Usually, there is a word.
Some phrase or sentence that when uttered, has the power to leave us feeling small and powerless. Diminished. Childlike.
I wonder what is it for you?
For me, that word is bossy. I have a vivid memory of being eight years old and being called a ‘bossy little girl’ by a teacher.
In that moment it felt like the worst thing I could ever be.
I had asked Miss Scott what time my little brother’s class was finishing.
This was important information to me. My brother was incredibly anxious when he started school, would grip onto Mum’s leg and scream and cry not to have to go. Grandad Harry used to pick us up and drive us each morning to minimise the trauma at the school gate.
For months I spent the morning in my brothers class to help him adjust. I remember feeling the weight of this responsibility, I was navigating the adult world, asking questions I thought Mum would ask. I felt so grown-up.
But I was immediately on the outer with my classmates and lunchtime became a torment of who would sit with me. I ended up making friends with other outsiders, including a girl named Jennifer who had an imaginary dog (sometimes I would pretend I could see him just to make her feel better).
I learnt it was kinder to say what people wanted to hear. At all costs, I shouldn’t make a fuss.
At eight I learned to put my needs second. I found it was necessary to plan ahead and be organised to get my schoolwork (which I loved) done. And when I learnt it was not safe to be direct, I used humour and self-deprecation to make requests.
I did that for the next 30 years to avoid the burning shame of ever being called bossy again.
Last Friday afternoon, Ash and I wandered through the Japanese maples at Westonbirt Arboretum. While Bohdi wandered about looking for disgusting things to roll in, we chatted about those poignant moments of our childhood that reduced us, the words that wielded so much power over our little spirits.
As we wandered through the reds and golds and ambers and rich glossy browns, I was struck by how much colour we had both lost when we came in contact with the confusing adult world.
This is where the seeds of self-doubt are planted. It’s so easy for us to remain bound in place by the vines they weave around us. But when we bring these memories into the light and have a little poke around, we get to see how much choice we still have over events that may be decades old.
As adults we are free to decide what meaning we give those experiences, we can have a deeper understanding of what else might have been going on, we can release ourselves from taking responsibility for events that were beyond our control.
This is how we heal the root causes of our self-doubt, rather than manage the symptoms. It’s how I have reclaimed bossy for my adult self.
Bossiness is organised compassion.
It’s about clarity and leadership and excellence. It’s about getting things that matter, done. It has turned out to be one of my greatest strengths.
And because bossy doesn’t sting anymore, I am not wasting time and energy tying myself in knots trying to avoid ever being labelled thus.
Finding my way through has set me free.
Understanding where the seeds of your self-doubt were sown and healing those hurts is a fundamental aspect of Your Self-belief Map. We follow a gentle process to help you look at the root causes of your Self-doubt, navigate your way through, and cultivate Self-belief. The class size is small, the content is rich, practical and immediately applicable to your life. I’d love to support you.
Current highlights of my Facebook feed include:
- A photo of a pensive looking dog.
- Someone apologizing for sharing an image of her (gorgeous) hairdo, after learning neo-Nazi’s were marching in Charlottesville.
- Someone sharing their latest e-course about mindfulness.
- A genius video that offers a valid explanation for Trump’s absurd rhetoric.
- Someone stating that if you run an online business and don’t speak out against injustice, she will never buy from you.
- A story about a disabled goat (with a happy ending).
Since the day after the UK voted to leave the European Union, I’ve experienced an underlying sense of dread – that we are on the edge of something dangerous, fragile.
It’s been helpful to remind myself that it was ever thus. Our world was founded on the violence and oppression of colonisation. Consequently, sexism and racism are the cornerstones of our culture.
It’s still difficult to realise the truth of this. It’s excruciating to come to know the ways that we actively, if unconsciously participate in it. And it can be heartbreaking to discover the people we care about, hold views that deliberately support and perpetuate it.
I have found injustice – the fear, anger, sadness, the utter wrongness at the state of things – to be one of the hardest emotions to articulate.
My work is about helping people to navigate through self-doubt. One of the core ways that self-doubt protects us, is to keep us silent, invisible.
Because so much of our connection happens online these days, social media is becoming the wild west of our awakening to consciousness. Naturally, it’s a mess.
Sometimes going online feels like walking into a firefight. There are assumption grenades thrown down the High St, judgmental potshots pepper the air; somewhere on a water tower, there’s a Sniper of Justice ready to take out anyone who isn’t meeting expectations.
Meanwhile, underneath a porch, a yoga teacher is just trying to share a picture of her avocado toast, utterly bewildered by the lack of love and light and Lululemon in the world.
There is no award for the most righteous.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world, if you are hiding because you fear being shamed for getting it wrong, or if everything that is NOT political feels too frivolous to share, I’m with you. Here are a few approaches I’ve found helpful:
1 Don’t dismiss people who aren’t perfect (including yourself)
We are all in the muck of it. And we all have an endless ability to be thoughtless, inarticulate, plain wrong.
I have learnt SO much from being willing to look at all the ways I am blind to my own bias. Saying ‘that’s not what I meant’ and clarifying. Saying ‘I didn’t know that’ or, ‘I’m sorry’ opens everything up.
‘Be humble and ready to fumble’ is stellar advice from Desiree Adaway, an activist who uses her Facebook feed to talk about oppression (Desiree sets an unapologetic example, is poetic, fierce, thoughtful and you should all totally follow her).
And if you are on the receiving end of something that causes offence, first: pause. Consider the nature of your connection before deciding how to respond. I tend to ask for clarification and let people show me who they are.
Because we are always in choice.
We can choose to argue, disagree, rage against them in all caps, share an alternative experience, forgive them, decide they are not our people. Or just assholes.
My hunch is that we don’t want to feel separate from each other, which is why it hurts when someone lets us down. It makes complete sense that our natural inclination is to armour up. But it’s really freakin’ hard to grow, learn, dance or fall over, in a suit of armour.
2 Don’t get in the way
You know how it goes. Some people are discussing something – posting links, proffering ideas – and then someone will rock up and say ‘What about ‘this’ though?’ and introduce some adjacent but unhelpful side issue that invariably takes the conversation somewhere else. The original poster then gets sucked into an exhausting vortex of something slightly related to what they first meant.
When we get in the way, we hijack the conversation. And there is just no need to piggyback off someone else. If you have an opinion, make it in your own way. And then refer to 1. (above).
And when you get accosted by someone who says ‘You cannot talk about this unless you also talk about that’ the best response is: ‘thanks! I’d love you to take that bit on and talk about it on your page/feed’.
Kelly Diels once offered a useful metaphor – that we are all deconstructing the walls of oppression, and the fastest way to do this, is for all of us to take out the bricks in front of us. We all do our bit, based on our experience, knowledge and ability and slowly, collectively, we’ll take the thing down.
3 Don’t assume silence is assent
Many of us are in an ongoing relationship with grief. One of the hardest parts of my job is sitting with women who are processing through the echoes of sadness, often from decades old events.
I don’t think we ever get to a place of being healed; instead, we learn to tend to the scars of our loss as best we can. One of the ways we do this is to protect our energy.
There is a deep and insidious fatigue that anyone who is not white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied or mentally well must endure every damn day.
Sometimes, breathing is an act of revolution. Sometimes silence is self-care. Sometimes not getting involved in a debate on Facebook, is as far from assent as we can imagine.
4 Keep showing up
Many, many times I have not said or written something because I was worried that it might seem frivolous. I didn’t want to be judged or to be insensitive. But this serves no one.
I am trying to show up with courage and to do this in as thoughtful a way as I can.
So keep sharing your beautiful work. And dying your hair purple. Writing poetry. Photographing your avocado toast, and your kids cooling off under a sprinkler with that look of pure joy on their faces. Keep making jewellery. Share the goat videos.
We need this more than ever.
5 Participate (because we are going to need more than just love and light)
You can march in the streets. You can also stand firm in your home, your office, your Instagram feed and at the family dining table.
You can donate to causes, organisations and individuals who are doing the heavy lifting. You can join in.
I believe with everything in my bones that your voice matters.
Because it’s not ignorance, hate or fear that is at risk of defeating us. Our real enemy is indifference.
When we are so weary from all the terror, bold-faced lies, incompetence and political rhetoric, that we opt out.
We don’t watch, we don’t read, we don’t speak up and we don’t think critically. We see people that don’t look like us as the Other. Perhaps suspicious, a threat.
And we separate.
But it only takes one of us
to create a connection, find common ground, open up the possibility of neighbourly love.
To see each other with wide-eyed reality. To keep the flames of hope burning.
While the world wakes up to itself, hope is not cheap optimism. It’s our life raft.