We are thinking about success at work back to front and upside down
If you are hiding who you are, paddling like billy-o under the water, burning the midnight oil, wearing industrial strength armour, yet still feeling overwhelmed and juggling imposter syndrome - that's not success, that's being duped by the system. And it doesn't have to stay that way.
Being in touch with emotions and energy, quietness, gentleness, quirkiness and difference - these are often seen as weaknesses rather than assets in the workplace and those of us who naturally operate in this way can internalise the message early on in our working life that we need to change in order to be successful. We assimilate almost by cultural osmosis the simple choice, if we want to join in the career game and have any success, we need to change fundamentallly who we are and how we work in this world.
And oh my goodness, how good we are at the modelling and masking. We've honed the skill over a lifetime. How to copy, how to watch, how to blend in to the norm. But it's soooo exhausting! We become ill by spending too long operating in a mode we were not designed for, we hide our wounds when we feel too much or are drawn into practice that cuts across the values we hold dear and we learn to bury what we think is a weakness without realising that it's the source of our very strength.
Because here's the thing. What we mean by 'strength' needs real clarity. Hardness is often confused these days in some organisations as strength. Hardness is not strength. Hardness is brittle, and under pressure it snaps.
What we mean by 'having presence' needs closer questioning. It's been confused for too long in too many workplaces with physical size, bluster and loudness. And there's the wholly wrong notion prevalent today that presence is something you either have or you don't. Baloney.
'Gravitas' has been associated across society with a lower voice tone that seriously you need an Adam's Apple for. And however hard you work as a woman, you aren't going to get one.
What we have been taught we need to be and do to access career success and leadership is simply a myth perpetuated over time. We see that lie as kinaesthetic, deeply feeling women, we know the emperor is not wearing clothes, we know it isn't right or fair and yet we try and join in the game anyway with these rules that mean we can never win. And not only that we fight harder with each other. I've been there and done that.
There are moments in my professional career that I am immensely proud of. Times I've made a significant difference to a child, a family or the organisation I've worked for. And there are times too when I've not covered myself in glory, where I've got fixed on stuff and stuck on real or perceived injustice (I can do that easily- that might resonate?) I've competed with other women in a way that's more suited to The Hunger Games than the workplace. Being kind to myself I guess I did the best with what I knew and had available to me at the time.
Here's what I know now. We have been colluding with the myth. We stay silent as the emperor goes by. As people who tick differently, as deep feeling, intuitive and empathetic beings we pay the price. Emotionally, physically and mentally. And that price is high - illness, burnout, chronic fatigue, imposter sydrome and depression.
I'm done with playing that game. I'm now in my forties and I'm realising more and more that I'm at my healthiest and happiest when I am being wholly me. When I'm managing my tricksiness and letting my gifts shine. When I'm not comparing myself to others or operating from fight or flight mode.
What happens for us when we re-define what strength, presence, and gravitas at work feel, sound and look like for us? What happens when we are so anchored in our truth and our purpose that we can show up fully as we are without wasting energy hiding? And what happens to the potential futures of those girls and young women following behind when we acknowledge our truth and our gifts. What is our legacy for them?
I'm Sarah Bishop and I help highly sensitive, neuro-diverse women get back in touch with their brilliance, wisdom and inner magic so they can enjoy successful careers without the overwhelm.
I help women who are wired differently, who think outside of the box and are highly sensitive to drop the mask, get more clarity on who they are, what they stand for, and what their highest purpose is.
When we have that clarity it means we can stop feeling exhausted, stop feeling like an imposter, get out of fight or flight mode and start working and leading without sacrificing our own wellness. A successful career doesn't need to be such a struggle.
I know from experience that when we work in a way that crosses our values, when we expend too much energy masking and trying to fit in, when we struggle with imposter syndrome it leaks out in illness, burnout, and depression. And none of those are fun.
The truth is we can learn to take up space in our own way, we don't have to be extroverted and loud, we can work and lead from the heart and gut, as well as the brain. When we are anchored fully in the message of what we stand for and who we are and we align that with the right environment, it becomes possible to drop the mask and let our unique gifts and inner light shine. And the more we do that on an individual level, the more we create a cultural shift.
We often consider the oak as the energy of leadership - outward strength, protection and courage. All of those things are positive. They just aren't fully me. I draw on the energy of willow. Intuition, female rhythm, inner strength and above all the importance of drawing on emotions, feeling the feels and letting them go.
What I do isn't about perfect leadership. I'm still walking the walk and I'm far from a perfect leader. What I am is perfectly, imperfect me. And that's a more healthy place to be.
If you are fed up of being exhausted and burnt out and want to do things differently subscribe to my mailing list to keep in touch with my newsletter, offerings, programmes and workshops.