When I was in secondary school, starting my A-Levels, I ended up with a new English Literature Teacher. She was pretty brutal – fierce…but not in a good way.
We all thought she was maybe a failed actress, in the vein of ‘those who don’t make it, end up teaching’. I’m still not sure how true our teenage assertions were, but suffice to say, none of us warmed to her. This was hugely unsettling for me, having had fantastic relationships with my previous teachers, all of whom recognised my painful social anxiety and nurtured me to do well in a subject I adored.
Mrs X was very different. From the get go, she marked me out as someone who ‘refused’ to offer their opinions on any text, never gave any insight and barely looked up from the book for fear of making eye contact and being asked a question.
The truth was, I knew the answers, I had ridiculously strong opinions, but I was terrified of being wrong, or being asked something I didn’t know. So I endured 2 years of A-levels for my sheer love of literature. When Mrs X found out my biggest dream was to become a teacher, matters became even trickier. “I don’t know why you think you’ll ever be able to teach? You can’t even speak in front of your peers! How will you speak to a class full?”
Boy have those words stuck with me!
20 years later and I still think a thousand times before I open my mouth, consumed with self-doubt and crippling imposter syndrome. I mostly worry that people will be totally uninterested in what I offer. That they will think it is ridiculous and unnecessary, that they could get someone better qualified, or approach one of these huge new money-making machines that have appeared on the market since Theresa May announced a (questionable) budget for mental health in schools.
I worry. I worry ALL THE TIME!
Then, I wait. I worry and I wait. I wait to hear back from people I’ve met who expressed some interest in what I do. I wait to hear from people who weren’t very interested! I wait to hear from people whose e-mails I replied to. I wait to hear about opportunities that have come my way. I wait to see if there are any events I can attend. I wait. And all the time that self-doubt imposter, whose seed was sown 20 years ago, grows a little more.
Waiting is a tricky process. It seems to be the thing I’m constantly told I need to do, and it comes in a lot of guises – hang in there, keep pushing and something will come, I’ve told this person about you and they’re going to email you at the end of September. So much ‘waiting’ for the work to arrive, it can be really frustrating. It turns out, I’m not very good at it either! Then, my husband showed me two fantastic TEDx talks and they totally changed the way I think about ‘putting myself out there’ and networking.
The first was by organizational psychologist Tanya Menon and is a talk entitled:
‘The Secret to Great Opportunities? The Person You Haven’t Met Yet’.
The crux of her piece was that we exist within very narrow social circles made up of people who are similar to us. This, of course, makes perfect sense, since we aim to build relationships based on similarities – the music we like, the interests and hobbies we share, even the jobs we do. The downside is that we are meeting the same people, or at least the same kinds of people who move in the same spheres as we do. While this is ok if we are looking to make new friends, it inhibits us when trying to build new opportunities and build our businesses. Tanya Menon calls this ‘Social Narrowing’ and she suggests we should work on growing our social circles.
But how do we do that? In truth, we all get comfortable with the familiar and it can be very intimidating to step outside of that.
One of the things she suggests is creating ‘Accidental Bumps’. We all fall into the habit of following the same pathway daily, even if the work we do provides us with a different experience every day. We take the same routes that we know, we use the same cafés, often, even the same toilet cubicles. We follow predictable patterns. To test this theory, I tried keeping a log of my day for a week and was amazed at how utterly predictable I am! I went to 3 different schools, but on-the-whole my week was very basic and followed the same pattern.
So I decided I would try to create some ‘accidental bumps’. I’m not going to say it was easy. It involves fighting our in-built ‘filters’, and as someone who finds safety in the routine, I find this monumentally difficult. I decided that I would see everyone as an untapped opportunity, and the only way I would meet them was to shake it up a little bit. This meant, that instead of popping in to the loo nearest my classroom, I would walk an extra little bit to the ones in the upper school. Bingo – I spoke to four new people on my way. Nothing ground breaking, just a hello, but straight away I was in the consciousness of these people I had never met before. My next strategy was to fill my cup up when I arrived at school. Normally I take my cup of tea with me ready-made, and a bottle of lemon water in my bag. I mark books at lunch time and rarely venture into the staff room. Instead, I made my morning cuppa when I arrived – BOOM, 2 new ‘accidental bumps.’ Then at break time, I topped up my water, and would you believe, another bump.
You get the picture. Over the next visit to the school, two of my accidental bumps got chatting to me about what I do and there and then I had shared vital information about my business and left contact details.
Seek out social hubs
The next tip I wanted to try out was to ‘seek out social hubs’. Menon talks about the unpredictability of these places, as we can’t know who will be there, and therefore, who we will meet. Its another way to inject diversity into our daily routines and break our social habits. It takes a little bit of considering – where are the social hubs in your routine? Are they staffrooms, cafes, your regular dog walk? Think about the places you go where you see people.
For me they are often corridors, so I started making myself access staff rooms more. I also tried out a different route to drop my son off at Nursery, and then I went a bit later to collect him, so that I would have to wait with a totally different group of Mums. It was a bit scary, but once I had done it, it became a little bit easier each time I made a change, or tried something new.
The second talk I was sent was by Stanford Engineering School Professor Tina Seelig. It is entitled ‘The Little Risks You Can Take To Increase Your Luck’.
Admittedly I wasn’t engaged when I saw it! ‘Risk’ and ‘luck’ were not two things I was wholly comfortable with. ‘Risk’ terrifies me, and ‘luck’? Well, I think I want to increase my chances of growing my business. Luck didn’t seem to be the right thing to be relying on to do that! However, TED were not wrong when they said that Tina Seelig would ‘share three unexpected ways to increase your luck – and your ability to see and seize opportunities’!
Seelig is a proponent of risk taking. Now, as we know, taking risks is something I actively try to avoid, but let’s give this a go. Just like Menon, this is the idea of changing ourselves, taking ourselves out of our comfort zone and challenging our in-built filters. It turns out that risk taking is not as simple as I thought! It’s not a case of being pro or anti risk, but rather looking at all the different kinds of risk we can take – financial, emotional, ethical, social etc. There are areas of our life where we might be quite happy to take a bit of a chance and others where we are more reluctant. By identifying where we prefer to stick to the safe side, it becomes more apparent where we can challenge ourselves. Tina Seelig gives a fantastic example of this in her talk, and it made me realise that waiting doesn’t necessarily mean that putting ourselves out there, and taking that risk has been fruitless. She went from a chance conversation on a plane to, two years later, having sold over a million books worldwide. The key here was recognising that she didn’t take one huge risk, she took lots of very little ones, reached out, when others may have let it go.
Seelig goes on to encourage us to think about how we can change our relationships with other people. Anybody that plays a part in our business journey is taking time for us – time that could have just as easily been given to someone else. Its really important for us to keep that in mind. It has really helped me to keep a practical view and recognise that even if nothing came of it, somebody believed in my vision enough to want to contribute in any way.
The final takeaway from this video was to change my relationship with ideas. I had found that I’d got into a bit of a funk with my business. I was having meetings with schools desperate to make a change for the well-being of their staff and students, but without the money to pay for my services. I had been feeling very much like they were just trying to get something for nothing, but the truth is that I know first hand just how tight school budgets are and that they genuinely don’t have the funding for the kind of interventions I provide, no matter how much they may want them. This is a hugely frustrating place to be, and many times I have considered throwing in the towel. Then, after watching this video several times, I realised that I had to turn around the way I was thinking about my plan. I still meet with schools very regularly, and indeed still work with them, but in a different way. In the coming weeks I will be providing a journaling workshop for staff at a local middle school – I won’t be ‘paid’ for it, but I have been invited to some other high-quality well-being training that their staff are having. If I were to access this training myself it would cost me a significant amount of money, but this way we have entered in to a sort of trade.
So, what are the key things I have taken away from these videos and what have I done about them?
I took 6 key points from watching the TEDx talks and they were:
- Be courageous!
- Widen your social world.
- See people as partners, rather than resources.
- Take some risks and get out of your comfort zone.
- Be more appreciative.
- Change your relationship with ideas – stop seeing things as black and white!
What have I done with these ideas?
Straight after I had watched them, I set out to create some ‘accidental bumps’ so I signed myself up for two things. The first was a well-being festival happening near where I live. I had seen it advertised on a popular social networking site and a friend had shared it a few times. I had been ‘umming and ahhing’ about if for a few weeks, but after the videos I contacted the organiser and expressed an interest in speaking or running a workshop. The up-shot was that I did an hour-long journaling workshop for a group. The group were really pro-active, I got some amazing and very useful feedback, and I got to meet loads of people who work in well-being. I took away a whole range of brand-new contacts.
The second event was to volunteer for a social enterprise that I feel really passionate about and have supported for a long time. They were holding student nights at shopping centres across the country including my local centre. I contacted them to add my name to the list and was really excited to hear back from them accepting me as a volunteer. I had a little telephone interview and more than that, I had a fabulous evening shouting from the rooftops about a foundation close to my heart. Shortly afterwards I was contacted by the team leader and asked if I would be interested in doing corporate training workshops as a sub-contractor. Long term, I see the work I do with schools as my way of ‘giving back’, and this opportunity is one that will help to finance that. It brings my ethical standpoint in line with my need for my business to be financially viable. While we haven’t nailed down dates and times yet, I am in regular contact with the foundations CEO and positive about what will come.
I still really struggle with waiting. I still find it difficult to put myself ‘out there’ and I’m still not entirely sure about where exactly ‘out there’ is, but I am more positive about what it can mean, how I can take small steps to help myself and that, on-the-whole, this is a journey. It will take time to grow, but every new person I meet, every message I put out there, and every blog I write, puts me in someone’s consciousness, and if that alone makes a little difference, then I’m achieving what I set out to do.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them! Just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bye for now!
Raegon Guest – gal on the ground!
About the Author
I’m Raegon Guest,
your ‘Gal on the Ground’! I’m a new-start therapist and I’ll be
following the member content and providing feedback to you and the team.
I moved from my teaching job to become a stress management consultant. I
now work with those in the education sector to implement stress
reduction strategies for staff, children and families.