The following is a guest post by Charlotte Frische, an executive coach who focuses on building confidence among City professionals. Charlotte is a dear friend who is also a jaw-droppingly effective coach. I look forward to sharing the incredible progress I’ve made thanks to her coaching, and I will sit down with her soon for a Q&A post. Meanwhile, please enjoy Charlotte’s 3 gifts, and see end of post for her contact details. Sara
Recently, I was asked to give a speech on how to feel empowered at work to a group of already highly successful professionals. From my experience as a Confidence Coach, working for some of the City of London’s most successful businesses, I offered these hard working ambitious professionals three gifts. I believe these three gifts will not only empower you at work; I believe they will set you on a path to an empowering life.
The first gift is: dream. Very much like in Martin Luther King’s rallying cry ‘I have a dream’. His dream came true so why not yours?
I’m guessing some of you may already be feeling short changed. It can’t be that simple. That’s just Childsplay. You haven’t got time for dreaming. You’ve barely got time to see your old friends, call your Mother or as many busy professionals try to persuade me, you haven’t even got time to go to the loo! I’ve heard it all. But humour me and read on.
Dreaming is part of what makes us human. We all do it, it comes with the factory settings. Even if you think you sleep dreamlessly, you probably remember dreaming when you little. We would dream about where we would live, who we would meet or what we might do. Dreaming is an innate superpower we all share. If we want to feel empowered at work or in life, it’s useful to switch this superpower on.
When I was younger, I dreamt of becoming a musical theatre actress. My Mother used to bring us up to London from the North once a year and we would go to watch West End shows, mostly musicals: Les Mis, Annie, Barnum were my favourites. Those experiences inspired me. My dream sustained me through hours of music practice, countless dance lessons and multiple drama exams. And on. For 20 years I was inspired to persevere through a ‘back up degree’ a second Musical Theatre degree, many auditions, plenty of rejections and a handful of humiliating jobs.
Needless to say, that dream died! However it’s hard to dismiss the practical achievements, fulfilling highs and learning I experienced as a result of my dream.
Not everyone dreams of a life immersed in make-believe. So you may be wondering, how does dreaming work in the ‘real’ world? Well let me tell you about a client called Bob.
Bob was a super smart Actuary driven and ambitious, a committed and caring family man with Hollywood good looks. I know, its sounds fictitious, but I promise everything except his name is true.
Bob came to coaching because he had hit a bit of a crossroads in his career. Whilst he was highly respected at work, he had hit a ceiling. It wasn’t a glass ceiling; it was just that he couldn’t get promoted any higher. The difficulty he had was that he really loved the company and the people where he worked, but he was aware that he was no longer learning and he yearned for greater responsibility. He was losing his confidence and motivation as he sat stagnating in his role.
So during our third coaching session, in passing, Bob said ‘well if I were to dream….’. As his Coach, my ears pricked up. This was a client who already understood his human super power. Ever so gently I encouraged him to continue. With a sparkle in his eye, rather like a kid in a toyshop, he began to share a very clear vision of what he wanted for himself and his family.
What made this session so vivid for me was that he suddenly came alive. His voice changed, he smiled as he enthusiastically shared a very compelling vision for his future. Then, as quick as a flash, he turned his dreaming superpower off. In quick fire succession, he reeled off infinite number of reasons as to why he couldn’t possibly pursue his dream.
Unfortunately or fortunately, the cat was out the bag and his Coach was not about to be hood-winked. There is a happy ending to his story and his dream, but what’s important to hold on to is this was an Actuary. A deeply committed follower of logical and rational thinking. A faithful believer in numbers, evidence and certainty. And yet there he was, caught out being creative.
So that’s it. Gift number one: Dream. It really is that simple. And if you don’t believe me, believe Goethe. He said ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.’
My second gift is: ‘Be Your Best Friend’. Now as many of us know, we tend to have a voice in our head giving us a real-time commentary of how we are doing, which can be rather off-putting to say the least. (And for those of you who are reading this and thinking “I don’t have a voice inside my head” that’s the one I’m talking about right there.)
For those of us who have tried meditating we know how very tricky it is to ignore that voice. Sometimes it’s like there is a really compelling Radio 4 play going on in there. And we are the star of the play. Only the play is usually some kind of terrifying thriller where every one, including ourselves, ends up dead or at the very least, unemployed.
Being your Best Friend is about taking control and reminding ourselves that we are the author of the work of fiction in our heads. How does that work in the ‘real’ world I hear you ask? Well let’s take another client. Let’s call her Sue.
Sue was very Senior in her company and she was offered coaching to get her ready for a big promotion. Sue was incredibly smart and capable. She was known to be reliable and productive, working late into the night for weeks on end to ensure the job was not only done but done to perfection. Unfortunately, she would just as predictably work herself into the ground, fall apart and eventually be signed off sick.
Sue had enormous responsibility at work as well as at home. She was the main breadwinner, devoted Mother of two and dutiful daughter for elderly parents. The prospect of promotion was daunting. For Sue, this was not about capability but capacity. Or was it? What became apparent through our time together were the enemies at work in her head. That’s right, there wasn’t just one enemy up there, there was a criminal gang.
Enemy number 1 was telling her she must be responsible for everything. When she saw members of her team struggling, she would quickly offer to help them out by rolling up her sleeves and doing the work for them. At home, she would be responsible for overseeing the homework, organising the birthday parties and volunteer for the PTA.
Enemy 2 said she must be perfect. She must excel in all of these areas. If she was organising a birthday party, it had to be the perfect birthday party. The perfect theme, the perfect cake with the perfect party bag. This had to be the birthday party everyone would be talking about for years to come.
If that would not finish most of us off, there was also Enemy 3 insisting she must excel at everything. If she didn’t, then she would lose her job. And then what? Her house. Her family.
Now for me, if I had a gang of enemies in my head like that I would probably curl up into a ball, rocking back and forth, and start wailing for my Mum! But there was one more enemy that would be the nail in the coffin. And this was the enemy of: ‘I am alone’. This was the enemy that convinced Sue that no one felt the same way as she did. No one had it as hard or understood what it was like. And, compared to everyone else, Sue was the only one who couldn’t cope.
What’s important to recognise here is that ‘Gangs of Sue’ was gripping. Sue had a talent for dramatic fiction. JK Rowling eat your heart out. Fortunately, the work of art created in Sue’s head was far less real than what was actually playing out in the world. Only she didn’t know that at first. What she didn’t know was that some of our factory settings interfere with our superpowers. So whilst we are all highly skilled at creating fiction, we are also masterful at deleting and distorting any evidence that supports the truth.
Part of our work together involved creating new storylines for Sue. These were not half as terrifying. We shifted into a new literary genre altogether. It was less ‘crime/thriller’ and more ‘romance’. (I know, nauseating for some of you). Only there was no knight in shining white armour coming to the rescue. Sue was coming to her own rescue. Sue became her own best friend. She changed the storyline from ‘the world is out to get me’ to ‘everything is going to work out fine’.
The result? Huge. Just shifting that one thought to ‘everything is going to work out fine’ had her boss thinking that she had been taking acting classes. Just that one new thought transformed Sue from a stressed out working Mum into a relaxed, calm and confident Superwoman.
So that’s my second gift. Be your Best Friend. We need to be so very careful with the stories we tell ourselves. With the first two gifts, we really can dream for happy ending and make it come true.
My final gift came to me in a moment of inspiration from Bradley Cooper. When he was on the press junket for ‘A Star is Born’, he explained how he wanted to tell a story about finding yourself. As he said on the Graham Norton show: ‘The world is often trying to tell us what you are, who you are supposed to be and what you can’t do’. A century earlier, the poet EE Cummings was saying something pretty similar: ‘To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting’.
So the final gift is: ‘Be yourself’! It’s advice we often give but find so difficult to follow ourselves. And how do we do that? Well let me tell you how Jon did it.
Jon had been reduced to a shell of a man as a result of a bitter divorce. During that time, he had joined a global firm with a remit to develop a new area of the business from scratch. Starting with a blank page, he contentedly hid himself away from the world, focussing exclusively on building a million dollar business, which he achieved in a few short years. It was remarkable. And it got him noticed.
Naturally, the firm wanted to promote him, only there was a concern over his communication skills. In this particular industry, like many industries, being an extrovert and oozing charisma were the desired behaviours of a business leader. And as I said, John was a shell of a man. It was as if he had literally retreated in to himself. At our very first meeting in his small corner office I could barely hear what he was saying. It turns out he had come to believe the vicious and sustained personal attacks he had suffered throughout his divorce.
During our time together I learned one of the secrets of his success: he was far more likely to listen than to speak. When he did speak, it was very quietly but surprisingly; I discovered he had a secret desire to perform!
As we slowly rebuilt his self-confidence, Jon began to believe in himself and believe he could reveal his performance side to the world. Soon afterwards, a very practical opportunity arose for him to do just that at work. He was invited to speak to his division to share his inspiring story of building a million dollar business from scratch. This speaking event proved to be a watershed moment in his career. Once his inner showman was out, there was no stopping him.
Jon said he couldn’t have imagined that revealing that part of himself would have had such a powerful impact at work. Having first delivered the presentation to his division in London, he was then asked to present to the Board in the States who promptly put him on a plane to share his inspiring story around the firm’s global offices. He now sits on the Executive Committee.
As we open up to the gifts of being human we will be empowered. We can use our imagination to dream. We can use our imagination intentionally to create the life of our dreams not our worst nightmares. And if we are going to be ourselves, we will create the life of our dreams not anyone else’s. As Oscar Wilde said ‘Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken’.