Being me is good enough

In my 20s I worked really hard at trying to morph myself into the mould of the person I thought I needed to be to be successful. I was driven and determined and would do anything to be seen, heard and recognised as someone with the potential to get on. I wanted to be hand-picked for promotion and to be talked about as future potential, hoping that one day I would be a senior director in a FTSE100 organisation. I wanted to defy the tradition of age to get there and so I was constantly trying to figure out what it was I needed to do to get there quickly without trying to jump through too many hoops, wherever ‘there’ may be.

In a hierarchically male environment, I kept being told to look around the organisation at women who had ‘made it’ and to focus on role modelling the qualities that set them apart.

The problem was that, in the most part, I was nothing like them.

These women were cool and seemingly unflappable but I would watch how other people (men and women) would change when in their presence, often for fear of the iron fist appearing through the velvet glove. Even so, I figured that I would get ‘there’ if I tried harder to be more like them.

Then, one day, a HR Director for whom I will always have the utmost respect, raised two key points which literally changed my life:

1. She told me that she wasn’t sure whether, when delivering my role, I did the right thing or the thing that I thought people more senior than me would want me to do. Whilst I initially felt defensive about the feedback, I realised she was absolutely right. I was so eager to ‘fit’ that I was almost too scared to go with my own instincts or ideas, preferring instead to try and please.

2. And then came the killer question. She asked me if the person I was trying to become fitted with my personal values. The answer was simple; it didn’t.

This was a real epiphany moment for me. It was as though I’d been pushing hard for years to make a bad relationship work, never wanting to give up as there was always that glimmer of hope that the best things come to those who wait or, in my case, to those who persevere. But ultimately the culture within which I was trying to fit was misaligned with what made me ‘me’.

Then I did one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I resigned. Not because I didn’t enjoy the challenge of my work, that I didn’t see the opportunities in the organisation or that I didn’t work with great people. Quite simply, it was because not being me was exhausting and I wanted to find out if being the same me at work as at home was possible somewhere else.

Being me at work has taken some time. I was lucky that my next boss really helped me to feel more comfortable allowing the real me to show herself more often and to ditch the layers of ‘polish’ I’d tried to build up over the years, but it took time to really change when I’d spent years trying to become someone else.

So what have I learnt?

Whilst I regret the impact some of my more negative ‘learnt’ behaviour may have had on others over the years, I’m thankful for everything I’ve gone on to learn from making the mistakes that I’ve made. I don’t want to be known as a ball breaker or as someone who’d trample over anyone who got in the way of what they want, I just want to be known as me and all of the good things that naturally come with that. And so what if I have long hair, wear dresses and high heels and choose to build personal relationships with the people who work with and for me? It defines who I am and allows me to be completely authentic. Being authentic gets the best out of me and creates an environment of trust with those around me.

So what are my key messages to anyone reading this?

Trying to be someone you’re not is exhausting. I don’t believe in walking away when things get tough but if to get on where you are means you have to compromise your own values, and in particular your integrity, then I would encourage you to have the courage to make a different choice.

There’s no longer such a thing as a job for life and more often than not people don’t stick around in the same company for ever. Organisations are ever changing and so we either need to change with them or go and be the difference somewhere else.

The challenge is to find an organisation with a culture that appreciates the authentic you. Then there will be no barriers to what you can achieve.

Today I am authentic.
Today I am true to myself.
Today I am happy.

And the most important thing?

Being me means I’m the best I can be.

Being me is good enough.

Gabriella x

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Catholic Guilt

It’s that time of year again. The 40 days (and nights) of hell that they call Lent where I will once again be sacrificing an abundence of indulgences due to eternal Catholic guilt.

When my (English Protestant) dad asked my mum’s (Italian Catholic) dad for her hand in marriage it was given on the proviso that any children would be brought up in the Catholic faith.

As a youngster I got christened, received my first holy communion and was confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was sent to the Convent for catechism lessons and on a retreat to deepen my connection with my faith. There was even a time that I thought I wanted to be a nun. Yes, really.

So what have I learnt from being brought up with my faith that’s helped me in life?

1. Doing the right thing. Yes sometimes the Bible may feel like a set of stories but a great Priest has the gift of turning them into messages that resonate in our contemporary lives, helping make sense of our Christian purpose. One of my favourites is about when Jesus heals the leper. Ultimately it serves as an excellent metaphor for encouraging us to be the person that proactively seeks to help those who have been ostracised in some way, be it socially or in the workplace. Always be the one who seeks to welcome, involve and do the right thing by others, even if sometimes it means you may face being excluded in some way for doing so. We all have a different measure of what’s right and wrong but staying true to my own morals and beliefs so that I live my life through integrity is what’s most important to me.

2. Teamwork. Never before had I felt the sense of people coming together to achieve a goal than I felt when we’ve lost family members. It’s never too much trouble for the regular church goers to turn up and make everything happen so that the family has the opportunity to focus wholly on saying their farewells. There’s a role for everyone, respecting each other’s strengths and the contribution they’re making to the task. From the florists to the cleaners, the readers to the musicians, there is no hierarchy; people just seem to get on with it.

3. Presenting. I love an audience. From the age of 11 I was on the reading rota in our church, reading bible passages to large Sunday congregations, learning how to deliver the messages in a meaningful way. I also learnt a lot from listening to the sermons of my priests over the years, some good and some less good. This experience set me up well to speak in public as head girl of my secondary school and again to audiences of thousands in my role as Vice President of the University of Bath Students’ Union before taking on the most special role of all – reading at the weddings and funerals of those closest to me. Needless to say, the skills and confidence I gained from an early age in the church have put me in great stead for presenting with impact in the business world. Yes I get anxious before a big presentation but more because I’m fuelled by the adrenaline of wanting to perform well than the fear of the audience itself.

Whilst nowadays I would describe my relationship with the church as fair weather, going only when I feel I need some time for quiet reflection, ultimately I am thankful for being brought up with the church in my life.

And as for the Catholic guilt at Lent?

This year I’m giving up sweets, chocolate, crisps, chips, cake, biscuits, ice cream, Lucozade (red cap), pizza and McDonald’s. Basically, all of my indulgences. I’ve also contemplated throwing alcohol into the mix but I have a hen do and wedding during Lent, not to mention England v Wales in the Six Nations.

If Moses did it so can I. The chocolate bunnies will simply have to wait.

Gabriella x