Those words were among the many farewell wishes written inside the oversized card. My manager had intended to be inspirational, instead I felt annoyed.
What did he know anyway? Whatever I was doing it was me doing it, and I was trying hard to be good at it, all of it. I was trying to be a good daughter, a good wife, successful at work, plus a few other things. Situation normal for most women I knew.
I’ve since learned to pay close attention when I have a strong emotional reaction to something. It’s my spirit’s way of shouting at me because I’m not listening to it.
At that time, I was about to move across the country and embark upon a new stage of my career. It was hard. I was struggling with the reality of moving so far while leaving behind a dying parent, and a trailing spouse who didn’t yet have a job to move to. Both my father and my husband were supportive, they put on a brave face for my benefit, and I put one on for theirs.
The coastline sparkled as the light plane levelled out and headed South to Sydney, where I’d transfer to a jet bound for West Australia. I rummaged through my carry-on luggage, extracted the farewell card, and re-read the inscriptions.
When I read my manager’s comments again, I had a feeling they were important, and they gave me an odd sense of comfort. During the six months I was alone in WA trying to settle in I looked at those words often.
As it turned out, my manager was partially right. I wasn’t being myself. I was trying too hard to be all the things I thought I should be, and I’d assumed others expected of me.
Then why was I thinking this way? Because self-questioning is normal, it’s human to want to fit in because we’re social animals. Fitting in is important for our survival. That instinct causes us to compare ourselves to others, to wonder if we’re doing the right things the right way.
There’s a difference between self-questioning and self-doubt.
Self-questioning is healthy, it serves a purpose, it leads us to answers which help us. Self-doubt is a vortex which drags us down. At times of change and stress it’s easier to slip into self-doubt.
I’d taken it too far, and instead of being self-questioning I’d become self-doubting. I know now why I found comfort in my manager’s message to be myself. It acted as an anti-dote for my self doubt.
If your self-questioning has slipped into self-doubt, try giving yourself the message, ‘Be Yourself, It’s Who You’re Meant To Be’.
I kept that farewell card. At the time I wrote this I’d had the card for 21 years. The gift of those words will be with me forever.
I hope you don’t wait 21 years to be yourself.
Jacqui Alder is a respected HR executive, writer, and mentor to women.
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