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That time when I realised you need to become the leader that you have been seeking

One of the biggest things I coach folks on is around relationship dynamics, often at work, but also more generally.

As humans, we have a tendency to elevate those in important roles in our life as being something ‘more than’ us, we also elevate our expectations of them to match that pedestal.

For a long time I was right there with you, a new ‘leader’ would come in, I would expect them to be supportive and for them to champion me as I grew. And so often, at best that expectation led to disappointment, at worst, that expectation saw me choose to be in an abusive relationship for 12 years.

So who is at fault here? Me or them?

For a long time, I thought it was them. I would work alongside them, hoping the magic dust of leadership (good or bad) would rub off on me.

It never did.

The truth is, my expectations of them was all wrong. It was me that needed to become the leader that I was seeking.

Why do we want to be led?

  • Because we are afraid
  • Because we perhaps got a little stuck in childhood and are looking for someone to become the parent that we didn’t have
  • Because adulting is hard and it’s easier to have someone else do it

You see, you don’t need another leader, or to be controlled by another partner or friend. You need to sit firmly in the driving seat of your life, and start to make your own choices.

  • Self leadership is learning to trust your instincts
  • Self leadership is taking the time to figure out who you are and why you are
  • Self leadership is embracing imperfection
  • Self leadership is knowing how to access the things that you need, at the time that you need them

What happens when we lead ourselves?

I cried when I got my wedding pictures back recently. It was an emotional moment for two reasons, firstly because I was marrying a man beyond my wildest dreams. But secondly, I looked at those photographs and I saw that I had become a woman beyond my wildest dreams

Ruth at 20, 25, 30, even 35 wouldn’t have imagined Ruth at 42. She therefore didn’t set goals that led me in this direction, but what she did do was gradually start to lead herself. She set boundaries. She learnt who she was. She learnt who she wasn’t. She learnt how to love and accept herself.

That self leadership saw her change her life many times over, build a career, start a business, find love with another human (that was actually love this time haha) and ultimately, move to America.

Our story isn’t about a knight in shining armour, arriving from America to rescue a woman in her 40’s. It’s of two people leading themselves, learning themselves and then choosing the right partner for their next chapter.

Big change starts with little change.

Having realised the magic of self leadership on my own, I make it my mission to support other humans to step into their power, and to become the leaders that they are seeking.

How do we step into our leadership energy?

By focusing on the most important relationship in your life, the one you have with you. You do that by figuring out how you can love and accept yourself, just as you are.

I want to be really clear that this is not about starting to live in toxic positivity and pretending everything okay when it isn’t. The ‘just as you are’ is the most important part. It is easy to love ourselves when we think we are doing well at something, but what about when we are not? Can we still love and accept ourselves then?

We are aiming for a true friendship with ourselves, where we can be our own cheerleader; a steady drumbeat of love, support and commitment.

Then it becomes much easier, given that we know how to be a good friend to others, we already understand the theory when it comes to applying it to ourselves.

For me that means things like:

  • Being the person that helps you process life’s setbacks
  • Being able to catch yourself in negative self talk
  • Offering yourself support, knowing how to access the things that you need, at the time that you need them

If we can learn how to become our own best friend, we can then hopefully stride forth into self leadership in all aspects of our life. How can you be your own best friend today?

That time when I unearthed a total badass 

I read an amazing book recently. Scratch that. I discovered an amazing human recently. Sure, I’d heard her name and her legend somewhat. But until I took the time to read her book; Lean In, I really had no idea of how exceptional this human is. She’s a total badass.

That person is Sheryl Sandberg.

What makes her so exceptional is the abundant realness. Realness is unbelievably important to me. The realness in saying; hey, this is me, I go out and I do the best I can, each and every day. I rise to life’s challenges. I am grateful. I am evolving. I am far from perfect. But I am real.

I am unashamed about my realness. In fact, it’s one of the things about me I am most proud of. I am lucky that I work for a company that absolutely celebrates and embraces that.

One of the biggest comments I seem to get over and over again when I write my blogs is someone thanking me for my honesty and candour – and I’m always slightly surprised by this each time.

We owe it to one another to keep it as real as possible. To share our stories, our triumphs over adversity, but also to be transparent about our journey and our struggles, acknowledging what it might have taken for us to get where we are.

Sandberg absolutely captures the essence of the internal dialogue I have had with myself as a woman and I know that will be the same for many others. I can’t speak for men on this subject, but I know that myself and the many different brilliant females I am proud to know, are hard on ourselves in just the way she describes.

She talks of the difference in the way that women describe their experiences vs. men. She talks about how a woman will usually only apply for a job if she is completely convinced she ALREADY has the skills they are looking for. Rather than throwing caution to the wind and applying anyway, which Sandberg suggests, is the male approach.

Women only feel truly comfortable when rising via merit, when someone says; hey you have earned this promotion, here you go, its yours. The reality though is that we need to get a whole bunch better at taking it. Leaping for the opportunities that scare us a little. I know that’s what I did with my role at Shazam.

I have recently called myself to account on is the way I present my ‘career story’ to the world, and the way I have allowed my own detrimental inner dialogue to steer that. I may have even written some of my blog posts from that very standpoint.

Someone asked me earlier this week how I had ‘managed to land a job like Shazam’ – with a very barbed emphasis on the how – having come from an external recruiting background. I laughed along with them, and explained how I’d been extremely lucky to meet the person that brought me into Shazam, and how grateful I am that I did. And it is true. I am both of those things.  But what I should have articulated was that I got my role on merit.

I need to get better at being clear about that with myself and the rest of the world that: 

  • I got here because I was able to cope with the pace, and the amount of change that a company like Shazam goes through.
  • I got here because my small company background, meant that I have been conditioned to operate positively and swiftly whatever the day might bring.
  • I got here because I am a problem solver, first and foremost; there’s nothing we can’t fix with a bit of thought.
  • I got here because I am tenacious, and took Shazam into my heart. I thrive here because I work my ass off to help create an effective recruiting function that provides the people that Shazam needs to fly.
  • I got here because I took every opportunity that entered my peripheral vision and grabbed it with both hands.
  • I got here because I live with the focus of continued development, of self and everything around me.
  • I got here because I make a choice every day to be happy, and to be the best version of me I can possibly be.

The role might have been presented to me, but I won it and made it permanent. I also made the connection with the brilliant human that reached out to me for the role in the first place. 

I didn’t just lean in, I dived in. I created (and continuously evolve) great processes. I developed (and continuously develop) new initiatives. I built a team that has assembled an exceptional collection of humans that deliver amazing work and help make Shazam the very best business it can be.

What is your ‘story’? How do you allow your internal dialogue to colour the way you present yourself to the world?

We all need to get better at being our own cheerleaders and we can work together to help us all improve on our internal dialogue. We need to hold each other to account when we can see and perceive negative attitudes towards self. I am blessed to have a rich and diverse group of friends that work to hold ourselves and each other to exactly that. Male and female. 

In the work context, we can also make sure that credit is taken where credit is due. If we can see that someone isn’t comfortable in claiming their own, we can lovingly point it out and help them along their way. We need to celebrate one another’s successes abundantly. We are all badasses.

And the next time someone asks me how I ‘managed’ to secure my role at Shazam, I hereby make a pact with myself to become better at being my own advocate, at celebrating my own badassery. I will simply reply; because I am a badass.

That time when I truly embraced my individuality

At the age of 12 I made a conscious decision never to be the same as everyone else. I set about creating the young Penfold in many different ways, believing myself to be a true individual, and that the clothing choices I made truly exemplified that.

The truth though, was that I was merely trying to ‘belong’ to a different collection of humans, though I didn’t see it that way. I tried to identify myself amongst the sub cultures and not be a part of the main stream, largely governed by music choices. I manifested things like:

  • The Goth Era – black lipstick, tasseled skirts, ripped tights and tie dye
  • The Metal Era – army clothes, para boots, stripey tights, shaved half my head and dyed the rest red
  • The Raver Era – record bags and bomber jackets
  • The Rude Gyal Era – started out with hair in braids, then had my hair cut like a member of TLC, complete with kiss curls.
  • The Garage Raving Era – dresses, heels, big hair.

I showed my musical affiliations like badges of honour in my appearance, throughout the whole of my teens. I believed myself to be unique. And indeed I was unique, but not in the way that I thought I was then. I was (and am) Ruth Lesley Penfold – and there can never be another like her.

But I couldn’t see that then. I didn’t realise that these many disguises were tools that I was using to take myself further away from the real me. I met my ex husband at the age of 19, and slowly lost any desire to stand out whatsoever, so took myself even further from the real me than I had ever been before. I gradually succeeded in making myself invisible. The butterfly became a moth.

What I have experienced since leaving him has been a ‘second adolescence’ of sorts. I’ve used elements of my physical appearance of attire in much the same way, to stand out, to show the world just how different I am. This time though, not seeking to belong to a specific group but more so to create a whole new group of my own, with a population of one, so that no one else could get near me.

I wore my diversity like a badge of honour once more, making sure, albeit subconsciously, that people could learn everything that they needed to know about me from just a glance. Throughout this time, I seldom met with anyone who displayed any genuine romantic potential. I made fabulous friends, that span far and wide, but mainly kept at a ‘safe’ distance.

You see, I WAS sending them the message that I wanted to display at that time. That message was one of; ‘don’t get too close’ or ‘have teeth, will bite’. My appearance became my body armour. The biggest part of this was my hair. And it worked. That’s because on some levels, I still saw (and sometimes see – we all have those moments, happily mine are just becoming more fleeting) myself in the unloveable light that I had done so for much of my adult life. I had developed a new kind of invisible, just one with flashing lights and sirens.

The change in me now has been brought about by a change of perception of me and my place in the world. I realised that, by denying the world of who we truly are, we are doing everyone around us a disservice. But no one more so than ourselves. If we allow ourselves to live to our fullest potential, who knows where we might end up. Through deepening my connection with me – through leading a supportive lifestyle filled with love, movement and meditation, the body armour has started to break down.

I worked hard to project an image of toughness, of resilience, of independence. And I am all of those things, but I am also so much more. I know that the real me is soft, feminine and vulnerable – probably a little at odds with what many of the people that know me would describe me as.

I deserve to allow myself to be loved by another, in just the way I have chosen to love myself, but I need to make it possible for people to see, hear and feel me as I truly am, and what I am is truly just one thing – love.

I am finding my inner light – pure and delicate – and allowing it to unfurl. My hair is growing. My edges are softening. I have kept myself in suspended animation in many forms over the course of my life, but now is the time to live a little differently. I move through the world with an increased gentleness, and an increased commitment to bringing all of me to every situation.

I’d like to view my body armour as a cocoon of sorts, a necessary rite of passage to allow me to finally unfurl as I truly am: one of a kind, truly magnificent and capable of spreading light and love wherever I go.

I make that my mission.

I know many people who live as paired down versions of who they truly could be, but I know very few that are living in a true expression of who they really are. If you had spoken to me two years ago about this, I would have sworn I was living in an abundantly truthful and expressive way. And if I had it wouldn’t have been a lie, I’ve just now discovered the means to go a little deeper, and I can’t wait to see where my unfolding takes me next.

This might not resonate with you at all, and if it doesn’t? Fabulous; we are all benefiting from your light already.

For those of you, however, that are thinking about whether they are limiting themselves, by even asking yourself the question you already know the answer. You know there is so much more of you than you are showing us all right now. What might it take for you to show us a little more of your light? How might you break down a little more of your body armour?

I am, and can only ever be a work in progress, and proudly so. But work I shall.