“Don’t worry. I can do it.”
Probably the most overused sentence in my life. At home. At work. I played the part of Little Miss Perfectionist, Little Miss Workhorse with an accompanying soundtrack running in my head, telling me I was the ‘only one’ who could do it.
It would be quicker if I did it myself — rather than explaining it to anyone else.
It would get done ‘properly’ if I did it myself — rather than risk someone else doing it ‘wrong’.
And anyway, everyone else was busy, so who did I think I was to bother them when it was something I could do.
If there was a problem, an issue, a ‘has to get sorted now’ — I was your girl. That’s what I did.
And somehow as a working mother, with a ‘flexible work arrangement’ (I worked full time, but shifted my office hours to make childcare work) I felt the need to make sure that I did it all, myself, where possible — rather than suggest that, heaven forbid, I might need some help — to prove my worth. To show that I could indeed do it all. I was no slacker now just because I had three small children.
No, no. I was the poster girl for having it all in my office. Except that, underneath it all, I didn’t have it all and it was becoming clear that I certainly couldn’t do it all — not alone. The cracks were beginning to show. Something had to change.
For me, the first step was getting my own coach.
I’d spent far too long worrying about what ‘other people’ would think of me for having a life coach (“How pretentious, who does she think she is?”), but this amazing woman gave me something I didn’t even really understand that I needed: a dedicated time and space to pour out all of my best and worst imaginings — my weaknesses, my fears, my vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams — safe in the knowledge that she was not going to judge me. She was just going to hold the space and allow me to give voice to all that I had been too scared to put into words.
How liberating. The tears — of both joy and frustration — that bubbled up and then came raining out of me during our first meeting were immense and freeing. I had known that I needed a release, but had genuinely been scared of what the repercussions would be.
Strangely, it was the same sense of release that I had experienced years earlier, when I finally sat down in a locum GP’s office and said, ever so quietly and ever so nervously, that I thought that, maybe, possibly, I was suffering from depression. Oh, the freedom, to have finally said the words out loud to someone.
I skipped out of my first coaching session, knowing that this woman was going to be the kick-start I needed to move myself forwards.
Once the first request for help had been made, each subsequent connection became easier.
I could, slowly, gingerly, admit to my friends that I was finding the whole work / kids thing tougher than I might have led them to believe. And do you know what? They weren’t surprised. Just pleased I had finally opened up a bit. So that they could too.
And at work?
I decided to stop playing along with the story that it was all easy for me. I started being more honest with my team as to how hard I found juggling it all. To tell them all that I wasn’t going to make myself feel like a slacker anymore, simply because I left the office before most other people did.
I stopped trying to be superwoman and started asking for help. The effect was unexpected. It made me more human. It wasn’t just me that breathed a sigh of relief at the release of perfectionism. All of a sudden it was as if a wall came down — and everyone around me felt that they could be more human too. It became so much simpler to build small connections with people — based on our truths, and our need for help.
Individual connections were having a massive impact on how I felt, and my work with my coach was suddenly clearing away years of debris of ‘should haves’ and ‘ought to’s’, but the gamechanger was when my coach pulled together a virtual circle of like-souled, electric women, from here, there and everywhere, to try out creating an online tribe.
I wasn’t sure. This was a global group of clearly awesome women. What would I have to offer? What could I contribute?
In this amazing space (which due to the time difference I joined at 02:30 each week, for 10 weeks, just as I relocated with my family to Shanghai — and which I continue to join monthly) I offered my truths. My fears. My vulnerabilities. My mid-life crisis came roaring out of me with a pace and a fierceness that I would never have expected.
This group of women became ‘my tribe’ — who watched me fall apart, and then stood by my side as, week by week, I rebuilt myself, using their truths, their stories and their struggles as the stepping stones to this other, more peaceful, more connected version of myself.
I don’t know how my ‘old self’ would have survived out here in Shanghai. I do know her stint in Beijing ten years ago didn’t go so well.
I have written before about my dislike of the Trailing Spouse Syndrome that is talked about in ex-pat circles here. But what I do know is that my ability to ask for, and accept, help and support — from this amazing community of people I have had the privilege of joining — is what has transformed my existence, into something much richer and more engaging than I could ever have dreamed of.
The freedom I have found, in letting go of Miss Perfectionist and embracing help, has allowed me to thrive and feel more globally connected than ever before.
And, six months in to Shanghai, I am enjoying getting to pay it forward.
If you would like to find out more about joining an Electric Woman circle, please email: [email protected]
Originally published at medium.com