“Happiness is the joy we feel moving towards our potential”
-The Ancient Greeks.
I must be crazy for trying this, I snorted mockingly at myself and gently shook my head. I propped up my chin with my hand and felt a rogue forefinger move into position over my mouth, apparently concerned it might say something compromising, if left unsupervised.
It was of course the risk that I needed to take.
I’d taken a tactful step down to join the organisation some 7 years before, an allowable compromise, I’d decided, to do something I was passionate about. But it was a gap I’d been trying to bridge ever since and as the promotion rejection emails increased, so did my frustration.
Long over was the exciting honeymoon phase of getting multiple business cases approved and multi million-pound project management plans signed off. I was left only with focusing on achieving superficial goals, like winning the respect of a notoriously difficult colleague or seeing how many people my senior I could convince to brew me coffee without explicitly asking them to.
Future Emma could be a misfit when left unchallenged and wouldn’t settle for anything less than an apparently insurmountable task. She wanted that feeling of elation you get when asked to take on a major project followed immediately by a foreboding doom that you’re too unqualified, inexperienced or just too plain stupid to achieve it after all.
Impostor syndrome aside, I knew I could do the job, of course. But walking into an interview with bucket loads of self-confidence and waving double finger guns was not going to get me promoted. I needed proof I could do it, which paradoxically meant I needed to have already done it.
My current tactic was to narcissistically wait for someone to notice how awesome I was, announce to anyone standing in the vicinity that I was an exemplary project manager, truly undiscovered talent and offer me more responsibility. This would be followed by a standing ovation, the sounds of people weeping and paper confetti falling from somewhere in the rafters. It wasn’t working.
That’s what had led me to now, sat in the canteen at work, incessantly thumbing the lose veneer surrounding the table edge and sipping dregs from my coffee cup. An anxious twitch that wasn’t consoling my increasing heartbeat.
It had started with nothing more than one small action really, an unsolicited email request to meet and discuss potential opportunities and now I was about to have an audience with someone who had given up their lunch to see me. The proposal was simple, I’d work for 6-12 months at a more senior level for no additional pay. I’d deliver something significant for the business and in return I would get what I needed for my CV. A tantalisingly tempting return on investment.
My palms began sweating and before I could allow myself to feel overwhelmed, I released all the air from my chest and pushed my earphones into my ears. Ignoring the safety warning, I raised the volume above the recommended limit. The rest of the world didn’t stand a chance at being audible to me now. The rumble of the canteen dissipated, a now distant glow, leaving only the sounds that I imagine were taking place, the harsh gargle of the cafe milk frother, the clanging of old coffee granules into a waste disposal tray and other phantom sounds that my mind offered me, accounting for the mismatch in aural and visual information.
The song is Sia – Unstoppable. My go-to song when I need courage. I stood up, used my fist to push up fiercely from the table with a ridged stature and headed to the rotating door, wrapping my fingers around the bar with certainty as I pushed through. I’ve got this.
”I’ll put my armour on,
show you how strong how I am…”
I’d applied my confidence this morning in the form of some black eyeliner, a school teacher style bun and blazer, I had my armour on. I’ve got this.
”I’m so powerful”
”I don’t need batteries to play…”
Walking down the promenade, my heels pounding fiercely on the paving slabs. I’ve got this.
I’m a Porsche with no brakes…”
I caught sight of my colleague, a tall and kind looking man with a subtle aloofness about his character. With one swift movement I yanked the ear buds from my ears, in time to catch his approach and gave a confident shake, neither over-compensated or overly submissive, nailed it; great start. Eye contact, not too invasive, not too shy; nice.
Once seated, he asked about my experience and for the next 10 minutes I gave a compelling overview of my credentials and proposal. My pitch was similar in prestige to that famous scene in Disney’s Aladdin. Where he has 75 golden camels, I have 100% success rate with business cases, he might have 53 purple feathered peacocks, but I’ve delivered to over 150,000 customers.
I felt smug about how good I was and hoped it didn’t show on my face. Understandably he was lost for words, and as I waited intrepidly for his response, a sinking feeling began to set upon me. His eyes were fixated on something in the distance, I looked around and caught the newspaper stand, gently tilting my head to align my sight with the text:
‘Boy Takes Selfies with Pope Francis’.
I was competing for attention with The Pope. Oh, I don’t have this.
He said he might consider delegating the kind of tasks I was asking for if I did another couple of years at my current level, fine-tuned my skill set and kept working at it. I was crushed, it wasn’t the audience I’d hoped for. My experience wasn’t as compelling as I’d thought, my presentation uninspiring, my armour penetrable. He probably found the whole conversation very amusing, ‘yet another poster girl for the Dunning-Kruger effect!’ I imagined him smirking internally.
I swallowed the lump in my throat as we stood up to leave, I thanked him for his time, my handshake unconfident and my eye-contact elusive. I’d failed. I couldn’t be sure if it was another phantom sound; my mind providing me a situational metaphor… yet somewhere in the distance, I heard the sound of a large door slamming shut.
One morning later that year, whilst I sat reviewing my LinkedIn profile, I came across an option to make my profile ‘open to opportunities’. I thought back to my failed meeting, sure of the same rejection, I felt vulnerable, uncertain, armourless. Comforted only by the idiom that echoed in my head ‘you’ve got nothing to lose.’
Over the next few months I inspected with intrigue the enquiries that came my way. Requests to do consultancy for major procurement programmes; working alongside CEOs on business strategy; international posts with NATO, even some Small Medium Enterprises willing to stretch their budget to meet my expectations. Job offers.
It was then I realised where the real failure was, I’d given up because of a single no, a single no that really was a ‘no right now’. A single no that was a 15-minute conversation, a sacrificed lunchtime, and a tired colleague. A single no and I’d decided I was a failure and gave up.
And now these opportunities were here, on a plate I didn’t want them, in fact I had no idea what I wanted at all. I knew I could do it, of course. But that’s not the same as should do it.
At 9.00am the next morning, I sat down to my work laptop with fresh eyes and a light heart and opened myself up for a different kind of opportunity altogether…
To be continued…
By the end of 2018 I will… have continued to grow as a person; I will have not let a day go by without learning something new and have the courage to continuously challenge my core beliefs, assumptions and values, where needed.
- Regularly take part in active learning by seeking to understand things that I do not know, in a wide variety of subjects, there are no boundaries.
- Have read a book a month, either fiction or non-fiction.
- Finished painting the 60 x 40 cm picture that I sketched out during my annual leave. A visual representation of the challenges of life working in a corporate world, entitled: The Career Trap. It will be framed and hung on the wall, in my new house, as a daily reminder in 2019 that I am doing the right thing.
Stock Take: First Quarter 2018 goal achievements
If the story I’ve recounted above tells you anything about me, it’s that when something doesn’t go to plan I fall into a full-fledged “grump” and give up. Rather than pick myself back up and take the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. But I’ve learned something this year about the need to move forward even when times are tough or I don’t get the result I want. If the Ancient Greeks are right and that ‘happiness is the joy we feel moving towards our potential’, then surely staying still, is despair?
My aspiration this year was to make progress against my five goals and blog about them in real-time. To let you vicariously share my successes and cry and laugh empathetically with my failures. I anticipated it wouldn’t be an easy year.
The last six months have been the hardest six months of my life, but not for the reasons I imagined. When people say they are ‘too busy’ to do something, what they really mean is, that something isn’t important enough to apply their time and energy to. If something is important enough, you can and will make time for it. Whether it’s spending time with children, going to the gym or getting up for work on time, we make decisions to do, or not do these things. Either consciously or subconsciously. It’s still a choice.
I made the choice during the last six months not to blog and not to spend all my time at work. I have instead been spending most of my time with my family, to care for my father, during the last few months of his life.
It’s been the saddest, the happiest, the most confronting, the most humbling, the most joyful and the most difficult time of my life. It’s both the hardest thing I can remember and my most treasured memory.
This blog was always about my journey to reach my potential. This journey is euphoria and grief. It is joys and sadness’s. Today, my one small action, as I swallow back that familiar lump in my throat, is pick myself up, let my armour fall to the floor and take my first step forward, here, by posting this blog.
Losing the Armour – WIN!
I’m currently reading Brené Browns new book Dare to Lead where she talks about why we feel we need to adorn armour in the workplace. I’m fascinated by this. I’ve heard the chorus of Sia’s song hundreds of times, and had never listened the verses: “I’ve heard that to let your feelings show, Is the only way to make friendships grow, but I’m too afraid now.” Sia was putting her armour on, but she also pointed out that it wasn’t constitutive to building good relationships. I missed this.
Counselling – WIN!
I’ve managed to pick up the counselling I mentioned in my last blog. The main thing I’ve learned is that I am terrible at the skill of crying. Normal people, let out an occasional healthy sob or express their emotions in other ways, like sport or painting. I just hold in all that energy and walk around like an endlessly inflating feelings balloon, emotional energy seeping out of me in all the ways I don’t want. My propensity to blow so apparent to those around me that when I hear the ‘See It, Say It, Sorted’ announcement on the train I worry that a stranger might point me out as a public health risk. I’d then be apprehended at the station by 6 armed guards, taken away in a high security van and then probably shot out into space; for good measure.
I need to find more successful ways of expressing myself.
So, I have read a total of: 3/12 books this year. WIN?!?
My goal of reading a book a month was superficial. I’ve only read three books but I listen daily to podcasts, YouTube videos, read the newspaper (Financial Times is my paper of choice) Forbes.com and HBR.com to name a few. So when I write my 2019 goals, I’ll make this something more meaningful.
I read all of these books on Audible, having discovered how joyful it is to read whilst walking to work in the morning. For an hour a few times a week I breathe in fresh air and enjoy the greenery of the meadow that makes up a large part of my route. I even pass a garden of a retired couple who tend their garden every day, its beautiful and it always makes me smile. I dropped off an anonymous card to them a few months ago to thank them for it.
If you have been thinking about joining Audible, you can do so HERE. And this IS an affiliate link, so if you do give Audible a go I get a small reward (YAY!) which goes towards supporting my goal of financial freedom. What’s more of a bonus, is that if you decide it’s not for you cancelling via the website is really straight forward.
The books I have read:
(These are all affiliate links)
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This made me cry. A lot.
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. Brené is one of my favourite authors, she is a researcher, storyteller and all-round super hero in my eyes. Highly recommend her work.
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Brilliant book on negotiation and how to get better at handling disagreements.
I wanted to paint a canvas that depicted my move into being financially free, that reminded me during the more difficult times why I had made the decisions that I did.
It’s currently in storage.
But it’s in storage because, dun dun dun…I have bought a new house!! Only 366 days after I made the decision to move to a new house will I be sat in it, paint brush in hand. Come on 2019.
So here we are. I’ve updated you throughout the year on all five of my goals (although a bit slower than expected!), before the end of this year you should expect to see a update on if I met my goals this year; or not.
And exactly what opportunity did I open myself up for in 2019 that I has got me so excited?
I now have twitter! Follow Me.
How did I get here? Read my previous blogs in this series ‘Best to start at the beginning’ for insight into Entropy Emma and my personal development journey: