You’ve had quite some EXCITING professional experiences this week, haven’t you?
I’ve been to a two-day training session on coaching and it was phenomenal. I learnt that the key to meaningful relationships is active listening. It seems that usually when you sit down with someone and you’re listening to them, you are already distracted by your own thoughts: how you had experienced the same thing they did, what you are going to react to what they say. Like you have your own recipe to everything. We dig into each other’s lives, pockets wombs… On the other hand, I do not see the people as they are in a given situation. I see what they’d be capable of if they saw themselves as I see them. I’ve had many conflicts due to not talking to the person sitting in front of me but to the one I instinctively see. I build a career around this, and mentoring (and talent mentoring) adds to this, and also coaching gave me a structured framework. How to turn this ability into a gift, to point to the doors that I see open but the other might not even see the door itself.
It seems to me you stepped into the area of psychology: you speak of feelings, self-image, learnt reactions, routines, racket feelings. How does it make you feel poking around these?
To me, it’s very exciting, but it used to be terrifying. I think the gist of life is progress: when something grows better than the day before or even five years before. I do feel authentic, because I stepped onto this road twenty years ago, and experienced it on myself how this works: bringing myself to my potential. One can be really good at something that a couple years back seemed unattainable and distant.
Can you bring to the table an own experience that was hard to live through but you drew a lesson from?
There was a time when I did not step up for myself. It happened at a previous workplace, there were some misunderstandings, and I ended up being humiliated and alone. My manager, who delegated the task, not only refused to vindicate me but turned against me. I remember sitting there, while everything in me shouted ‘stand up and get out from there’. But something else in me said ‘you must earn your living and pay your bills’. I remained in that situation until four months later I eventually left. This was an experience that haunted me for years: I encountered this again, and again, me, not stepping up for myself.
Let’s talk about those inner voices…
The barrister [lawyer] and the persecutor?
Interesting choice of words. Let’s say the assertive, ‘adult’ [TA] you is the barrister and the ‘parent’ [TA] you reminding of social expectations and boundaries is the persecutor.
How does one learn to listen to the barrister? I know that the persecutor is essential for survival: you must learn to pay your bills, you must be able to choose duty over fun – but when to choose fun and let duty go… that’s what you must learn. It’s important to know when I was born. I was brought up in an age where information or choice wasn’t this accessible. Like many others, my parents fought to survive looking at the next task at hand: the next opening ceremony of the school, the next car you had to wait years for. Dad used to work at two or three places at a time in order to provide for us, to make sure we had everything we needed, to be able to fund our studies. We didn’t live in privation but, but mum told me there were times we [me and my sister] ate the meat with the dumplings, and they only had some gravy on it. They dealt with the hardships beautifully. They did a good job. My sister and I are first generation intellectuals in my family, and they are very proud of us. I see examples before me of others who didn’t have such rigorousness, order or sets of rules like: a child’s duty is to study and have their room tidy, and a parent’s duty is to provide for them. I brought results in the form of high marks, so my parents let me go to party every Friday or Saturday, because it was evident that my duties are done.
When it comes to choice of profession, was there a specific direction they drove you to?
I put this in their hands. I had no idea, only some dreams: I wanted to become a teacher or an archeologist. I loved to study history and literature, but my mum told me that archeologists are always abroad digging the ground and teachers can’t earn a decent living here. I ended up in law studies, but after a year and a half I quit and applied to faculty of arts, however, I missed the deadlines by a day, so I never became a teacher. I have a PR–marketing degree and my second degree is of andragogy [method and practice of teaching adults].
Earning a living seems like a recurrent theme like a generational baton passed around saying that security is the strongest driver. In comparison, you work in a fast-paced environment where it is difficult to keep up, a pace unknown in the 80’s. You became a different kind of tutor, who helps other find their ways around, like a lighthouse at sea.
Never thought of it like that. I don’t want people whom I like or love to hit the same walls I had. I’d like to help them avoid it if I can, but I know the importance of learning what you must learn. Coaching and mentoring are the platform where I can tell them this.
YOU HAVE AN URGE TO TAKE CARE OF OTHERS, YET YOU DISCOUNT YOURSELF. WHERE DOES THAT COME FROM?
That duality is there, it’s true. I know I suffer from impostor syndrome, which may affect many women in my generation. I help and serve people, like I did when I did customer service. It’s a heavily underrated profession. Who didn’t do it, cannot understand the beauties and the magic of it, and how it teaches you to become humble. This is a strong foundation I used to build my castle on. About taking care of other, I think its source is in me being the elder sister. My greatest joy is to help to give joy to someone. I am conscious that I’m in flow when I see progress, growth, delight and when something is better than the day before.
YOU LOVE THOSE YOU MENTOR OR COACH.
It’s necessary that we resonate with each other, but I think for me it’s easy to like someone, I always give a chance after that last one. During mentoring or coaching there is a certain level of intimacy where trust is fundamental, mixed with vulnerability, but I trust the one sitting before me not to take advantage of it.
I SEE IN YOU A STRONG, INDEPENDENT, AND SELF-ASSURED WOMAN WHO MIGHT NOT KNOW THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING BUT TRUSTS HER OWN SET OF TOOLS. WHERE DOES THAT INNER STRENGTH COME FROM?
It’s very surprising to me what you just said. I don’t see myself like that. My profession, a role that I put myself in, needs me to connect with people and I’m not allowed to be uncertain or shaky. Who’d want to work with you if you don’t seem to know your job? Alternatively: who’d want to work with someone grumpy and sulky, and is miserable all day? My private life may be different. Maybe no one knows I deal with my lack of self-confidence and inferiority complex. I’ve been dealing with these issues this past twenty years. I thought myself an alien, an outlier, and add to all this my hypersensitive personality and my introversion: my nervous system is just different. I’ve been through quite some agony to be able to tame it all and bring balance to it. But also, you must take authenticity into account here: either you are yourself at the workplace or not.
YOU CHANNEL YOUR CREATIVITY THROUGH TRYING NEW RECIPES BUT ALSO THROUGH PROCESS IMPROVEMENT. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THIS?
Yes, I can, indeed. The processes are executed by people and I put them into the centre of my focus. Since I also specialise in customer experience, I always take that view into account as well. The end result of a process improvement must be a sustainable process. And it’s not going to be sustainable if all the textbook tools are ticked and done but if the person willingly executes it in the end. All the processes I worked on were exciting.
SO MANY PROJECTS CANNOT BE ALL EQUALLY EXCITING, SO IT MUST COME FROM WITHIN YOU.
One must get inspired. Why else do you wake up in the morning? You don’t only wake up to do your duty, you must have some joy of living that makes that day, week or year unforgettable. You can’t specifically tell what you did on the 11 February 2015 but if I ask about 2015, you’ll recollect some feelings, experiences, or memories. You don’t remember how large a budget you planned for a certain department, do you?
I NEVER REMEMBER FIGURES, THAT’S WHY I HAVE NOTES AND FILES.
You see, that’s not what you’d think of a finance expert. (we both laugh)
SPEAKING OF STEREOTYPES, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THEM AS A WOMAN?
There is gender equality where I work now: in talent programmes, projects, roles. But prior to that, I remember presenting something while they didn’t make eye contact but had rather inappropriate looks. I didn’t know what to do. It was horrible, humiliating, I had a sense of powerlessness.
YOU WORK WITH YOUTHS AS WELL, WITH THREE GENERATIONS TOGETHER. WHAT DO YOU SEE IN THEM?
They are brave, experimenting, they just get in there and get it done, like they know what they wanted. I like that very much. When I was that age, I was merely a child. I also see that life experience matters. When they hit a wall, sometimes they don’t really get why that happened. But they learn from the hit.
YOU EXPERIENCED MANY DIFFERENT LEADERS. WHAT CHANGED IN YOU?
We tend to idolise our leaders, putting them on pedestals, and I never experienced a leader here who craved for that. Where there’s a manager craving this, simply get out of there. I saw the contrast of how it is now and how it could also be. But communication is essential. If you’re working as a team, you shouldn’t be afraid to go to your manager and ask for help when you’re stuck. If you bother them, they’ll just ask you to come back at another time, then you must go back and get it sorted together. You won’t be weaker or lesser of a person.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING IN THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’d rip fear out of people’s hearts. Rules must exist, but hierarchies shouldn’t be build on fear but on respect.
IF TIME TRAVEL EXISTED, AND YOU WERE ALLOWED TO GO BACK TO A CERTAIN POINT IN TIME, SETTING OFF AN ALTERNATIVE TIMELINE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO YOURSELF?
‘Have no fear!’
[Hyper-sensitivity: more intensive perception of inputs, feelings etc., overloading the nervous system. See: Elaine N. Aron: The Highly Sensitive Person]
[Introverts: they don’t hate people, they aren’t shy, they need company, but they get satied quickly and must reload on their own. See: Susain Cain: The Power of Introverts]
[Impostor syndrome: high-achieving individuals with a special lack of confidence that makes them think they are talentless and are only successful due to luck or mistakenly having mislead people. See: P. R. Clance–S Imes: The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women]