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.

Why Kindness is a skill

Many of us are brought up today to look after number one, to go out and get what we want—and the more of it we can have, the better.

Our society preaches survival of the fittest and often encourages us to succeed at the expense of others.

I was no different, and while I noticed a tendency to feel sorry for others and want to help, I was too busy lining my own pockets and chasing my own success to act on these impulses. I worried that kindness was me being soft and, therefore, a weakness that may hamper my progress, especially at work as I moved up the ranks.

It was only when I quit my corporate career, after years of unhappiness, to realign my values and rebuild a life around my passions that I learned the true value of kindness and how it has impacted my life since.

I volunteered overseas with those less fortunate. I lived in yoga ashrams and spent time with Buddhist nuns and monks across many different countries. I learned how compassion and kindness can be a source of strength, and since then I’ve applied this wisdom, with success, repeatedly into my own life.

Our natural response to seeing someone in distress is to want to help. We care about the suffering of others and we feel good when that suffering is released. This applies if we do it ourselves, see it in a movie, or witness it in real life. It makes us feel good. Feeling like we’re making a difference in the world and helping those who need it brings us joy; it gives us meaning.

My grandma was the most giving person I ever knew.

When her weekly pension arrived she delighted in giving the grandchildren money, even though it meant having little to spend on herself.

Family members would get upset that they bought her lovely gifts, which she then re-gifted to others, often less fortunate. Over the years I began to understand that it if she gifted it to someone else, it meant that she liked it and thought it was worthy of sharing.

Knowing the pleasure she got from giving to others and that she wasn’t in the position to buy things herself, I saw it as her getting the gift twice: the pleasure of receiving it but then also the pleasure she got from being able to give it to someone else. The recipients were always grateful and touched by her kindness too.

Buddhists say, “All the happiness there is in the world comes from us wishing others to be happy.” When we do good deeds for others it makes us feel good.

James Baraz quotes statistics on why giving is good for you in his book Awakening Joy. “According to the measures of Social Capital Community Benchmark survey, those who gave contributions of time or money were 42 percent more likely to be happy than those who didn’t.”

Psychologists even have a term for the state of euphoria reported by those who give. It’s called “helpers high,” and it’s based on the theory that neuroscience is now backing up: Giving produces endorphins in the brain that make us feel good. This activates the same part of the brain as receiving rewards or experiencing pleasure does.

Practicing kindness also helps train the mind to be more positive and see more good in the world. There’s plenty of it out there; it just doesn’t seem like it because, while the kind acts outnumber the bad, they don’t make as many headlines.

When I think back to how life was before, I realize that I wasn’t even being kind to myself, so it makes sense that I didn’t value kindness for others. I’ve learned it’s about self-respect first, and from there it’s much easier to respect others. Kindness as a skill taps into our true strength. We can respect ourselves when we are being kind to others and to our planet.

Read the rest of the blog here on Tiny Buddha

The business of writing; lessons learned from my first book 

3 years ago I quit my corporate job, left my house by the beach and all the material trappings I’d created in search of a different way of life.  You see, I’d followed the path to success and when I’d ‘arrived’ I hadn’t actually got to where I thought it’d lead – I wasn’t happy.  In fact quite the opposite, I was unfulfilled, tired and unhappy.  Over the course of the next year I travelled the world in search of answers, learned from different cultures and traditions and spent time doing the things I loved to see where that would lead. I made life simpler and I grew happier, I found my authenticity and sense of purpose and what’s more I discovered my passions. One of which was writing and out of this journey came my first book to share with others what I’d learned.

I remember how proud I was when I’d finished the manuscript and when it went to be printed and I chose the cover design.  I delighted in signing copies for family and friends and calling myself an author but ironically I thought that writing the book would be the hard part, I thought at this point my job was done!  What I hadn’t realised at the time that there was a whole new world about to open up, a world of the business of writing that I needed to learn to navigate and a world that I knew nothing about.  Having learned so much about the business side of writing a book over the last year, looking back there are things I’d liked to have shared with my unpublished self as I set out on this journey and I hope that by sharing it helps others too.

I wrote a non fiction, self help book related to wellness and happiness so the advice will likely be different for other genres and especially different for fiction.  Find out more about my book, A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life here www.inspireyourlife.org/book

I wanted to get published but had no platform so despite the agents and publishing houses I submitted my work to (even those who fed back the writing was good), no-one would take a punt on a first time, unknown author with no following.  So I had to do it myself and that meant understanding how to market the book and set up my ‘author business’.  Here’s a few things I leanred along the way;

Marketing

Self promotion can be hard for authors, it doesn’t often come naturally.  I knew nothing about Marketing when I started and it was one of my least favourite things to do but I set out, step by step, to put the things I was learning into practice and build my business and platform.

When writing a (non fiction) book, platform is so important. Who will buy it unless they know it exists?  Marketing what we do is a critical part of this, allowing the message to resonate with people, reaching your target audience and encouraging followers to build that platform. These are people that want to know you, like what you have to say and may buy copies of your book, products you create and may then also talk about this in their own networks.

We all have existing networks and can often overlook this in search of new followers.  Leverage your network – we all have one even if it’s just family and friends, get out and connect with the community, talk about what you do, send messages to local groups, get the word out.

I now have a monthly newsletter and a mailing list set up in mailchimp and use this to communicate events, blog posts, places to buy the book, encourage people to leave amazon reviews etc.  Sometimes I’d do competitions and give aways or launch a new product this way too – like my online courses and coaching packages.

I had to strike the balance between teaching myself what I didn’t know (the internet is such a great resource for this) whilst paying for some of the stuff I couldn’t do myself (website SEOs for example!)  However with the budget being tight I ended up having to learn a lot more than I’d anticipated.   I also sought out those who’d gone before, those who were 5 years further down the track and the success I wanted to become.  I learned from those people, even the ones I couldn’t meet (with skype, online tutorials, reading their books etc).  YouTube and Udemy have been invaluable for my education as have countless blogs from those who’ve been there before and made the mistakes I’d like to learn from.

Getting the word out

I blog but not just for my own site.  I send blogs to other platforms with millions of followers, it was all for free but great exposure and sent traffic towards my website and helped boost my mailing list.  It also puts my work infront of far more people than I could ever reach alone.  I set up a YouTube channel and recorded short video clips with nice backdrops talking about the same topics I blog on.  Not everyone likes to read so having a variety of mediums for your message reaches a different audience and makes it more accessible.  I also find blogging helps me try out new ideas and initiates some creativity in my writing.  In fact some of my chapters of the book actually include previous blogs I’ve written.

Another way of sharing the message and an offshoot for many authors is speaking.  Not often a writers favourite thing but necessary if you want to promote the book.  Speak anywhere to anyone and even if one person shows up you never know where that might lead.  Some of my events have sold out, others have had no-one turn up, it’s trial and error and we learn as we go.  I also set up a meet up group to form a new network and followers but also a chance to host my own events related to topics within my book and a way of spreading the word and increasing my platform.

Although I hate cold calling I did send off short emails with a link to my website to anyone who I thought might be interested.  I’d just explain who I am and what I do, a bit about my book and that because it’d just launched I was speaking for free in a bid to aid my marketing and should they wish to take advantage of this we could discuss dates.  I targeted other meet up groups, local community groups, book shops, libraries, yoga studios, face book groups and local businesses and conferences that had a similar audience and matching themes to my book.

Setting up as a business

The first thing I did was learn to build a basic website in wordpress.  It has an about me page with my photo, a contact form, a page about my book and a blog page which is linked up to my mailing list so each time I blog they get it sent straight to them. There is also a pop up on there to encourage visitors to any page to sign up to the mailing list.

I also got some business cards produced which have my details on one side and my book on the other.  Further down the track (quite recently) I also got some professional headshots done to use on my website, biography, promotions material and hopefully the next book!

I learned about social media and got myself onto as many platforms as I could manage; facebook, twitter, pinterest, linked in, Instagram etc.  I use these platforms for sharing links to my book, articles and blogs I write, events I’m running and gaining more followers by directing traffic back to my website/mailing list.  Sometimes I use boosts to target audiences to promote my book, new products or events.  I’ve also found it helpful sharing these things on other facebook groups for extended networks and promotion but also connecting with those similar to yourself who you can learn from or just networking.

The Book launch

When it comes time to launch the book marketing a promotion is key.  I set up local free events about the topics of my book so interested people would come to learn; the book was for sale at these events.  I used thunderclap to garner support for launch day (a social media campaign to garner support and promote coordinated exposure across platforms).  I contacted local press and did interviews with anyone who’ll listen, I also gave free copies of the book for them to use as competition give aways.

I made a book trailer, like a movie trailer, to help spread the message and promote the book upon launching.  It’s on YouTube and I can share the link anywhere, I’ve also embedded it in my website and on my amazon author page etc.  Check it out here https://youtu.be/OgKoSLQpUt4

Sometimes you have to give to get and at first this may seem counter intuitive but I’ve found doing giveaways and competitions great ways of getting coverage and people talking about the book.  It seems counterintuitive when you’re trying to make sales but if you give a sample of your work away for free and people like it they might by a book or they’ll talk about it to their friends who’ll by a book.  Also used this mantra when putting material free online; blogs and video blogs.  Samples of my work that’ll do the talking for me should someone be looking at what I do, an example of my work in action and a taster of what they’ll get should they buy the book or any other service.  I’ve given away free copies of my book at special events (for exmaple the one year anniversary of being published) this actually drove more sales at that event than I’d done before, even though I gave 5 copies away for free.

Streams of income

As many writers will attest we write for love not money and whilst it may be true that very few books make a profit I’ve found that from non fiction books often comes other streams of income.  From my book came online courses, events, retreats and coaching.  At the events people would ask me to come and speak to their business on the same topics, especially mindfulness.  So then came the corporate gigs, presentations, workshops and training sessions.  My book is a tool to sell my business/work but vice versa my business is a platform for book sales too.

Lessons I learned

It takes time – be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day and we’re not going to be overnight successes.  It’s slow progress every day where we’re building our platform or book sales.  I thought once the book was published that would be it, instant success.  Building the business that is the book and being an author is like building any business from scratch.  It takes time, word has to get out and you build it up from the ground over a few years.  So in the early days prepare not to make money, I had a day job to back me up during these times.

Reflect and be proud – quite often with so much to do after the buzz of the launch it can be easy to forget you made it, you published a book, you’re now an author.  So keep remembering to hold it in your hand and reflect on your success in getting to this point, all the hard work and here you have a finished book, you’re an author.

It’s a careful balance and sometimes I feel like the business of writing takes time away from my actual writing but in order to sell books and be known I feel like sometimes it’s a necessary evil.  I’ll pullback on the business commitments when I begin a new big project, like my next book but also find that sometimes it’s a welcome distraction to do some of these admin jobs on a day when the inspiration is not flowing as I’d like.  It doesn’t matter how good a book is, if no-one knows it exists it’ll never get read so marketing is key (love it or hate it) in helping get the word out.

Having done it once I now know so much more that I hope to apply next time around as I contemplate writing book number 2.  As a result of my work promoting this book and learning about the business side of writing I am now also a more attractive prospect to a future publisher.  I have one book to my name so they know I can do it, I have a following, have built a platform, I know how to market and I know what’s involved in publishing a book.

The others lessons I feel have been important during this journey are that we should never expect that it’s going to be easy.  It is all down to us and no-one will do it for us so row your own boat.  And most importantly, never give up. It will get tough and there’s times it’ll feel too hard and that everything is failing but if you give up you’ll never know how close you could have been to success and all the work you’ve done to date will be for nothing.

Like many first time writers I’d assumed that once I was published I’d be a best selling author in no time despite everyone telling me writers don’t often make money.  The lesson I’ve learned is whilst our books may not make a profit it can lead to other things that do.  I also learned that success as a writer for me is less about sales and royalties and more about sharing my message and the people I get to help along the way.

I don’t pretend to be an expert (far from it) and am continuously learning in this space but i certainly feel more prepared going into book 2 as a result of what i learned from my experience publishing my first book.

How to thrive at work (and life) as a woman

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day which brought up many conversations, some about progress and some about the inequalities that still exist today despite said progress.  We talked a lot about why there are still so few women in leadership and how we change this.

I’ve worked in leadership and personal development for many years so much of this is close to my heart and being a woman, something I’m passionate about.  Women have faced many challenges over the years and even now many of us seem to do it tough, partly due to the world we’ve grown up in but I believe also partly to do with our own thoughts, views and expectations.

I’ve watched women both in and out of work try to juggle many balls.  To be the career woman and compete with men at the top table.  To come home and be a good mother, make delicious meals for the family, pick the kids up from school, arrange the family social engagements, keep the house clean, ring the parents and try to ensure we don’t forget anyone’s birthday!  All whilst ensuring we wear the latest clothes, go to the gym, make the 6 am yoga class, keep our weight down and always look our best – no wonder it seems so hard.

I’ve never felt as a woman that I’m less capable than a man or less worthy of being at the top table and I grew up with no women role models in business.  I worked mostly in manufacturing and in my first senior HR job when promoted at 25 in a timber factory I was the youngest manager and the only woman.  I knew most of the guys doubted my abilities on both counts but it drove me to prove them wrong and deliver on what I knew I was capable of, even though I knew I was, at times, out of my depth.

What followed was the climbing of the ladder progressing in my career but also the development of me as a person which ultimately ended in me realising I was on the wrong ladder!  At the peak of my career I decided to give it all up to follow my passions as a writer.  At the same time I went through my own journey of self-discovery, finding my authenticity, comfort in my own skin and a self-awareness of who I was and what I wanted.  Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

I’ve been lucky to work with some great male colleagues and also some not so great over the years and whilst I believe they play a huge role in aiding our success (the majority of leadership roles, and therefore positions of influence, are occupied by men) I also think the buck stops with us.  If we don’t value ourselves or think we’re capable of the job or think we deserve a seat at the table how do we expect anyone else to?  As woman we are responsible for setting the boundaries and the expectations on what is acceptable and expected.  If we go into a room feeling second class or like we don’t belong we put ourselves at a disadvantage and create conditions for this to be accepted by others.

Last week I heard many women talking about leadership using the comparison to their male counterparts.  ‘A man would do this’.  So What?  Why do we compare to them?  Being successful is not about being more like men but being more like ourselves.  Sometimes I feel like as women we’re waiting for someone to sign a permission slip for us to succeed, for it to be ok to achieve our potential and be as great as we truly are.  Well in the spirit of my comment above – men don’t ask for permission, why do we?  Why as women do we have a need to feel validated outside of ourselves, to be invited to speak?  A lot of this comes down to self-confidence and belief.  How can we expect others to believe we’re capable if we don’t?

This is easier said than done.  For many years I’d offset my Imposter Syndrome with the ‘fake it till you make it’ technique.  I’d tell myself over and over in my head that I was confident and capable until that message sank in.  I’d remind myself of all the feedback and praise I got and use the words of others to help my own brain understand what I was really capable of despite my own doubts.  I’d keep a list of my achievements in the back of my notebook and add to it each day.  Positive thinking and a positive mind set are key, it’s having a ‘can do’ attitude.  The belief that anything is possible and any set back can be overcome.  As Henry Ford said ‘whether you think you can or you can’t you’re probably right’.

It seems that men find this easier than women.  In my years in HR and Leadership countless times I’ve come across men who consider themselves capable of jobs that outweigh their skill set and women who think the opposite, the jobs they are more than qualified for they still see as a stretch.  Add to that the tendency then for men to ask for more than they are worth and women settle for less – this is surely a contributing factor to the gender pay gap and one we contribute to ourselves because if we ask for less we’ll be paid less.

There are other differences I’ve noticed during my years in the corporate world.  Women seem to want to devote a lot more time and effort into making their work perfect whilst men seem to do ‘just enough’.  Sometimes this is driven by our perfection and the need to do the best job possible but sometimes driven by an unconscious belief that we have to work twice as hard as men to prove our worth.  Many of these women I witness outperform their male counterparts and it’s less about the hours they work and more about the abilities they have.  Sometimes as women we struggle with presence.  Not speaking up, worried an idea is not yet perfect enough to be shared, or that we may not have the authority to challenge the discussion taking place.  I’ve seen women shy away from taking credit for their own good ideas or even letting their male counterparts take that credit on their behalf.  But how do we get noticed beyond letting our work do the talking?

I don’t believe we need to be more aggressive or assertive to break through the glass ceiling.  It’s about being savvy, letting our work do the talking and taking deserved credit for that work.  Others need to know who you are and see what you’re capable of, this implies having a presence, being noticed and taking the opportunities as they arise.  But in a bid to be noticed it can be too easy to try too hard, to be louder, more aggressive, more noticeable.  It’s tempting to fall into the trap of, if you can’t beat them, join them.  But success in leadership is not about being more like a man but being more like yourself and confident that this is enough.  I’ve found if we build good relationships when we talk people listen and it’s less about who is male or female around the table and more about who adds value and contributes.

As women, we have so many natural abilities that make us better leaders.  Emotional Intelligence is now seen to be one of the must have skills for successful leadership and it’s often something women possess naturally.  It helps us with empathy, resilience, people skills, relationship management and communication.  It’s our motivation in the face of set backs, the ability to understand and manage ourselves and others, it’s the awareness we have of both ourselves and others, it’s our passion and it’s our ability to make good decisions.

Our current position may be impacted by history, by the cultures we grew up in and what we’re lead to believe but it’s also within our control and down to us.  Our mind set, our attitude and ultimately our self-belief.  The buck stops with us if we want to change this.  Yes we may have had it hard in the past but there’s never been a better opportunity, it’s never impossible and it shouldn’t be as hard as we make it.  The only person stopping us is ourselves.

By being yourself and letting your results do the talking you’re already proving your worth.  We don’t need to act more like men to get noticed to earn our seat at the table.  We don’t need to be more assertive or change ourselves in some way to be seen as a leader, we just have to be good at what we do, embrace our authenticity and believe in our own worth.

Top tips for women at work:

  • Know yourself
  • Empower yourself – own this
  • Know what you want
  • Align to your values
  • Have an open mind
  • Learn and reflect
  • Take credit for your work
  • Take your opportunities – platform to be noticed, networks for those who’ll support you
  • Be resilient
  • Take time out for yourself
  • Trust your intuition
  • Find a mentor
  • Leverage your strengths
  • Set goals
  • Dream big – don’t limit yourself
  • Always do your best work and let that do the talking
  • Face your fears, get out of your comfort zone and believe in yourself

Weathering the storms

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How many of us have started 2017 thinking; “This year I want life to be less tough”? It may have felt like 2016 was tough, doesn’t every year feel that way by December? 

We heard a lot in the media about how awful 2016 had been, how many celebrities and top musicians we lost, the US election, the NZ Earthquake. I’m sure like most years 2016 has had its ups and downs for all of us, but in reality it’s less about what happens to us and more about how we react to it.  Toughtimes are always going to come so how do we navigate them better?  This quote sums it up well I think and puts us back in control.

Unfortunately we all have a tendency to focus on the bad and remember the negative more so than any positives, it’s how our brains are wired.  But how do we break this cycle?  Now it’s not about ignoring the bad and being Pollyanna or unreal, but more about remembering to acknowledge the good too.  I found this particularly true relfecting on the end of the year. 

Like most 2016 had been a long year of hard work, I’d achieved a lot and I’d had some failures too, things had gone wrong and there were goals I’d missed.  I found myself reflecting on a recent failure to deliver on a personal milestone (which admittedly in hindsight was way over ambitious!) and feeling like 2016 had not been a good one as a result.  What I wasn’t thinking about was all the wins I’d had along the way, the previous 11 months that had gone well and all the things I’d achieved throughout the year.  There were plenty of wins when I did sit a think about it so why was this one failure (albeit very recent) weighing on my mind? 

We can be too quick to move on from our successes and too slow to wallow in our failures, giving us the perception that if a few bad things have happened everything is bad, it’s been a bad year and life is hard.  What about all the good things, even the little things, especially the little things.  How often do we ever pause to consider all the things that have gone right?

Why don’t we take a minute to do that now?  List all the things that went well last year and all the things you’re currently grateful for and lucky to have – it may surprise you how long this list can be and how little time we may have spent celebrating the items on it.

It’s never all bad so let’s spend some time remembering the good.  Think of all the things now you’re lucky to have; family, friends, health, money in the bank (even a small amount), food in the fridge and roof over your head and all the things that make life good that so often we take for granted.

This came home to me recently when I took my annual trip back to the UK to see family over Christmas and whilst this meant leaving summer behind and a new relationship I was excited to reconnect with loved ones.  As sometimes is the case though, things don’t turn out how we expected, bad things happen and things don’t turn out the way we planned. This was one such occasion.

After a 33 hour trip I landed in London to make my way to my parents house. Unbeknown to me my 90 year old grandmother had a massive stroke the night before and was not expected to live.  My first port of call upon landing became a hospital stroke unit, and then for many days after as she struggled to let go of the life that was clearly leaving her.  Shortly after arriving I got sick, the kind of respiratory infection you only seem to get after long haul flights or English winters!  It left me bedridden with energy for nothing.  I was trying to enjoy being back but really I just wanted to be curled up at home in the sun with my girlfriend.  I found myself feeling guilty that I only get this chance once a year and people are looking forward to seeing me and I can’t be happy about it. I also find myself feeling like a failure when I become unhappy, after all it’s what I teach others!

The reality is we are all human and life is always going to be imperfect, rough and smooth.  Tough times will always come and sometimes all we can do is feel the pain, grieve a little and then move on.  It’s ok not to be ok, but it’s not ok to stay there.

My grandma passed away just after Christmas.  I was in bed by 730pm Christmas Eve and again at 5pm on Christmas Day.  Yet during the times I was awake I made the best of those moments.  I played with my nephews, had dinner with my parents, walked the dog and spent time with friends.

There is always a silver lining in every cloud but just sometimes we have to look real hard. If we are alive then we have something to be grateful for and it’s being grateful for the small things that helps us through the tough times, gives us perspective and strength to weather the storms.  And knowing when the storms hit that this will pass, it always gets better eventually.  As the saying goes, you can’t calm the storm but what you can do is calm yourself and the storm will pass.

Permission to fail; slowing down

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I don’t know about you but towards the end of the year I get jaded.  The last few weeks always seem a bit hard and I find myself counting down to a break over Christmas and the lure of the reset a New Year brings.  A chance to regroup and a clean slate to push on into another year.

It’s also a point I look at what I’ve achieved over this year, I’d set some lofty goals and being ambitious always want to ensure they’ve all been ticked off the list by the end of the year. Usually I’ll make sure of it, in the past even at the cost of my health, juggling many balls in the air making sure none dropped.

These days I try to spend more time being and less time doing, we live in such a busy, driven, over achieving world that it’s all too easy to lose our balance.  This might be why so many of us reach the end of the year longing for a break and limping over the finish line.

As I looked at the things I’d not quite done yet and the time left this year, my over committed schedule and the nice to haves I’d like to fit it (yoga, time with my girlfriend, Christmas shopping) I felt a little overwhelmed.  I also felt so short on energy that I lost all motivation to even want to do things nice to haves. I couldn’t even get excited by Christmas and the impending opportunity to visit my family, even buying them gifts seemed like an effort I didn’t have the time for and for me this is unusual.  I was so close to launching my online course, my last goal for 2016, and felt pressure to do this to coincide with the New Year and time was quickly running out. I’d had so much else on of late though and a packed travel schedule that I also felt like I didn’t have the energy to even know where to start.

I had one free weekend left so I figured I could work 12 hour days to cover some of this off, but then how good would it be, I really ought to be spending more time getting prepared and getting this right I thought.  But that would mean not completing this in 2016 as I had set in my goals – this would mean failure!

This is something that’s not normally an option for me but for the first time I allowed myself to fail and be comfortable with that, knowing I’d made the right choice.  I made peace with not having to get this done now, the fact that I’d overpromised and not allowed myself time for everything I’d wanted to do. I also remembered that without energy, rest and health how was I going to achieve any of my goals?  Self-care and balance really are the foundations for everything we do thereafter.

I’d had a lot of travel of late and needed to reground, I also knew I felt very tired and needed some rest.  I’d spent so much time doing that I’d left little time for being and this is so important to my health, not to mention my creativity and focus.  So I didn’t work 12 hour days, I let go of the notion of having to do everything and achieve all the goals I’d ambitiously set.  I allowed my overflowing schedule to relent for the weekend and spent the time on what I needed the most – rest, recharge and balance.  I used that time to go for walks, sleep in, meditate, rest and recharge, read and catch up with friends and family, I also got some Christmas shopping done and post recharge I feel excited about Christmas and am looking forwarding to spending time with my family overseas, I also feel slightly more prepared!

Balance is the key and knowing when to reprioritise and ensure we always do the things that matter first.  Whilst I’ll set more goals for 2017 I’m sure, as is my habit I’ll be over ambitious and need to re-tweak as we go through the year but this is less about failing and more about balance.  Knowing what’s important and ensuring we look after ourselves in the process of achieving our dreams.  Understanding that whilst we can do anything we want we can’t do everything and it doesn’t all have to be done now!

I’ve also taken the time to reflect on all the things I have achieved this year, rather than just dwelling on the misses.  I suggest you do too as we are always inclined to focus on what we missed rather than all of the little wins along the way.

We do have a tendency to over estimate all we can achieve, particularly in the 24 hours we get in a day!  I’m learning (slowly) that whilst we can do anything we want, we can’t do everything we want. Realising this helps me reprioritise what’s in my overly ambitious schedule to make it more manageable and realistic.

So as we prepare to enter into another new year I have set my goals but I’ll also know my priorities and when things get busy (as they do) I’ll make sure I manage them, even if that means some have to get reprioritised and pushed down the list.  The good news is the online course will be out next year and it’ll have had the time and effort put in that it so deserves which I hope brings a better product. I certainly feel like I have the energy required to put into the project now and have also learned another valuable lesson for balancing our busy over achieving schedules with what’s most important.

It’s ok to take time out, to say no, to admit something can’t be done and relook at our to do list and reprioritise.  In fact it’s often necessary to us being able to carry on effectively and not burn out, particularly at this time of year.  It’s critical we prioritise the things that matter and that we find time to look after ourselves, otherwise it’s very difficult to get anything done.

Ignite your life; live your passion

Live your dreams, find your passion and light your fire
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So many of us end up in jobs just for money—jobs that suffocate our soul but pay the bills.

I did.

I went through the motions of life without meaning and purpose. These are such a fundamental part of our happiness, but often we believe we can’t have both.

Meaning and purpose don’t have to come from our job; they can come out of our hobby (as for many artists) or the sense of satisfaction we get from helping others through volunteering. I felt more purpose in my voluntary jobs than in any paid job.

We may also find ways to incorporate our values and beliefs into our day jobs to make them more bearable—teaching others, solving problems, being a listening ear, or creating something unique. As we spend so much time at work, though, it makes sense to try to make money doing something we enjoy. Purpose is so much more than money can buy.

As I progressed up the corporate ladder, I found I became less fulfilled, despite the increased salary, the company car, posh hotels and holidays around the world.

My life still lacked meaning and purpose.  Find out how I found my passion and turned it into my career.  Read the full article here or watch the video blog below

 

6 life lessons learned from writing a book

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It’s on most people’s bucket lists—everyone has a book inside them, waiting to be written.

It’s such a big task though, where do we start? That’s why so many great books just stay inside people’s heads, unwritten.

I loved writing poetry as a kid, but these days, my writing skills are utilized more in the form of reports, emails and letters to staff. I was just about to quit my corporate job because I was unhappy, but I wasn’t sure what else I was going to do. I decided to take a year off to fix a life that had recently fallen apart and rebuild it into something that vaguely resembled happiness.

I set off around the world to live my dreams, to do all the things that made my heart sing and discover my passion. I trained to be a yoga teacher, visited many countries and experienced different cultures. I studied mindfulness and meditation and I volunteered, teaching English to Buddhist monks. I learned a lot about life and so much about myself and what it takes to create our own happiness.

Along the way I wrote—more for my own needs than anything else. I loved what I was learning and took notes as I went. This newly found wisdom, plus my own personal transformation, became a powerful message I wanted to share with others—and by the end of that year I was a blogger.

But a full-fledged author? That was another step—maybe one too far. I’d never really thought about it before, but as the notes piled up, I almost felt like there could be a book there. For a few months, I wrote in secret, before I was comfortable telling people about my dream. I’d never considered myself an author before, but here it was an actual book that I had written.

I overhauled my life and learned so much in the transformation, I wanted to share my story. What started off as my own personal writing therapy became something that now inspires others on similar journeys of self discovery. But as I wrote a book to share lessons I’d learned, the process itself taught me a host of other lessons too.

Advice for life and how to make the best of it from a writer.  Read the full post here

How to live your dreams, even when it’s not easy

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We all have an ideal life we dream of, but often there’s such a big gap between where we are and where we want to be it’s hard to know where to start, add to that the challenges of our busy lives and current commitments and that dream can soon seem impossible.

At age 30 I found myself trapped in a long-term relationship I’d outgrown, stuck in a corporate job I hated and trying to fit in and be what I thought the world wanted of me, not who I truly was. In fact I didn’t even know who I truly was and as a result I was unhappy and unfulfilled. But I was lucky enough to put myself on the path to transform my life into one I loved.

Fast forward three years and those dreams are a reality. I changed my career from head of HR to author and yoga teacher, I figured out my passions and I walked away from everything that wasn’t working and rebuilt my life around what would. My 9-5 was replaced with world travel, days on the beach filming video blogs, writing in cafés and interviewing people I’d long admired and wanted to learn from.  I trained to be a yoga teacher and lived in ashrams across the world. I volunteered teaching English to Buddhist monks and learned to meditate and I blogged about my story and wrote my first book.

But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses and whilst I have never regretted my decision there are times when I miss the familiarity and ease of my former life. It’s strange going from living with a partner of seven years to suddenly being alone, missing the security of a regular income, holiday and sick pay. The familiarity of knowing what each day would hold, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. I was gripped with fear about the unknown: What if I failed? What if I’d made the wrong choice and what were people thinking of me? Many of even my closest friends thought I was crazy for turning my back on what looked like a “successful” life.

click here to read the full article