Today I decided it was time to start being me.
I gave myself permission to stop trying to meet my own ludicrously unrealistic expectations of who I’d believed I should be — in my business especially — and just be me.
Me, complete with my very own back story of achievement and triumph alongside moments of dark despair, searing disappointment, toe-curling embarrassment, and abject, absolute failure.
The normal human experience, in other words.
None of my baggage is anything special, but for as long as I can remember I’ve lugged it about and used it as a hugely effective weapon against myself. My own worst enemy, giving headroom to this small but strident voice continually undermining me, reminding me that I was never enough, never, ever quite enough.
But you know what? I am enough. You are enough. We are all enough.
We all tell ourselves these stories, often for years and years and years, and allow them to annex our lives and sabotage our success. We beat ourselves up for missing some impossible target we’ve set ourselves and then — and women are particularly accomplished at this — for underselling ourselves in the first place.
So here’s what I did today.
I carried out an audit on all my strengths, my weaknesses, how I work, who I want to work with, who — just as important — I don’t want to work with, what matters most to me and what doesn’t. As part of the exercise, I looked back over the assorted personality tests and skills assessments I’ve done, homed in on the recurring themes, and then redrew my professional parameters.
It was an incredibly liberating experience, further cemented by the wise counsel of my ace business coach Ash Taylor and listening to Brené Brown on Audible in the car. Brown — no stranger to success and the spotlight — says in her book Braving the Wilderness that she still regularly, literally, writes herself permission slips to be herself in one context or another.
And I now get how giving me permission to be me changes everything.
I can, for example, for the first time see exactly how in my work I can draw on that part of me that slides into a river without a second thought when there’s frost on the ground, snow in the air, and the water’s dipped below 4C.
There’s a particular mindset that goes with that, just as there’s another mindset that gets you to the finish line in a mountain marathon, and yet another that can’t see anything weird about racing a stand-up paddleboard in December in the dark.
My default answer when someone says that they admire me for swimming outdoors year-round has been to shrug and reply: ‘It’s just what I do.’ I recognise now that my response — from a place of false modesty mixed with self-deprecation — devalues both of us, robs us of what it is that makes us special and serves neither of us in any way.
The truth is that we all do extraordinary things that we think are normal.
So from today, and after wrestling with much of this stuff for pretty much all of my life, I’m no longer going to get in my own way by constantly underselling what it is I do well and I’m going to stop the absurd struggle to become some utterly unattainable version of myself.
I’m just going to be me.