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Resilience

As a former teacher, there are some words that are really important in my vocabulary but that I also have worries about using, because their use in the education sector has, at times, it has been overused (or maybe misused) and has taken on a position in the bulls**t bingo card of edu-speak.

I’m working hard to remind myself that resilience is not a taboo word and that its meaning is deeply important in the work that I am doing for (and with) myself as well as with my clients and group members.

I do consider myself to be extremely resilient and mentally ‘tough’ but I have also come to a place of acceptance that there are times when my toughness wavers. The important thing about this acceptance is that I know that it is OK to wobble, to have doubts and to question myself and I am learning what I need to do in those moments (or hours, or days) when my ability to spring back into shape is less than optimal.

For me, being resilient is about adopting a position of learning rather than self-flagellation; it’s about accepting the situation or problem for what it is, there in that moment of time, and being able to step back from it to identify what it is that I need to open up the space for me to recover to a position of strength again.

In my work with my own coach, I have identified the ‘voices’ of a team of ‘saboteurs’ who will casually saunter into my headspace when I open the door for them. This is my negative self-talk and I have deliberately worked on personifying them, because there are different traits and attitudes that these inner critics will focus in on. In many respects, this relates deeply to Carl Jung’s work on Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious and his theory that in moments of crisis, our psyche can tap into the collective unconscious. That is a whole series of blogs in itself. However, to give you a sense of what I am talking about, I’ll describe a couple of my key characters.

My Inner Judge

This is the ringleader of all of my negative self talk. He’s the voice that draws me into that feeling of Imposter Syndrome, who whispers in my head and knocks my confidence, asking me “Why would anyone listen to you?” and “Who do you think you are – you really think you can do this?’ and a variety of other quite toxic questions. He’s a officious little man, with a clipboard, constantly pestering about things that I ‘should have’ done – character traits of the inspectors and other leaders that I have encountered during my life and work who spend their time holding others to account whilst never taking that approach to themselves.

My inner judge controlled me for a long time and in the immediate months after my own exit from the classroom, he was larger than life and was a constant, unwelcome companion. He was the one who repeated the words that were said to me in private, behind closed doors, and caused the self doubt and anger to repeatedly overwhelm me. Until I saw him and was able to address him, I was prone to unravelling on an almost daily basis.

My Procrastinator

I suspect that most of us have one of these shifty characters lurking in our psyche somewhere. The force is strong with mine!

My procrastinator appears in so many situations, but the key ones are:

a) When I really need to do something that I don’t want to do (i.e it’s mundane, boring or doesn’t bring me any sort of joy whatsoever e.g. housework!)

b) When I’m lacking clarity about a task

c) When I’m fearful of looking stupid – this is usually a tag team affair between Procrastinator and Inner Judge.

Procrastination is a way to avoid something.

When I was a teacher the aspect of the job that I procrastinated most about was marking. Such an intrinsic part of the job, so important for providing feedback and checking where students are up to, but soul destroyingly repetitive and also, more often than not, not really read by the bulk of students. In the school environment, marking became one of those tasks that the focus shifted, perversely, into an accountability process for teachers, rather than a process that supported children. Different coloured pens, strange marking codes (assessment hieroglyphs if you like) and books regularly being taken as a ‘sample’ by senior leaders to check that you were sticking rigidly to the policy, rather than actually considering the impact of the time and effort of the teacher on the child. It would take me 3-4 hours to mark a set of English books, on a two weekly cycle. When you tot up the number of groups that teachers teach, you can see how it quickly becomes an albatross around their necks and why they procrastinate about it.

Now, my procrastination is usually in relation to situations or tasks where I’m fearful of getting it wrong or looking ‘stupid’ in front of peers. This is a result of a bit of symbiosis between my judge (“You’re an imposter!” and my procrastinator (“If you put it off long enough, you won’t have to do it and so you won’t make an idiot of yourself”).

So what?

Through coaching, I’ve worked to identify these archetypes or critics that had so much influence on my decision making and my actions and intent in regard to my own life. Don’t get me wrong, they still remain – lurking in the recesses of my mind – and there are still times when they emerge from the shadows of my subconscious to attempt to derail me.

The point is that my resilience has recovered and I am therefore better able to address the voices or feelings of self doubt, imposter syndrome, fear of looking daft and the subsequent avoidance that comes from these emotional responses to challenge.

Name your fear

In identifying these behaviours and responses, I can recognise them now when they begin to encroach and I can take the steps that are right for me to be able to push them back, so that I hold my own space to prove that I can and will achieve whatever it is that I am going to do.

I also know that I have people around me who will recognise when I am slipping into avoidance or self doubt – they “call it out” and encourage me to ask myself “what’s the worst that could happen?” This is crucial to me. They are part of what has supported the redevelopment of my resilience – it’s not always been super positive cheerleading – through asking me some hard questions, the people around me have helped me to grow stronger and to be able to recover much more quickly from knocks than I ever did before.

Resilience is like a muscle

Muscles build through use. When we start to exercise, there is a degree of pain to go through before we start to see and feel that changes are underway.

Resilience as a personal trait is similar.

To become resilient, we have to recover from challenge. We have to pick ourselves up off the floor, assess our bruises, reflect on why we fell down and then say to ourselves “try again”. Sometimes it might take longer to get up, or the bruises might be bigger or deeper, but ultimately, we get up.

Every time we do this, we are building our resilience. We are learning about ourselves, how we respond to situations and also about how to avoid being knocked to the floor in the first place. When we know our own strength, what we are capable of, we are more likely to take the chance to try something new or to stretch ourselves beyond the safety of our current experience. That is when resilience comes into its own. That is when we feel powerful enough to say “Well what IS the worst that could happen?” and to bravely step into something new or more challenging, knowing deep down that if we falter or fall, we are perfectly capable of dusting ourselves down and recovering.

To find out more about my coaching process and whether it may be appropriate for you, book in for a free, no obligation discovery call. No hard sell (because frankly, I haven’t got it in me and it annoys me when others do it to me!)

Discovery

“Sometimes you need to get lost in order to discover anything”

Katie Knovinsky

In May 2019, I can say with absolute certainty that I was lost.

I’d seen it coming, at speed, like an out of control train hurtling down the tracks towards me. I had nowhere to go, I was frozen to the spot and had resigned myself to being crushed as it thundered over me.

The details of the “what”, the “how” and the “why” have to stay with me for legal reasons, although that probably says what needs to be said anyway.

It was a beautiful day – clear blue skies, warm but comfortable. I’d arrived at work, after stopping on the way to breathe through the nausea that had been attacking me daily on my journey – my body telling me that all was not well and that I was afraid, stressed and filled with dread. It wasn’t the job, it was the actions, attitudes and behaviours of some key people. I was waiting for the axe to fall squarely in my back.

And it did.

A twenty minute meeting, behind closed doors, with no-one there to act as a witness to the absolute hell in the words that were sent my way. That was all it took.

If I had my time again, things would be different, but hindsight is a marvellous thing and one of the things I have discovered about myself is that I don’t want to waste my time wallowing in regret and thoughts of vengeance (although sometimes I do!).

Over the next six months, I spent a lot of time reflecting on whether I wanted to return to the profession that had been my home for twenty five years. I came to the conclusion that I did not. It was at that realisation that the discoveries started.

So many teachers become lost in the profession. My research in our group of twelve thousand members shows that there are many things that have gone wrong in teaching. There are other organisations developing in the last couple of years, advocating for different approaches in schools, because the level of overbearing, authoritarian leadership and restrictive decision making is draining the joy out of the profession. So much of what our teachers do is bureaucratic nonsense, designed only to create a culture of accountability that rests on a foundation of mistrust. This is not how things were back in my first ten years of teaching; the slide into treating children as statistical sausages, who all need to be uniform and ‘above average’ (yes, I know – how can they all be above average?) happened so quickly that very little could be done to stop it. This has happened at the expense of the mental health and wellbeing of teachers – the very people who should be at the heart of the system are the ones who are being chewed up and spat out, leaving them damaged and often unable to see a way forward.

Despite this hurt, the very nature of the people who choose this profession means that they experience guilt – they feel that they are letting children down – when actually they should be attempting to discover how they can stay true to their core values whilst working in an environment that values them as much as it values the children within it.

NB: For every school that damages adults, there is another school that treats them with trust and fairness – the key here is addressing the ones that are acting without integrity, not tarring all with the same brush.

My discoveries came through my work with my own coach, through adopting an attitude of “lets try it and see” and by throwing myself into learning. As a result, I find myself starting 2021 with three distinct business interests and being a strong advocate of multiple income streams. I’ve discovered that I am a multipotentialite.

“Multipotentialites have three superpowers: idea synthesis, rapid learning and adaptability. These are all skills in that in my experience, entrepreneurs, particularly those ‘accidental entrepreneurs’ have in abundance.

Emilie Wapnick

I no longer worry that people will look at my LinkedIn profile and see that I currently do multiple things. Yes, I am a coach. I’m also a great photographer as well as being a GCSE tutor and running my own tutoring business that is just in the process of expanding out into overseas tuition too. I do not accept the attitude that having diverse interests and business activities means that I am “jack of all trades and master of none”. Let me explain why.

Firstly, I don’t do anything unless I can do it well. I research, I study, I prepare, I plan. If you ask me to do a job, I will do it properly. Discovery is at the heart of everything I do – I learn, I seek the answers, I figure out the solutions.

Secondly, I was a teacher! Teachers are the ultimate multipotentialites. They often just don’t realise it. In any given day, a teacher will:

  • Teach a group of 30 children for a full day (5 teaching hours) or teach 5 groups of 30 children for an hour each.
  • Manage the needs of the children in front of them, providing resources, teaching new ideas or skills, monitoring behaviour and engagement, checking understanding, adjusting their approach many many times.
  • Make thousands of micro decisions throughout their day, many of them unconsciously, to ensure that they are doing the best for the children in front of them
  • Plan learning, prepare resources and in doing so, anticipate the myriad problems that might occur during one single lesson
  • Assess work, making judgements about understanding, identifying the gaps and misconceptions that individual students have, writing feedback for each of them in their books
  • use multiple pieces of software for different tasks – MIS for registers, rewards and sanctions, data entry; spreadsheets for tracking learning against key criteria; presentation software; video and audio software for creating resources or delivering online learning for students offsite
  • Use their communication and negotiation skills to navigate difficult conversations with parents, to resolve issues between children, to guide and advise colleagues.
  • Be subject to learning walks, book scrutinies, lesson observations, accountability conversations
  • Be expected to analyse data and use this to plan, intervene etc

And so it goes on. The list is endless. Teachers are amazing, adaptable people and so many of them do not understand how much they can do – what their real potential is.

In my work with clients, I help them to discover what is keeping them where they are despite that situation making them unhappy; I work with them to reveal their potential, to discover the possibilities that lie within their existing skill sets and to explore what could be if they chose a different route.

Discovery is absolutely at the heart of what I do and who I am.

To find out more about multi potentiality:

Read https://medium.com/@sarahcummingssydney/im-a-multipotentialite-and-i-have-superpowers-bc88f7e8f2d1

Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sZdcB6bjI8&feature=emb_imp_woyt

If it’s time for you to discover what’s possible, get in touch to chat about whether I could help you reveal your potential.

Courage

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Nelson Mandela

In the last few years, I’ve had to dig deep to draw upon my own courage. In the face of health challenges and multiple surgeries for endometriosis; difficulties in a workplace that despite being somewhere I loved to be, was demanding more of me than I could give; two significant mental health crises that meant that I had to be brave and seek help; the sudden and brutal ending of a career that I thought meant the end of my life.

Despite all of the challenges, I’ve always come through the other side, even when I truly believed that there could not possibly be a way to overcome or navigate the obstacles that were in my way. In the last few months, whilst working with coaching clients and also through my own coaching work, I have really reflected on what it is that has driven me to fight rather than curl up in a ball and give in.

Some people who know me well might say that I am stubborn and therefore I won’t give in, no matter what. I was born in February 1973, making me an ‘Ox’ under the Chinese zodiac and an Aquarius in the traditional astrological zodiac. Now, I am not someone who reads the astronomy predictions as a rule, but when I go looking at the character traits of these signs that I was born under, there are some things that ring true. Let’s see;

Every Aquarian is a rebel at heart. Free spirited and eccentric, they can often be identified by their offbeat fashion sensibilities, unusual hobbies and nonconformist attitudes.

An Aquarius woman is typically smart and independent. She’s a woman who marches to the beat of her own drum, requires the freedom to be who she is, as well as to think and do what she wants. She is typically a cool, friendly, eccentric and unconventional female.

People born in the year of the Ox are strong, reliable, fair and conscientious, inspiring confidence in others. They are calm, patient, methodical and can be trusted. Although they say very little, they can be very opinionated. They believe strongly in themselves, but are also stubborn and hate to fail.

The Ox:

Does things out of personal ideas and ability; always strive for their goals; diligent, motivated; extraordinary determination; great endurance.

Stubborn!

Tick, tick, tick and tick!

So, was it written in the stars that this is how I was going to be? Who knows? I tend not to dismiss anything that I cannot absolutely disprove, but equally I don’t accept things that I cannot prove or trust with my own intuition. I am a paradox wrapped up in bones and meat!

I do know that I am courageous, in my own quiet way. I don’t shout about it or make a fuss, but my courage is what has given me the strength to fight my way through the grief of losing my job and the sense of my own identity that was so tied up in it. My courage has given me the fuel to set fire to so many of the limiting beliefs that I held about myself. It’s the thing that sparks in my brain on the mornings where I really just want to pull the duvet over my head and stay there. It’s given me the power to look inwardly, to reflect on who I had become and to see the disconnect between that persona and who I really am at my core.

Courage is what is driving me to believe in myself and all of my abilities, the ones that I know about and the ones that are yet to be unearthed. I’ve discovered my voice and I’m using it in different ways, supporting others by lending my strength and power to help build them up when they don’t feel that they can.

This is a time where so very many of us are struggling with the everyday business of living. A global pandemic; massive schisms in society that are fracturing communities, families and other personal relationships; inequalities in so many aspects of life. For teachers, TAs and non teaching support staff (yes, you wonderful site managers, admin teams, midday supervisors, librarians, cleaning teams and everyone else!) the challenges of this pandemic are simply heightening feelings of anxiety and stress attached to the workplace. They are emphasising the challenges of our education system, showing the cracks and the inequalities and pushing a great many people to the very edges of what they feel they can take. There is FEAR and DREAD, where there should be joy, fulfilment and happiness.

If this is you – feeling that your courage has been drained away from you – then let me know. I know how it feels – I’ve lived it. I’ve felt broken, scared, defeated and trapped. I’ve learned that those feelings are just reflective of a state of mind at a point in time and we can change them – sometimes you just need someone to take your hand and shine a light into the darkness to show you the way.

If you have an experience to share or a story to tell about your own personal courage, please let me know. I would love to chat with you for my podcast series, launching soon.

Strength

It’s taken some time to find my strength although many people in my life find that difficult to believe. Their perception of me is of a “strong woman”, a “fighter” and someone who is consistently in control of their life. I guess that those things are true, to a greater or lesser extent at different times, but the reality is that what has been on display to others has, at times, been a mask rather than my true face.

My story is long and complicated – my LIFE has been complicated from a relatively young age. It’s not been bad – on the contrary, I have been blessed with so many wonderful people and experiences – although there have been times where I have reached the very darkest pit in my soul and believed that I couldn’t get out of it. Over time, I will post about some of these life events, because now I am in a position to see that for every challenge that I have experienced and overcome, I have been given a gift – new insight, learning something about myself or discovering more of my own power by surviving a situation. I hope that in time, by sharing elements of my life story and experience, that I can help others to move past their fears and find a way through the darkness that they might be surrounded by.

I am strong now.

My own journey with coaching – being coached, studying coaching and engaging with different strategies and activities to embed positive habits and change – is what has brought me to this place. Strength is a state of being. It refers to so many different aspects of who I am at my core – emotional strength, mental health, my professional pathway, my relationships. (You’ll note that I didn’t mention physical strength – that is definitely a target for 2021!)

I have been coached throughout my life. As a young girl, I was a gymnast. I trained hard and was talented. Ultimately, I made a choice to pursue my studies rather than an elite pathway and I have never regretted that choice. My coaches shaped and guided me to become the athlete that I was. They provided me with the tools (fitness plans – body conditioning, flexibility and mobility exercises), the accountability (training sessions, repetition and rehearsal until the routine or the moves were perfect) and the recognition and celebration of my achievements. Those ten years of my life embedded an understanding of what it means to be coached although I clearly didn’t recognise this until I was much older.

As a teacher, I have coached students and colleagues, in different ways and have been coached myself. It is an intrinsic part of good personal and professional development. My only sadness about coaching in schools is that is so variable in quality and effectiveness that it has sometimes been seen as yet another initiative, bolted on as a potential ‘silver bullet’ and the idea of coaching has fallen into the lexicon of ‘bulls**t bingo’ when in fact, if it is done well, it is one of the most powerful tools to support growth that you can imagine.

Within the teaching profession, so many things that could be extremely powerful have become tainted with negative connotations. Even some of the language that we use seems trite at times, because it has been overused, misappropriated or used in a context that has deeper, darker undertones (“Support Plans” anyone?).

I am not prepared to have coaching fall into that negative space – it is powerful, when done well. Coaching is for your heart, soul and mind, what a personal trainer is to your physical fitness. It’s done with with you, with your goals driving the agenda, with the firm belief that you have everything that you need to achieve those goals – you just need someone to give you the guidance, the support, the challenge and the recognition to help you get to where you want to be.

If you’d like to find out more about what I do and how I might be able to help you, do get in touch. Jump over to the Contact Page or book a Discovery Call (free of charge) to explore where you are right now and whether I can work with you to help you get to where you want to be.