Not so long ago, I was asked to deeply consider the question, ‘how can you be more authentic?’. I sat with it for a long time, struggling to dig deeper.
Of course, I knew there were places where I was making modifications and adaptations to be more ‘pleasing’ or even ‘remarkable’ to the World and still, on the whole, I felt as though I was doing pretty well on the authenticity front.
I also knew that couldn’t possibly be true.
I knew there was a lie in there somewhere. Pure authenticity is not a thing many of us get to ‘nail’ 100%, at least not as far as I have ever seen. So, I was grateful to be paired up to coach on the question with a man I knew would want to go deep and ask many questions. Two and a half hours later, (I think the longest I have ever spent in a coaching conversation) I had new insight. Fresh perspectives on things I already knew, but hadn’t quite allowed to surface in the way I did that day.
There are parts of me that no-one gets to see.
At several points in my life, I have wondered why no-one notices when I am truly in trouble. Why the World seems to insist on seeing me as the woman who got it all on a silver platter, who is utterly capable and unflappable in a crisis. The woman who has got her shit together. The woman who gets things done. One day, the answer became clear.
They don’t notice, because I don’t want them to. Even when I think I do.
And also, I want everyone to think I have got my shit together. Even when I have not.
The truth is a funny place to hang out. You see, most of the time, I have got my shit together. Sort of. I have learned to drown out the voice in my head and to pretend it is not there. To never get too excited about the prospect of success (because the fall from grace is way too high from all that giddiness), to be both the Gracious Winner AND the Gracious Loser.
I am the Poster Girl for possibility and achievement coupled with humility, confidence, compassion, acceptance, growth, transformation. Honestly, I literally was a poster girl once. Big pictures of me all over the buildings I worked in. Some on the back of toilet doors…
I have crafted that persona within an inch of its life.
This is a hard blog to write
It’s not easy to write this. But not really for the reasons you might think. The voice in my head that critiques my work is not especially fond of the idea that we blow my current ‘brand image’ to smithereens for no logical reason. She has more control than I might like to think and is a keen editor. Where most blogs flow easily for me, this one has many deleted sections and rewritten sentences. A part of me wants to show you all of me, but I still want to do it on my terms.
Part of my way of being is to carefully consider what is released of me into the world, because I have a strong narrative that that keeps me ‘safe’. Actually, that’s not true. I do not feel unsafe. It is a narrative that I believe assists my ‘success’. So right now, in service of my own growth and of our ability to connect more fully with each other, I want to give you more, truly I do. But old habits die hard. I still want to hold the most precious parts back. I want you to see me as the image I have created for us both.
This feels confusing, and of course, I take pride in my ability to provide clarity. Whilst I often share with you the ‘mess’ of my inner thought process, I still have a well-honed method that allows me to do that in a way that makes it all neat and tidy and packaged with a pretty bow. Ta-Dah! I proudly announce at the end of a big story. And here, for your entertainment and growth is the important message we should all digest. Isn’t it amazing?
As I type this blog though, I feel like I am rambling. I do not know whether this piece will ever get to be published. Because, paradoxically, whilst it’s my intention to give you the most truthful insight into hidden parts of me, none of this feels like me. I am so used to being the personality I have carefully and meticulously created. I am in love with that personality far more than I am in love with myself.
There are big rewards for having the ability to ‘win’ at the games we choose to play in the World. By all conventional standards, I tick all of the ‘success’ boxes. A hugely successful corporate career, a selection of letters after my name, a moderately sized and highly respected business, a published author with a second book about to be released, money in the bank, nice clothes, good holidays. The list goes on. This personality of mine knows how to do things well. There are rewards for being like this and I like them very much. I like the applause I get on stage. I like the feedback cycle I have created that tells me I have ‘played the game well’. I like being a winner by the standards I have defined for myself.
So, it’s an interesting enquiry to explore the notion that in many ways I am being rewarded for my dysfunction. For a personality that isn’t really all of me.
In the last 12 months, I can name two moments of real vulnerability. They were so raw and uncomfortable for me that I was able to recognise them distinctly from the moments I had thought I was being vulnerable, but was in fact still offering a strong layer of protection. It’s my reaction that has the gold in it.
The more recent is a blog I wrote where I explored how it felt to have a mind of brutal self attack when it comes to body image. In an attempt to lessen the impact of it on me, I carefully released it some time after the actual event itself where I had wept in pure despair after realising I had taken myself down a well worn path. I was at the point of hopelessness, even though to some extent I was still denying it. Not least because how could someone as smart as me find herself in this same place again? I specifically asked everyone not to write to me with their thoughts and feedback, knowing that at the point of release I would be in a better place (which I was). I would have got my act together.
Of course, what I had forgotten, was that as well as the blog being released to thousands of strangers, it would also be released to people who were not strangers at all. My mum. My sister. My friends who are not close to our Remarkable Women World, but who lightly follow our progress. I had forgotten that people who know me (or at least some part of me), would want to reach out and lend me their support.
And I had missed entirely in the process of releasing that blog, that I do not like that side of me to be seen. I especially do not like it to be commented on, even in love (and wow, there was so much love). Whilst I want you to know that I have absolutely not got my shit together, for the purposes of ‘worthy and humble teaching’, I don’t want you to know just how frequently I have not got it together, or how damn hard it is when it’s not all working for me. I do not want you to see the parts of me that are emotional, not coping, struggling. I want to put them in a cupboard and tell you about them without them being present. They are not fit for public consumption.
So when you come to me with love and say, ‘I see you and I love you’, my immediate reaction is to smile and say, ‘Oh, I’m absolutely fine. I wrote that ages ago. Here’s the brilliant lesson I learned’. Which is code for, ‘I totally have got my shit together, you must always see me as capable, even after I have written a blog like that.’
No wonder hardly anyone knows me. I literally make no sense.
No wonder it’s impossible to help me. When you offer, my own head tells me I must protect my own self image long before I even consider the idea that I might need assistance. I will reject you outright. And I’ll do it so graciously and lovingly that you’ll feel brilliant about having offered.
A Consistent Pattern
This pattern is everywhere in my life. You must only see me when I have sorted out the problem. I am not fit to be seen when I am in the messy middle. And the last thing I know how to receive at that point is kindness and love. In fact, I would post that even the offer of it makes me feel ashamed that I have got to a point where you would have pity for me.
I’ll never forget returning to the office after my second eating disorder. I had taken six weeks off and in that time, the only person I had spoken to was a dear friend, the HR Partner of my business area. Whilst I knew only a tiny number of people were aware of why I had been off, I was dreading looking them in the eye.
The first person I saw was my boss. He invited me to come and talk with him. Knowing him as I did, the last thing I expected was a ‘Return to Work’ conversation. I thought we’d do a quick, ‘You OK now? Let’s get back to work, here’s what you’ve missed’. But he didn’t. He held me in my discomfort. He was kind and gentle and caring and all I wanted to do was shrink into a ball and hide. ‘Please don’t see me like this’ cried the voice in my head as he offered genuine, heartfelt and moving support.
Next, my mentor. Another powerful leader and known publicly at the time for being a tough guy. He flew to Scotland to be with me. Looked me directly in the eye and apologised for whatever he imagined his contribution might have been to my mental health. I would rather have chewed wasps than sit in that conversation. His kindness was overwhelming. And oh, so very real. I had shown the very core of my imperfect humanity and all I wanted to do was take it back.
It was so damn hard to be seen. It IS so damn hard to be seen.
The Present Day
I’ve cried a little typing this blog. Soft tears of recollection and release. A little of the ice cube that is my long-standing self-protection has melted. Maybe only a drop or two, but enough to know I have made progress. Progress in accepting and loving those parts of me that are not allowed out to play.
Yesterday, in that two and a half hour conversation, my new friend, Michael, said to me, ‘It must take a lot of energy to be that person in the World every day, Danielle. Imagine what you could use that energy for’ and on one level, that spoke to me.
But then, with love, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I can connect far more easily with the you that isn’t editing, the you that isn’t perfect. I mean, the other side of you is brilliantly fun and smart and I loved talking to that part of you, but over here, this is the stuff that matters. This is where we go heart to heart. Thank you for letting me in’.
When he said that, something in me shifted. Perhaps it was that part of me that doesn’t get to be seen feeling truly recognised and heard. Perhaps it was the sense that whilst this route is deeply uncomfortable, the path to more love is to love ALL the parts of me and to not hide any of them away, even when the show lights are on.
My truth is, I don’t know where I go from here. I’m aware that even in writing this, I am unable to wholly switch off these practiced habits and behaviours. I’m aware I’ve suddenly raced this blog to a swift conclusion. But I’m learning. I’m willing to keep the enquiry open for as long as it takes. For the woman who does everything at the speed of light, I have a sense this will be a long game. That tiny adjustments will create cracks of light and new openings. I know I will fall and some part of me wants to protect me from that, but I am curious to discover what it feels like to allow even more of me out in the world.
So, how can I be more authentic?
I can stop pretending.
I can let you in.
I can let you help me.
I can let you love me.
I can let you see me.
Edgy as hell. But here I am anyway. This is what I’ve got today. This is a little bit more of me.
Let’s be remarkable together,