Sylvia left a long and successful financial services career and is now a mental health champion, educator and consultant promoting actions to encourage mental health confidence. She has lived mental ill-health (suicidal depression) to full recovery experience, later becoming an integrative counsellor and a coach.
1. That there's always choice.
A given perhaps, but I railed against this concept for years. I’d had no choice or control over things that had happened to me in my personal life, things that severely and severally affected my mental health. Although successful in the workplace, this belief pervaded. I accepted workplace ‘ups and downs’, without question or challenge. Years later, during counselling training, I remember getting very uptight about this concept. “Sometimes we have no choice about what happens to us, but we do have choice how we manage it” explained Jeannie Saunders, my tutor. Wow, what profound, overwhelming and impactful learning. I realised how much I’d wasted my personal resources - time, effort, energy, focus, ideas etc – emotively and destructively trying to make sense of things that had happened, personally and in the workplace, instead of constructively thinking that’s happened, how do I manage that? What are my options, choices? What would I like to have happen? And, remember, this applies to when anything happens to us too!
Tips: Remember Jeannie’s words!
Explore and focus on what you can control and change i.e. yourself, your reactions, responses etc, not on what you can’t.
2. The difference job-passion makes.
I only recently learned in my employment what others have known for some time! Despite great exam results, my father got me a job in banking and that was that; one didn’t say no to him. I was successful though. I worked hard, progressed, was a high achiever but it was my job. Years later, performance management and workplaces were enthusing the concept of following your passion in terms of job and career. I still didn’t understand; it’s just a job, isn’t it? Then during counselling, recovering from a suicidal depressive episode, I discovered a passion for helping others as I’d been helped; to overcome adversity, enhancing personal performance and then I got it! Having passion made a difference, gave me motivation, inspiration, aspiration, a fire in my belly, sense of purpose and energy that I hadn’t had before. Passion inspired a dream. I then made strategic, directional choices to make that happen. So, I love Oprah Winfrey’s quote “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
Tip: If you don’t know what your passion is right now, be patient, stay open minded and curious about what excites you.
3. It's good to have dream(s).
I didn’t. An overwhelming belief of personal failure underpinned my mental illness. In the workplace though I thrived. Work was my escape, saviour and antidote. The one thing I believed I was good at, my only success. Yet, I never looked up to see where I was going. I didn’t have a cherished aspiration, ambition or ideal. I was a doer not a dreamer! Instead, maybe linked to beliefs about choice, I went with the flow, accepting situations and opportunities as they arose without making conscious choices. This had its benefits though. I still progressed well, gaining extensive expertise and a highly respected market reputation. However, when I discovered my passion, a dream unexpectedly materialised too. Making it reality seemed insurmountable though being known, trapped almost, in one career but aspiring to another. My resilience, my bounceback-ability to make it happen was severely tested at times, but my dream was worth it.
I would have dismissed Mr ‘Supervet’, Noel Fitzpatrick’s quote “Anything’s possible, we just don’t dream big enough” when starting employment. Now, I’m fully converted!
Tip: What’s your dream? What do you know? What are you good at? What interests/excites you?
4.To let my light shine.
When I started working, the general workplace belief was ‘work does the talking for you’. Good work would be recognised; promotion and progression would appropriately follow and mine vouched for that. Over time workplaces became increasingly demanding and competitive. I sometimes experienced disappointment eg. overlooked for promotion, my achievements/value add underrated. I realised I was still relying on this belief, but it was no longer enough and I now needed to start speaking too. However, saying good things about myself conflicted a lifelong belief that that was boastful, arrogant even. Then my coach’s feedback quoted ‘Your playing small does not serve the world’ from Marianne Williamson’s poem ‘Our deepest fear’ and another line, ‘It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us’. What a revelation. That had been my behaviour for years. So, I learned the art of self-promotion. Not in a forceful, shameless way but the skill to share, inform others of my successes, competency, achievements, abilities etc, to good effect and, equally important, know what I wanted when asked.
Tip: Learn to self-promote; what do you want to be known for? How would you like people to describe you? What would you like them to say about you?
5. To take care of myself.
I didn’t for many years. I had no sense of self-worth or value. I thought putting myself first was selfish. My job was my saviour during my mental illness being, in my world, my only success. I put work first, giving it everything. Doing so, I didn’t listen to physical messages nor non-verbal communications. Constant tension in my neck and shoulders had many side-affects including pinched nerves causing occasional numbness in my fingers, headaches, migraines – at one stage tested for a brain tumour - and optical migraines too. A life-threatening illness was internalised stress/depression related. I’ve learned a very hard, but simple, lesson; we need to take care/look after ourselves.
Tip: The Three Degrees song title "Take good care of yourself".
Finally, when I started work, I wanted to be normal. For me that meant escaping my personal demons, having, and doing a good job, nothing spectacular, nothing risky. I wanted to fit in, I did not want to be different, nor draw attention to myself. Now I’d quote Maya Angelou – “Don’t try to be normal as then you’ll never know how amazing you can be”.
Author, Sylvia Bruce, mental health (in the workplace) champion