I haven’t felt able to write for the last few weeks, mainly because I’ve been afraid of saying anything. I’ve felt like a fraud. I set up this blog to help women, to support women, to empower and further women in the workplace. And I’ve been struggling with implementing this in real life. So I felt ashamed, and embarrassed, and like I had no place in giving advice to anyone else. And I didn’t know how to describe what was happening. I’m still not entirely clear on who was inflicting pain on whom, but apparently it’s not always black and white. People can be cruel to each other, and themselves, even when they think they are protecting themselves.
I had an Assistant. She lacked experience; I lacked patience. She needed guidance; I needed support. She needed time; I had none to give. I thought she didn’t care. I thought she didn’t want to work. I thought she needed me to be firm, and tough, and cruel at times in order to get her to deliver results. And I was terrified. The Imposter Syndrome in me was sounding all alarm bells certain that she was going to make me look bad, and reveal me for the fraud that I was. And then I felt the anger. The white hot, paralysing rage, that I spat through gritted teeth at every mistake, every fault, every failing.
I realise now my fear and anger were intrinsically linked. I was afraid that I was under attack – that she was going to reveal all my inadequacies – and I tried to shut it down with my anger. I also realise now that she did care. And that she was also scared. But of me! This confused me greatly. I felt sick every time I had had to confront her, and I now I know she felt sick afterwards. I was upset at every mistake she made, and now I know I upset her with my harsh critique.
Looking back over this painful experience I know that on a logical basis I was trying to find different ways to communicate. I know I did not intend to hurt her feelings, or to make her feel the fear and insecurities that I thought I was masking in myself. But I also know I was blinded by my own fears. Blinded by a terrified rage that I was going to be revealed, and judged, and rejected. I was not being my best, loving, wholehearted self.
Even now that we have talked openly, I struggle with bubbles of fear and anger that come up in me. But I recognise them for what they truly are now. They will not help her learn. They will not help me to ‘protect myself’. I am learning to trust – starting with myself. If I had truly believed in myself, and been confident in my abilities and secure in my position, I would not have been so easily seduced by fear and anger.
I share this story now that I feel ready, not to defend myself or to make excuses, but to hopefully help you to identify this feeling if it arises in you, so that you might avoid causing pain and suffering to yourself, or to others. Because I truly do believe that if we work together, that we can help women to get further. But perhaps we need to work on ourselves a little first.
As part of my own journey of self-discovery, I’ve recently been reading Brene Brown‘s The Gifts of Imperfection, and in that beautifully serendipitous way the Universe sometimes sends us a very clear message, I was amazed to read the below passage, and see exactly what I need to work on:
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice. For our own sake, we need to understand that it’s dangerous to our relationships and our well-being to get mired in shame and blame, or to be full of self-righteous anger. It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.”
If you haven’t already come across Brene and her inspiring work, I recommend you check out her now-viral Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability: it’s eye-opening stuff.