A few months after commencing my new job, I started to feel quite anxious. There had been niggling anxiety and self-doubt lurking there for a while, and I had chosen to ignore them. At the time, I think I saw anxiety and self-doubt as something that I should have conquered, as though it was wrong to feel them. So I had tried to force myself to be “positive” and forge a way forward rather than letting my “negative” thoughts and feelings take hold. Whatever the reason, I had been having niggles. And I had ignored them.
My new employer seemed to be quite pleased with my efforts. I was receiving great feedback from colleagues and customers alike. People seemed to like what I was doing, and I had achieved some significant outcomes that had been very much appreciated.
Everything seemed to be going well, however I still didn’t feel good enough because I wasn’t getting all of my tasks ticked off my list. There was work that I wasn’t getting done, and I felt as though I should have been doing more. I was worried that people would regret their feedback if they found out all of the things on my list that weren’t getting done. I felt like an impostor. Worse still, I felt as though perhaps my previous employer had been right about me. Damn you, self-doubt.
Every compliment seemed to be something else that I had to live up to; a lead weight, dropped onto my shoulders from above. I felt so weighed down. The crunch came when a colleague said that she found me “inspiring”. I remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed and thinking “How on earth am I going to be inspiring on top of everything else?!”
People were offering their assessments of how they thought I was being and doing, yet I was responding by assuming that their assessments were “wrong”. I would then add their assessment to the list of things that I felt as though I now had to live up to in order to not be an impostor! (PS Remember my earlier blog post where I said that assessments can’t be right or wrong? Well, even those of us who are meant to “know” this stuff sometimes have to be reminded!)
And so came the discussion with my coach about how to address these niggles; a conversation that led to amazing learning, and yet another turning point.
Firstly, why was I reacting to compliments in this way? Why couldn’t I simply be grateful and accept them? A compliment meant that someone had formed an assessment of me and had then shared that assessment with me. Was I holding that person as legitimate with the response that I provided them? Was I holding them as legitimate if I simply fobbed it off, learnt nothing from it, and kept going? We talked about more useful ways of managing compliments.
We then started to look at my assessments of how I was managing my workload. What we arrived at is that I was looking at my list of what I hadn’t done, rather than looking at what I had done. The very nature of my work is that priorities can change at a moment’s notice. This is quite valid, and I think that a critical skill for someone in my role is the ability to approach the ad hoc challenges that arise with flexibility so that the team can be refocused as required. However, what I hadn’t accepted was that if I went into work with the idea of completing five tasks and didn’t complete anything on my list, that was usually because I had completed ten new tasks that were critical in that moment. I wasn’t congratulating myself for the ten new tasks; I was beating myself up for the five tasks that I hadn’t done. Now it might well be that, if this is a regular occurrence, there are factors to be looked at and explored. However, these were legitimate changes to direction, and I wasn’t congratulating myself for managing them (again).
As we progressed through the conversation, what we arrived at was something around “being respect worthy”. This really resonated with me, and not just because I love how “respect worthy” sounds when it rolls off the tongue. We talked about what it would take to be respect worthy. When I walked away from that conversation (armed with my declaration of “I am Respect Worthy”), I felt as though really accomplishing being respect worthy would require some further reflection. Luckily, I had my daily self-conversations in the car for precisely that.
I decided to look at myself as though I was someone else. How would I help someone else to see themselves as respect worthy? I started to look at what I had achieved in my new job and, as I observed from the point of view of an outsider looking in, I realised that I would have been in awe of someone who had taken to my new role like I had. I would have been amazed at just how much they had achieved, and I would have been proud to work with them. I may have even felt a little intimidated by them! Wow!
It seemed to make sense to take this same approach with regard to my career year from hell. As I replayed the “highlights video” of that year over again in my mind, watching as an independent observer, I was astounded. I saw a person who was suffering; broken even. And yet I also saw a person who kept going. I saw a person who declared that she wanted help, accepted the help, and kept going. I saw a person who dealt with behaviours that she could have reasonably expected to never have to come across during her entire career. And I saw a person who continued to get up and keep going when everything around her seemed committed to knocking her down.
Completely unexpectedly, this then led me to reflecting on my coaching journey. I had been receiving coaching for 14 months at this point, and was certain that I had many more months, if not years, to go. I replayed the journey in my mind, again watching as an independent observer. I saw a person who had declared that she was making changes, and had then made a request for help to do so. Hang on, stop the video! Did anyone congratulate her then? That was a massive step! Someone come over here now and give that woman a high-five!
I continued watching the video in horror as I realised that the main character had pushed forward on this journey with such a tenacious and determined approach, that she had never stopped to congratulate herself. She had also never really taken the positive feedback from others seriously. This was a massive piece of learning for me. There were so many places where I would have congratulated “the person in the video” and yet I had never congratulated myself for accomplishing exactly the same outcomes. You aren’t good enough yet. Keep moving.
When I completed my reflection, I formed what was probably one of the most significant assessments of my journey: I. Am. Respect. Worthy.
My next coaching conversation felt incredibly powerful because it felt as though I was taking ownership of where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to be. I walked in, sat down and owned my respect-worthiness. In amazement, I told my coach that I had realised how worthy I would think I was if I wasn’t me, and then I told him I now believed that I was respect worthy. I went on to say that I wasn’t looking for issues to “fix” in myself any more. I was going to be proactive and work towards what I wanted to achieve. I then declared my next steps:
- I am going to be a coach
- I am going to write a book
- I am going to be an extraordinary leader
I have to confess that I was a little nervous when I declared the above to my coach. In hindsight, I can see that I was experiencing some anxiety, self-doubt and self-judgement relating to making these statements out loud to another person. My insides actually cringed as I waited to see whether my coach was holding back an uncontrollable desire to belly laugh at my ludicrous claims. I want to make it clear that I had absolutely no reason for even entertaining the idea that he would laugh at me. He wouldn’t have, and he never did. This was totally me taking action from self-doubt, self-judgement and anxiety.
So, with my “ludicrous claims” out in the open, we then worked on developing a plan for moving forward and making them happen. This really seemed doable, and I attribute a lot of that feeling to the way in which my coach simply listened to my declarations and then moved forward with a plan as though this was going to happen. It showed amazing foresight on his part that he didn’t ask me why I wanted to do any of this; the self-doubt monster was lurking fairly close and my coach’s business-like approach in just moving forward sent the monster a very strong signal. Visiting hours for self-doubt monsters is closed for today.
I walked away from that coaching conversation feeling as though I could do anything that I was willing to put my mind to. Anything. This was a major milestone point, and I was confident that I had the ability to make my newly declared reality happen.
As I was writing this post, what occurred to me was that I had an expectation at this point that I would “cure” my self-doubt and anxiety and so, whenever I experienced these, I felt as though I had failed. I held an assessment that I had been given the tools and yet I was still experiencing self-doubt and anxiety so I wasn’t good enough yet.
What I have only recently learnt, a number of years later, is that these emotions are perfectly valid to feel. They are there to tell us that something needs to be taken care of. We won’t ever be rid of them; they will appear when our system feels as though we need them to show us something. It is perfectly ok to experience them and, at the times when they appear, we mostly likely even need to experience them. What is important is that we are able to see the signs, and choose an appropriate action as a result of seeing those signs. I will always experience self-doubt and anxiety at times when my system thinks that those emotions ill help to take care of me. However, it is how I experience them and what I do with them that has changed as a result of my learning journey.
My learning around taking compliments was quite interesting, I thought. Not long after I had reflected on taking compliments, I received a compliment at work. Instead of denying it and interpreting it as a lead weight, I paused. I took a breath, and I said “Thank you”. I also realised that I often came back with an excuse to counter compliments, or to say that someone else did all of the work. Upon realising this, I changed my next response to a compliment that was relevant to my whole team to be something like: “Thank you. There were a number of people involved in delivering this outcome, and we all did some great work”. From here, the compliments no longer felt like a lead weight; they felt like peace and respect and joy.
My other learning from this was to try notice what I have achieved; own what I haven’t achieved, but don’t judge myself for it. This has served me well on a number of occasions, and it also leads to my final piece of learning, which is to always take time to acknowledge personal efforts. This may sound silly, however my assessment is that we all appreciate and deserve recognition and it is just as important that the recognition comes from ourselves as it is that it comes from others.
Points to Ponder…
- How do you respond to compliments, from yourself and others?
- Where are you focusing on what you haven’t achieved?
- Where would it be helpful to start looking at what you have achieved?
- Where would it be useful to congratulate yourself for what you have achieved?
- Where might you be judging yourself for experiencing “negative” emotions, rather than seeing them as signs that there is something within you that needs taking care of?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.