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Business bullets: Don't forget your comfort cushion!

In any working life there will come a point where you need to "know" more than your audience. Whether this be a morning meeting in retail, or maybe you're presenting a project meeting, pitching to a client or even giving a lecture or seminar. People are going to look at you with an expectation that you will be able to give them something they don't already have, whether that be knowledge, insight, or information.

At these times we can occasionally fall prey to a combination of phenomena. I recently heard part of this described as "The curse of the expert" That is knowing so much in a given subject that one partially loses the ability to speak to novices in the field, or in other words makes an assumption that what we know is common knowledge.

People - and Academics/business people are no exception - often under value their own competency. It's a common self talk illusion born of the custom of modesty, and not wishing to over promise. Indeed the reason why so many people struggle with the concept of "selling" is perhaps related to this, and the value/cost relationship of what it is they perceive as being sold allied with authenticity questions arising from perceived ulterior motive interactions .. but I digress..

If like me, you live in a professional space of Wellness and Mindset then I'm sure you will of heard of "imposter syndrome". That nagging feeling like you don't belong in current company & will be found out, with dire consequences to personal relationships and reputation. This is the thick end of the wedge, where the internal narrative of under valuing ones self can become very damaging if not actively, and some times clinically, dealt with.

So, what to do when these two phenomena collide and those doubts and thoughts creep in? A recent training session with Moira Barnes highlighted one possible, and deceptively simple solution.

When you get wobbly, lean on your "comfort cushion". Your experience has lead you to this point, and in the professional world the story of your experience is written in your CV. So don't be afraid to lean back into it, both metaphorically and practically.

I'll give you an example of when just such an occurrence required me to do similar. Back when I had my cycle business, I was sat in room full of people that I had only just met. Day one of the management and leadership course on which I had enrolled myself. We got to the introductions and as the people in the group each took their turn I found myself listening to directors, high level PA's, departmental heads and in one case a national leader in their chosen academic and professional medical field.

As my turn slowly crept round the table, it was like there was a like a big cat stalking, pausing behind each person while they spoke, toying with it's prey getting ready to make meal of the unsuspecting fool sat in my chair. I kept thinking "but I just build and repair bikes in my kitchen" This thought was swiftly followed by fear of not being perceived as good enough and the following thought that the others in the room would all see me as, yes you guessed it...... an imposter.

And then I remembered. I remembered that whilst it was an undeniable truth of my situation at that point that I "just fixed bikes", I was also there to add to my potential, and the route I had taken to arrive at that table was wrapped up in an academic past that included post graduate professional employment and a capacity to learn and achieve far beyond the professional circumstances which 1 was currently inhabiting. I was there to, in the words of Jim Rohn "work hard on myself" and I had by virtue of my previous academic achievement earned my place at that table. I realised that I had to change my view of where I was based on why I was there and where I had been. So when my turn finally arrived, I was not "just the oddball who fixes bike in the kitchen" I was, and had taken a first step to becoming better at being, the managing director of my own company, a former sole trade with 4 year industry experience and someone who was/is not afraid to give it a go. Although I didn't know it at the time, I became "expert" at "learning" and had leaned on that back story.

(Indeed as the course progressed it turned out that surprisingly I did have more experience than some of the others regarding the process of academic learning, knowing procedures and process that they didn't. So I transitioned almost accidentally from framing myself as a learning expert to being, in that company at least, the genuine "expert" on the process of learning. - but that is another story) As my recent podcast guests Polly Brennan and Ant Loughlin have both suggested, we think in narratives, and the importance of the story we tell ourselves cannot be over stated. Recalling the CV worked for me on this occasion because a CV is Objective. It's something solid and by virtue of the structured nature of qualifications is quantifiable, relatable and measurable. So have a think to yourself and know what your comfort cushions are, and where they live in your story, so you're able to lean into them when the need arrises as you build your next chapters.

And as for the big cat stalking it's prey (me) round the edge of that table? Well he became quite the cute little fellow and now helps me write on occasion in between catching mice in the garden

Bagheera - Helpful as ever


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