What’s Shaped Me

Tony Jackson has started a great experiment, inviting people to Tony’s Post in their life and to share that with #whatshapedme

It’s a way to bring real life conversations into the social media space, to get to know a lot more about each other in a fairly quick and easy way, like we would if we were colleagues working together in a joined physical space, and like we do sometimes with individuals and teams when developing them – sharing more of ourselves builds trust as people connect emotionally together by seeing we’re a flawed individual with interesting, unusual, familiar life stories, just like them.

In deciding what to write I had the conversation with Tony that some of the stories I could tell might be a bit heavy for this place – if you want to know those then we’ll be doing that as good friends, in a pub or restaurant with a glass of wine. We all have layers to who we are and what we choose to share with those around us. The more we trust and feel safe, the more we share.

Also, when I first started thinking about this, I noticed that most of the things that came to mind were the more ‘negative’, challenging or difficult periods of my life. Which I guess is to be expected as we learn the most from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others. That trait to focus on what’s gone wrong is, afterall, what’s kept us alive and reproducing for millions of years, so it can be helpful. But with that in mind I’ve purposefully started with the happier experiences that have shaped me, because hooking our mind into what’s good is incredibly helpful to broaden our thinking – it just takes a bit more effort.

So my story…..

My boss, Kellee. She was the best boss I ever had. No question. Hands down. I feel so fortunate to have had the pleasure of working with her, and delighted that we’re still in touch. She cared about all of me – yes my work – and my family and home life. She knew that she could help me be at my best if the personal noise in my head was downloaded every now and then. And it enabled her to foresee any challenges to the team in delivering what was needed. She was the first manager I had who challenged my thinking through a coaching approach, and began my journey to where I am today with that profession. She was also the first manager to ask me how I felt about things at work. ‘Felt?’ Really? I know what I think… I’m not sure how I feel! But through that question and through encouraging me to notice what was going on in meetings with other people – rather than focussing on an agenda – she enabled me to significantly develop my emotional intelligence and my ability to facilitate groups. There was much, much more that was great about her, but suffice to say, she is the person I call to mind when I think of people who’ve inspired me, and who demonstrated the kind of leadership skills I hope to show myself.

Being 16. I have great memories of this age. My friends and I loved the Crystal Maze, we loved the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I loved listening to Crowded House (Woodface) in my room, sitting on my woven cloth rug alongside my hat stand and rocking chair – yes I know, a bit weird eh! But I distinctly remember my desire as a 16 year old to have a wicker rocking chair (which incidentally I rarely sat in) and a hat stand. I think this time stands out for me because it felt like I was starting to grow up, become independent and create a world around me that I chose and to develop my own tastes. Before this I think I had mostly just wanted to do whatever my big sister did!

Having kids. If you read my last post you’ll relate to why I’ve chosen to put this in the middle – because my kids are both awesome and immensely challenging and so they’re bringing the gap between these two sections.

When my first baby was born 8 years ago I was kind of in shock. I’d spent much of my pregnancy continuing to be busy at work, travelling to my regional patch around the North West and West Mids, we were moving house from Nottingham to reduce my husband’s commute and I generally hadn’t spent much time emotionally connecting with the fact I had a small person in my belly. If I’m honest I still find that concept sort of weird! A bit like the Alien movie!! Anyway, when he arrived nearly three weeks early before we’d moved house – not the plan! – I was, well, shocked. Labour all went well – I’m good at pregnancy and labour – but then I had this small person to be responsible for. I had (undetected) low iron levels which left me even more knackered than I could have been, feeding did not go well resulting in seriously bad mastitis on both sides (not great for bonding with baby) and I believe I was also suffering from low level PND. I was aware of not being honest when the midwife asked me if I was crying more than usual because I was scared they’d take my baby away from me. I hang on to the fact I must have had a connection to him at that point or else I wouldn’t have had that fear.

And so began the challenge of parenthood. He quickly taught me that everything in life doesn’t need a plan. That everything isn’t logical and predictable. That it’s a good thing to share with others and seek help. That it’s great to be honest and show vulnerability to build relationships. That you really can stay calm and say ‘there, there, it’s OK’ even though your baby has just vomited all over your face and it’s dripping off you onto the floor. I could go on!

And then baby number 2 arrived two years later. A completely different bonding and feeding experience. With what I know now I wonder how much my different psychological states influenced those different physical experiences. And so my development continued as I learned to deal with spilt milk over there and crying baby here. Or one weeing in a corner while the others’ poo spilled out their nappy. Management of emotions was definitely a big part of my development here. One of the senior leaders I worked with at the time commented on how they valued my ability to stay calm in a crisis. There’s always something good from every challenge.

Really! Parenthood is a joyous time! And it is – all the good stuff they bring – the smiles; the laughter; the fun; the crazy, gorgeous and insightful things they say; the perspective on life. I’m so much richer because of them.

Arthritic hip. I’ve also posted about this a while back and very much in a positive light. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis around age 25. I think this was caused by landing badly from a tandem skydive, catching my heel on the ground and jolting my leg. Gradually over the years my movement reduced and pain increased. Being pregnant actually helped because of the relaxin hormone loosening everything up. But once that had firmly left my system it all felt a lot worse than before, which led to my replacement in June 2013. I was scared I might die in theatre and leave my lovely kids without a mum. I was scared it might not be as good as my old one. I was scared. And the recovery was tough – and at the same time it was very positive because my discomfort improved – something I hadn’t experienced for a long time. Exercise helped things hurt less – something else I hadn’t experienced in a long time. By the time I was going back to work I was fitter and more toned than I’d been for about ten years! And psychologically I’d been freed from this pain which I hadn’t noticed had gradually pulled me down and into myself. So thanks to my hip I had a new lease of life, a ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ attitude – which (along with support from some awesome tweeps and some 1:1 coaching) gave me the belief and confidence to start my business and to choose to do work that makes a difference to others. I haven’t looked back.

In writing this it’s reinforced something I already believed; that from any situation, no matter how awful or difficult it seems at the time, something good will come from it.  Sitting with our discomfort or difficulty is a skill we can practice, to ride that wave of emotion until we get to the other side and drier shores.

So there’s a few of the things that have shaped me. I hope that in sharing this we can continue some real life conversations with greater connection next time we meet.

And for now, what about you? What’s shaped who you are today? What are your stories? If you share them here, or with others elsewhere, what difference could that make to your relationship?

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