Overcoming personal challenge. Changing your essence and having mental hygiene: Two extraordinary lessons on my journey.
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it”Maya Angelou
Paradoxically, personality traits and behaviours that received constant compliments when I was a kid like “look at you, you are always so well behaved and quiet”, “you are never loud”, “you are always a very calm kid, how cute” were limiting my opportunities at work once I grew up.
Since I finished college I was very determined to have a successful and thriving career. In those days that meant having aspirations like: incremental salary, a nice car, the trendy mobile device, an astonishing watch, traveling every weekend, being a party animal, status, a nice office, even generating admiration and envy. Yes, I was young and immature.
When I got my first job I struggled with the fact that I was perceived as a very introverted professional and I had issues accelerating my growth. It seemed like I would have to change so many things in order to advance in my career. There were many times were I didn’t feel enough, powerless, demoralised and with a limited self-esteem.
I didn’t have the courage to tell anyone about how I was feeling. I used to pretend every single day that nothing was happening. This was clearly not the smartest strategy.
My peers – and also my friends – were advancing in their careers. I was not. At that time we had project manager roles, their presentations seemed so perfect to me, and mine was a complete disaster in my eyes. They seemed to have so many great ideas and I was clueless on how to come up with a good one.
I was desperate. I started searching for courses, training sessions, anything that could help me to increase my confidence and performance at work. This is the way I found coaching. Coaching was not that popular at that time so I struggled trying to understand what it was and how could it help me.
I gave it a chance and I enrolled to a Coaching Certification Programme. Throughout the programme we received coaching and we were ask to coach someone else in order to attain certification. This was the first time that I decided to be 100% vulnerable and express what I was really experiencing at work.
I understood that coaching was an exhilarating self-discovery journey. I also discovered that I could be a good coach. My coachees started telling me how good the questions that I was asking them were for self reflection.
The Certification Programme was absolutely transformational. I will always remember the last activity of the programme: a letter to yourself. The words I dedicated to myself had great care, empowerment, self-compassion and love.
I started hitting my goals, everyone started noticing a positive change in me and they were vocal letting me know: my peers, my boss, my internal clients. Even the most destructive, mean, ruthless, cruel and merciless detractor I had. Yes, I learned it was me.
One of my key lessons learned was that I didn’t have to change my essence to thrive. I just needed to explore some non-preferred traits in key moments. I mastered how to do it until I actually enjoyed exploring extroversion in very specific contexts and in addition, I became a Certified Executive Coach.
My career was finally growing, I completed a Master Degree, I kept receiving more responsibilities, I was appointed Sub-Director for a Fortune 500 company when I was 28 years old, then Director when I was 30, I attained Harvard Business School Alumni Status when I was 35, I was appointed as Sr Director when I was 38, lows and highs but in general I was growing.
But … this time I was not really aware about how stress was my companion on this journey. I was getting things done, making them happen and hitting targets in my different roles, having influence beyond my team, but the effort was more and more incremental.
It was like having two jobs at the same time: the one outlined in my job description and the other trying to manage stress. The compliments, job titles and money were not enough anymore.
I was not enjoying my career path. I was getting up from bed exhausted, gaining weight, started having health issues, striving to have restful sleep and with a lot of concerns throughout the day. This was day after day.
There was this night – a key milestone – when I woke up around 3:00 am to start crying without knowing the exact reason. I just couldn’t stop crying and had issues to breath. Some weeks after I learned that it was a panic attack.
That was the first time in my life that I had the courage to visit a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and I was prescribed medication together with therapy. It was my psychiatrist who recommended me to get started with Mindfulness. I was not that sure but since the very first session I promised myself two things: Mindfulness would be part of my life forever and I would relentlessly disseminate its benefits specifically in the corporate arena to support leaders that may experienced the same stress I did at some point.
Today is just astonishing and tremendously exhilarating to be able to witness the personal transformation of so many leaders that have participated on our programmes.
I truly believe that the way we deal with our internal world defines everything. It defines how we show ourselves, how we show to others, how we deal with stressors, how we solve problems, how we make decisions, how we lead, how we show care and how we love.
We’ll always have two options: to operate on an “auto-pilot” mode or being able to operate on a “mindful mode” given the discipline of having mental hygiene.
If I take glance to the rear-view mirror of my career: do not changing your essence and having the courage to assess and do something for assessing and improving mental hygiene would be my most eloquent advice.
You took medication? That seems to contradict the rest of your narrative. Surely that is the worst way to deal with your internal world and mental hygiene?