I have a funny relationship with external validation. I crave it more than anything else. It gives me the most delightful warm glow in my belly. But I also feel intensely…uncomfortable receiving it?
Sometimes you need others to believe in you before you can believe in yourself. You can borrow their convictions and try them on for size until you get comfortable in them.
I’m now 33 (what a cool number) and only now do I REALLY feel like I’m starting to come into my own. And I’ve been reflecting on the most important relationship in my life. It’s not with my son or his dad or any of my family. It’s not even with another living creature.
It’s with my work and career
I’ve gained so much through my work that I can’t possibly begin to quantify or articulate it all.
Through work, I have had people advocate for me. Observe my contribution when I couldn’t see it. “They’d have been screwed without you.” “You handled that really diplomatically.” (On one occasion, this led to me saying semi-jokingly, “Send all the angry men my way.”)
I’ve been told I have a really interesting way of thinking. That nobody else in their interviews said what I did. I’ve been told by a leader, “I always value/appreciate our chats.” I’ve been dubbed the “silent assassin”.
I’ve been a second choice for a job, but been told it turned out for the best 🙂 As a junior on a project, I’ve caught and raised major red flags early on that nobody else spotted.
Being pushed to create and deliver presentations for teams forced me to reflect on industry shifts, see trends, and synthesise my thoughts. To think critically and originally, drawing my own conclusions.
Through writing and the power of words I’ve been able to fund my dreams, connect with others, learn about countless industries and topics, heal, and grow. I’ve received an education in coaching and personal development by proxy, just through editing books.
I learned to trust my instincts and how to approach tough situations with tact. When I became the target of a toxic leader, who picked on me in meetings publicly, I didn’t take it personally.
Through work I learned how I should and shouldn’t let people in my personal life treat me. I’ve learned so much through the interpersonal aspects of professional life that I now bring into the rest of my life.
When all else fails, work was an escape and a break. There, I was competent and confident.
I will have this always. When my son is grown, I will have all the gifts my work has given me, on top of financially supporting my lifestyle, and I know that I will continue to find joy and satisfaction in for years to come.
I recently had a client – let’s call her Ana – bail on a project. This was a real blow. It was an expansion on something we’d done together previously – I was so excited! I even posted publicly about it once we agreed to proceed (and maybe that was the problem…) I was paid for the work I did do, but it was only a small part of the total scope.
I couldn’t help but think back to another client – let’s call him Rich – where something somewhat similar happened. I way overestimated his project – it hardly needed anything from me. (Seriously. When does that ever happen?!) I charged him something like 25% or 33% of my original quote because I barely had to touch most of the draft.
Both times, I was very attached to that sum of money I had quoted. I needed it for something- it was already earmarked in my mind for a purpose. And neither worked out!
But Rich went on to refer so many more people my way, which has paid off dozens of times over. And hopefully this instance this will make space too for something else to flow in. Already I’ve had another former client come back wanting help with almost the same thing Ana did…
Looking back, things have actually happened for me when I least expected them. Usually once I’d given up and let go of all expectation. Not when I was pushing for them, obsessing about them. Only when I finally freed up the space for them to flow.
At work, I’m always trying to figure out if we are tackling the right problem. What are we trying to solve? It starts with the strategy, or you could be focused on answering the wrong question. There can be many different ways to achieve the same outcome. Define the goal but don’t dictate the solution or even the timeline.
What is shadow work and why the hell should I care?
This, along with reparenting, is pretty new to my lexicon.
It’s all part of healing. Moving forward in life despite your baggage. And it pays off in improvements to your self-esteem, relationships, finances, LIFE.
You know that feeling that you’re just playing at being an adult? It’s because really most of us are just children running around in adult bodies. We’re reacting and behaving instinctively and not in a particularly conscious way. These deep beliefs and instincts sprung up in childhood and are often based on something that might seem really trivial, once you trace it back to its origin. Often, they actually wind up sabotaging us.
Until we wake up to this, we go around operating from/focusing on our conscious awareness, and that’s only part of the picture.
Shadow work: a definition
We all have flaws. There are parts of ourselves we don’t like. Some we don’t even acknowledge.
Psychologist Carl Jung conceptualized our disowned parts, our ‘dark side’ and repressed desires as ‘the shadow’.
Unfortunately, many of us do not know what is in our shadow — and these disowned parts may still be driving the show in creating our reality.
Shadow work is about bringing those out into the open. Facing them. Accepting them. Uniting with them. Becoming your full, whole, true self.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a strong sense of self. It’s a product of various things, but the main two in my upbringing were:
my parents and how they held their own perceptions/projections of who I was
moving countries and feeling totally adrift, then trying to desperately fit in
Facing your demons isn’t for the faint of heart. You may not be ready yet. I know I wasn’t, 10 years ago. Not even 5, or 3.
Anyway, that’s all really fluffy sounding shit. What, exactly, does this process involve?
Broadly, it starts with awareness. Then this allows you to start observing yourself in the moment. And eventually you’re able to choose a different path, a different thought, a different action. You’re taking control and acting consciously.
In bringing in our shadow, we shine light on it and diminish its power over us. We learn to coexist with it and to gain control over it.
Once you’ve got the awareness, then you can start to take action in the real world with tangible results.
How I’ve been doing shadow work
You guessed it. Writing. Journalling about things like:
Some of the things I believe
Why I have those beliefs
What results that’s gotten me
What other beliefs I could adopt
What emotions I was discouraged from expressing
What common excuses I use
How I sabotage myself
How I judge others
That’s where the awareness begins. Then it’s about applying awareness in real life situations.
In a challenging or confronting moment, pause and breathe. What emotions are coming up? I try to walk toward the feelings. Acknowledge them. Name the sensations.
For example: Spud is screaming in the middle of the night. I’m feeling ragey. I need sleep! Guilt. Was it the ice cream he begged for this afternoon – was that too much dairy for his system? Oh my god, why haven’t I learned? Worry. Can the neighbours hear and what will they think? Empathy. Poor thing. He must be having a horrible time right now.
I’m feeling hot, throbby, and having flashbacks to previous nights when he was younger and screamed his way through countless night wakings.
Another example: Someone’s come to me with an inquiry about a project and I’m not sure how to charge. I’m feeling uncertain. Anxious. How can I scope this out?! It’s gonna take so much time – I’m already so busy! How can I make sure I make it worth my time? Will I scare them away? What’s the right answer here?
I’m feeling panicky, with all those imposter syndrome vibes rushing up, my old beliefs that I need to work hard for money, that I’m not worthy of charging high rates (anchored in my old career and in early experiences knowing my parents’ hourly rates) and general scarcity mindset.
Then I decide what to do, from a deliberate and unrushed place.
There’s not much to be done with a screaming Spud. Hold him if he wants. Lie down with him, if he will. Offer milk, and add a few gas drops to it if he wants some. Refrain from self-blame.
I think about what I feel is a fair project fee. I might Google to get an idea of what others charge for this kind of work, and what tiers there are. I take the time to thoroughly review the material, if applicable, and might spend a few minutes working up a sample for myself to get a feel for how long it would realistically take.
I contemplate the true worth of the project. It may not be hugely profitable for the client – but that’s not the goal. The aim of this piece of work is to help them convert more clients as a result, to establish their expertise through valuable content. I think about all the other clients I’ve already helped and how they raved about the end product. I encourage myself to raise that number a bit from my original estimate.
I’m a calmer, steadier parent, no longer sending off vibes of panic, guilt, and stress. Better for me, better for Spud.
I’m quoting from a place of confidence and wholeness, trusting myself as an expert. Showing up with a different energy. I’m okay with hearing no; I’m not desperate for this. I remind myself that I don’t want to wind up resentful for quoting too low. My rate needs to be one that I’m happy to work for. I’m even making more than I ever have before. I’m enjoying it more, and honestly, I think I’m doing better work because of that! What a result.
For me, the core of it boils down to: respond, don’t react.
Acknowledge memories it’s brought up. Question the story I’m telling myself. Is this true? Be kinder to myself; start with empathy not shame, and extend the same to others. It’s a new and gentler, more conscious approach to everything in life. I’m liking the results, and the more I do it, the better it gets.
Were there pros to the pandemic? Silver linings in the lockdowns?
The one that first comes to mind is work flexibility. The dream! May it last.
The second is time with Spud, albeit with wayyyy too much screen time.
And with the dogs.
The reduced cost/time of commuting is great. On in-office days, it still provides a nice buffer in the morning and evening to myself to switch gears and get into the right mindset.
How did I ever manage laundry working FT in the city?
Being able to do more daycare dropoff and pickup – connect with parents and teachers, which I couldn’t really do before.
Appreciation for my neighbourhood – easily walkable to greenery, cycleways, parks, playgrounds, the local horse farm. Shops, transport, pool and other amenities not far away. Having my own house and yard to quarantine in.
Being stretched and finding new depths of resilience, patience, and awareness as a parent and a person.
Not gonna lie, though. It was an effing horrendous year that nearly broke me.
Going into 2021…
Upgradeis my word of the year. My mindset, and my results.
I’ve written a bit about conscious parenting and soon I’ll be delving into intentionality and consciousness around money. Bringing this mindful approach into all areas of life. Woo as it sounds, I now know it’s the key to levelling up and creating a new reality.
As a rule follower, I shouldn’t be surprised by now when other people don’t play by the rules.
Especially in this case. Gifts for kids are fraught!
The daycare Christmas party had Santa handing out presents to every child, with each parent responsible for buying a gift for $10 or less for their own offspring.
I personally didn’t expect whatever I chose for Spud to even make it back home from daycare – even more reason, in my mind, to keep it simple.
But as it turns out, we had a massive outage at work that morning, and so with nothing to do … I nipped up the road to daycare to attend the Santa visit and witness the gift exchange.
As some kids unwrapped big, cool trucks and whatnot, others (including Spud) quickly got Christmas gift envy. Longing stares and subtle drifts towards the coveted toys started to converge from all directions. Spud even threw his tiny toy on the floor and declared that he didn’t want it.
This was a major trigger for me. We didn’t do presents in my household growing up (Not a money thing.) I still have issues around lack, scarcity, comparison and envy of other people’s stuff.
My first instinct? SCREW IT! NEXT YEAR WE’RE GOING BIG! Forget the budget limit, clearly others totally ignored it!
But I eventually came to see the real lesson here. A life lesson for my kid.
Some people will have more than you. Some people will have less.
It would be silly and futile to bend over backwards to spare him disappointment. That’s not how life works.
I acknowledged that he wanted those other trucks. That maybe the others would share and they could all play together – but ultimately, that would be up to them.
It was a lesson for me, too. To let him feel and express those feelings. To be his teacher and to steer him through the ups and downs of being human. If one thing is for sure, it’s that there will be countless more to come.
Have you ever had to deal with Christmas gift envy?
Let me guess. Everything you’ve heard or read about getting through this goddamn pandemic involves practicing GRATITUDE.
Gratitude is great
Yes, there’s a lot to be said about taking the time to consciously feel grateful and appreciate what you have. Especially in these COVID times.
Even when it feels like it’s setting the bar pretty damn low to be grateful for fresh air and sunshine.
Sure, I have been taking time to appreciate the small things…
Sunny days, spring blossoms, being able to hold a conversation with Spud (game changer!) and see horses every day if I want. The pony club is a 5-minute walk away and it’s always a thrill to see the horses calmly grazing … or occasionally, out on the cycleway or on the road! The perks of living close to the countryside!
To find the silver linings…
Resources are being slashed, but I still have work, that I can do remotely, with the best team ever.
I’m under an immense amount of pressure, but I am a warrior.
These are all helpful actions to ground me and keep me from completely losing the plot.
AND I am striving for more at the same time
I have so much and I’m very grateful for it. And I also want more. I know that I deserve more.
I won’t get into details here, but there’s a huge area marked NEEDS IMPROVEMENT in my life. I get to set standards and I do not have to be satisfied with crumbs. I’m working to change that.
Gratitude alone won’t sustain us. You don’t have to be content with what you have now. You can still be grateful, and be working towards something better.
It doesn’t mean that you have to settle. You don’t have to live with this forever. The status quo does not have to suffice if it is actually not enough.
You can still strive for more. You get to make that call.
Gratitude and striving for more are not incompatible.
I’m often bemused at what people expect from technology.
Nothing works perfectly 100% of the time. Yes, I work in digital. No, I don’t know why that email isn’t rendering for this one individual, or why this YouTube view count is stuck right now.
Why does Word crash sometimes? Why does Excel freeze? These things just happen, and there’s not always a tidy explanation.
And tools can only do so much and take you so far.
I think T had some unrealistic expectations about exactly what accounting software could do for him. It’s a programme/platform, not your personal CFO/accountant/banker/debt collector/analyst/money minion! And definitely around the effort involved in setting things up to begin with, in terms of configuring settings for business finances and all that jazz.
There was a period of time at a previous job where I found myself having to constantly explain to people that [insert tech here] is not their silver bullet. Sure, there’s that lovely long list of dazzling features and benefits that promise to solve all your problems. But how well that can actually be applied to your circumstances and requirements is a different thing altogether.
Sometimes it’s a manual process, to varying degrees. Sometimes there’s nothing else but to get hands-on and stuck in. Some things you’ve just gotta do things the good old fashioned way.
I have a bunch of childhood memories that I’ve held, but never connected to who I am today and how they shaped and influenced me.
In going to therapy I started to realise just how deep a lot of this stuff ran. How family dynamics affected me and continue to affect me. How much healing my wounded inner child has left to do.
Kids are sponges, soaking up everything around them. What’s explicitly said and what’s implicitly modelled. They pick up on the smallest of things, often subconsciously. And even throwaway remarks can resonate for a lifetime.
Clarity comes with time, and I’m finally beginning to come to terms with my childhood baggage and try to dismantle those unhealthy patterns.
Becoming more comfortable in my own skin
I feel like I’ve had self-consciousness and self-esteem issues since about age 8 or so. Part of that is no doubt linked to the challenge of moving to a new country and being an outsider. But part of this also ties back to messages I received about my looks and talents.
For example, I’m never going to forget being told that I wouldn’t be “pretty anymore” once I got glasses. Or all the commentary on my classmates’ looks, or celebrities’ looks, and especially in regard to certain Asian features.
I think it’s fair to say I may also have had a love/hate thing going on with femininity. It still makes my blood boil to recall being told that “girls don’t play soccer”, but perhaps subconsciously this may have influenced my rejection of certain “girly” things. I used to take great pride in not learning to cook. In identifying with being a guitar player and listening to rock bands and avoiding chick flicks/lit/pop music. This has swung back a lot in recent years and now I fully embrace whatever I like, regardless 🙂
Learning to speak up
I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, but I never felt I could contradict my parents. On the rare occasion that I did, it didn’t land well. On the last occasion, it led to me moving out at age 17.
I also have serious issues opening up and talking about problems. My family would either not talk about things at all, or talk about things like marital problems that they shouldn’t have revealed to their child. I think this feeds my instinct to clam up and my default is just not to talk about any issues EVER, I struggle so hard to literally get the words out, and in tough times I just become a waterfall of tears.
In trying to analyse this, I’ve realised that I’m reluctant to say anything if it may hurt someone and if I don’t see any possible positive outcome coming out of it.
In a work context, I struggle to voice my opinion, fearing I’ll sound stupid and that my thoughts aren’t valid. Yet over and over I get beaten to the punch by other people and I’m trying to just bite the bullet and get in early. I also have a deep belief that I’m not an ideas person – where that came from I don’t know exactly, but it must stem from somewhere.
Feeling responsible for anyone and everyone
Being on the receiving end of info I shouldn’t have been told was a burden. Hearing things I shouldn’t have been privy taught me to take other people’s crap on as well as my own, and be overresponsible. I felt helpless as I couldn’t do anything about those things as a child. And now as an adult I’ve been overcompensating and going overboard in the other extreme direction. I couldn’t fix those things for my parents and now I suppose I’m making up for it by taking on and fixing every issue that comes into my orbit.
I have a pretty bitter memory of an afternoon where I was made to lie still and quiet in bed for what felt like forever, with mum and my baby brother, because he wouldn’t nap otherwise. I was 8 or 9 and resented every second but didn’t dare move. We lived in a shoebox, basically, and anything I did anywhere in the house would’ve been too loud. Little things like this stick with you, teach you things about the way you’re supposed to be.
My chronic indecision
I didn’t ever try to trace this back to anything, until I recalled to my counsellor a period in time where I regularly accompanied my dad to various religious groups/meetings etc as he looked to figure things out and find his tribe.
“That must have been so confusing for you,” she said, “not knowing what to believe.”
While I’d never thought of it that way, I can’t argue with that. Therapy’s been awesome for shedding light on things, giving me perspective, and making connections I never would have otherwise.
Since then, I’ve made another connection: to the time I was told “Decide who you want to live with, because tomorrow we’re getting a divorce.” What an impossible choice for a 7-year-old.
Not withstanding, I still love them, seek their approval, know they did their best, pity them in some ways. I know they’ve only ever wanted the best for me and would never mean to hurt me.
They moved our entire family to another country and built a new life here. That takes incredible strength.
I have to learn to see them as complex humans, who are right about some things and wrong about others, with strengths and flaws … learn when to listen to them and when to listen to myself … and how to reconcile the best and worst of them, with the best and worst within me.
Now it’s up to me to learn to identify and state my needs, to set boundaries, to focus on myself and do my best to model healthy behaviours for my kid. To literally and figuratively look in the mirror more often and more closely. To feel, process, and release all the baggage stored in the mind and body. however long that takes. I’m making that commitment now and for the rest of my life.
Can you imagine a guy telling his colleagues that the thing he’s most looking forward to in the new year is starting a family?
I’ve seen this happen (incidentally, he a) left for another company early not long after, and b) is now expecting a baby too – but that’s by the by) and you know what, that really stunned me.
I cannot ever, EVER imagine saying the same thing as a woman. It seems too great of a risk.
I saw a tweet ages ago that went something like ‘in the old days, men could say they needed a raise so they could start a family”.
I suspect if a woman were to pull that the reaction would be quite different. Even though if she was the breadwinner, she would need that raise WAY more than any dude in the equivalent situation.
Who earns what matters. Here’s why
For those who say it doesn’t who matter who makes more…
Let’s say he makes $40k.
She makes $80k.
The time she takes off results in a loss of 2/3 of the household income.
If we reverse that….
He makes $80k.
She makes $40k.
The time she takes off results in a loss of 1/3 of the household income.
I’m terrible at maths but even I can immediately see that’s there’s a huge, gaping difference there.
Because yes, she’s going to need SOME time off to push a mini human out of her body and recover from that process … even if they elect for him to be the primary caregiver.
I guess ironically, at some income levels this matters less. If you’re making a much higher income, your surplus makes it easier to save large amounts to cover those months you won’t be earning for.
But for your average middle class couple, this is a pretty major consideration.
How much my maternity leave cost me
I was uber fortunate to have a very generous employer – the company I worked for while pregnant offers 3 months of leave at full pay. (I’d still be there were it not for the mass layoffs that took place shortly before I was due to return to work.) That’s super rare, and they were definitely a market leader in regard to this benefit. Very few companies here offer any paid parental leave at all, much less at full pay and for that long. Most people only get the 22 weeks worth of paid government leave that clocks in at something like $480 a week post-tax, maximum.
I wound up taking about 7.5 months off, which included the 3 months of paid parental leave, and another month of annual leave that I’d saved up.
That meant 3.5 months of lost income from my day job, which adds up to over $15k of takehome income.
Add to that over $3.5k in missed superannuation contributions (between my contributions and employer contributions – again, my old employer was very generous on that front) plus any gains that amount would have made in the market.
All up, my brief (by NZ standards) parental leave meant I lost out on nearly $20k. And if I’d worked almost anywhere else, that amount would have probably doubled, as I wouldn’t have benefited from any fully-paid leave. Straight up, I wouldn’t have been able to take that much time off to stay home with Spud.
Q: What do you get when two pregnant, breadwinning coworkers are on the train home together?
A: Slightly snarky (okay, envious) conversation about another colleague who’s living an Insta-perfect life on maternity leave with her baby, a husband who makes all the money AND does the cooking (score!).
But look, we all have our own problems (like a fairly horrendous pregnancy in that person’s case and I’m sure there are others) – it was just nice to vent honestly to each other knowing we’re in the same boat and not going to judge each other for our feelings. That it would be nice to have the option to stay home for however long we wanted. To not be the one responsible for incubating our children AND bearing the financial load to boot. Options, I’m all about options.
And I know we’re not alone. Just check out Google’s suggested related searches for the phrase ‘female breadwinner’:
All of that, I think, gets exacerbated in pregnancy. I had a fairly easy one. And I was still SO DONE by 8 months. Even taking it a day at a time was slightly torturous. No, pregnancy is not a disability … but I was definitely nowhere near 100%. And thanks to my extra lame immune system, I just kept getting sick what seemed like every month.
Don’t get me wrong; I was thankful to have made it that far and that healthy. I mean, nobody wants to experience pregnancy complications, but when your income is what keeps the household afloat, being put on early rest is going to be a huge financial blow (unless perhaps you shorten your maternity leave by the same amount of time, and get less time with the baby post-birth. Yay.)
I had to book in my leave plans at the 6 month mark, which was a bit tough. On the one hand, I had no idea how I would physically feel in those final weeks. People kept telling me how hard it was going to get and how I wouldn’t want to work up to 38 or 39 weeks, to which I clenched my teeth and smiled and nodded.
Because on the other hand, I didn’t want to fritter away my leave days. Simply put, every week I’m off pre-delivery means a week less post-birth to spend with baby. It’s a gamble – baby might come early, robbing you of that precious downtime at the end. But then again, baby might be late and leave you sitting around waiting! There’s just no telling. I’d rather err on the side of not wasting too much precious leave beforehand.
So in the end, I was planning to work up until 38 weeks and hoping to get a couple of lazy weeks in at home. (I was counting on the fact that first-time mothers are usually late … but then I read that Asian women often give birth early?!) And that seems to be quite late by usual standards around here, it seems more common to finish up a month before you’re due or sometimes even earlier. And I totally get it, pregnancy gets so more uncomfortable in the third trimester! The fatigue, the fogginess, and holy shit the reflux.
Of course, that was all a moot point when I went into labour at 36 weeks. September was always meant to be our month to get things properly ready ahead of Spud’s arrival, but that did not happen at all. His arrival in early (instead of late) October meant a mad scramble to take care of stuff – thank goodness for family chipping in to help a little bit, bringing food, helping clean up the house, going out to look for baby clothes in preemie sizes. I had no time off at all to myself and never got to wrap things up at work in the way I’d planned.
I’m over halfway through my maternity leave now, which is crazy. Financially, it’s been way more stressful than expected (a long story for another post, another time). I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t battling a lot of resentment, given I’d done my part with planning and budgeting and carried all that out. It’s definitely put a bit of a damper on things.
That said, I’ve enjoyed being able to stay home and watch Spud grow. It’s also really fucking hard work sometimes, and I’m looking forward to sending him to daycare – I think he’s going to thrive on the stimulation. While, as I’ve said before, it’d be really nice to have the option to take a year off … personally, I don’t think I’d be cut out for it anyway. Lucky, that!