A Sneak Peek
Here's a preview of the Introduction to my book, Trust Yourself First: Cultivating Healthy Relationships. Publication date: May 2022
“When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be.”
It’s summer 2020, about four months since the UK—and most of the world—went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m out walking my dog, breathing in the fresh air, AirPods in, and listening to an audiobook, Wolfpack, by Abby Wambach.
Wambach is a retired American soccer player, two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup champion, and the highest all-time international goal scorer for male and female soccer players. I’m no soccer fan, but I’m fascinated listening to her clear and impassioned voice tell her story. Abby knew who she was when she was playing soccer and leading her team, but after retiring from soccer in 2015, she began questioning herself: who was she without soccer? Or, perhaps more accurately, who did she want to be now?
These are the kind of questions I’ve often asked myself and my coaching clients. It’s a variation of that perennial question, “Who am I?” As I listen to her story, I can see and sense many connections to my own life, the choices I made in my work and career, and where I am now, professionally and personally.
Abby is saying how grateful she is for being honored by ESPN, the American cable sports network, for her achievements in soccer. She, alongside basketball and football stars, the late Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning, received an Icon Award at ESPN’s nationally televised awards show. As the three champions left the stage after the ceremony, Abby realized that “… while the three of us were stepping away from similar careers, we were facing very different futures” (Wambach, 2019).
That realization culminated in anger. An anger that, as Abby described it, “had been simmering inside me for decades.” The two men were walking off the stage with big bank balances and thus, freedom. But not Abby. While top professional male soccer players get paid millions per year, top professional female players only get a tiny fraction. Abby’s anger ignited the fire inside her, propelling her into her next role.
Abby Wambach is now a best-selling author, an activist for equality and inclusion, sought-after speaker, and co-founder of Wolfpack Endeavour, a leadership development program for women in the workplace and beyond. To achieve the levels of success she did, and continues to do, Abby needed to do more than become a better leader or a better performer; she needed to learn how to trust herself first.
· Trust herself enough to dress the way she liked.
· Trust herself enough to come out as gay.
· Trust herself enough to fall in love, marry her wife, and be a mother to three children.
· And now, trust herself enough to lead a revolution in women’s rights and a better future for the next generation.
I’m no athlete, but Abby’s story resonated with me as I realized it’s taken me most of my life to learn to trust myself more, and to trust myself first. That learning is also central to my belief about what makes an effective leader: you must learn to lead yourself first in order to lead others effectively. While I didn’t know it at the time—the fresh air, AirPods in, my dog tugging at his lead because Abby’s words had stopped me in my tracks—but the seed for this book was planted.
Cultivating the Seed
That lesson, learning to trust myself more and to trust myself first, is both an interactive and continuous one. It’s a lesson that takes time to embody and fully appreciate. I had long toyed with my dream of writing and publishing a book about what I’ve learned in my career, both as an economist and as an executive coach where I focus on leadership and career development. But that book dream never got very far, as I’d become distracted after the first two or three chapters.
Then came lockdown and suddenly I had bucket-loads of time as work contracts dried up and I had nowhere else to be. Therefore, I began writing this book in 2021, just over a year since the world changed forever with the COVID-19 pandemic. While some found the experience of lockdown frightening and frustrating, others, like myself, found it as an opportunity to reflect and reconsider their choices in work and life.
Even before the pandemic, many felt stuck in their career or job. But the pandemic has changed how some people think about life and work, and what they want out of both. People are reassessing their lives, and the pandemic has reminded them that life is too short. In a research survey of 6,000 adults in the UK in late 2021, almost 7 in every 10 employees (69%) said they feel confident to move to a new job in the next couple of months (Randstad 2021).
According to Victoria Short, CEO at Randstad UK, the recruitment agency that conducted the research, “The Great Resignation is here and job loyalty is a thing of the past. Very few people moved jobs during the pandemic—the missing quits. A lot of people who wanted to quit just hadn’t and they led to a deluge of resignations.” She added that another factor is burnout, and some teams have been running too hot for too long.
Trust in Flow
Whether you’ve felt stuck or relieved about your job situation, you may also feel you have more to give; you want to make a difference and do something more meaningful, other than make sufficient income to survive though not necessarily thrive. The notion of thriving at work is about being in a flow state or being “in the zone.” That’s a feeling when, under the right conditions, you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing and you have a sense of ecstasy and a sense of clarity (Csikszentmihal, 2002).
Trust is at the heart of being in flow and begins with finding what you can do that plays to your strengths. I define a strength as something energizing you when you do it and you get better the more you do it.
When you use your strengths and others are willing to pay or reward you for that, then you’re heading towards your “ikigai,” a Japanese concept meaning “life purpose.” When you play to your strengths, you can be in flow and aligned to achieving personal and economic success. That’s about knowing yourself, doing what brings you joy, and finding a “sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity.” When you are in flow, you trust yourself fully and allow your abilities to be on full display. These are some of the concepts and topics I’ll be expanding on in this book.
Step into the Unknown
In writing this book, as I remembered my past and made sense of it, I aligned certain events to lessons I learned through my education and coach training, career choices, and the transitions I made. I didn’t know at the time of these events that what I was doing would eventually lead me to where I am now, doing what I’m doing. What I did know was I trusted myself enough to take those steps into the unknown.
As psychologist and author Adam Grant says: “If knowledge is power, then knowing what you don’t know is wisdom.” While I’m curious about all sorts of things, especially about people, I know there is so much I don’t know. I know I’ve learned more about the science behind emotions and feelings, and what makes people do the things they do, and at last, I trust myself enough to write about what I know, how I came to know these things, and about what I believe are important aspects in developing oneself and living a more meaningful life.
Sometimes, doubt creeps in. That’s because I know my knowledge is limited, and there’s so much more I don’t know. When I have doubts, I know now how to regulate my nervous system and calm it down so I can think more clearly. I take a conscious breath, in and out, and mindfully allow myself to become even more curious about how my words affect others. I’ve learned, and continue to learn, to stay open with the aid of practices like meditation and yoga.
I believe trusting yourself is about learning to lead yourself. Leading yourself well is firstly about “knowing thyself,” the Ancient Greek maxim often quoted by Socrates. It’s also about caring for yourself so you nurture and nourish the many parts of yourself —physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual; then you can quietly exude the kind of leadership, confidence, and persona others want to follow.
It's a process of becoming more aware and conscious about what’s going on with the many parts of you: your conscious and unconscious knowing, instincts, emotions, and body. It’s also about understanding and appreciating how you got to where you are now, and who you were before you became who you are now. It’s about accepting that what you know is only a fraction of what you don’t.
About My Epistemology
This book sets out my story about who I was, who I am today, and how I came to know what I know; in other words, my epistemology. I’ve been educated, influenced, inspired, and motivated by many people over the years: teachers and mentors, family members and ancestors, as well as geniuses and thought leaders who created concepts, built models, experimented with different ways of doing things, made mistakes and tried again, and discovered new insights and innovations.
The theme running throughout this book is trust. During my career as an executive coach working with clients to develop their leadership capabilities, I’ve witnessed clients stepping into their personal power, and transforming with greater self-belief, self-confidence, and self-acceptance as they trust themselves and others more.
As the quote at the start of this Introduction by Chinese sage and scholar, Lao Tzu, says: “When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be.” It’s a truth I’ve come to know and believe in.
Why Read This Book
In curating what I know about trust and how I came to know these things, I share my perspectives with the hope you too might learn from my experience and stories and be inspired to become more of the person you want to be. This book is for you if you want to learn to trust yourself more and:
· You are curious and open to learning and to develop your full potential;
· You want to hear stories of personal growth and transformation;
· You want practical tools and processes to help you live a well-balanced, happier and more meaningful life, at work and at home.
The book is structured in three parts corresponding with my ACB model of growth and change: Awareness, Choice, Behave. It’s a model which my coach supervisor introduced to me and I often use in my coaching practice.
At the end of each chapter, I highlight key messages and some questions and exercises to help you reflect about your own life. When you know yourself more, you’ll trust yourself more and be more able to make decisions about the direction you want to go, and to make happen what you would like to have happen.
Part One: Awareness
· According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, “awareness” is defined as “knowledge that something exists, or understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience.” We begin by reviewing what we know about ourselves and reflect on how we got there. I offer key concepts and models to give a broader context to appreciate one’s personal experiences.
o Chapter one introduces my own model of trust and makes the distinction between trust and trustworthiness.
o Chapter two is about me, where I came from, and how I got to where I am now. I invite you to ask yourself, “Where did you come from?” and “How did you get to where you are now?"
o Chapter three builds on ways of knowing yourself by examining more about your past and the impact of “whakapapa,” i.e. your genealogy.
o Chapter four provides essential information about neurology and how human brains work and the impact of trauma on the body and behavior, with the aim of adding to your self-knowledge about why you might behave the way you do, especially under stress.
Part Two: Choices
· With more awareness, you have more options from which to choose, especially in terms of what you want to do, why, and how. For your choices to work, it’s also about commitment and the willingness to devote time and energy to what you want.
o Chapter five outlines ways to identify your strengths and values, and to consolidate your understanding of what’s important for you.
o Chapter six is about desired outcomes and is dedicated to giving you a taste of Clean Language, an approach and technique which has made the most significant impact on my work as a coach and in my life generally. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to learn more about the “Clean” approach for yourself.
o Chapter seven looks at our relationship with time and agency; the ability to feel in control and decide what to do and when.
Part Three: Behave
· The effectiveness of reading a self-development book is like the effectiveness of a coaching intervention. It’s not so much what happens during the reading/intervention, but more about what happens after. What impact does it make on you? Maybe it’s about a change in your attitude or perspective, and/or a change in what you do, or what priority you place on what you do and how you go about doing it.
o Chapter eight is about learning to learn; looking at consciousness and competency, and the value of feedback.
o Chapter nine is about communicating compassionately, emotional intelligence, and a framework for expressing feelings without judgment.
o Chapter ten examines how an optimistic and growth mindset enables you to build resilience and anti-fragility, i.e. not just withstand shock but actually get stronger because of the shock or adversity.
o Chapter eleven looks at cultivating healthy habits, with a focus on meditative practices and the Japanese concept of “ikigai.”
If you’ve read up to here, I hope you’ll continue reading. I hope you’ll find the tools and techniques useful, like I have. I hope you enjoy the personal stories I’ve collated from colleagues, clients, friends, and family to support and illustrate the points made. And I hope you find the key to unlock what’s inside of you and discover where you want to go next. Trust me.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with
a single step.”