Then, just over a month ago, something much scarier happened.
It started with an email from the HR training lead for Europe. Now, emails from HR can be a bit worrying at the best of times (even when there’s no reason to be worried), but this one was from a particular person so I knew it wasn’t going to be related to my work or professional relationships – definitely nothing to be scared about. Intrigued, I read through it and went from slightly worried and interested to perplexed and confused in a matter of seconds.
I’d been “nominated” to participate in a fairly new leadership scheme that targets non-traditional leader demographics – that is primarily women, but anyone else who might not typically get drawn into management or leadership roles.
Questions abound! Nominated by who? What was this all about? What might it involve? Who nominated me (again)? Why? Why didn’t they ask me first? Did I want to do this?
The first step was to fill in a questionnaire. So I did. I had to confirm that my manager agreed to my participation – tricky, she’s been off work since the end of February with serious health problems. So I checked with her boss who’s looking after us (in the loosest sense) in the mean time, she didn’t know anything about the whole thing but agreed. My boss’s boss hadn’t nominated me, she hadn’t heard anything, and she didn’t believe my boss would have put me up for it without talking to me first. Boss’s boss was a bit concerned about how much time it’ll take up (4 hours a week apparently! eek!), but we’ll see how that goes.
So, I completed the questionnaire – last question “suggest three people who might mentor you”. WTAF?! I have no idea! How do I know who would be a suitable mentor when I have no idea what this is all about? How do I know who the options are? Shouldn’t I ask someone first before suggesting them? But with just two days (yes, a 48 hour timeframe to fill in this questionnaire – what if I was on holiday that week? would I have completely missed out on the opportunity? and I was about to go on a two day trip to the office, so had no time anyway) to suggest someone there wasn’t enough time. I left that bit blank.
Once I’d been officially confirmed to take part, the emails started and the group posts. Oh the emails!
Well at least I was starting to understand a bit more what this was all about and how it worked. It’s a year-long scheme, with several phases of self-development. Starting with self-assessment personality profiles, discovery of our strengths and weaknesses, and planning for how to develop in areas that would benefit our “progress”. Then networking, mentoring, more discovering and development, putting plans into practice. Finally, assessing how much we’d learned and developed – more self-reflection.
Then the fear really set in!
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I have superhero-type imposter syndrome. Basically, I am convinced that one day someone is going to realise that I don’t deserve to be here and I have no idea what I’m doing in my job most of the time – to the extent that I try to do everything and solve all problems (like a superhero) to prove that I am worth keeping around. This is something that can be hard to talk about. I told my work wife, but she just laughs and tells me I’m wrong – not helpful. I told a colleague in the same function as me but in a different group and she totally got it.
Anyway, the reason self-assessment/awareness/reflection and personality analyses are really scary is because I’m petrified they’re going to confirm that I’m right. That I don’t deserve to be in my job. I have my suspicions about why (I’ll tell you about that another time I think).
I’ve thought long and hard about the prospect of self-discovery and facing my fears.
I’m going to be brave.
But I also have some fundamental concerns about the entire philosophy of self-improvement (or possibly insurance against getting hurt, so I’m going to make up a reason why it’s all stupid and wrong).
Now, I could say that I believe in being natural, honest and unforced. I just want to be me. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m generally happy with who I am. But maybe that’s just the fear coming through in defensiveness and attacking the process as a form or protection? Maybe it’s laziness – I don’t want to put loads of effort into changing how I do things. But maybe it’s an ethical root for me as well. (See, I’m being introspective already!)
I genuinely dislike the notion of believing ourselves to be bundles of weaknesses and “wrong” behaviours that need to be fixed. How many memes do we see every day reminding us that we are strong enough, we are good enough, we should be proud of who we are?
Well, I am strong, I am SO strong, I have got through such mountains of pain and difficulty. I’m positive, I look for the good, the success, the advantage or achievement. I weigh up decisions and hope to get them right. I like data and information, I’m a scientist. I know to stand up and say “enough” when something is too much – at home, at work, personally and professionally. I talk too much. I talk too fast. I remember what’s important to me and forget other things which might come over as insensitive, inconsiderate, thoughtless. I bear a grudge when someone is an arsehole over and over again. I get lost in the details (but sometimes to reveal something important). I take everything on that I can. I love playing the technical detective with our software and processes. I think about opportunities for other people. I believe in a “right way” of doing things at work. I admit mistakes. I act on others’ requests. I care too much and get hurt too easily.
But here’s the thing. Some might see those as weaknesses. But they’re strengths too. They’re productive and worthy and should be valued. Why should I change them? Why should I or anyone try to turn off some aspects of who we fundamentally are? Only to try to create new characteristics where they don’t grow naturally?
I’m not against learning new skills or finding ways to be better at something. But I hate the idea of trying to be other than I am. I am me.
OK, I’ve got all that out of my system now.
Once I’d been accepted and decided to be brave and face my fears (because that too is part of who I am), the training sessions started. The introduction to the scheme, the personality questionnaire**, the self-awareness introduction (that one had me in tears, but that was probably down to COVID as much as anything), the mentoring training (wow that one was self-righteous, trumpet blowing and ostentatiously plugging, but also enlightening), the imposter syndrome theory.
** Aside: again, I fought hard with my “this is wrong” instinct with some of the questions. Seriously, “do you dislike lazy people?” and “do you dislike people who live somewhere that all the houses look the same?” For me those are fundamentally wrong questions. It is just wrong to make any sort of judgement about someone according to their level of motivation or the shape of their house. But that’s probably what the question was trying to find out about me. Anyway, I answered each question as quickly as possible to try to keep my responses instinctive.
The personality questionnaire came back and I agreed with 80%, disagreed with some (a bit annoyed at the suggestion that I’m not innovative), and put others down to my refusal to answer some of the questions because they were just wrong to even ask. Himself agreed almost entirely.
I’ve got lots more sessions still to do and the lovely training HR lady who started this all off has found me a mentor with some background in R&D so hopefully I won’t have to start by explaining what a technical writer even is. I also went back and contacted last year’s mentor to try to keep our relationship in place – he’s super busy as usual, but he didn’t nominate me for this either.
So I still don’t know who put me up for this. It maybe doesn’t matter. But on the other hand, maybe it would help me to understand some of the politics going on. I’ve refused to manage my group of writers three times because I had never had any training. Now I’m being trained while my boss is on long term sickness – is that a coincidence? And of course the imposter syndrome tells me that someone thinks I’m doing a terrible job of the technical leadership role and I need fixing.
Onwards and upwards! (right?)
So here I am, on the threshold of a journey of self-discovery and improvement, despite my fears and reservations. Best foot forwards time….
I might even share this post with someone involved in this whole process at some point along the way. This blog is my safe space, but this post probably provides some insight into my approach and fears.
Like I said, exciting but even scarier!
If you’ve got any advice for me as I go through this process (see, I’m being positive, I didn’t refer to it as torture), please share. I need all the encouragement and reassurance I can get.