CHAPTER 16 YOUR WORKLIFE YOUR WAY By Carmel O’ Reilly

Self-Acceptance Not Good Enough Feeling Like a Fraud Not Deserving of This

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Brené Brown

As we go through life, we can all make choices or decisions that we judge ourselves by. We are all capable of being our own harshest critic. The likelihood is that no one judges us more than we judge ourselves. What we need to do is to get out of our own way, because the path to self-acceptance is self-realisation in knowing that we are good enough.

A Case Study

Myra’s Story: Not Being Good Enough Imposter Syndrome 

Myra had experienced great success. She had sold her company, which had started as a market stall, for eight figures. She had built the company from the ground up, through sheer hard work, putting in up to eighteen hours a day, seven days a week for five years, without ever taking a holiday.  

She was now in a position where she could not only take a holiday, but she could take a significant amount of time out to decide what she wanted to do next; and if that decision was that she no longer wanted to work, the sale of her company meant that she was in a position to do that too.

So what did Myra do? Well she took a few days’ holidays, which she actually found unsettling and had difficulty relaxing. So immediately she started looking for opportunities to volunteer her time, and joined committees and boards of nine organisations, across many different industries and sectors. She also applied to university, and went on to do a degree in Business Studies, followed by three Masters Degrees, and then a PhD. 

But what was driving Myra to do all of this? Well, let us back up a little to her backstory. 

Myra was born in Thailand. When she was fourteen years old, her family moved to London. She was the first of her family to go to university, and her parents were really proud of this. At university she met a boy, fell in love, and became pregnant, which resulted in her dropping out. The relationship did not work out, but Myra did not want to go home. She wanted to keep the independence she had experienced for the first time in her life, which she had come to value immensely, and so she moved into a small bedsit.  

When her daughter Zara was born, she needed to work to bring in money to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Myra wanted to do so much more than this. She wanted to provide a life of security and stability for her daughter, to build a fund for her future education and life. She recognised she needed help with this, so she asked her parents if she could move back in with them, and if they would help with taking care of Zara. Both of her parents worked long hours. They did this to provide for Myra’s three younger siblings, and to save money for each them to go to university. Asking for their help and support meant that Myra now needed to become one of the breadwinners with responsibility for the whole family.

She did not know what she could do. Having not completed her degree she lacked confidence in applying for jobs. She questioned who would want to employ her without having a degree, and without any work experience she did not consider she had any skills to offer. 

At this point her parents were working in early morning cleaning jobs. They did this while the family slept. Myra joined them to bring in more money while deciding what she could do. It needed to be more than this, but she was still struggling to know what. 

Every morning as they made their way home, they passed street traders who were setting up for the day. Myra was curious about what they sold, and if this afforded them a living. She decided to explore this, going walkabout one lunchtime, and found the market to be heaving. It was located in the City of London, a neighbourhood where banks, law firms, government departments, not-for-profit organisations, tech and design industries all converged. There were street food stalls galore, but it was the market stalls that interested Myra. Each one was quite unique and different in an arty, lifestyle sort of way.

One particular stall had a lot of people milling around. They were selling travel books: The Lonely Planet series. Myra could see that the books and payment exchanges were fast and furious. She counted a team of ten on the ground in the small space, attracting people in (though the crowd themselves were doing that), answering questions, selling and processing payments. She was intrigued, and hung around until the rush hour lunchtime had died down so as to chat with the owner of the stall, Ken, to try to understand why their books were so popular.

He told Myra that it was simply that these people were planning to travel, and it was easy and convenient for them to pick up their destination book while on their lunch break. Being located close to the street food stalls where they were picking up lunch helped. He went on to say that The Lonely Planet is a recognised and respected brand, and so sales are easy. They carried a generic stock of the popular books within the series, which met most on the day demands. If they are not carrying a particular book, people can order it, and they will have it for them the next day. When Myra had been observing the books being sold, she had noticed that a lot of people had purchased Lonely Planet Thailand. She mentioned this to Ken, who told her that this destination had been popular for several years, and continued to be. 

By now Myra’s intrigue was bubbling over with a sense of excitement. She still had no idea what this meant, by way of what she could do work-wise, but she felt there was something. She was also really buzzing from having been around the stalls, and in the neighbourhood there was such a positive vibe, she felt alive.

On her walk home and over the following days, she kept mulling this over and over in her head. Asking herself, what all of this meant to her, what it meant she could do, what could she sell. She went back in her mind to when she was growing up, when she had helped her parents who had a market stall on their home island of Phuket. She remembered how popular sarongs had been. People would arrive and immediately buy them to wear on the beach. They would come back and buy them as gifts to take home. She wondered if this could be something. She decided there was only one way she could find out, that was to test the idea. She knew she could have her family in Phuket send sarongs to her. They were able to buy them at a very low cost, which she would cover, along with shipping. 

She went back to talk to Ken to ask about standing near his stall and selling them. He said this would not be possible, because this space was needed for his customers and staff to mill around in. He also said the market organisers and vendors would not allow this. He went on to say that the people who had the stall next to him were giving it up. They themselves were going travelling, and having established themselves selling backpacks, they had already moved to an online platform. They had engaged a fulfilment centre to deliver their orders to anywhere in the world. This meant they no longer had to carry a physical stock, and they themselves no longer needed to have a physical presence, and were now ready to pursue their dream of travelling the world, working and living from wherever their journey took them. 

Ken said he would put in a word with the organisers and other vendors for her. What she was proposing to sell was unique and different to anything else being sold, and he thought she had a strong chance of being accepted. But she needed to move fast, because as stalls became vacant, they were snapped up immediately. Myra would be required to make an initial minimum commitment to a six-month contract, and it did not come cheap. It would require putting some of the family savings at risk, in that they would have to draw on this if the venture was not a success, if it did not bring in enough money to pay the rent on the stall, or the money they needed to meet their financial commitments; and of course she would need to invest in larger quantities of sarongs.

She discussed it with her parents, who were not on board because it made them nervous to invest their savings into something that they did not know would work, which meant they could lose everything. Her twin brothers, who had just turned sixteen, really wanted to help out, as did her younger sister who was fourteen. Knowing they would meet resistance from their parents, the four of them had prepared a plan to present in an attempt to persuade them to invest the money needed. 

The plan was quite simple. At sixteen the boys could now legally work, and they would join Myra and her parents at the cleaning company, to increase the income coming into the household. They would then go straight to the market stall to set up and trade for the day. Her sister would help out with taking care of Zara, and she could also help out with any aspects of the business that could be done from home. The school holidays were about to begin, and so none of this would impact their studies; and it gave them six weeks to work really hard to get things up and running, to push sales, to do everything they could to avoid having to use the family savings. Their marketing idea was simple too: they would sell to people before they went on holiday. The sarongs were much lighter than towels to carry, and could double up as towels and beachwear. They also promoted them as being ideal for the gym to replace towels.

They had prepared well, had anticipated their parent’s arguments, and how they could alleviate their concerns. It worked. Their parents were so impressed by their ‘pitch’, and how they handled their concerns and objections, and were proud of how the four of them had worked together, developing their ideas, and how much they were each willing to do to make sure it worked. Their passion and enthusiasm, supported by their projected income, played an important part in them saying yes.

And so, this is how it all began. How with a lot of hard work and long hours, five years later Myra and the rest of her family had agreed the eight-figure sale, which meant all of them were in an extremely comfortable place financially, and each one of them could choose what they wanted to do next in their WorkLife.

For Myra, it was degree after degree after degree. Why? She said it was out of fear that she was not good enough to get a job, and this came back to her dropping out of university and not completing her first degree. Having worked on a market stall, she thought she did not have skills or experience that fitted into a work environment. Despite the fact that she had sold the business for eight figures, she felt she had no understanding of how businesses worked. When she attended committee or board meetings of the organisations she had joined, when the discussions turned to financial aspects she nodded in agreement but kept quiet, and would come home and google the terminology used. She felt like an imposter, and was fearful she would be found out and exposed.  This is why her first degree was in Business Studies. It is also why she did not stop at one degree.

We are the stories we tell ourselves. Growing up in Thailand, while Myra was part of a strong family unit, she was not often praised, but was expected to be number one all the time. When she got an A-plus she felt loved more, so the performance love was embedded in her brain. She went back to university because she wanted to meet her parents’ expectations of her achieving a higher education degree, and to make them proud.  She also felt without a degree she was not smart, and people would think she did not deserve to be where she was. Despite external evidence of her competence, she remained convinced that she was a fraud, and that she did not deserve all that she has achieved. She doubted her accomplishments, and lived with a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. 

It was through an event sponsored by one of the organisations where Myra was a board member, that she experienced her eureka moment of self-realisation and through this self-acceptance in knowing that she was good enough.

It was a literary event honouring great writers. *Abe, a Nigerian Poet and short story writer, in his acceptance speech spoke about inner self-beliefs, thoughts and self-talk, and how they affect your personal choices, saying: “Beware of the stories you tell yourself; subtly, at night beneath the water of consciousness, they are altering your world.” He spoke about his struggle for acceptance throughout his life, in Nigeria where he had faced rejection after rejection for his work, which continued when he moved to Great Britain. He spoke about how this became very important in his work. He spoke about the tranquillity he experienced through his writing, and how through this he eventually came to realise that the most important place of acceptance was inside of himself.

Develop Your WorkLife Story Chapters

A turn of events is when your WorkLife narrative suddenly takes a drastic turn in a different direction. 

Self-Acceptance through Self-Realisation Assignment 

Ask yourself the following questions:

Am I living with a regret? If so, what is it? E.g. for Myra it was dropping out of university.

Do I consider I’ve let myself or someone else down? If so how and who? E.g. for Myra it was her parents who had worked so hard to put her through university.

Are there aspects of my WorkLife where I think I’m not good enough? Where I think I’m a fraud? If so, what are they? E.g. for Myra having not graduated from university, she felt she was not good enough to be part of an organisation. she considered she did not have the education or the right work experience. 

Self-Realisation is a powerful way to help your self-acceptance. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I like who I am?

Do I like who I’ve become?

What specific aspects of myself do I like?

How close is the person I am to the person I want to be?

Take time to answer these questions, they will help you to analyse where you are in life, and who you are in life. To go deeper ask yourself:

What is my relationship with the people I spend most time with like?

What is one of my defining qualities?

What is one my best qualities?

Do these things align?

What would my friends say about me?

What would an acquaintance say about me?

What would my family say about me?

Do you like the answers to these questions? 

The Moral of this Story

Life events can take us off course and cause us to make choices and decisions that can result in us thinking we are not good enough. For example, we did not do a, b, c, so we are not good enough to do x, y, z. We are the stories we tell ourselves, and as with Myra and Abe our stories can be shaped by the expectations of the people and the world around us, and cause us to question whether we are good enough. Reality checking who we are and where we are in life will allow the self-realisation that different pathways can bring us to where we want and need to go; and maybe even more importantly allows us to recognise the strength we have within us to do what we need to do when we are faced with challenges and obstacles.  

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback 

Self-reflection through self-feedback will allow you to realise how strong you are, and that you can deal with any challenge or obstacle that comes your way.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning 

“We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.” Samuel Smiles.  

Ask yourself:

How has a failure or perceived failure set me up for later success?

Words of Wisdom

Let go of what you think WorkLife perfection looks like. Life is perfection in all its imperfections. 

*Abe’s story, words and wisdom has been adapted from the great Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri OBE FRSL.

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: www.worklifeincorporated.com You’ll find my bio right here: https://worklifeincorporated.com/about/ Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of www.worklifeincorporated.com. I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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