A Personal Blindspot – working against what I actually need

I started a new role in August (moving from a practitioner interventionist role to a strategic interventionist role) and since then its felt like I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of learning and reflection.

I’ve learned to enjoy and love learning although i now know it never gets easier it just gets deeper and more powerful.

I could share so many things I’ve learnt but the last few weeks have provided the richness and yet some of the hardest and deepest lessons so far.

To provide some context earlier this year I learnt that some key factors influencing my psychological safety are; (1) feeling like I have autonomy over my work and the sense I have a choice and (2) a feeling that I can trust others and feel as if I am trusted.

These factors are important in helping me make sense of some of the lessons I’ve been fortunate to learn from.

In my previous role I held a couple of flawed assumptions that drove my behaviours (consciously and unconsciously);

(1) that the position I held in the team meant that I had an equal right to directly shape the direction of the team and;

(2) that our goal as a team was to become self managed and therefore needed no leader.

I hadn’t appreciated or acknowledged that these assumptions were having such an influence over my behaviour until experiencing and understanding what it felt like to be on the receiving end. Being able to take a different perspective and look back on my own behaviours through the lens of my line manager and the strategic role. In my previous role my assumptions created behaviours where I saw the relationship with my manager as transactional and in some ways optional and only reported in when I needed help.

In my new role all of this was flipped on its head as I started to see the relationship as purposeful, necessary and collaborative and centred around how I help her help the team (which I am part of)

And this was where the important lessons started to play out for me.

The more I connected to the reality of my managers world I could see how team behaviours that I had unintentionally contributed to were undermining my manager, working against our teams purpose and reduced, in fact removed the autonomy and trust I was seeking to feel safe and productive. All this because of the flawed assumptions I held, I could see I was actively working against what I needed.

This was initially hard to learn as I have a huge amount of respect and trust for my manager and learning through a new perspective that what I was doing was the opposite and unintentionally showed a lack of respect. This hit me quite hard. I could see that my behaviours and actions eroded the trust we had and removed the autonomy I was seeking. Again I was learning that I was actively working against what I was seeking.

My initial and immediate reactions were fuelled in shame – negative self talk, embarrassment and not feeling good enough.

I’m grateful for my practice of shame resilience as this helped me reframe the story I was making up and I shifted it into a space of guilt – focus on behaviour, personal responsibility and generosity.

The reframing took a while to conclude as I needed to speak it and share it openly with those I trusted and that happened in front of my manager and the majority of the team this week. The moment this happened I felt myself grow from it. I had confronted the barrier to achieving what I was seeking.

This allowed me to avoid a spiral of self doubt and shame and instead provided me with a rich lesson to learn from.

But this was only possible due to the realisation that I was actively working against what I actually needed and was seeking to feel safe. Shifting roles may have been a driver but the key to unlocking my learning was exploring my behaviour from a different perspective and seeing it through the eyes of those I work with and for. A space of empathy and compassion

What I can now see is that by supporting, helping and working with my manager and seeking clarity of role, clarity of expectation and clarity of direction and focus it creates and cultivates the trust and autonomy I’ve been seeking all this time.

I’m now feeling safe again and am enjoying the feeling of autonomy.

Are you doing anything that works directly against what you need?

How will you know?

Are you prepared to do what it takes to find out?

Keep learning

In my words – Looking back and accepting

 

“As I sat and reflected on the discussions I’d had that day, a wave of realisation dawned on me that all the usual conditions of judgement, blame and fear were truly absent – had I freed just myself from the depression and shame or was something bigger and more profound emerging for everyone around me?”

Not the usual reflections on discussions and meetings at work but this was now becoming a frequent occurrence for which I’m going to try and explain how I got here.

In order to explain, I need to take you back a few years…

In 2016, my confidence was high, following a few years of public recognition which felt great and it was generating a buzz internally and externally. My name was reasonably known and was attracting a small amount of attention from across the country and usefully in parts of my own organisation where I’d previously been (in my view) ignored – although I suspect the reality was I was seen as a dreamer with a woolly view of the world but had some kudos about me so it opened some doors.

At this time in my development I was blissfully ignorant and unaware of the shame and depression that sat at the heart of who I was professionally and how it was driving my behaviours and actions in unproductive ways.

Then in the autumn of that year, it all started to change – my reality would start to unfold and disintegrate right in front of my eyes – this would take a further 2.5 years to fully resolve and along the way I faced some of the hardest and most difficult professional experiences and learning I’d ever been through. But all of that was the in my best interests to help me grow and develop.

What changed, well, I went for a new job, a job I’d understood would be my dream job, or at the least a step toward it.

In 2017 my view of the world around me changed significantly but alongside that I held a huge amount of judgement towards other people which I now know was because of who I was not because of what they did or didn’t do.

I was being supported to learn how to develop and support the learning and development of others and this was when I realised the limitations of this approach with the frame of mind I held.

The limitations I understood were inside me – my ability to change myself and how I saw myself and the world.

When I saw myself, my inner self for the first time staring back at me, I’m not sure I knew what else to do other than to acknowledge and accept who I really was.

I was someone who inside was insecure, scared to get things wrong, advocating only my position and believing other people were wrong. I was judgmental and had no compassion for others. On the outside, well that didn’t matter anymore, it had been shattered by the reality facing me, although no one would have really noticed.

Now before you ask I was still maintaining an exterior of happiness and a general sense of being ok to a wide variety of people but to the people I worked with who without there support and emotional safety I would never had been able to work this through to conclusion.

In the spring of 2018 I found myself drawn to the work of Dr Brene Brown – I’d been aware of her Ted Talk on vulnerability for some time but was actually too scared to watch it for what it might make me face up to. However my sense of who I was had changed and it no longer mattered how I would feel – I really needed to connect to it and when I did – wow, simply WOW…

I remember I was working from home and I can honestly say I wept for about 45 minutes as I experienced a release of emotions one after the other, like a set of waves crashing on a beach…

I followed that up by quickly googling Dr Brown and searching for anything else I could read, watch or listen to. I found her books and discovered that she had an audiobook called The Power of Vulnerability.

I had a credit on audible so downloaded it straight away – 6 hours of…. wow…wave of emotions…more wow…some shame…sense of reality…truth…deep sighs and a release of emotion again. I’d recommend it but I’ll be honest it can be a hard thing to hear if you are open to hearing what she says.

From that moment I found my path and my journey deepened and I got more and more meaning and a sense of purpose.

I listened to this audiobook about 10 times in a row as every time I listened I heard something new – I shared some of my learning and insights in the team and others connected to her work which after a while allowed some group discussion and reflections – these really helped as I was finding it challenging unpacking the learning on my own.

This audiobook was followed by six more from Dr Brown and then more recently the audiobook and physical book of Dare to Lead (highly recommended)

I have written already on this blog about my learning from Dr Brown so won’t repeat it here but do check out the other posts if you are interested.

In addition to the books by Dr Brown other significant books I’ve read or listened to which have helped me in this area of development are:

  • Immunity to Change – Robert Kegan / Lisa Laskow Lahey
  • The Path – Christine Gross-Loh
  • The Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
  • The wisdom of Sunday’s – Oprah Winfrey
  • What I know for sure – Oprah Winfrey
  • The untethered soul – Michael A Singer
  • The Awakened Family – Dr Shefali Tsabary
  • The New Earth – Eckhart Tolle
  • The book of forgiving – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
  • Reboot – Jerry Colonna
  • Leading from purpose – Nick Craig
  • Start with why – Simon Sinek

During 2018 our teams external support changed and I had not anticipated the impact this would have on my development – initially it was a backward step but somewhere inside I refused to go back and something had to give – after many months (9 to be exact) 3 of which were filled with a hidden depression – I finally let go…free from the constraints of my previous way of thinking. Most of this journey is covered in the posts about shame as I had realised this was a period of time where I struggled the most with it.

Time passed and I felt myself healing. Short moments of realisation would occur but never long enough to maintain a sense of peace…but that changed too

In late spring 2019 I had a number of insightful and open hearted discussions and meetings – one of which was with a colleague and a senior manager in a meeting which was full of emotions, reconnection and forgiveness. As we do with all meetings we debriefed what happened and as I sat and reflected on the discussions I’d had that day, a wave of realisation dawned on me that all the usual conditions of judgement, blame and fear were truly absent – had I freed just myself from the depression and shame or was something bigger and more profound emerging for everyone around me? It occurred to me that a shift was happening in a wider group of people and this was really the start of a journey to truly and deeply transform the way we think, act and work with each other to deliver and provide public services.

The specific reflection relating to my realisation of letting go is summarised in a recent post titled A Choice. Again if interested check it out.

So I come to now, or more accurately Autumn 2019 and as I write this and look back on the most incredible personal journey I’ve experienced to date. I sit here peaceful, grounded and connected to my deeper self.

I’m continually learning how to develop practice that holds and sustains that peace throughout the whole day and in time I’m sure that will arrive but until then I see people as people, through a kindness and generosity that anchors me to a non judgmental state of mind.

I’ve pondered what the greatest lesson I’ve received though all of this is actually is?

Well…after much thought this is what I have learnt.

What I’ve found was always there. It wasn’t waiting to be found or discovered…..it was simply waiting, waiting to be accepted.

A Choice

Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.
Roy T. Bennett

I make choices every moment of every day and whilst that seems obvious I hadn’t appreciated that the choices I make contribute directly to my overall life and well being.

I’ve recently learnt so much about what it means to make a choice, not just the usual choices I make but a more profound choice that has fundamentally changed my life.

The opportunity to even make this choice only became visible as a byproduct of seeking to understand something else. I spent some time searching, reading, listening and sitting in silence.

I found the choice right in front of me whilst I was digging into how I understood what was missing or lacking from my life that made me feel 1) psychologically safe when in group situations 2) my own awareness and mindfulness state and 3) how my personal values shaped and influenced me.

This searching was triggered from a series of events and part of that story was shared in my last post on depression and shame here.

In reality the choice was made visible because of the work and discipline I’ve been exploring and developing around my personal awareness and many of the stories relating to this have been shared already – examples include;

This one – Understanding and working with shame

This one – Learning, leadership, being vulnerable and developing shame resilience

This one – The benefits of Practice and Discipline – reflections on 5 key practices

And this one Development and Growth – A perspective on vulnerability

Psychological Safety:

I learnt that there were two domains of my psychological safety that were not being met, these were;

    Autonomy – the sense one has choice
    Trust – the need for belonging

I’ll come back to these later as they play quite a big part in my choice.

Personal Practice:

In relation to my personal awareness practice, I had unintentionally stopped some of my practices as I mistakenly assumed some of my work practice learning was a replacement for those practices.

I’ve now know that those practices help me maintain a healthy state of awareness and mindfulness and my practices from work benefit from time having discipline here.

Values:

Significantly I discovered that my view of my personal values and how unintentionally placing them in a logical order actually created a barrier for my development.

After much work following the section on personal values in the Dare to Lead workbook I know my values are Love and Loyalty. However for some reason I referred to them in the reverse order and in consistently doing so, I created a priority ordering which created a bit of a false loop in my head. I literally took them in an order…

I learnt that I was prioritising loyalty to others over myself and love for others over myself.

This realisation prompted by hearing for probably the I’m 20th time, the wonderful Brene Brown state that “your ability to love someone else can not exceed your ability to love yourself” helped me to start a process of letting go.

This brings me back to autonomy and trust.

In my moment of clarity I realised that outside of group contexts I had the conscious awareness to create autonomy for myself and make the biggest choice of all – to let go of being controlled by the variety of thoughts that flow through my mind. I now see those thoughts simply as a set of tapes and stories which I now know hold no power over who I am but for so long held me captive to shame.

I’m not saying I’m permanently free although my awareness is at a place where I am consciously and consistently aware of what triggers me and I’m now able to hold space for myself. It’s new so I’m expecting some challenges in maintaining this but it’s all of incredibly powerful learning.

I also realised that in relation to trust I placed too much emphasis on other people satisfying that need and desire and was too focused on external factors which created a level of dependency which was and is unsustainable and counter to personal growth – I now know that true belonging comes from within.

I could try and sum it up but Maya Angelou says it best

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
It hasn’t been an easy path to take…and it’s a path I had to find myself.

But I now know it was worth it.

Finally I want to acknowledge a selection of books or audiobooks which have helped guide me – all of which have in some way played a part in helping me unlock this choice. This is not a comprehensive list…

A New Earth is by Eckart Tolle

Play by Stuart Brown

Dare to Lead, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Power of Vulnerability, Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Untethered Soul, The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer

Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan / Lisa Laskow Lahey

The Path by Michael Puett / Christine Gross-Loh

Awareness by Anthony De Mello

What I know for sure, Super Soul Conversations, The Wisdom of Sunday’s by Oprah Winfrey

Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

You’re It by Alan Watts

The Holy Man by Susan Trott

How to see yourself as you really are by the Dalai Lama

I also want to acknowledge the Kung Fu Panda Trilogy and the important role it has played in helping me develop my understanding.

Depression and Shame – The simple yet unconscious patterns that feed and develop an unhealthy mind.

I want to start by saying I’m ok, I’m more aware about myself than I was 3 months ago and I’m on a developmental learning journey towards becoming (hopefully) more human.

This post is simply another story within my journey and I share this for my own reflection but hope that you also find it helpful as a reader.

I’ve learnt that on that journey you learn some big things about yourself and recently I learnt that I have been suffering with shame and depression for the last 3 months and I wasn’t consciously aware I was in a spiral which could have taken me in so many different places.

I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful that I’ve got support and can ask and do ask for help (from family and colleagues and a professional coach) but even with all of that I wasn’t aware of my own blind spot, the subtle shame trigger that started this and it surprised me how two simple words and trying to incorporate those words into who I am as a person created a series of events that unbeknownst to be created feelings and emotional responses of depression and I was full of shame in a way I’ve never felt before.

The words are in themselves perfectly fine but as part of my personal learning journey they sparked reactions which I was not prepared for nor did i anticipate.  I learnt a valuable lesson in relation to the power of words and the subtlety of language, the two words are;

  • Directive: an official or authoritative order
  • Decisive: showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively / settling an issue; producing a definite result.

The context for these words is that as an organisational development team we were reflecting collectively with a new external provider and one of the reflections we landed on was that we needed to be more directive as individuals and more decisive so that we could focus on pace and momentum – a very sensible reason on face value. 

This for me personally meant that this was about a personal change and a set of personal behaviour changes and for the last 6 months I’ve been attempting to learn how to be and show more directiveness and decisiveness but have not managed to effectively embody these behaviours.  This in itself was a starting point for my shame (I’m not good enough to do this job was a frequent voice in my head).

The lack of being able to embody these behaviours was causing quite a bit of cognitive dissonance and later escalated to feelings of depression and building on the initial shame but later incorporating the other aspect of shame (who do you think you are to be directive and decisive – no one will listen to you) this plays into and back out of the not good enough frame…

The result of these feelings and state of mind which for some time was unconsciously happening for me I would literally feel disconnected to work, the team and would not want to even do the job and would rather do something else, ideally nothing…what surprised each as during this time even though I was making aspects visible the help around me couldn’t and didn’t help me as I wasn’t consciously aware of the problem yet!

This was not a happy place to be because i knew that i loved my job and the conflict i was feeling was incredibly unsettling, emotionally exhausting and physically affecting my health too.

Moving on to how I became fortunate enough to spot this and take action before it escalated to a more severe situation.

During the same time frame I’ve been continuing my learning helping leaders and developing and deepening my understanding of development, which is as i have already acknowledged very fortuitous.

Learning through and connecting to a few connected and complimentary frameworks and models such as the following allowed me to develop self awareness due to the practices I’m developing but yet consistent in within these models too.

A colleague of mine Roxanne who I work with closely on the leadership work with colleagues in Health and Social Carr shares this with others in the following way which has really helped me connect to all these models in a way that helped me start to unlock the self awareness required to get me out of this shame and depression.

Drama Triangle - Empowerment Dynamic - Braving Inventory

It’s overly complex to describe via this post how these frameworks have actually helped me connect to my learning, however if we ever connect face to face, feel free to ask me to share and draw this picture with and for you.

But over time my deepening understanding of these frameworks and using them alongside each other has allowed me to find a space to reflect on my actions, assumptions and behaviours.

Where I’ve discovered my learning has taken me is in finding clarity about the words and importantly the meanings of those words. I was reminded on the saying from my childhood “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. The learning I’ve understood is that the latest research and findings around neuroscience shows that words have a psychological impact but also a physical impact on you long after they were first said.

So in relation to the words that triggered my shame and depression I’ve found a path out of that by carefully considering and choosing words that help anchor me in a different space…in my current understanding i’m deliberately trying to anchor myself in a space of new leadership behaviours and directive and decisive don’t allow me to do that nor do I find myself being authentic to who i am and able to become.

So the two new words i’ve landed with that are helping me avoid depression and feelings of shame can now feel that i can live and be more vulnerable and authentic:

  • Assertive: having or showing a confident and forceful personality
  • Resolute: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering

I’ve had to acknowledge in getting to this place that there is a level of requirement in both the role and organisation for the directive and decisive behaviours however that is a current organisational perspective and requirement and part of the role is also about modelling new leadership behaviours and that is where my dissonance comes from as I see the two terms directive and decisive being traditional leadership traits and assertive and resolute being new leadership traits. Perhaps this is too simple but for me this is a profound shift in how i’m seeing myself and learning how to maintain my authenticity.

What I’ve tried to do is understand what outcomes I’m being asked to shape and focus less on the specific traits of directive and decisive and learn about what helps me be the best version of me (as a leader, teacher and coach) and the framing of new leadership is something that helps me fulfil my potential and help role model for others.

Finally I’m incredibly grateful to be able to be able to write this post – to feel safe in my own space and to say what I need to say to help me heal.

To those people who feel this is currently beyond their limits – I know what that feels like and can simply offer these words of support.

Asking for help from others is hard but worth it more than you can realise however it only works when you first allow and accept that help from others can only build upon the help you give yourself. It’s possible to take that first step, no matter how small a step you can manage to make – a small steps is all you need to start you on your path to self healing, belonging and self compassion.

Unconscious suffering…

This is a reflective post – drawing on my own journey of self discovery …

We’re all suffering. I know that I’ve suffered.

Some people have found a way through or perhaps a cure if you like, but many, many people are suffering – maybe consciously but my assumption is people are unconsciously suffering.

We are suffering from ignorance – ignorance is the lack of knowledge or information.

We continue to unconsciously suffer as we choose ignorance through our collective divisive behaviours and whilst we may hold a belief that, our current views will keep us safe, we are all increasing the ignorance that leads to developing our fears, creates more instability and injustice and erodes the safety and human connection we all desire and crave in these times of distraction.

Until we tackle the root causes of our collective suffering the planet we call home and importantly all life including human life is at risk of ending and that is a tragedy

Our collective actions hold us all back from reaching our human potential and delivering the future everyone seeks and yearns for.

No single person can be blamed, for we all share and hold accountability through our collusion and complicity in all events we choose to participate in or ignore.

If we wish to see change from whatever perspectives we hold as our individual truth, we must first lean into and accept that for those changes to occur we must first change ourselves.

This is the single biggest challenge facing human kind – our denial of human development and growth.

This is the path open to everyone that leads us towards ending the suffering.