One of the Coaching techniques I use with my clients is what I call the ‘Timeline of Success’ Often we hear about Impostor Syndrome, Lack of Confidence, and a lack of awareness of the leadership and impact we have in our workplaces and our lives. Looking back at the successes along your journey is one way of beating these feelings that can restrict our progression towards success.
Today I am dedicating The Diverse Leaders Coach Blog to Sarah – one of my clients, who didn’t see herself as a leader and wasn’t confident that she was able to do the role she had.
As you read through Sarah’s work story, I am sure you will be as blown away as I was when she told me the varied and impactful things she had done during her career.
Taking a few minutes to take stock of the reality of your abilities, rather than that sometimes not so helpful voice in your head, can put a whole new perspective on things.
Now, I’ll leave you to be totally inspired by Sarah’s Story – happy reading!
After being asked to write a piece for The Diverse Leaders Coach the first thought that came to my mind was “but I’m not a leader”. I will unpack this statement, but firstly here’s a quick overview of my career to date.
After school, I got a job as an Intern for what was then called the MTV Europe Foundation. The Foundation was essentially a charitable arm of the music company. I worked on the MTV EXIT campaign to raise awareness and increase the prevention of human trafficking in Europe and Asia. The campaign focused on sex trafficking, forced prostitution, labor trafficking, and forced domestic servitude. The MTV EXIT campaign produced a number of documentaries including Inhuman Traffic (presented by Angelina Jolie), Traffic (presented by Lucy Lui), Sold (presented by Lara Dutta), and a number of Public Service Announcements such as Cribs (a satirical take on MTV Cribs) and Business.
This was my first taste of the “real” working world. Whilst attending a work event for the 200th Anniversary of the abolishment of Slavery by Anti-Slavery International at the old Kentish Town Forum, I met with the founder of Gua Africa, Emmanuel Jal who happened to be one of the performers at the gig. I then went on to volunteer for Gua Africa as a Project Coordinator. Gua Africa’s mission is to rehabilitate former child soldiers across Sudan and Kenya, helping communities to overcome the effects of war and poverty, with education and psychosocial support being the main focus.
My passion to change the lives of children for the better continued when I went on to work for an organization called the Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE). I worked on CRAE’s investigation service unit and compiled data from over 50+ transcripts of confidential cases, working directly for the Senior Children’s Rights investigator involved in the Victoria Climbie Enquiry. The information was then compiled for the organization’s UN Geneva Campaign launch, ahead of the UNCRC’s 20th Anniversary.
I then went to work for an organization called Leap Confronting Conflict – which specializes in working with young people, gangs, and conflict, focusing on young people from disadvantaged and deprived areas.
After my time at Leap CC, I helped set up a private telecommunications venture in the West Indies. I was involved in coordinating the company’s efforts in the UK, Hong Kong, and Jamaica.
Embracing a change from working for charitable organizations, I then went to work for the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, part of my role involved conducting random audits on over 600 pediatricians across the globe.
At this time from the outside I had a great career, but again felt the call to the charity sector, and do something that made a difference I could see in vulnerable people’s lives. So, I did the unthinkable and left a great paying job to volunteer for WaterAid, working on the Freshwater Action Network (FAN) and the End Water Poverty (EWP) Campaign. I helped provide support to regional network managers in Central America, South Asia, and Africa regions.
Going back into paid employment, I worked for different charity and private sector organizations before I eventually started working for an organization called the National Network of Parent Carer Forums which provides independent expertise, advice, and strategic support to government and service providers such as the DfE, NHSE, DWP, DoH, MoJ, etc on a range of issues that affect Children & Young People & families with SEND, I provided strategic level program support to the NNPCF Steering Group who influenced policy and reform including the Children and Families Act (2014) and the Code of Practice (2014). In this role, I got to meet with high-level ministers and government officials.
I loved the diplomatic rebellious nature of the NNPCF, how they worked with civil servants and ministers alike to change things for real families and real people at the grass-root level and hold them accountable in a conducive and structured way. It’s hard trying to change any system from the outside, so I always respected what this group had achieved during my time there. At the time we operated in 156 local authorities with 80,000 + service users.
After nearly 5 years in the role and due to restructuring within the organization my role was made redundant, so I decided to take a year’s sabbatical and was fortunate enough to be in the position to do so. When I look back on it now I can’t believe how brave and determined I actually was to go a whole 12 months without working. I managed to save enough to keep myself going, pay all my bills, and just live a little. I traveled to Jamaica for a month just to re-ground myself. I did a lot of soul searching about what energy is for me and what energy is not for me. Before I left my last role, I had what I would now call a breakdown from burnout. Operating at high-stress levels on a continuous basis is no good for any human, and so eventually my body and mind succumbed and I know now that was my body’s way of telling me “enough”. I needed to re-group and I needed to recharge my batteries. Being a POC navigating predominantly white spaces, it starts to take a toll on your mind, your spirit, and your body after a while. I think that was my body’s way of shouting at me, trying to tell me that I was not okay. We put immense pressure on ourselves to perform at optimal levels all the time but continuously operating in intense high-pressure situations is not healthy for any individual.
After taking a break from the labor market altogether I was eventually ready to go back. I then started working for Mind, the mental health organization. I’ve been here for nearly 3 years now and I am now an Account Manager. Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, we campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect. Working at Mind has been brilliant especially so during the pandemic, timing is everything in life and I could not have been luckier to have been working with them when we all went into lockdown. The support they gave to staff was just second to none – it was human.
So now that I’ve given you an overview of my work history, I guess I can start to unpack the “but I’m not a leader” comment earlier. It took a handful of sessions with Dawn before I started to realize that I have actually made some extraordinary achievements, that I do actually deserve a seat at the table, that I do deserve to be here, that I do deserve to be in those rooms and that there is still more to come from me.
With structural inequalities in the workplace, it’s easy to start doubting yourself and thinking that you are the problem – but the likelihood is that you aren’t. We always have to work twice as hard as everyone else, before we even start to get any form of recognition and that’s not okay, but things are slowly but surely changing.
Within this landscape of racism in workplaces, we also have to contend with our own fears and doubts that come from within. Of course – the systems which keep us below the glass ceilings are hugely problematic and limit our growth – it’s our environment, but it also starts to create this inner dialogue within us that comes from a place of lack and reinforces this notion of not being enough.
Sometimes I am my own worst enemy, that voice that speaks to me isn’t always kind. But I’m glad it only took 2 sessions with Dawn for me to fully realize this for myself. It was literally like an epiphany of sorts. But it’s like I needed to hear it from Dawn before it really hit me. I am enough, I will be successful and my story is not yet written. I have over 15 years of experience and have co-authored 4 published articles in peer-reviewed journals but yet, I still doubted myself and my abilities. Imposter syndrome is real.
If there is one piece of advice that I would give to someone in my shoes it’s – go where you are valued, never stay somewhere where you, your work, and your abilities are not respected or nurtured. Life is too short to stay somewhere where you are not happy. Your mental health and well-being matter. You matter.
I feel lucky to be a valuable team member at Mind, the mental health charity that empowers, raises awareness, and supports everyone with mental health problems. In my three years of working with them, I have grown in my career and am now an Account Manager who advocates for mental health awareness and wellness in the workplace. Through my lived experiences and aspiration to empower and support others with compassion, I am also now a line manager to a Client Officer.