This past May I attended Dublin's InspireFest for the first time. The event was packed with a huge variety of stimulating topics and speakers, including Symantec's Susan Cooney and Steve Trilling. The atmosphere was buzzing. I attended the event hoping to discover new ideas that I could incorporate into my life, and it did not fail to deliver.
To my pleasant surprise, I also discovered a lot more about myself.
On the surface, I may seem like I'm outgoing, but the truth is that some years ago I went through a prolonged period of simply being withdrawn, and I have suffered acutely from self-doubt. I haven't always been very open and accessible, instead preferring to hide behind mountains of technical work tasks. When my two daughters were born, the overwhelming need to protect them led me to actively avoid social media, keeping my circle of trust extremely small.
On the surface, I may seem like I'm outgoing, but the truth is that some years ago I went through a prolonged period of simply being withdrawn, and I have suffered acutely from self-doubt.
I regularly avoided group events, and when I did attend, they often ended with a homeward journey of deprecating over-processing self-analysis. When I walked into a crowded room in certain situations, I would scan the room for the exit, ready to dash in preparation for some fictitious catastrophe involving my inner shame. Simply put, my door was always shut. Looking back at photos of family gatherings, I see the strained expression on my face in the few group shots I'm in, uncomfortable around people. All the other photos are the ones I took, hiding behind the viewfinder.
I am a highly self-aware individual who used to always be searching for a solution – for myself and for everyone else too. I would regularly impart knowledge or give advice to people like "save your money", or "you need to take this train not that", or "he's not worth it" – as if any of these so-called solutions would solve their problems. Convinced that every problem indeed did have some kind of quick solution or closure, I relentlessly tried to resolve my own problems by going down multiple self-help avenues. However, the distracting and over-analytical person inside me wouldn't allow any of the remedies to stick.
But a couple of years ago something changed. Not overnight, but as I look back on my recent experience at InspireFest, I realize that I have come out the other end. This change began not long after my fortieth birthday, a turning point in letting go of the small stuff. As the kids got older and more independent, I found more time for myself and my own interests. I began to be more self-indulgent, at first using my new free time for practical things like cooking, helping at local events, meeting people, and later finding time to do really fun things.
A change began not long after my fortieth birthday, a turning point in letting go of the small stuff.
Around this time, there were positive changes happening professionally as well. My work environment evolved into what became a melting pot for “people with ideas”. Ideation initiatives were set up within the organization, and those ideas evolved into regular projects and innovative solutions. I felt encouraged and safe to voice my opinions, and my thoughts were heard and validated and could hold their own. Workplace flexibility became the norm, and I was not restricted to just “keep the lights on” nine to five, Monday through Friday. I had the autonomy to think creatively any time, and anywhere.
Buoyed by this ever-increasing confidence, I quite naturally branched into an internal communications role. I became part of a talent development program and it has brought huge meaning to my job. I felt appreciated, and in turn, I wrote in a way that made my audience feel appreciated too. I began a Lean Sigma course that immediately clicked with me, with its emphasis on continuous business improvement methodologies and, more importantly, in its ethos of collaborating with other teams. This course had positive reverberations outside of work as well, as I began to eliminate unnecessary distractions that were holding me back, such as incessant phone checking and engaging in celebrity gossip.
In pursuing the Lean Sigma course and the internal communications role I met new colleagues who came from diverse backgrounds. I collaborated with global teams in my project work, communicating with employees in up to ten global locations. I was inspired by many of them who had already invested heavily in their personal development path, and I began to develop – sometimes unknowingly – my own purpose and focus. My negative thoughts and self-doubt gradually lessened, replaced with an overall outlook that was decidedly forward-looking. This transformation nurtured a sense of confidence that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I felt like I belonged.
I was growing. I started to use the word “serendipity” for the first time, which, for a technical writer, is a big deal.
I was growing. I started to use the word “serendipity” for the first time, which, for a technical writer, is a big deal. As I look back on it now, there was no one clear path; rather, it was a complete interconnection of new paths and seized opportunities, emerging over time. Doing so well in the Lean Sigma course gave me huge credibility, visibility, and kudos. I was able to adjust to this increased attention, and it led to tangible career development opportunities within my role. I finally started engaging outwardly with other people, living in the positive work culture I wrote about. I was more active on LinkedIn, volunteered for Symantec at public events, and I was proud and open about my journey to get myself back on track.
Which brings us to InspireFest and its connection to me now.
The actualization of my re-discovered focus, self-worth, energy, and passion happened during the conference when I found myself on the big stage pitching – and winning! – an idea I had just come up with. The idea was to better connect regional buses to and from the national airport, because I see that there is an opportunity to bring airport passengers around Ireland by leveraging existing travel information and creating visual informational aids. I felt elated to win the pitch competition, and the support from my Symantec colleagues fueled my sense of achievement. Ten years ago I would have been at the back of the theatre, near the exit, jacket on, bag on my back, disengaged, full of social anxiety, and thinking of catching the next train home.
Now I’m driven by the absolute certainty that my personality and ideas – me as a whole! – have a place. My nervousness transforms into enthusiasm, and I feel supported by everyone who has stuck with me and been my champion – my biological family, who I know have seen the change in me, and also by my Symantec family.
Now I’m driven by the absolute certainty that my personality and ideas – me as a whole! – have a place.
There's an exciting future ahead now; I know it and feel it. I have a sense of ownership and pride over the positive path I have taken to get me here, particularly over the past couple of years. Now whenever an unplanned event or incident happens that challenges me, I pause and consider that a variant of this challenge has probably happened to me before. I can then fall back on my internal resources (creativity, resilience and coping strategies) and external resources (people, professional development, work support) to help me get through things quickly and easily.
Using a "let's see what happens" approach always brings me back to the precious, present moment – even my exercise music has fewer BPMs these days! I am consciously being kinder to myself, and this has resulted in an enduring feeling of positive well-being. Which is what I wanted in the first place.
This blog post is my first, is timely, and is cathartic. I was meant to say these words out loud, and to you. They push that door a little bit more open. We can’t ever know how challenging and overwhelming things were – and we can't celebrate our success at coming through it – until we have the time and space to pause, breathe, look back, and acknowledge. Then we can find the words. This is my reflection, and it is serendipitous.
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