I spent five days last week running my annual retreat.
Usually, I would be pretty much back at my desk asap, under some delusional notion that I had things to do that couldn’t possibly wait.
Back in my corporate days, I would actively choose to fly into Heathrow at 6 am and go straight in to work. It was a badge of honour to be able to tough it out, to never show any kind of weakness.
I earned so many kudos points for constantly saying how tired I was, how much I had on, how I was bravely forging on in spite of my unreasonable need for sleep. I completely bought into the idea that I was some sort of moist-robot; willpower and stoicism were all I needed.
I was so interested in competing to win, I never questioned if this was a moronic way to live.
It took days to recover from the jangly spacey not-quite-here feeling. It was brutal.
On Sunday after our retreaters left, we spent an hour collapsed on sofas, sharing our experience with many belly laughs and deep appreciation for each other. Then two therapists arrived to give us hour-long deep-tissue massages. We took turns to have our aching bodies pummelled by Rebecca and Anne, two older women with the air of midwives, who could hold us and our need for deep care. Then we celebrated with supper in front of the fire at a lovely pub in the next village.
By the time we crawled into bed, we had released so much.
Since we all got home, we’ve been messaging each other, checking in, staying connected. We’ve all taken at least a day to re-enter our lives.
I said yesterday on Instagram, that to have the space to recover physically and emotionally after such an undertaking, allowing everything to be absorbed and felt and to let it go, is a huge gift. But that buys into the idea that I should feel hashtag blessed for what is actually just necessary and humane care.
Back in the days of Heathrow red-eye flights, I felt constantly anxious that I wasn’t doing enough. I’ve spent decades obsessing about how much I weighed. I’ve lost days replaying conversations and worrying about what everyone thought.
It’s all the same kind of bullshit distraction.
We are conditioned to believe that taking time for ourselves is selfish and should render us guilt-ridden enough to double our efforts in order to ‘justify’ our rest.
We forget that we are creatures.
We ignore that productivity, progress and profit are all entirely made-up things.
If we collectively refuse to believe this, to ask for help, say no or just stop doing a lot of pointless crap we think we need to do, we would (eventually) bring down the patriarchy.
I’m convinced the revolution will be led by well-rested, well-fed women with excellent boundaries.
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.