Newsflash! Anxiety can be helpful.

National Stress Awareness Day

Monday was National Stress Awareness Day, so it feels like the right time to talk about all things stress and anxiety, and their impact on your ability to reach your professional potential. Whether you’re running your own business or building a career.

As a strengths and career coach, many of the psychometric tools I use to help my clients reconnect with what makes them tick and what they’re great at look, at a personality trait called ‘Adjustment’. Those reporting a lower level of adjustment tend to exhibit behaviours associated with stress and anxiety (worry, insecurity, self-doubt etc) more often than those with higher levels. Essentially, it is a measure of how easily an individual can adjust to stress in his or her environment.

Having higher levels of adjustment is often purported to be the most desirable trait in corporate competency models – think relaxed, secure, resilient – however I have good news for all us self-doubters out there.

Having lower adjustment can actually be a GOOD thing, providing we are able to recognise and understand our own personal stress limits.

Those of us with lower adjustment tend to be naturally more self-deprecating and set ridiculously high standards for ourselves, our businesses and our careers.

As such, this constant anxiety (at manageable levels) can actually do those of us with low adjustment scores a favour. It can act as a driver and motivator, much like money, power or ambition might drive another person. In fact, fear of failure might be a stronger driver of our achievement than an actual desire for success.

You see, anxiety and worry can actually be productive and useful when they are harnessed to improve our performance. Many successful entrepreneurs report low levels of adjustment and they emphasise the importance of this associated worry in their work.

Do you find that there is always something at the back of your mind, a problem or an opportunity that needs to be addressed? In the middle of the night, if you’re anything like me!? But as with every trait, there’s an optimal level. Too much or too little of any personality trait is always associated with problematic behaviours.

Those with very high adjustment may seem distant or detached. Very low levels of adjustment can lead to avoidance of the source of the stress altogether. Moderately low adjustment can be an asset when effectively channeled and used in the right way.

Self-awareness is crucial for harnessing your natural tendency to be anxious. Everyone has a different level of adjustment (their stress threshold). Even those with the highest levels of adjustment have a breaking point. Take the advice given to gamblers: “Know Your Limit, Play Within It”.

Drop me a line if you’re keen to boost your own self-awareness levels (or indeed those of your employees), so that you too can understand how your own adjustment levels have a bearing on your own career or the way you run your own business.

I am a qualified strengths coach and I run my own career and professional confidence coaching and employee engagement consultancy, Shine Brighter Consulting.

You can find me on:

@shinebrightermums on instagram and Facebook and on twitter as @shinebright_sjc

www.shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk

Don’t let your weaknesses undermine your confidence

Managing your weaknesses

In my last article, Curating a Confident Mindset Through Your Strengths, you may recall how we examined the power of positive psychology and strengths-building versus weakness-fixing. In other words, how when we play to our strengths every day we can expect to experience higher levels of satisfaction, deliver better quality outputs and therefore boost the confidence we have in our own abilities.

You might therefore be forgiven for assuming that all this chat about positive psychology and strengths-building would mean we can forget about our weaknesses altogether. Think again. Our weaknesses, or anything that might get in the way of our success, need to be managed in order to allow our strengths to flourish.

Let’s not forget about our weaknesses

We all tend to have far greater awareness of our weaknesses than we do our strengths. They are those things we are likely to leave until last on our to do lists, the things that drain us of energy, take a long time to do or those activities that we try to avoid doing all together wherever possible! Watch out for overplayed strengths becoming weaknesses too!

Allow your strengths to flourish

There are various ways we can manage our weaknesses to allow our strengths to flourish:

  1. Try to leverage the strengths you do have to compensate for your weaknesses. My example on this one is that I am naturally fairly undisciplined and have the tendency to be late for social engagements (!). So what I try to do (not always successfully!) is to leverage a strength I do have which is empathy and remind myself how awful that person would feel if they were left waiting for me on their own!
  2. Mitigate against the risk associated with your weakness by ensuring adequate competency in it. For example, if you occasionally need to use Excel for your bookkeeping and it isn’t a strength, a basic course might help ensure you don’t make any schoolboy errors that could undermine your business’ success.
  3. If you have the luxury of teammates or work colleagues, why not delegate the thing you struggle with to someone for whom it is a strength? If you run your own business and can afford to, why not outsource the work? Failing that, why not do a skills / strengths swap with another small business owner?
  4. Last but not least, don’t beat yourself up about being less good at something, especially if you don’t actually need to be good at it in your line of work! Contrary to social media, none of us are – or indeed need to be – super-human and good at everything.

Activity:

Take a look back at the activity right at the start of the last article “Curating a confident mindset through your strengths” when I asked you to think of a time when your confidence was at an all time LOW. Were you having to use your weaknesses then by any chance? What would you do differently now, knowing what you do about managing weaknesses?

What else can undermine our confidence?

There are lots of other pesky mindset critters that can undermine our confidence. Here are just a few of them: fear of failure can be a biggie, fear of our true selves, denial, guilt, self-limiting beliefs, self-sabotage, imposter syndrome, procrastination a negative mindset, perfect vs done, comparisonitis…and the list goes on and on. The good news is that, according to the Law of Attraction, if we stop and shift our focus back to what is going well, what we’re good at and what we love doing (our strengths), positive change will follow the focus of our attention. We will be able to achieve better and better results and experience a greater sense of satisfaction in all that we do. The happy byproduct of all these great results and satisfaction is a well-deserved boost to our otherwise flailing confidence levels.

3 Other simple ways to boost your confidence

  1. Trusted friends, family-members, colleagues, clients and customers are often a great source of potential confidence and insight into your strengths. Why not ask them to describe you at your best? How do you come across? What can you handle? How do you behave? Keep hold of any positive feedback from emails, social media or testimonials that you receive and keep them in an easily accessible folder called “Boosters” or something similar. Dip into them when you feel your confidence taking a dip. What patterns emerge? What common themes or strengths threads run through the positive feedback you receive?
  2. And if there isn’t anyone on hand to provide you with the feedback you need to hear, stop and remind yourself of all the great things you have achieved and the hard work, long hours, unfailing commitment etc you have put in to get you where you are today.
  3. Take a look at the type of language you are using. Can you make it more positive in order to shift your perspective? Take a look at your body language or stance if you are presenting. How can you get more of those feel-good hormones pumping round your body by standing taller, with optimal posture?

Summary

There will always be situations and people in life that will, intentionally or otherwise, try to erode your confidence. Remember, you always have a toolkit of brilliant strengths, unique to you, at your disposal every single day if you choose to use them. The key is to identify, recognise and maximise them so they can be your rocket fuel when the going gets tough.

I am a qualified strengths coach and I run my own career and professional confidence coaching consultancy, Shine Brighter Mums. I also provide employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy as Shine Brighter Consulting.

You can find me on:

@shinebrightermums on instagram and Facebook and on twitter as @shinebright_sjc

www.shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk

07990 578180

sarah@shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk

Curating a Confident Mindset Through Your Strengths

‘Confidence’ is the universally favourite topic amongst self-care bloggers and personal development gurus these days. And there’s a reason for that. Because it’s powerful. Having it in abundance can often determine – rightly or wrongly – the degree of success we experience in our personal and professional lives.

‘Curating’ a confident mindset

I’ve used the rather antiquated term “curating’ here for a reason. If you look at a dictionary definition of the verb ‘to curate’, you will see that it has the following meanings:

To look after, care for or nurture something (often fragile)’

‘To select’

‘To organise’

You’ll hopefully see that my choice of word wasn’t entirely accidental! Confidence is indeed a fragile beast and something that requires some very special care and attention if you are to nurture and build upon it. You will need to proactively find it and select it; whip it out of your toolkit when you need it most. It’s also possible to organise components of it so you can pull out your ‘best bits’ wherever appropriate.

Why feeling confident is useful (in case you were in any doubt!)

Let’s take some examples of where having confidence could make or break your personal or professional success in life.

You may run your own business where you are your USP and you are in effect selling yourself every day. If you aren’t confident in your own abilities, business model, products or services, you’re going to have a tough time convincing your prospective customers and clients that they should have confidence in you or your business proposition and in turn part with their hard-earned cash.

Perhaps you have an interview lined up for a fantastic new job that you have your heart set on. Presenting your own unique skills, values and capabilities in a confident (but authentic) way may make all the difference as to whether or not they offer you the job.

Confidence matters. Regardless of your personal or professional situation. Learning how to tap into it at a moment’s notice is a skill worth learning!

Activity: What does confidence look like to you?

Think of a time when you felt your confidence levels were at an all time LOW.

And now think about a time when your confidence levels were at an all time HIGH.

What were you doing, thinking, feeling and saying in each situation?

Fact: 9/10 we tend to feel most confident when we are playing to our STRENGTHS. Can you observe this from your own responses about when your confidence was in abundance or lacking?

What are strengths?

An organisation called Gallup have done a huge amount of research into what makes people successful and satisfied, both personally and professionally. They found that the most successful people and teams were all able to play to their strengths every day.

Their definition of a strength is as follows: “A consistent pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour – rooted in talent – that enables GREAT as opposed to good performance, leading to valued outcomes and results and leaves us feeling motivated and energised.”

They sound pretty useful, right?! Isn’t it time you tapped into your own super-power strengths?

Identify your own strengths right now

Can you honestly say that you know what your strengths are? Women are notoriously bad at identifying (and shouting about!) their own strengths so here are some handy clues to help you identify yours:

Strengths
The 5 clues to strengths

 

  1. Yearning – The first thing you may experience is being inexplicably drawn towards something, be that an activity, hobby, career, topic etc. It might feel like a magnetic force pulling you so that you will – if allowed – gravitate towards it.
  2. Rapid Learning – Once you are in the throws of the activity, you may find that you pick it up very quickly and without much effort.
  3. In Flow – While you are performing said activity, you may notice that you lose track of time and become totally immersed in it.
  4. Glimpses of Excellence – You might get feedback from others, or even feel it yourself, that you did a really great job.
  5. Satisfaction – Of course the corollary of all this excellence, is that you feel great and you want to do it more and more, at any given opportunity!

…And so the cycle continues!

Activity: Based on these clues and indicators, what are your top 2 strengths?

Boosting your strengths

So the trick to achieving great as opposed to good performance and therefore experiencing higher levels of satisfaction and self confidence, is to maximise your own unique set of strengths, or your USC (Unique Strengths Combination).

Positive Psychology shows us that when we invest the same amount of energy in strengths-building versus weakness-fixing, there is a significantly higher return on investment (ROI) in high performing teams and individuals. So what this tells us, is that we need to learn to proactively leverage our strengths in order to maximise their power, use them more, share them widely with others and swap them with each other.

A strength (and indeed confidence) is like a muscle. The more we flex it, the stronger and more powerful it becomes.

There is more good news when it comes to making your strengths work harder for you. They can be boosted (hurray!), which in turn will give your confidence levels a nice boost too. The way we can boost a strength is by acquiring new skills, knowledge and experience that supports our underlying, raw talent or strength.

I know you were probably brought up to believe you could be anything you wanted to be when you grew up, but I’m sorry to say that raw talents and strengths themselves are actually quite hard to change and are nigh on impossible to learn. The good news is that new skills can be learned and experience and knowledge acquired. Therefore our strengths can be boosted to grow in power. And as a result our confidence will grow too.

Perhaps we should start telling our children that they can’t actually be anything they want to be in life, but they can be a whole lot more of who they are. Our role as parents is to help them identify who they are and where unique strengths lie.

Activity: Revisit your top 2 strengths.

How could you use them more? How could you leverage them, maximise them, share them more widely with others? How could you boost them with learning, knowledge and experience to make them work even harder for you – boosting your confidence in the process?

Summary

There will always be situations and people in life who will – intentionally or otherwise – erode your confidence. Remember that you will always have a toolkit of brilliant strengths – unique to you – at your disposal every single day if you choose to use them. The key is to identify them, recognise and maximise them. They will become your rocket fuel when the going gets tough.

Next instalment:

“Don’t let your weaknesses undermine your confidence.”

You might be forgiven for assuming that all this chat about positive psychology and strengths-building would mean we can forget about our weaknesses altogether. Think again. Our weaknesses, or anything that might get in the way of our success, need to be managed in order to allow our strengths to flourish.

I am a qualified strengths coach and I run my own career and professional confidence coaching consultancy, Shine Brighter Mums. I also provides employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy as Shine Brighter Consulting.

You can find me on:

@shinebrightermums on instagram and facebook and on twitter as @shinebright_sjc

www.shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk

M: 07990 578180

E: sarah@shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk

 

AND RELAX…

AND RELAX…


Yesterday was a day of days. After a fairly rubbish journey which meant we all got to bed at 5am the night before, it was welcomed wholeheartedly 🤗

This is what contentment looks like for me. A whizz across the Med on my Dad’s boat with my youngest snoozing in my arms. A rare blissful moment. 🚤 ✨
I’ve been working quite hard recently and that combined with looking after two small girls, as any parent will tell you, has caught up with me. 😅

I’ve been coming to this glorious spot since I was 2 so it feels more like home than, well, home does! 🏡 ✨
My husband even proposed here 😍

I felt my shoulders relax and my breath slow as soon as I saw the blue of the sea 🌊 ✨
It’s going to be pretty full on with work when I get back so I’m making the most of some serious time out with my fabulous family. ✨
#feelinggrateful 😍

Be fabulous. Be you.

BE FABULOUS. BE YOU. 

At the @girltribegang #powerhour in #Thame on Wednesday night, I talked a lot about USPs and not being afraid to #bigupyourself when it comes to telling your prospective clients, customers, employers – why stop there – the world, why YOU do it better than the other people who also do what you do.

If we can make our own unique strengths combination (USC) work for us, we can turn it into our USP. Tapping into what makes you uniquely you and fabulous can pay huge dividends.

What are you drawn to? What do you love doing? What energises you? What leaves you feeling satisfied and fulfilled? At home or at work.

Whatever it is, identify it and embrace it because the chances are, it’s actually one of your strengths. If you put it work, you will be more likely to strike gold. (Ker-ching)

When we invest ALL our energy in building upon or developing the hell out of a strength, we can expect to see GREAT as opposed to just good results.

Invest the same amount of energy in a weakness or something you’d rather not be doing – I’m sorry to break it to you – but only mediocrity will ever prevail.

So bear that in mind when you sign up for that Excel course you can bothered to attend or that snoresome workshop on GDPR. Think creatively, can you do a skills swap with someone for whom these things are of genuine interest? You’d be surprised – other people will be naturally great at this stuff even if you aren’t.

Feel the fear and do it anyway…

Page 2 of 4

Do what lights you up

Recently I was asked to join the ‘panel of experts’ on a great new Facebook group called The Wycombe MumBoss Club, an offshoot of the successful Cheltenham MumBoss Club, brainchild of Kate Starkey. (Expert??- me?! Oh yes, I know some stuff that might be of use to some other people. Somewhere. Back in your box, Imposter Syndrome)

It is day two of their instagram challenge which aims to help people get to know more about its members and their respective businesses. Today’s theme was MOTIVATION. And it got me thinking about what mine was for starting up my coaching and employee engagement business, Shine Brighter.

It turns out that these two small women are my main motivation. For pretty much everything I do, in fact. They’re the reason I went freelance back in 2016. (Well, I was newly pregnant with the small one then but I was planning ahead!)

When I got made redundant from the job I loved in the Spring of 2016 – completely out of the blue- my whole world came crashing down around me. We’d just secured The Sunday Times Best Companies #1 spot for the 2nd year in a row – the absolute highlight of my employee engagement / OD career to date. I had managed to negotiate flexible working after returning from my first maternity leave, I was using my brain again, doing what I loved with a great bunch of people and still managing to see my 2 year old daughter, despite the 3 hour daily commute. Life – so I thought – was sweet.

I was in the early stages of pregnancy and so wouldn’t quite qualify for maternity pay from my old employer and was worried I wouldn’t be able to secure a part-time role for the few months I had left until the baby arrived. I panicked. I had no savings and more or less a statutory redundancy payout, a baby on the way and a 2 year old in nursery. I set up Shine Brighter Consulting and secured my first freelance employee engagement contract the following week. I’m not one to waste time wallowing when crisis hits!

I totally lucked out and had a fabulous first freelance experience working with a brilliant property and asset management business keen to bring their values and ethos to life through their culture and employee comms for 3 months. Then the baby came and my new business got filed on the dusty top shelf next to ‘me time’ and ‘sleep’.

Just under a year later I slowly began to emerge from the funk of ‘new mum of two under three’. Think simultaneous potty training and breast feeding. Only then did I start to think about how I could truly leverage my strengths, experience and skills in such a way that would align with my personal values and help other mothers return to work and have meaningful careers after having children.

I decided to expand my existing consultancy and share my coaching and career development expertise with women who are keen to return to work but don’t have the practical or emotional support that they so desperately need in order to make that transition a smooth one. I still work with companies on their engagement strategies and workplace cultures but this consultancy has taken on a different flavour, if you like. By helping them design comprehensive Return to Work Programmes and through supportive coaching provision, I help them create inclusive and supportive workplace cultures that enable talented parents to return to work with confidence, thrive and be their best. A win win for all concerned.

So as you can probably tell, my motivations for setting up my business are part-personal, part driven by a fire in my belly. Double the impetus, if you like!

I know that I am so lucky to have lots of psychometric tools available to me which have helped me work out what I was meant to do with my life and career. By revisiting my own personal values, unique combination of strengths and work experience, I have been able to build a business around what I love, what lights me up – because I am passionate about it – as well as – although I find this hard to admit in true self-deprecating British style – what I am actually good at.

I fully appreciate that most mothers don’t have the luxury of being a career and performance coach or accredited in self-awareness building psychometric tools! So if you feel that my career or return to work coaching could help you or the women in your organisation, please do get in touch on sarah@shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk

 

Sarah Clarke is the founder of Shine Brighter Consulting which provides practical and emotional support to mothers and their employers, ensuring brilliant women can return to work and shine even brighter. We future-proof organisations by helping them create unique and extraordinary workplace cultures where the best people will thrive and grow.

www.shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk

Preparing for Maternity Leave

Here are some handy little sketches from @the_parent_mentor for any mums-to-be about to embark on maternity leave.

Handing over and actually ending work are surprisingly challenging transitions in the wonderful journey that is maternity or parental leave.

It’s a time of mixed emotions. Excitement, trepidation, loss of control, fear of the unknown, self-doubt, celebration, joy, freedom, sadness.

I felt them all to differing degrees. Depending on the day!

I worked my waddling backside off on my handover documents, sat down with each member of my team to reassure them that they would be in safe hands while I was away.

If I’m honest, I knew no such thing. No one was appointed to cover my head of department role and I basically felt like I had dropped lots of very shiny, special balls as I walked to the tube on my last day with my lovely bunch of flowers and John Lewis vouchers.

It was terrifying! I was in the dark about what I was about to become (a mother) and equally unsure about what I would come back to when I returned to work.

Employers play a huge part in making their talented parents-to-be feel supported but the onus should not be solely on them.

If we don’t ask for what we need, then they will never know and both parties will ultimately lose out.

I wish I had been more demanding and clearer about what I had needed as I left for maternity leave. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it!

What advice would you give to a mum-to-be who is about to go on maternity leave?

Careers are a jungle gym. Make sure you learn the ropes.

Well ain’t that the truth. Well said, Shezza.  One minute you’re scaling the scramble-net of promotion, the next you’re descending the slide of motherhood. (Not always, but quite often.)

Your career may not always follow the path you’d envisaged, but actually that’s fine. And in fact, you may find that you’ll end up at an even better destination than you ever imagined possible. We often find ourselves swinging from career rope to career rope. In search of the one true ball pit of happiness…ok, enough of the soft play references now.

My point is, if you’re feeling drawn to a different vocation, there will usually be a reason for that. Positive psychology tells us that we actually gravitate towards activities that allow us to better use our natural talents. It’s therefore likely that this alternative career path would enable you to do something you love and allow you to play to your strengths. If we were all to harness the power of our strengths every day of our lives, the world would be a happier, more productive place.

But jacking it all in for the unknown can be bloody scary. “What if I’m no good? What if no one will want to buy X or use Y service? How on earth will I make it work? Maybe it’s all a pipe dream… “ The best careers and business ideas started out as pipe dreams. The thing that sets aside the dreamers from those that actually make it happen is predominantly confidence. The balls to have a bloody good go.

If you’ve returned to work and feel your heart’s just not in it anymore, coaching can help reconnect you with your passions and your strengths. It can help you pursue your heart’s desire and make your pipe dream come true.

Click here to find out more.

Or contact me on sarah@shinebrighterconsulting.co.uk for a free no strings chat to see if coaching could help you shine even brighter. 

 

What I’d give a new mum

 

 So I’m very late to the party on this one but I wanted to offer up my #whatidgiveanewmum in support of @amyransomwrites ‘ extraordinary campaign for #maternalMHmatters Awareness Week. This picture was taken minutes after Tabitha, my youngest who incidentally walked today, came out of the sun-roof. I don’t have a comparable shot of my eldest Holly’s arrival, as I was out cold having a cat 1 crash c-section at the time. Not to be recommended.

So here’s what I’d give a new mum.

•No mother has the slightest idea what they’re doing so don’t assume you know less than them. I assure you they’re as much in the dark as you are.

•Take well meant ‘advice’ with a pinch of salt. The chances are that you were born with the maternal instincts perfectly attuned  to your baby. Don’t be afraid to trust them.

•Gaze at your new bundle- every inch of them- for as long and often as possible.

•Whatever you do, don’t compare your baby to others their age- you’ll only worry unnecessarily. They will get there in the end. •Write down, or better still record, the hilarious things they say or do. You will be so sure you’ll never forget them. But you will. •Record milestones with a picture or journal entry. I have no recollection of anything the first time round.

•Lower your standards. For your home, your appearance, the washing. At least for the first few months. Allow yourself to just wallow around in the funk of hormonal delirium.

•A lot of people will offer their help. Be good to yourself and accept it once in a while. Some rest will make you a better mum. Never underestimate the power of sleep.

•You will take 1000s of photos. Try to print a few every month or so.

•Set up a WhatsApp group with some local mums or your NCT group. It will be your lifeline. Never underestimate the power of knowing someone else is up at 3am, feeling like you’re feeling.

•Try to get some fresh air every day. Even if it’s just for a walk around the block.

•Get support if and when you decide to return to work. You can never predict how you’ll feel. Having someone to talk things through with, could mean the difference between a happy return and one fraught with self-doubt and anxiety.

What would you add?