The antidote to the venom of judgment

Me pondering all the silly, petty things I think about other people, whilst looking pensively at some whitewashed Greek houses.

Me pondering all the silly, petty things I think about other people, whilst looking pensively at some whitewashed Greek houses.

I am, by nature, a judgmental person. I believe we all are. People who claim not to be judgmental are lying (welcome to one of my many, many judgments).  I've always asserted that it's a basic human survival instinct to judge, to assess the threat someone else poses to my continued existence, and act accordingly.

But I'm starting to think I've been lying to myself. Of course, if someone is charging at me with a serrated knife (and I live in East London so this is entirely possible), then it's probably a fair assessment to categorise them as a risk. But the following groups of people, whom I tend to judge in the harshest of terms, can do me no actual physical harm whatsoever:

  1. Online business gurus who claim to have the secret to a 6, 7 or 8-figure business

  2. People who Instagram pictures of themselves in swimwear.

  3. Anyone on a reality TV show. Anyone.

  4. Daily Mail readers (although I suspect a strong overlap between this group and the serrated knife-chargers).

  5. People who have a big house in London that they haven't saved for 25 years to buy.

  6. Anyone who claims to be 'woke'.

 Here's the naked truth: judgment is the flipside of comparison. It reveals to us the things we desire, the things we feel insecure about, or the things that cause us shame. If I compare myself to someone, then it's ME who comes up lacking - 'I'm not good enough'. If I judge someone, then it's THEY who comes up lacking - 'That person there is not good enough'. But the root cause is exactly the same.

 Let's look at the above judgments to see what they reveal about me:

  1. I want to be wealthy. I want a financially successful business. (Desire)

  2. I'm convinced people would desert Instagram in petrified droves if I posted a picture of myself in a bikini. (Insecurity)

  3. I want to be famous. (Desire)

  4. The Daily Mail showbiz app has been installed and deleted on my phone more times than I care to remember. (Shame)

  5. If someone handed me the keys to a 4-bed in East London tomorrow, I'd grab them and disappear before you could say 'Bye Felicia'. (Desire)

  6. I like to be seen as liberal and socially aware whilst deep down I know I harbour prejudices that even I'm not fully aware of. (Shame)

So what's actually the problem with judging others? It's this: when you are wholly focused on other people's choices, you cannot be present to your own experience of things. In other words, it's very difficult to stay in your own lane if you're constantly peering angrily at the driver next to you who you think is driving too slow / too fast / a pretentious Range Rover Evoque. 

Now, parenting is the ultimate hotbed of judgment. It offers up the holy trinity of something you desire (to be the perfect parent and not fuck up your kids for life); insecurity ('I'm a terrible parent who is fucking up my kid for life') and shame ('I've got no idea what I'm doing and I'm doing it all wrong'). From my own experience, it is virtually impossible not to form judgments on other parents' choices, and to feel a (not-so-) tiny kernel of relief when you perceive someone to be doing a worse job than you. And that's ok. We're all human.

But, obviously, judging other people does nothing to improve our own lives. I've noticed that this week, as my 9-month son started nursery. I've been looking at the other kids and forming silent judgments about their age / behaviour / snotty noses (it really is a gross as you'd think it would be). My judgments are 100% reflections of my own insecurities about the parenting choices we've made, and do f*ck all to help me shift my focus to building a business, or to help Hudson feel more settled at nursery.

What's the answer then? What IS the antidote to judgment? The answer is simple, and yet requires a lifetime of work: we must turn our gaze inwards. Only by becoming more and more aware of our OWN experience of things, focusing on OUR choices instead of someone else's, and understanding what our judgments reveal about US, can we shush that nasty voice that says 'oh, you shouldn't do it like that'.

So next time you notice yourself going 'urgh what is that person wearing / doing / saying', try stopping for a few seconds and asking yourself the question: 'What is it about this situation that I secretly want, feel insecure about, or feel ashamed of?'. The answer might surprise you...

Unless, of course, you wish to carry on being the queen / king of judgment, in which case please join me in switching on E!, and let yourself run wild.

PS - I'm building a 3-month coaching programme to support men and women navigating early parenthood. If you want to learn more, or share your experiences with me, please feel free to sign up here!

My very own personal brand of guilt.

I've been trying to understand why I feel so wound up over the last few weeks. I mean LITERALLY wound up - tightness in my back, neck, hands, jaw, and a low-grade headache almost constantly behind my eyebrows. I'm filled with plans, ideas, frenetic energy, ambition, excitement, and yet there's almost always this slight fog over my mind, stopping me from relaxing into the focused flow that comes when I do my best work.

Parenthood: The mono-myth of misery

I've wanted to write this post for a very long time. It's sat, swirling like a gentle whirlpool in the back of my mind and in the centre of my heart. I've spoken about it in safe spaces such as reflection sessions with my beloved fellow Sanctus coaches, spaces where I'm not consumed by the fear of judgment or the worry of alienating other people. It makes me feel guilty, superstitious, and strangely ashamed. And it is this - I found having a newborn baby easy, joyful and relaxing.

An important lesson in starting right where you are.

I cannot for the life of me remember what this painting is, but it’s exactly how I want to feel about my work.

I cannot for the life of me remember what this painting is, but it’s exactly how I want to feel about my work.

Last week was my 'proper' return to work from maternity leave. It's come after two months of travelling around the world with my husband and now-nine-month-old baby, a whirlwind trip through Asia and the US that fulfilled just about every dream we'd had for our first year as parents.

Several things happened while we were away that whipped me up into a flurry of purpose and drive and ambition about my career, leaving me determined to pirouette gracefully out of the blocks on day one of coming back to work.

Firstly, I had a tarot reading when we were in New Orleans, asking the question 'what's next for my business?' What I took away from this was my desire to step up, to increase my impact and visibility and to coach on topics that I really, REALLY care about. And also where I'm getting in my own way, by doubting my own credibility and keeping myself small and refusing to invest in myself.

(Sidebar — I love tarot. The opportunity it offers to explore a subject that you care about deeply, but that feels confusing or unclear. A good tarot reader is like a good coach, using the meaning of the cards to increase your awareness of your own wants, fears and blockers. They won't tell you anything you don't already know —they'll just drag the important stuff kicking and screaming from your subconscious into the spotlight.)

Secondly, I started to question in earnest my mindset when it comes to money. My weird mix of stinginess and greed and generosity and extravagance and frugality. I suspect this is common to many British people, particularly women, but I've realised that I'm ashamed of wanting to be wealthy, believing deep down that I can't be rich AND a good human being. So I bought a book (the salve to all life's thorniness) — You Are A Badass At Making Money. Not subtle, and as American AF, but that's kinda what I was looking for.

Next, I went through my regular (i.e done twice before) ritual of choosing a Word of The Year and setting intentions for what I wanted 2019 to be about.  In 2017 I chose Connection, in 2018 Strength. And for 2019? Wealth. Actually, to start with I danced around Abundance and Discipline and Creation. Then I decided to stop giving a shit what people might think when I told them my word, and decided to own the intention I'm setting to build a business that is as financially successful as it is positively impactful.

So there I was last week, buzzed about the beginning of a new year, full of nervous energy and enthusiasm and ambitious targets (but only a vague notion of the work I actually want to do to get there). I was certain that I would quickly and confidently set a new direction for my coaching business, build a huge online following within a matter of weeks, and become known for...something impactful and important.

But (and this probably won't come as a surprise) all I felt was...stuck. Stuck, frustrated, mind blank and self-doubting. I just didn't know where to start.

The thing about building and running your own business is that it's often very unclear what you should actually DO. No one is telling you what the strategy is, what your responsibilities are. Most of the time, no one else even really CARES what you're up to. There's no blueprint, especially if you want to change your product or service like I do. And targets and goals can be more harmful than helpful, because you have the end goal but no first step.

And so, as is my habit, I started obsessing about irrelevant but apparently essential tasks, like finding the perfect diary with the correct week-to-two-page layout that would facilitate my greatness. I scrolled other people's websites and Instagram grids to reassure myself that every other coach has their shit fully together and there was no room for me anyway. I spluttered guiltily whenever anyone asked me how it felt to be back at work, my inner saboteur screaming 'you're sitting in a cafe writing emails and listening to Michelle Obama's autobiography ffs, you are NOT WORKING! Go and feed your baby!'

Then, over the last couple of days, I've started to unpick what's going on. Through talking and writing and accepting that it's ok if I'm not EXACTLY the same person as Michelle Obama, I've realised two important things.

One: I've lost sight of my 'why'. My focus on building an easier relationship with money, whilst important, has left me in danger of making my work all about money. This then becomes paralysing, because all I'm thinking about is 'what work can I do that will generate the most amount of money possible?'. This is far from being the only thing that matters to me, so I end up feeling (and acting) disingenuous and awkward.

Two: goals and targets aren't helpful. They just give me something to fail at. I end up with a massive target that is so far from where I am today, that the gap seems insurmountable and so I freeze. A very wise person (who also happens to be my sister) said the other day 'you just have to start where you are'. So I've decided to release the goals and the targets, and instead set intentions for the year. Then just forget about them. The best things in my life have always happened when I trust my instincts and just start, piecing things together as I go along.

And so, to work. Whatever that ends up being.

When things don't have to be equal, to be equitable.

Two weeks ago, my business partner, Felicity, and I had a necessary, supportive and courageous conversation. It was also, for me at least, deeply uncomfortable. And the subject was 'contribution'.

Introducing 2iC Leadership, a unique development experience for start-ups and growing businesses.

Are you second-in-command at a start-up or small business? If so, you'll know it's a tough spot, constantly playing catch-up and stretching in all directions to support the founder whilst executing day-to-day operations.

I'm really excited to be launching a new group coaching experience with the amazing Felicity Hodkinson, 2iC Leadership, starting in Feb 2019. I'll be writing more about why we think this programme is so vital to the long term future of start-ups and small businesses, but for now pls check out the programme overview below. If this sounds like something you need in your life, or the life of your team, please get in touch on felicitiy@bendtheriver.org to learn more!

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