What is your story of strength?
I think I am strong because I am willing to look at my weaknesses; being prepared to face them and work on them. I don’t think this is something that comes easy to anyone in life and I think it is only natural to want to focus on the things we are stronger at, the things we are better at. This is something that can relate to all areas of life, from personal to professional. I see it with the students I teach; if there is a subject they are not very good at they try to ignore it and just focus on the things they can do, getting better at those things. Now, as much as there is a gain from doing this (reconfirming to themselves they can do the things they know that they are good at, boosts their confidence), it is limited in its benefit because they are still vulnerable to their weak areas. As such, although difficult (we don’t usually like doing things we know we can’t do), by tackling their weak areas they end up removing the weakness, or at least managing it sufficiently so that they don’t fear it anymore.
One of the hardest things I ever had to do in life was to open up and be honest about a painful experience from my childhood; I recognise now that until I did that it was never going to heal. It took me nearly 20 years (the latter 10 years of which had included some therapy sessions at certain points where I kept it buried) before I felt strong enough and trusted somebody enough to open up; I believe my environment at the time (stable & supportive friendships, family, home) were part of the reason I felt I could open myself up to this vulnerability. Doing so was a massive turning point for me – I felt like a weight was lifted; I was no longer harbouring a secret and having let this thing out into the open I had seen that the world was still turning and I was OK.
So for myself I think I have become stronger as I’ve become OK with being uncomfortable, learning to be OK with where I don’t really want to be. Taking a breath, pausing and listening to myself, my inner feelings, my thoughts, quieting the negative, telling myself I am OK and that I don’t have to have all the answers, I don’t need to get to final point right now, I just need to get through the next second, minute, hour, day.
Can you tell me about a woman in your life that embodies strength?
A friend of mine in the UK, within the space of two years, lost both her parents, had some physical problems herself and also then after all that, her nephew, Ben Pocock, was on the Malaysia MH17 flight that was shot down. He was only I think around 20/21 and still she is one of the most positive people I know. For me, she shows such strength because when I think about that myself I think “my gosh…” I’m not sure I would be able to get out of bed each day and if I could get out of bed, I’m not sure I could go around without being angry at the world. Although its been hard, on the whole, her and her husband are so positive, kind and full of love. Even this awful thing that’s happened she tries to turn into a positive and keep the memory of her nephew Ben alive. She has so much kindness towards other people. With everything going on, she needed support herself but actually most of the time she is always still thinking of others and doing things for others. For me, that inspires me to think about when things get tough in life to remain positive and still show kindness towards other people.
Can you tell me about a time you failed or disappointed yourself?
I feel I have disappointed myself anytime I have not been genuine or true to myself. I also find it particularly difficult however if I’ve been true to myself and things have not worked out as I had hoped for or if I had placed my faith in something that didn’t work out. Its so easy to resort to feeling like, things would have worked out if only we’d done something differently or been a different way, but then we’d have been a different person and walking somebody else’s path. So at those times, that’s when a breath is needed, and some trust and faith that in time the reason for things not working out as we’d originally hoped will become apparent. If we had not been true to ourselves then we were on the wrong path anyway, so how can we expect that things would have been different and that we would have ended up in a place that is right for us?
I heard something the other day which struck a chord, it was along the lines of; life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards.
Some traumatic events happened to me in my home life during my childhood/ teen years but the first major set back in terms of professional experience was my RAF career ending before it had really got off the ground. My dream had been to be an RAF pilot for as long as I could remember and all my energies at school / university had gone into making this a reality. This was the first time I had to reinvent myself and make new plans – it turned out to be the first of quite a few times and that’s a wonderful thing about life, using that well known saying “it’s never too late to be who we might have been.” As I’ve looked back at that part of my life over the years I came to realise that the RAF career would not have been a suitable life for me, however, something I’ll never know is whether that’s because I’ve changed to adapt to my new path or whether the events that took place resulting in my having to leave the RAF were to get me on the path I was supposed to be following. Having a bit of a plan is good – I think we as humans function better when we have some direction to focus our energies into, however, being flexible also allows us to let life happen and flex with it in whatever way we choose.
How can women better support each another?
I think the best thing is to realise that we are not actually competing. I know people talk a lot on equal rights and trying to make sure we are seen as equal as men and I think we still have some way to go on that. In terms of women, we then end up perhaps growing up with this expectation that we must be trying to beat the other person. So I think women need to realise that we are not competing and there is enough space for all of us to be good. I think women can help other women the most by encouraging other women to see their good qualities, to be proud of their good qualities and to help “big” each other up. I think as women, once we get to know one another and when we’re friends, we are actually quite good at supporting one another and seeing the positive in one another. When we don’t know other women sometimes we think “is she a threat to me?” whether it’s on a personal level or a business sense. It can bring out our worst sides. I think the best thing, as in many things in life, is to learn to encourage ourselves more and see our own positives and just to view there is room for us all to be really good. I do feel strongly that women are sadly still on the back foot in terms of the male/female platform, wherever they are in the world, even in some countries that are more advanced in terms of feminism. Often men still talk about women in a very professional environment in terms of their looks for e.g. if they were asked to describe a colleague they might say “oh she’s pretty.” I do understand its nice sometimes if someone thinks you look nice but I don’t think it should be the first thing someone says about me in a professional environment. The fact that some men (not all) still talk that way and its not contested or questioned still says a lot whereas if you were asked to describe a male colleague and you started describing his physical attributes it would be a bit weird! Women have enough to do with being on a level platform with men so I think between women, we have to work on encouraging one another and being kind to one another. I think that also starts with being kind to ourselves more. Its not a female-only trait as a lot of men do this too, but generally we are often unkind to ourselves and not as kind to ourselves as a friend would be.