Golconda

I asked the fabulous folks in my “tribe” to share personal stories about the things that help them to thrive and reach their full potential. Here is what the wonderful Dr Amy Silver wanted to share with you. You can connect with Amy here.

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When I first left home and went to University, the picture Golconda by Rene Magritte was the first picture on my wall and it has been part of my life since. It signifies everything that I don’t want to be part of and is a very easy meme for me to access what I do want. I want freedom and choice and I want to do it in a way that is surrounded by people who are thinking and acting differently, moving in different directions, along different paths.

As a student it was a way to be anarchic, but even now it reminds me to stand up for what I believe and to not conform to the dominant default. To me this picture represents automatic behaviours, conformity, sameness and lack of fun or spirit and more importantly I see lives that end with regret.

In my head, as with all fabulous art it gets superimposed with my lens. When I look at it I want to bring in colour, playfulness and spirit, the antithesis of the subjects in the picture.

In my head, there is a plump woman floating up from the bottom up through to the sky, weaving joyously between the static men. She is wearing a red belted two piece suit, with flowers in her hat, with frizzy hair flowing beneath, rosy weathered cheeks and a big beautiful smile laughing loudly. I want to be that woman when I grow up, I want to be the one showing the men in the picture how to fly, living a full and fun life.

The Shadow Side Of Being A High Achiever

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I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Women’s Leadership Retreat. It was a pivotal experience for me, but not for the reasons I expected.

During the retreat I had the privilege of spending several days with a group of highly accomplished senior female leaders. The cohort consisted of incredible women doing difficult and noble work across a broad spectrum of industries and government departments.

Over the course of the retreat as trust grew, many of the participants shared that they secretly wrestled with feelings of low self-worth.  For these women, the inner critic was an ever-present force and the imposter syndrome a constant companion. They struggled to reconcile these feelings with their high profile positions and as a consequence this was something that was really hard for them to admit and to talk about.

It deeply saddened me that many of the wonderful women at the retreat felt like something was “wrong with them” and so, they were suppressing their feelings or beating themselves up about them.

The teary confessions of one of the women there who was working in medicine and was literally saving lives every single day will always stay with me. She had the courage and vulnerability to share that she felt like she had no value in the world.

I started to wonder whether there was a connection between low self-worth and being a “high achiever”.

Is it possible that many highly successful leaders who rise to the top of their professions are propelled by “high achiever” attributes fuelled by a hidden shadow of low self-worth?

According to Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. there is a strong link between low self-worth and being a “high achiever”. In her book The Undervalued Self Elaine explains this link and provides guidance on how to navigate towards a new way of being.

“We all have an undervalued self buried deep inside, a part that can make us feel worthless. It may rise to the surface now and then or, for some of us, it may be a constant companion. It makes us doubt ourselves or feel shy, anxious, or even depressed. It results in “low self esteem,” the most common problem addressed by psychotherapists and self-help teachers and the root of most other psychological issues. It is not always easy to know when we have fallen into ranking and undervaluing ourselves even to the point of feeling worthless, because we each employ largely unconscious self-protections to keep us from feeling shame. (…) We have six main self-protections: minimizing, blaming, noncompeting, overachieving, inflating, and projecting. These self-protections sometimes allow us to stay unaware of, or avoid, our worst feelings. (…) They are attempts to fool ourselves, and perhaps others, about our rank. (…) You will have to strip them away before you can see, feel, and eliminate your feelings of worthlessness.”

Driving home from the retreat I made a commitment to play a role in helping leaders make sense of that voice inside their head that tells them that they are not worthy and that they are not good enough.

Most of all, I just want them to know that they are not alone.

I have written this article to start a conversation about this important topic and to share what I have learnt so far about self-worth and it’s connection to being a “high achiever”.

You can take this short quiz to understand whether you undervalue yourself. Building self-awareness in this area is foundational work on the journey to becoming a Connected Leader.