a good start!

For many years in my former career I suffered from Imposter Syndrome.  I didn’t get a degree, I left school at 16 and as I progressed into senior roles (where everyone had a degree) I used to feel like I was less intelligent, not as valuable or worthy – despite my performance and achievements.

Other people’s opinions seem to carry more weight than our own and it’s only the feedback I’ve had from others over the years that now allows me to believe I can do this and that people love what I do.

I remember worrying in my first workshop I’d been asked to do for a big business – am I qualified to do this?  Will they enjoy it?  Will it be good enough?  Who am I to be posing as an expert in this field? – all those questions played on my mind despite having written a book on the subject I was speaking about!

Late last year arriving at parliament to do the same workshop I finally felt like I belonged, that I’d earned my place and that I had something important to share that would be of value to those who’d asked me to come.

If you’re getting praise you’ve earned it.  The success you achieve is because you’re capable and have worked for it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be success and you also don’t need to have all the answers.

You don’t have to have all the answers

For many years I’d put off leaving the security of my corporate job.  I needed a plan first.  If this wasn’t my career I needed to know what was before I made any changes.  Where I’m at now I could never have foreseen then.  It’s been a result of the journey I’ve taken and the things I’ve learned along the way that have helped informed my next move, developed me and taken me to where I am.

Often we feel we need all the answers, to see the whole stair case before we take the first step and begin.

There was trial and error, trying things to know if that worked or not.  Training to teach yoga to see if this could be the future me or where else that might take me.  Whilst I had a plan, I had no idea where I’d end up and it was only as I made progress the next steps began to emerge.

Sometimes we have to be comfortable with uncertainty because we don’t know what’s next.  We might have a path set out but end up somewhere different, or sometimes we end up in the same place but take a different path or route to the one we planned, either way it works.  I’m of the opinion now that there are no wrong paths and there are lessons learned and experiences gained even from the tough paths I wish I’d not chosen – I wouldn’t go back and change it.

Align with your values – be yourself

For many of my former years I tried to be who I thought I should be, what the world wanted, to fit in.  I denied my sexuality for many years and took the corporate path of success as my own.  It was only when I realised status and salary were not markers of happiness that I began to look for work that aligned to my values – I had to figure out what those were.

As a young leader I felt there was a mould to fit.  I had to be a certain way to pass as a leader and as a result I devalued some of my skills that I didn’t think had a place at work.  I used to leave my ‘Jess’ hat at the door to put my ‘Leader’ hat on.  I now release these are the same hats and things like kindness, compassion and empathy are major leadership strengths rather than character weaknesses – what a relief because we all know pretending to be something we’re not is exhausting!

Being able to show up as my authentic self both in life and in work makes every day so much more rewarding.  It also allows people to trust us when we’re genuine and relate to us if we’ve walked in their shoes.

Choose your people wisely

I’m lucky to have had support around me, cheerleaders, people who believe in me.  Support from my family even though they had no idea what I was doing and feared my exit from a corporate well paid job to clean composting toilets in a yoga ashram may not be a great career move!

It’s taught e the value of those who surround us.  The people I’ve learned from and aspired to be who inspired me to carry on, even when it got hard.  But equally those who’ve challenged me to grow and pushed me.

I used to feel jealous when I looked at those who’d succeeded, like they’d done it right and I was doing it wrong; “why can’t I be on the stage at this event rather than in the audience?”  It made me feel like I wasn’t as capable rather than just on an earlier stage of my journey.  It’s important we respect these people, learn from them but never compare to them or feel their success threatens our own learning.

Find people who support you but challenge you positively to grow, respect them and be inspired by them but don’t compare yourself to them or feel jealous.  Avoid negative people who hold you back – surround yourself with those who’ll nourish you.

It’s also taught me the power of collaboration.  I’ve met so many amazing people doing similar kinds of work and often now when I organize events I’ll use it as a platform for other women to inspire my audience too and invite guest speakers.

I’ve also been fortunate to join business groups and communities full of supportive people willing to share their knowledge and time with me.

Often we’re taught to compete, that our success needs to be at the expense of someone elses.  I’ve learned that we are much stronger together than we are apart.

Find out more about Jess on her website www.jessstuart.co.nz  and visit the blog at www.inspireyourlife.org/blog

Being a good person isn’t always enough

The spotlight is well and truly on violence against women since the recent murder of Grace Millane. And whilst many may question, why the outrage now when so many others have gone before? I was at the vigil last night in Wellington with many others and something resonated. When asked to put up our hands if we’d travelled alone offshore, felt unsafe, had families fear for our safety the majority of the women there did – we could have been Grace, we identified with her story and we can walk in her shoes. Like Grace, at 22 I arrived in Auckland from England on my OE over a decade ago, this is our reality that’s why it resonates.

But regardless of the name on the vigil there are many names that sit alongside, lesser profile perhaps but equally important lives – the statistics speak for themselves. It’s a sad fact that it took a young, white foreign tourist to die in this way on our shores to bring violence against women in NZ into the spotlight and the undeniable fact that in the vast majority of cases this is at the hands of men.

But we all know and love many men who don’t fit into this category, these same men join us in our outrage but is that enough? What are we doing as men (and women) to stop violence against women. To talk to our men and boys about their responsibility in how we treat women and how to balance out the power dynamic when it comes to gender.

Are we calling out the men (and women) who still assume when this happens a woman must be, in some way, to blame – she was out late at night, unaccompanied, using a dating app, wearing the wrong thing, behaving inappropriately. Why should it rest purely on women’s shoulders to try and protect themselves from men or to justify why they didn’t deserve to be victims of violence – don’t we all deserve the right to live safe?

Especially when all the evidence suggests the rules we’ve been taught to follow for so many years still do not protect us, summed up perfectly in this article by Emily Writes. And even if they did is it fair that we should live life differently, more cautious, less privileged and free to our male counterparts because of the threat they pose to our life?

So what is the answer and how do we ensure this is not just another women’s issue that women alone try to resolve because we know that’s only got us so far.

I had the privilege to see Author Clementine Ford speak recently when she was over in NZ. Having written a book with a similar title to mine and spoken a lot about empowering women I was intrigued. One thing she mentioned really stuck with me. She talked about those who we put in the ‘bad’ category – perpetrators of violence against women, those who discriminate or harass/bully females in the work place. Then on the other hand those who are ‘good’ people, obviously we do none of this, in fact we condemn it but is that enough? Clementine talked about the many men (and women) who may be in the ‘good people’ category but still are too passive, we stand by as this stuff goes on and feel because we’re opposed to it and refuse to partake that’s enough, but is it?

You see I’m not the protest type, I’ve never seen myself as a feminist (although I respect those that are and the work they’ve done massively). My mantra is that we focus on ourselves and empower each other to deal with this rather than what happens externally.

However it is apparent that we can’t do this alone and the success of women relies on us bringing our male counterparts along on the journey. The balance of equality and making our country safer for women is something men must help with – we can’t do this alone, we are in this together and we must take action together – all of us.

I’m aware that I prefer to stand in the background, I prefer quiet, subtle action and have always shied away from conflict. I’ve no desire to be the lighting rod for abuse that Clementine Ford admits to having become. But sometimes this is at the risk of me being too passive. I’m a good person but what use is that unless I’m actively doing something to help, speaking out, having the right conversations?

I’ve worked with many good men (and women) and indeed outside of work too but so many of us (myself included) are passive in this space. We think that because we’re not perpetrators of violence against women or believe we would never discriminate based on gender that we put ourselves firmly in the ‘good’ category. However, how much change does simply not being bad create? Is more than that required? Given the statistics 125 years after women won the right to vote in NZ it may suggest that yes, more is required.

Whilst I’m not ready to pick up my placards and hit the streets it has given me food for thought, along with other ‘good’ people. Standing by passively being good people is sometimes not enough. And that’s not to say we need to be protesting or petitioning our governments (although that can help too), it’s thinking about the conversations we have with each other, the small actions we can do and how we can use our privileged positions for greater advantage and change in this space.

Imposter syndrome on-line course out now

To get your early bird discount and download the course click the link below www.jessstuart.co.nz/imposter-syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something I’ve encountered throughout my career and is one of the topics from my latest book that has resonated most with people.

I used to think it was just me but after 15 years working with people in personal development and then running my own training and coaching business, it transpires that many others feel exactly the same.

I spent most of my career doubting my abilities, and getting promotions didn’t seem to help. I still felt like an imposter who’d be found out one day. The reality was I was good at my job and even bigger jobs as the promotions came—but each new job would raise the same fear: I’m not sure I can do this.

It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s a lot more common than we think. I thought it was only me, but every woman I speak to who confesses they feel it too also believes she is the only one! According to the Journal of Behavioural Science, 70 percent of people suffer from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” It’s that voice of self-doubt that, despite our successes, keeps us feeling like we might fail, we might not be good enough, and we might get found out.

Those with imposter syndrome have a tendency to attribute their success to external factors—like luck, or the work of the team. It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue dreams that leave you open to the risk of failure, falling short, losing face, and being “found out.”

Over the last week I’ve released the following video blogs on Imposter Syndrome to help you identify it and tips on how to handle it.

What matters most is not whether we fear failing, looking foolish, or not being enough; it’s whether we give those fears the power to keep us from taking the actions needed to achieve our goals.

If you missed the free content that’s been coming out this week you can view the short video blogs here for top tips and more information on handling Imposter Syndrome

To get your early bird discount and download the course click the link below www.jessstuart.co.nz/imposter-syndrome

Is fear causing you to play small? Learn how to think big!

Do you have big dreams that always seem to be on the back burner?  Are there goals you’ve yet to achieve, a step out of your comfort zone you’ve been terrified to make so far?  Are there people out there you admire yet you’re not sure how you’d ever get to where they are now?

There are many reasons we play it small and sometimes we’re not even aware of what’s guiding our choices as it sits in our subconscious.  Either way the result is the same – the answer is yes, if you play it small you will always miss out on making it big.

One of the main things that stops us is fear!  Fear of what other people will think.  Fear of losing what we have, of leaving what we know.  Fear of being different.  Fear of the unknown.  What if I get it wrong?  What if I lose what I have?  What if I fail?  Fear of rejection means that sometimes we won’t even ask the question.  Our fear of failure means that we often prefer to play it safe to avoid failure – but at what cost?

And is failure really such a bad thing that it brings about such fear in us?  Giving ourselves permission to fail is part of learning to play it big – the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures.  I used to think that if we avoided failure we’d be successful by default but I now believe that failure is actually part of the path to success and each failure can be a step closer to success.

I spent years learning what I don’t know (the art of writing, marketing 101, and the business side of publishing) and still I sometimes fail!  I put on events and no-one turned up, my first royalty cheque was worth less than $5.  It didn’t stop me because if I gave up all the hard work to date would have been for nothing.  It’s taught me to learn to see the success in failure – the lessons learned. 

But as well as fear of failure, it’s worth noting that we may also (ironically) experience a fear of success!  Summed up perfectly by Marianne Williamson who said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Fear is what happens when we try to take a step outside of our comfort zone.  It’s called that for a reason.  It feels nice, safe and comfortable and that’s why it’s so easy to stay there.  It takes courage to step outside our comfort zone and do things that are different and unfamiliar.  But if we can move outside of our comfort zone it expands, as our comfort zone becomes bigger we learn more.  Things become easier as there are now fewer things outside our comfort zone, therefore less that scares us.  Think of public speaking, a thing that sits outside most people’s comfort zone.  It makes many of us nervous, me included.  But once we’ve done one, we can do another and by the time we’ve done 30 our comfort zone has expanded and now includes public speaking.  So it no longer feels so nerve racking and our confidence improves.  Yes, it’s a challenge, yes they’ll be fear, danger and maybe even failure along the way, but that’s part of the path and unless you travel the path you’ll never grow. 

Our fear of failure can also breed a perfectionism in us that means if we can’t do it 100% right and right now we don’t do it at all.  Well, sometimes done is better than perfect and getting the ball rolling, making a start, taking action is key on the road to making it big.  You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress – in fact it is the only way.  We’re always learning, never perfect and continuously developing.

We do struggle with being a work in progress though and many of us (70% according to the journal of behavioural science) suffer from Imposter syndrome which can also be a major contributing factor in our playing it small.  Imposter Syndrome is an inability to internalize accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.  Often feeling like you’re not as good as people seem to think therefore not as deserving or capable of the success you’re experiencing.

It impacts both men and women, no-one is immune to the self-doubt this feeds (apart from narcissists).  But what matters most is not whether we fear failing, it’s whether we give those fears the power to keep us from playing it big. 

Imposter Syndrome can also be blamed for us downplaying our achievements and not claiming deserved credit.  It can also be from our need to please, to fit in and be liked.  We may have been brought up not to boast of our achievements and to overplay modesty as a way if being liked.  This can lead us to downplaying our achievements or waving away recognition and simply not valuing our success.  Our cultural expectations can play a role here too; “don’t get above your station” – the tall poppy!  Your success may appear as a threat to others so we downplay it to protect them; older siblings, best friends, male partners.  In many cultures girls are taught to avoid risks whereas boys are encouraged – it can have lasting impacts on us and that decision we take on whether to lean in and go for it or not.  We downplay achievements because no-one likes a big head and we all desperately want to be liked or we step back rather than lean in because we’ve been conditioned to and we want to fit the mould – either way we chose to play small each time.

Whether we’re frozen to the spot due to fear or imposter syndrome or (highly likely) a bit of both, when things scare us we can find so many excuses that prevent us from moving forward.  It’s already been done, I don’t have the time, I need some more experience or money or the time just isn’t right yet.  We worry about leaving our comfortable familiar place to step out into the unknown and most of all we worry about the potential impacts of making that move.  What will people think?  What if I get it wrong?  What if I lose what I have?  What if I fail?  All valid concerns and all potential outcomes we risk when we take a step into the unknown – but there’s no way of getting around it, it’s part of the journey.  Grow is not supposed to be comfortable, it’s supposed to stretch us so that we can learn and grow into the people we’re capable of being.

Don’t forget as well that if we are playing it small it could also mean we don’t want to make it big.  Not taking up a promotion opportunity could be for any of the reasons above but it could also be because we simply don’t want it.  The seniority is not for us, we don’t want the hours and pressure or we may be in the wrong job all together so it pays to be aware of this option as well in order to guide our decisions.  Sometimes playing it big can mean saying no, walking away from something that isn’t right to play it big elsewhere.

Playing it small is easier and safer, it appeals to our aversion to risk taking and desire to stay in the comfortable, familiar place we know.  Playing it big is hard, it’s scary and it takes courage to go there but it pays off – it’s worth it and there’s no way of doing it without the tough side effects we have to navigate.

There’s no short cut and those who’ve got to where you’d like to be haven’t found a certain secret you’ve been missing, nor have they got it right and you’ve got it wrong.  They have just faced their fears, worked hard, learned from the mistakes and decided they want to play big.

6 hacks to handle Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something that I’ve suffered from most of my life—and I thought I was the only one.

After 15 years working with people in personal development and then running my own training and coaching business, it transpires that many others feel exactly the same.

I spent most of my career doubting my abilities, and getting promotions didn’t seem to help. I still felt like an imposter who’d be found out one day. The reality was I was good at my job and even bigger jobs as the promotions came—but each new job would raise the same fear: I’m not sure I can do this.

The same voice also told me I’d never be a writer. Who would read it apart from my mum? You’re not good enough, you’re not qualified, you can’t spell, and you don’t even have a degree.

It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s a lot more common than we think. I thought it was only me, but every woman I speak to who confesses they feel it too also believes she is the only one! According to the Journal of Behavioural Science, 70 percent of people suffer from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” It’s that voice of self-doubt that, despite our successes, keeps us feeling like we might fail, we might not be good enough, and we might get found out.

Those with imposter syndrome have a tendency to attribute their success to external factors—like luck, or the work of the team. It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue dreams that leave you open to the risk of failure, falling short, losing face, and being “found out.”

So what can we do about it?

It’s something I’ve learned to handle and to live alongside because it’s always there. Sadly, it’s not something we can easily overcome—but we can learn to navigate through and succeed in spite of it. Here’s how:

1. Own your successes.

You didn’t get lucky by chance. We tend to be modest when it comes to our achievements, and have been brought up not to boast about our strengths. We feel uncomfortable accepting praise and our negativity bias in our brain means we’re wired not to think of the positives so much.

I’ve found that keeping an achievement journal helps. I also have a folder on my computer where I file messages of praise and feedback to look back on when I’m having those moments of doubt. Remembering positive feedback from colleagues and friends helps too, as it often carries more weight than when we praise ourselves.

The most important thing to remember is that if we’re getting praise or positive feedback, it’s because we’ve earned it and deserve it. Own it and let it help counter some of those moments of self-doubt.

In fact, let’s start now: write down your top three strengths. Why do people come to you, what do your colleagues at work value in you, and what do people tell you you’re good at?

2. Give it your all and know it’s enough.

Sometimes our imposter syndrome is due to our fear of failure and our perfectionism manifesting all at once to give us this fear of not being good enough. We fail to meet our own unrealistic ideals of perfection—either in the way we look, our abilities in life, or our achievements at work. Perfectionism so often sets us up to fail and feeds these feelings of self-doubt.

Overcoming the imposter syndrome requires self-acceptance: you don’t have to attain perfection to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved. It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level. You don’t have to be Einstein to be a valuable asset or worthy of love. Nor do you have to attain perfection to share something with the world.

3. Don’t let your doubt and fear stop you.

We need to continue to take risks and challenges even though we might not think we’re ready—especially women. Too often, we stand back and let the opportunities pass us by because we doubt our capabilities. The best way to see if you’re ready is to dive in and take on the challenge!

There will always be a feeling of fear and the risk of failure—we grow and develop by facing these fears and getting outside of our comfort zone. Don’t let your worries hold you back. I’d often use the “fake it till you make it” technique to overcome these feelings of fear and doubt when I took on new challenges. I’d act and dress confidently so I at least looked the part, and took comfort in the fact no one else could see what was going on in my head.

4. Remember: your thoughts are not common knowledge.

I know how it feels to be gripped by imposter syndrome—we spend all our energy trying to prove our worth to everyone else to make it go away. The funny thing is, only we believe that we’re not capable. For example, we wouldn’t have been offered the job if people didn’t think we were capable. The only person we need to prove anything to is ourselves.

5. Acknowledge it and know it’s not just you.

We need to be mindful that the voice in our head is often swayed. We are wired to see the glass as half empty, to focus on the negative. This comes from evolutionary times when it was helpful for us to always see the worst that could happen in order to survive. In the days of cavemen and women, it was useful for us to be wary of a saber-toothed tiger around the corner because then we’d be prepared to run.

What this can translate to in our modern world is a constant focus on what we’re not good at, things that went wrong, and why we’re not enough—in our jobs, how we look compared to our friends, who we are as a person, or what we’ve achieved in life.

This negativity bias can leave us feeling like we’ll never be good enough. So to counter the bias, we need to focus on what we have, not what we haven’t, to direct our energy toward the things we’re good at rather than on what might go wrong and where we might fail.

Know that it’s not something we experience alone. Some of the most successful people I know who seem to have mastered life admit that underneath, they feel the opposite some days. Even famous people earning millions and excelling at what they do admit to having moments of self-doubt.

6. Stop comparing yourself to others.

It’s the fastest way to feel inferior and feed our self-doubt. Unfortunately there will always be someone more beautiful, clever, talented, or stronger than you. But the reverse is also true: at times, you will be the most talented and successful. So instead of comparing yourself to others, look to see if you’re fulfilling your own potential and celebrate the things you have.

We are all capable of more than we know, and we can do amazing things if we’re not busy doubting our abilities. Next time that negative voice in your head starts to speak, turn down the volume.

What matters most is not whether we fear failing, looking foolish, or not being enough; it’s whether we give those fears the power to keep us from taking the actions needed to achieve our goals.

Detox Lessons

As my 10 day detox draws to a close I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned and how I might take some lessons forward to make sustainable tweaks to the way I live.  To keep it going but in a more moderated way, some middle ground – both with food and technology!

The detox has been like pressing pause and a kick start for healthier habits but beyond this it’s made me so much more aware.

It wasn’t as hard as I’d imagined and at times I found myself actually enjoying it – and other times I’d wish I’d never thought of the idea!  Particularly the first few days before the headaches wore off and my body ached liked I was getting the flu – apparently though this was just the toxins working their way out.

Admittedly there’s been a few breaks in the 10 day detox, a treat cup of tea with milk – the caffeine high lasted all morning and left my feeling like I was a bit drunk!  And a couple of healthy meals when I needed that extra boost.  But the strange thing is despite thinking about pizza so often I don’t actually want any.  My cravings now are for the simple things I missed; a cup of tea with milk, a piece of cheese on a cracker, toast with butter!  It seems the more healthily we eat the less junk food we crave and I suppose the reverse is also true.  That’s why it’s so easy to get stuck in unhealthy cycles.  That’s been my main lesson from this experiment – the power of habits and our ability to form new habits, press reset.

So I’ve lost a few kilos but that’s just a bonus in terms of the real benefits, the way I feel – which is somehow just brighter and lighter, how my body functions and the lessons I’ve learned.  So what have I learned and what might I do differently now?

To create some healthier habits around my device, not having it in the bedroom so it doesn’t become the last thing I do at night and the first thing I reach for in the morning.  Resolving to check it only at certain times of the day to reduce that habit of constantly reaching for it.  Removing the notifications from apps so each time I use my phone I’m not distracted by these little calls for attention and promises of social validation.

The food detox has really increased my awareness around my relationship with food.  We’ve been brought up to clear out plates, don’t leave the table until you’ve eaten all your dinner.  Even when we’re out for dinner there’s a feeling of eating more to get value.  I’ve become much more mindful about what I eat and why.  Stopping when I’m full and knowing that that’s after less food than my brain often believes.  Being more aware of emotional eating and not just reaching for food because its midday or we’ve been invited to a party and there’s snacks. 

It’s been an interesting experiment and one that’s benefitted my health but I’m also keen to return to something more balanced and moderated – that will be the big test!