The speaker was Susan Duffy, Executive Director of the Babson College Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL), a co-founder of the Women Innovating Now WINLab venture accelerator, and an inspired educator and advocate for gender equity as a driver of social and economic growth.
The premise of Susans presentation was deceptively simple:
- Write yourself a new story;
- Befriend failure;
- Houseclean your mind; and
- Find your tribe.
Most of the big things that overwhelm us in careers or business (or indeed life) can be addressed by working through one or more of the above points.
-| rewrite your story |-
Neuroscience tells us that humans are coded to think and behave according to the unwritten rules we have observed from the people closest to us in our formative years, ie. the value systems of the groups and environments we spend our time around, our own life experience, even genetic memory – these things make us develop powerful core beliefs about how the world works.
These core beliefs are deeply ingrained in us, because living by this ‘code’ and abiding by the social norms of the groups that we belong to (family, school, work and so on) are what shaped us as individuals. In fact, it is what has kept us alive.
This means it can be really hard work rewriting a personal narrative, there is a lot of history within us all that creates a subconscious resistance to change.
So, if all you are seeing is blockers and reasons why you can’t move forward when you picture where you want to be in the future, perhaps a first step toward recoding yourself and writing your new story is a statement that counter-challenges that thought process.
‘Why not me?!’
I’ll bet that felt good. Now, write it down. Write down that future self.
-| jump |-
So many people that I know and adore are paralysed by fear or self doubt when it comes to making a leap of faith. Sometimes the only way to do it is to just to bite your lip and launch yourself at the challenge in front of you.
Susan Duffy is a firm believer that when you jump, the net will appear. And if the leap has no visible landing, well, perhaps try a smaller step first. Invest only what you can afford to lose (in time, energy, dignity, money).
The important thing in this stage is to surround yourself with people who gently nudge you beyond your comfort zone (or perhaps give you the big shove you need) and make you feel a little uncomfortable. Otherwise, you stay too long in that safe zone where no learning or growing ever happens.
So jump. Do it sooner. And don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t land where you thought you should – the objective here is to learn from the experience.
-| befriend failure |-
Now all this jumping isn’t going to lead to instant success. And that’s not the point of it either. Jumping is about getting off your proverbial and moving forward.
When you jump, there are going to be times that you miss the target. So what? Susan made the point that we need to get more comfortable with failure.
Own it. Call it! “Well, I stuffed that up royally!”
You aren’t the first, and you most certainly won’t be the last. I guarantee you that all of the people you look up to have failed plenty! Ask them to share their lessons with you. Ask them to teach you how to find the lessons in your experience, if they aren’t clear to you. If your confidence has taken a hit, ask for their input on next steps.
Another valuable thing you can do is to surround yourself with other people who are going through trial and error, and support one another. Encourage the learning process with each set back. It’s important that we start humanising failure (instead of ostracising it) and recognise that it is a step closer to reaching where you want to be.
Susan suggested having an “I f’d that up!” night with friends. I thought that was a sterling idea and I am absolutely going to do it!
For all those data nerds out there – if you look at all the lessons you have gained from trial and error, you are now the only one who has that data. And unique data is invaluable.
-| houseclean your mind |-
Susan gave a great analogy to the inner battle that people have with their self worth, she said it’s like a television series playing in our head called ‘You Suck!’, where we are the central character, and each episode is another of our seemingly disastrous miscues, faux pas, shortcomings, wrong turns, mistakes, regrets, embarrassments or failures.
And then there’s the Imposter Monster that many of us have in our head that not only tells us we aren’t good enough, but also skews the verdict so that we don’t see the positive outcomes we have created.
When something goes wrong, we look inward and are quick to believe it was our fault. When something goes right, we often attribute that success to a third party or some other circumstance that points outward.Susan Duffy
But when we are really sweating on something that we think has gone horribly wrong, sometimes that Imposter Monster tells us horrible things like “you’re going to get fired”, or “you have lost all credibility” (or about ten thousand other things that make us feel absolutely horrible inside).
Yes, most of us realise that this kind of extreme self talk is our own worst enemy, but when we are triggered, what can we do to jolt ourselves out of it and move forward?
Susan suggests that’s when you need to have a clean out. Stop and ask yourself these three simple questions:
- What do I know for a fact about this that is true?
- What do I know for a fact about this that is untrue?
- What about this is a case of ‘I don’t know’?
When you start seeing the things that are making you anxious through a factual lens, you will realise that very few tidbits are actually true.
Don’t make assumptions – to quote Susan “are you suddenly a mind reader? Do you have a crystal ball?” erm, no.
For the bad stuff that has happened that you know to be true, ok. Mistakes happen. But now we know how to befriend failure: own it. And how do you do that?
Feel it. Fix it. Forget it.Susan Duffy
Feeling it? Great. Remember that feeling, and use it as inspiration never to repeat that mistake.
Next, accept that this has happened, and do what is within your control to fix it.
Once you’ve done that, it’s important to ask yourself “what did I learn from this?” Remember the lesson, but let go of the emotional baggage, it serves you no purpose.
All that is left to do now, is shake it off and move on.
-| find your tribe |-
Humans are hardwired to be social, and in the dark ages our very survival depended on our ability to form part of a tribe. The tribe protected us from predators and enemies, supported us emotionally as a family, nourished us physically and gave us shelter.
In this day and age, many of us like to go it alone, and that is fine – but our ability to thrive will be heightened by those who can teach us, support us, encourage us and be our champion. That’s what a modern tribe does.
Susan pointed out that when we let people into our world (forming our tribe) it promotes self efficacy, provides mastery experience and offers vicarious learning through role models. Our tribe helps us to keep our anxiety low, and make meaning of the life lessons we encounter.
There are very few things that you will do in your life that aren’t improved by letting others in. So actively seek out those who are healthy, empowering tribe members to surround yourself with, and they will walk beside you as you strive to live that new story you have written.
So now it is time to cast off the manacles of all that “should have … would have … could have” baggage that you have been carrying around. It’s getting you nowhere.
As we were reminded in my favourite moment of the keynote, letting go of your old story is meant to be hard, it’s meant to be uncomfortable “… but you’ve got to stop should-ing all over yourself” and get on with the business of being the best version of yourself that you can be.