Show Up, Truly

iStock © xavierarnau

Show Up, Truly

Maintaining conscious self-leadership while living and working globally

By Lucy Shenouda

We have all been complicit. At some point. Complicit in not showing up as our true selves. Complicit with our inner critic voice. Complicit in presenting ourselves as less than who we are, truly.

We all have something special in us. Special. Natural. Truly, simply, deeply. Distinctive.

Showing up special, in our true spectrum of light, is paradoxically both easy and challenging. It’s easy to be our natural self. It’s challenging to expose those special qualities to others, particularly when we deny these qualities in ourselves.

“What do you think of this advertising campaign, Lucy?” Tebra asks me openly, in earnest, her eyes bright, showing interest in my point of view.

I hear her words. I am blind to her open, interested look. I am deaf to her thoughtful tone. Overlaid on Tebra’s question, I hear another stringent voice. An inner voice.

“What could you possibly know of this copy, Lucy? You don’t even read Arabic; you barely understand it!” 

I feel like a fraud. I act like a fraud. 

“I don’t know, Tebra. I can’t read Arabic,” I say out loud, feeling ashamed, looking down and away as I speak. 

I hear silence. I hear surprise.  

I surrender to my inner critic. 

Looking back on this memory, I notice that I denied my self-respect and intelligence. It was the turn of the millennium … early June 2000, nearly four years since my husband and I moved from Canada to Egypt, the land of our ancestors. For months prior, I had heard of Tebra’s return from a year in India during a job placement program. Her reputation as a smart, savvy marketing professional compelled me to want to be worthy. Yet, we are all inherently worthy! In our first encounter, I focused more on what I didn’t want: to expose and embarrass myself. Instead, I hid in my shadow.

I did not show up, truly.

William Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I know now that I already was worthy. I had a head start. Unbeknownst to me, fellow advertising and client colleagues spoke highly of me. I had earned the right to express my professional point of view. I spent over three years adapting to expat life in Egypt, bringing with me structure and knowledge from my Canadian education and work experience. I built a reputation as a savvy advertising professional who fostered strong relationships, who superseded my lack of Arabic reading and writing skills with a deeper understanding of the Egyptian consumer psyche. I spent hours consuming market research reports, analyzing and listening to live and recorded focus group interviews. I had deep brand and consumer knowledge worthy of expressing an informed opinion of the approach in our advertising campaign. I truly understood much more than I would admit to myself, let alone others. I denied my leader influence. I succumbed to my inner critic.

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This snapshot in time is representative of similar past experiences, as distant as childhood and as recent as last year! Self-leadership: it takes practice and is a practice.

I have often reflected on this painful memory. I realize, now more than ever, an essential insight of what leads up to denying my true self. When I become self-conscious, I am more concerned with how I’ll be perceived than with who I already am. I am taken hostage by primal fears and anxieties. It is my ability to respond, understand, make decisions, solve problems and communicate that is most diminished. I feel threatened by completely made-up stories of unworthiness and incompetence. Being conscious rather than self-conscious is much more helpful in situations that arouse an emotional trigger or threat. Conscious self-leadership while living and working globally takes work. It is a constant practice of asking ourselves important and challenging questions:

What truly matters the most, right now? 

How do I truly feel, in my heart and in my gut? 

Who am I?

I, truly, believe that the questions matter more than the answers. Questions that are only a beginning of many questions we are challenged to ask ourselves.

I, truly, believe that while the answers vary over time, the questions are enduring and timeless. Our special qualities, our inner spectrum of light, are there for the discovery and for the revealing.

I, truly, believe that to show up, truly begins with honoring our inherent right as living beings to focus on what is really meaningful and relevant – to shed complicity for simplicity.

[Image © xavierarnau 2016 under license from iStock]

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