Tag Archives: guilt

Interviews with Inspirational Women

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may recall that I run an irregular series of interviews with women that inspire me. It’s been a while since my last one but given that yesterday was International Women’s Day, what better time (other than yesterday, obviously) to add another interview to the pile?

This one is a bit different because it’s with my own lovely daughter, Frances (Franki) Hackett.

The Intrepid Miss Hackett

She has grown into an exceptional young woman and I am delighted to introduce her to you.

I hope when you read her interview you’ll see why I find her so inspiring.

Who are you and how do you spend your time?

I am Franki, I’m your daughter, and I’m just about to finish my undergrad degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford.  Largely I spend my time reading, writing, and obsessing over problems that most people would probably think are largely irrelevant.

What’s your philosophy for life?

A friend of mine has the motto ‘the best things in life leave you feeling a little bit sticky’, which I have to admit appears more apt the more one thinks about it.  However, I guess for myself my main philosophy is to try to make wherever I go a better place when I leave than how I found it, and that the only way to solve a problem is to properly understand it.

As far as I can see the only way we can give meaning to our lives is by affecting the lives of others; I try to make a positive difference.

What shaped that philosophy, and how has it changed over the years?

My philosophy has been shaped in part obviously by my upbringing; I was taught very early on that human beings are of equal worth and that all of our differences should be tolerated, if not celebrated.

I hate seeing people suffer and I have trouble ignoring it or forgetting it if I know it’s happening; in all my studies it has only become more clear to me that we have duties to everyone, regardless of our national or local affiliations, or the distances between people: if human suffering is a bad thing it is bad regardless of where it is, and that means we have a duty to do something about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been taught by some of the finest minds in the country, and by people who are very aware of their moral situation. I guess my basic philosophy has always been the same, but they’ve taught me how to act on it, and that not acting on it is not an acceptable alternative.

What’s your definition of what it takes to be a successful woman today?

This is a hard question, in part because the word ‘successful’ is so loaded.  The most basic criterion is, I suppose, to be accepting of oneself.

I think we will have achieved a lot as a society when to be a ‘successful woman’ fits within the same bounds as to be a ‘successful man’, but we’re certainly not there yet.  Similarly I don’t think that to be a successful woman you have to have broken through some glass ceiling, although obviously for some people that is a real success.

Each individual is going to have to define success for herself, and it has to be a definition that fits: if you hate mathematics, there’s very little point in deciding to be the chair of the Bank of England. You are the person who can know you best, if you have worked out your true potential in something you love, are following that potential, and can honestly say that, most of the time, you are happy with the choice you made, regardless of what other people might have expected for you, then you are successful.

I think that definition can apply to men as well as to women, but I think it’s harder for women; we are loaded with more guilt for not living up to what others would like us to be.

Facing up to and moving past that guilt is, I think, a real mark of success.

What do you think have been your greatest achievements so far?

I have a tendency to underrate my achievements, on the basis that I am determined not to get complacent: I’m rarely completely happy with the way I perform on the basis that I could always have done better, that’s what drives me to excellence.

But I think that getting to Oxford was a real achievement, no matter how much help I had along the way I had much less help than many of the students here.

And simply working incredibly hard for such a long time to get my degree has been an achievement, like they say it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and as my mother will tell you I had to work against my natural inclinations to run this marathon, as like her I’m definitely not a completer-finisher.

And finally, learning to stand up for myself has been a real achievement; I used to worry that I talked to much in group settings, particularly academically, and I have been very likely to agree to do things even when I didn’t have time because I hate letting people down.

Learning to say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands, and then to stand by that has been a real achievement (I won’t claim to say I’m perfect, some projects are just too tempting!).

At the same time, when I learnt that in group settings men do something like 85% of the talking, and almost 100% of the interrupting, I decided to change that statistic, even if I had to do it on my own.

If I have a reasonable point to make now I make it, even if I have to interrupt to do so, I won’t be broken off unless I’ve finished my point, and if another woman is having trouble getting heard I’ll stop the conversation to give her a chance.

At first I worried that this would make people think I was rude and obnoxious, but I’ve had nothing but complements: men saying how refreshing they found it to have a voice raising a completely different perspective and engaging with them by their own rules, and women saying how nice it was to feel that someone had taken the lead and given them cover to voice their own opinions without seeming ‘shrill’.  That has been a real eye-opener, and I consider it to be an achievement.

And what do you still have left that you want to achieve?

There are many things I still want to achieve, I feel that at the age of 20 that’s the right way to be.

As I summarised my life plan to a tutor a few days ago when he asked me if I was interested in doctoral study, I intend to do my masters, then go out and ensure that every woman in the world has access to decent maternity care, both post- and ante-natal.

Having achieved this and won my Nobel prize, I will then return to University to do my Dphil.

I also hope to have a family at some point, and I’d like to keep an allotment, since it’s the day-to-day maintenance of something like that which is much more of a challenge for me, and I think that growing vegetables is good for the soul.

What’s been the most important learning experience in your life, and what lessons did you take from it?

I can’t pinpoint one exact moment or experience, but several times during my life I have spoken with someone about something which I felt that I understood, and had them reveal an entirely different view of something that was previously very familiar.

The only example I can think of at the moment is my study of power: as a concept we all feel that we understand power and yet no one can really settle on a decent definition.

Most people define it as person A’s being able to get person B to do something which she would otherwise not do.  After centuries of this kind of definition, Foucault came along and said that power is not something that one person has or does to another, it is a set of structures around us which constrain us even if we don’t realise it, particularly in the form of knowledge.

So, for example, as certain ‘abnormal’ behaviours became defined medically rather than simply as ‘deviance’ in the middle of the 19th century they began to be controlled in new ways simply because people understood them as medical conditions, not simply as differences.

Those moments of paradigm shift are very important I think, and it’s a wonderful feeling, suddenly seeing things from a new angle like that.  It’s taught me to keep looking, from perhaps rather surprising angles, at the things I think I know.  That is the essence of creativity in a way, and it’s the only way we have of moving forward.

We celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in 2011. What message would you like to give to the next generation of women?

Define yourself.  This is the only way to really achieve success, and if we insist on our own definitions of ourselves, then we are much less likely to be controlled by other people’s definitions.


What to do when it’s all Too Much

Everyone gets days when it feels like everything you do is doomed to failure and there’s no point in going on.

Anyone who tells you they don’t is telling porkies. Trust me on this.

When you’re feeling that way it can also feel like life is going AMAZINGLY well for the entire rest of the world and that no-one has ever been such a useless heap as you are. It’s a bit like being zoomed straight back into the teenage version of yourself, where everything was sooooooo unfair and no-one had ever suffered like you suffered, and no-one would ever love you and see you for the, like, really amazing person you were….

When that mood strikes there are all sorts of things you can do. You’ll find lots of advice from people telling you to meditate, or go out for a run or buy yourself some flowers or tap or do any number of other worthy things.

But what if you’re having the type of day where you can barely get yourself out of bed? If you’re in that sort of state, all you’re likely to do is to start beating yourself up for not feeling able to motivate yourself to meditate or go out for a run or even get dressed – and that just makes you feel even worse about yourself.

So if your down days really really get you down, here are my top tips for how to cope.

  • Instead of fighting the negative feelings, go with them. Try to trace them back to their source. You don’t have to get out of bed to do this (which is a good start) and the simple process of pinpointing what’s happened to put you in this state can have an immediate galvanising effect.
  • Allow yourself to wallow. I find that if I allow myself time to wallow there comes a point where I get sick of feeling sorry for myself and I am able to kick start myself. Refusing to wallow and trying to plug on regardless tends to backfire and makes things worse for me in the long run.
  • Tell people you trust how you’re feeling. Sometimes all you need is to verbalise the feelings for them to go away. If you’re as lucky as I am you will have people around you who will reassure you of how much you are loved and valued, and that will help enormously.
  • Give yourself a treat – whether it’s time to indulge in your favourite weepy movie, a luxurious bath with lots of candles and bubbles, a box of chocolates when you don’t usually indulge or even a day in bed with a pile of undemanding books, do something to show yourself that “you’re worth it”.
  • Remind yourself that this feeling is temporary, it will pass and you will rise above it when the time is right for you to move on.

A New Approach

OK peeps, listen up.

I have some fabulous new workshops on offer. I know they’re fabulous because they are distilled from coaching sessions I’ve had with clients, and everything that’s gone into one of these workshops has made a real difference to someone.

The thing is, they’re not selling and that’s a real shame because I know that there are people out there (maybe you) that could really benefit from them.

There could be any number of reasons why they’re not selling –

  • I haven’t done enough marketing
  • I haven’t done the right sort of marketing
  • the timing’s wrong
  • they’re too expensive
  • I’m still an unknown quantity
  • it feels too risky
  • other things I haven’t thought of

So I’m going to try a new strategy.

Instead of asking for a fixed fee, I’m going to try another way.

If you want to come along to one of my workshops, I’ll ask you for a nominal fee to reserve your spot. The fee will be just enough so that, when all the places are booked, I will have covered the costs of hiring the venue.

Once you’ve reserved your seat, you come along to the workshop and at the end of the day

  • you pay me what you think the day was worth

I’ll give you an envelope and a piece of paper for you to anonymously tell me what you thought of the workshop and why you’ve decided to pay me what you did.

You put whatever you like into the envelope, seal it and off you go.

You’re under no obligation whatsoever to put any money in, and your comments will help me to keep on improving what I offer.

How does that sound?

Personal development and coaching at a price that really IS right for you – because you set it!

You can see all the workshops I currently have on offer here.  Ticket prices for most workshops are now just £10 and places are strictly limited.

Fighting the Resistance

Well,who’d have thought it? Ever since I issued that public safety announcement about The Saboteurs last week they’ve been mounting a really, really heavy bombardment against me, with Procrastination and Mr Can’t B. Arsed at the forefront.

So I thought I’d write about their dirty little campaign and flush them out of the shadows as that usually makes them back off. I don’t know whether they’ll be up for an interview (they’ve all been very tight-lipped since I upset Guilt the other day), but luckily I have The Universe here with me, so we’re going to talk ABOUT them not TO them, as that’s all they deserve.

Me: So, Universe, thanks for joining me again, what’s your view of the current situation?

Universe: Well obviously I can see it all, from every angle. I am, after all, infinite in both time and space…

Me: And a bit of a smartarse. That’s not really what I meant…

Universe: Well as I believe you yourself have said before, it is important to be clear about what you mean so that you are easily understood…

Me: Have you joined The Saboteurs by any chance?

Universe: Hehehe…no no, sorry, it’s the coming of Spring, makes me a bit giddy you know. Now, what was the question again?

Me: What do you make of my current difficulties with The Saboteurs?

Universe: Never mind what I make of it, what do you make of it?

Me: Oh Lord, here we go…. OK well what I make of it is that it’s a giant pain in the arse and I’m fed up of it.

Universe: And why is that?

Me: Because I want to Get On and Be Productive and not be lured into doing my usual thing of deflecting myself just as I’m about to hit the finishing stretch.

Universe: Oh. Is that what you normally do?

Me: Oh yes. I know I’m not a Completer-Finisher and I drive myself potty by not finishing what I’ve started. I used to put it down to the old “Bored now, what’s next?” thing that comes with my MBTI profile as an ENFP but I know it’s more than that. It’s something to do with fear of failure, and fear of success – so if I never actually finish anything then I’m never going to know whether it’s a failure or a success.

Universe: And what else is it to do with?

Me: Um…well, I’ve realised that even though I think of myself as lazy I do need to be doing something – and when I’m at a stage where I’ve done all I can and I have to wait for the results, that seems to be where The Saboteurs creep up on me. Ooh – that’s a newish thought.

Universe: Go on? Why do you say “newish”?

Me: Well I guess it’s not new at all actually – what’s new is putting that together with the idea that that’s how I’ve always got in my own way before. I do what needs to be done and then I sabotage all that effort by fannying around and changing things and making life difficult for other people (sorry Eli!) rather than sitting back and doing something else and trusting that The Universe WIll Provide.

Universe: Hallelujah!

Me: Yes – last month I had my most successful month ever because I sat back and let you get on with things. This month I’m finding that REALLY difficult and it’s because I’ve let The Saboteurs get a foothold. And one of the things they’ve done is to distract me from the huge amount of work I’ve actually done.

Universe: How have they done that?

Me: Well I’m now in the waiting period where I’ve handed over what needs to be done next to other people and OH GOD does that make me twitchy, so my Inner Control Freak wants to come out to play. And since she can’t play with the stuff I’ve handed over she wants to go and make mischief elsewhere, so she’s urging on The Saboteurs.

Universe: And how is she doing that?

Me: By constantly telling me that I’m being lazy and not doing the things I “should” be doing because I’m not at my desk 8 hours a day and working myself into the ground. And by then inviting in Procrastination and Mr Can’t B Arsed to give me the complete opposite messages to that – that I’m supposed to be doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING at the moment and everything on my list is just trivia that can be put off indefinitely.

University: And where is the truth of the situation?

Me: The truth is that I could polish off the stuff on my list in about an hour and it would be useful work that needs to be done – and just because it doesn’t have a deadline, that doesn’t make it trivia. I do like a deadline. The truth is also that I neither SHOULD nor WANT nor NEED to be at my desk for 8 hours a day every day, and I’m going to keep reminding myself of that one.

University: OK, so you have a head full of conflicting messages and a view of yourself as someone who is lazy and a control freak and always deflects herself when things start to get good. Is that a helpful message to be giving yourself?

Me: No. And I can see what you’re doing here, by the way…

Universe: Well good, I should hate to think you couldn’t see your own techniques being used against you! So, my next question is…

Me: What would be a more helpful way of looking at myself and my situation? OK. Um…OK. I am someone who is able to produce quality work in a very short space of time, leaving me with plenty of free time to use as I please. I have a trusted team around me who take care of the stuff I can’t do and the most productive way for me to help them is to keep out of the way while they are working. I can choose to see things through to the end if I want to and I can see the difference between handing off a piece of work to the next part of the process, and giving up on it and spoiling it. I have actually had a very productive few weeks and this will become apparent to the rest of the world over the next few days. So now is the time for me to hold my nerve and be kind to myself – I have worked hard and now it’s time to rest and enjoy the opportunities coming my way.

Universe: And how does that feel?

Me: More in control. And more confident. And actually as I run through in my head all the things I’ve done recently and the stretches I’ve made and so on I can see that I haven’t been lazy at all and I haven’t allowed myself to get in my own way. So actually The Saboteurs haven’t been winning, they’ve just been telling me they’ve been winning. HA!

Universe: How Interesting! Fancy them telling lies!!

Me: Yes, who’d have thought it?! OK, so, I have at most an hour’s worth of stuff to do, and then the rest of the day is mine to play with. Thank you Universe, I think we’re back on track now 🙂

An Interview with Guilt

This morning I was in a room full of businesswomen having a rare old time networking. The amount of noise and laughter was testament to how much we were all enjoying being there and as we went round the room introducing ourselves it was clear that there was a vast amount of skill and talent in that group.

The organisers had asked us each to ask a question of the group to see if any helpful answers were forthcoming.

And this group of apparently strong, bright, independent, feisty women had one big issue that a lot of them were struggling with.

That number 1 issue was Guilt – “I try so hard to be the perfect wife, the perfect mum, the perfect business owner, and I don’t do any of them properly” said one lady, to nods of sympathy and understanding from all around.

“I tend to start work after lunch and then go on till around 10pm”, said another, “but I feel guilty that I’m wasting time in the mornings and  I should be working proper business hours”.

Now, I used to suffer HORRIBLY from Guilt, to the extent that I often thought I should have been Jewish or Catholic and then it would have made sense.

But I made a conscious decision to give up Guilt as a waste of time and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Just this once, and purely in your interests, I’ve decided to invite Guilt back for a visit so that I can interview him and you can get to know him properly and find out what makes him tick.

Me: Guilt, thank you for joining me

Guilt: Well I’ve been waiting long enough for you to call. If you were a real friend you’d have rung ages ago but I suppose you’re too important to bother with little old me any more.

Me: I see you haven’t changed. I’d like to start by finding out a bit about you – what motivates you?

Guilt: I see it as my job to ensure that people abide by society’s morals or ethics, and to keep people in their place. The more things a person feels guilty about, the less he or she is likely to want to rock the boat and step out of line. In order for society to function effectively we need everyone to do as they’re told – you could see my role as a kind of policeman of the conscience, that’s why I’ve had so much consultancy work from a number of organised religions down the centuries.

Me: And why do you feel it’s important to keep people in their place?

Guilt: Well because that’s how society functions, isn’t it? If there are no rules then you quickly descend into anarchy and people get hurt. We can’t have that, can we? So if everyone knows their place and knows what’s expected of them and what is and is not allowed, then we all stay safe.

Me: And who decides what is and is not allowed?

Guilt: Well, the leaders of whichever society you happen to live in. So for example a civilised society will have a law that states that murder is illegal. If someone commits murder, it’s my job to ensure that they suffer an appropriate level of guilt to ensure that they won’t do it again. I ensure that everyone has a clear idea of society’s laws and expectations and I make sure that people operate within the boundaries of those expectations. I like to think of it as a form of public service.

Me: So, if we concentrate on British society in 2011, which laws and expectations are you enforcing by ensuring that so many women feel guilty because they’re not perfect?

Guilt: Eh?

Me: Well, I know lots of women who are continually racked with Guilt because they’re trying to live up to an unrealistic standard of perfection. Who decided that it was appropriate for you to insinuate your way into people’s day to day lives and make them feel guilty for just being who they are, and doing their best?

Guilt: I think you’ll find that what I’m doing is encouraging them to maintain their standards…

Me: Are you really? Encouraging women to maintain their own personal standards by making them continually feel bad about themselves? It’s an interesting take on it and a huge leap from making people feel bad about real wrongdoing isn’t it? And are you really encouraging them to maintain their own standards, or are you really making them feel that they have to maintain impossible, unachievable standards that they will never, realistically, be able to achieve and quite possibly don’t want to anyway?

Guilt: Well now you’re just twisting my words!

Me: Am I? If your function is to stop us from transgressing ancient ethical and moral codes, then what right do you have to come barging into our everyday lives and making us feel bad for wanting to go to work instead of staying at home all day with our kids, or wanting to stay at home with our kids instead of going to work, or wanting to work during the hours when we feel most productive, or wanting to express our own opinions and beliefs? What’s that got to do with maintaining moral and ethical standards?

Guilt: With the greatest of respect, I don’t think you understand. What I’m trying to say is…

Me: Is it not the case that really you’ve just got drunk on your own power, and that, for you, this is now far more about keeping people subjugated? What’s the REAL danger to society if all these vibrant, talented women were to throw off the shackles of guilt, rediscover their self-confidence and go out to realise their true potential? What are you afraid of?

Guilt: But….but….that would be GHASTLY! If I let people do that then they would start calling EVERYTHING into question! They’d start being more demanding of their elected officials, they’d turn on the media, they’d insist on greater equality, they’d do all SORTS of awful things!! We can’t let just ANYBODY start expressing their opinions and changing the world!!!

Me: And there, Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you have it. Most of the time, the only purpose Guilt serves is to deflect you from making the most of yourself and your opportunities. Oh dear. Guilt appears to be…yes, he’s ripping off his microphone and stalking out of the studio…oh dear.

What a shame.

Guilt has left the building.

If he comes knocking at your door, don’t let him in, will you?

A Confession and an Apology

People, I need to ‘fess up.

I’ve let myself down and I’ve let down people who have helped me out.

I’ve let fear and embarrassment and guilt and shame rule my decisions in a particular area of my life whilst professing (and, indeed, doing) things completely differently in other areas of my life.

In the past couple of weeks things have come to a head and I’ve drifted down into the Dark Places of Wibble, spending too much time not getting out of my jammies, making excuses not to go out, avoiding people and mentally (and sometimes physically) crawling back under the duvet to avoid it all.

But my self-knowledge wouldn’t let me get away with it entirely and was still forcing me to look at The Problem, even though all I was actually doing was glancing very quickly and then looking at something WAY more pretty in the other direction.

Then yesterday 2 people who have helped me out and been supportive and very generous with their time got in touch and all of a sudden I knew I couldn’t ignore it any more.

And this is my confession (and no, this isn’t the part where I confess to something silly and minor).

I’ve let my finances get into a desperate state. Cheques are bouncing and payments are being returned. I’ve let myself down and I’ve let down people who I admire and respect. I’ve known it was on the cards and I’ve fiddled around the edges but never sat down and made adult decisions about what to do.

And so yesterday, after I’d written my Big Brave Blog and addressed my fears around admitting to any sort of Spirituality, I flumped spectacularly and descended into a fog of self-recrimination, helplessness, dependence and general horrible “bleeeeuuurgh”.

I tried to mediate and couldn’t get in the zone. I couldn’t bear to leave the house. I switched my computer off so I wouldn’t have to confront the awful truths that lie therein.

I clung to My Lovely Husband like a life raft when he came home from work. He was, of course, wonderful. He gave me tea and cuddles and he asked me what The Colourful Coach would do in this situation. I said she’d grow some balls. We left it that.

I woke up this morning with new balls firmly in place. I decided the only way I was going to feel better was to get out into the world and stop wallowing, so I did. After a FABULOUS meeting which I’m still processing, I went straight to the bank and explained that I was in a mess and needed help now, before I chickened out again.

And (thank you Universe) my bank manager was free. For an hour and a half, right when I needed him. And he was lovely. Understanding, firm, adult and sympathetic. Full of wise counsel.

We now have a plan. I have taken the actions he advised, and I have admitted my sins and shortcomings to those that I owe money to.

As ever, the worry and fear and guilt and shame and all the other CRAP that I’ve been burying myself in were far, FAR worse than the simple act of taking control and responsibility back where it belongs, with me.

And though I have long known this to be true, still sometimes it takes me a while to break out of the spiral of denial.

We kid ourselves that not changing is more comfortable than changing; that carrying on with our old patterns is OK even if our whole life has changed around us, because we’ve done OK like that so far; that there’s “too much” change going on so it’s OK not to do this bit.

We even cling on to patterns that we know to be self-destructive, and to self-talk that we know to be unhelpful. So despite knowing all the theory about this stuff, and despite seeing the difference it makes to my clients when they change their patterns and self-talk, I’ve allowed myself to carry on with unhelpful patterns, habits and thoughts about money and my relationship to it.

This is deeply ingrained stuff and it’s going to take a while to get sorted out, both with the bank and in my head. But you know what?

I can handle it.

I forgive myself for making a mess of things.

I forgive myself for not being perfect.

And look – the sky hasn’t fallen in! I haven’t been told I’m a naughty girl! I haven’t had my business taken away from me and I haven’t been told I have to go and get a “proper job”. I live to fight another day.

And I feel much better than I did this time yesterday.

So I apologise to those I have let down, including myself. I will do better from now on.