Mastering the art of Showing Up for real!
Hello, I’m ugly!
Imagine meeting your new boss for the first time. Imagine she introduces herself to you in this way. What would you think? What would you say? Wouldn’t that be shocking? It’s just not something we would say is it? But what if she thought it was true?
Women all over the world, women like you and me, from any and every background, are showing up to work and life with broken self perceptions. We secretly and often unconsciously think so negatively about who we are. We identify ourselves with our inadequacies, our flaws, our mistakes, circumstances and past situations. Everyday, consciously or unconsciously, we need to suppress, depress, hide and disconnect from those very real thoughts and beliefs so we can show up and get on with our day, our work and our busy lives.
We wear masks
I have always been about supporting women professionally. Throughout my career, first as a senior midwife and leader in the National Health Service, then as a senior leader in Local Government and now as Founder and Chief of ‘Woman Leader Global’ the Women’s Leadership and Self Development Agency. I have had the amazing privilege of being with women at some of the most vulnerable and challenging times of their lives, so I’ve learned a lot about what happens “behind the mask”. I too have had to wake up to my own brokenness, my own life behind the mask, my own need to show up at work and in life as the real me.
I was born with a prominent congenital facial disfigurement and spent much of my early years having corrective facial surgery. I had what’s called a hare lip, that’s when there’s a big gape in my face from under my nose to my mouth. Also, my face was markedly asymmetrical, so my left eye was positioned much lower than my right eye. My appearance and my looks were a constant issue.
When I was four years old, I was gifted an artificial eye and dark glasses, the aim of them was to hide my facial flaws and help me look more… “normal”. From that time on, I went nowhere without my “masks”.
That’s how I faced the world, covered up and hidden, I didn’t go anywhere without my masks and very few people, as I grew up, knew what the real me looked like. I went through my education with masks on, went into the world of work with my masks on, I entered relationships, even intimate ones…. with my masks on!
I don’t think anyone could have known back then what a powerful metaphor that would become in my life on many levels, I learned that when things were broken, not normal, flawed, or unsightly, you put them away, hid them from sight, covered them up and concealed them. This was the beginning of what I call, my life behind the mask and I lived behind many masks for forty years.
It was in 2009, the year that life decided it was time for me to become aware and awake to my masked reality. In the space of just a week, through a series of random events all hell seemed to break loose. My aunt died and in a time of family gathering, during a conversation with an old friend, her son pointed at my face and blurted out… “Mum! She’s so ugly!”
BAM!! His words hit like a punch…I really hurt but in that moment I noticed, as if I were a spectator of the scene, how I didn’t flinch. Inside it was like my heart was wounded, but on the outside I was as cool as a cucumber and you wouldn’t have been able to tell by looking at what I was really going through. I noticed that… and I pondered it. “ I wondered, “How do I do that?”
The very next day, some kids ran up to me from behind, when I tuned to see who had tapped me on the shoulder, they pointed at my face and laughed and then just ran away… the pain was mounting . Throughout that week, lots more would serve to punch that same spot in my heart, I kept bumping into constant punches that would knock me into memories of my childhood growing up in the playground with this face and on the day of my aunt’s funeral, to top it all, I lost my dark glasses. I had lost part of my mask and it freaked me out!
I was sure I couldn’t go to my aunt’s funeral but my family insisted I go. My sister lent me her sun glasses but I realised that I was feeling sore and every time someone looked at me, although you couldn’t tell on the outside, on the inside I recoiled and wanted to cry…”please don’t look at me”.
I was so aware of these thoughts and feelings as if for the first time, I knew something was up. I was hurting.
The morning after the funeral, by a complete fluke, my three year old niece who had not seen me without my artificial eye before, found my ‘eye’ on the dresser by my bed as I slept. It FREAKED HER OUT! She was so frightened, how could that be auntie’s eye? It was too much for her young mind to fathom.
When I woke up she was in her room, she couldn’t look at me, and she didn’t want me to touch her. Silent tears streamed down her face as she cowered in the corner of her room. It was all too much, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and all the pain that had been brewing that week from the time that boy had called me ugly came exploding out of me. I did the only thing I could. I ran, to my room, fell to my knees, put my hands up in the air and said out loud, “God, what on earth is happening to me? It’s hurting God… Help me!”
I entered into a conversation with God, and it was as if a voice began firing questions at me.
“Dion, What’s all this hiding about? Why are you hiding?”
“Why are you covering yourself up?”
“When are you going to show up for real?”
“When are you going to let people see the real you?”
As I wrestled to find the answers to the questions I was being asked, I realised on 23rd May 2013 that the truth was, I didn’t think I had a choice. I realised that deep down, very unconsciously, I believed my face, the real me, who I really am, was not a good thing to expose or inflict on people. It felt cruel to make people have to look and see the real me… wow, I had no idea I was thinking of myself in this way and facing my own thoughts was a big painful deal.
I don’t know how long I spent there on my knees that day, all I know is, by the time I stood up I had made the decision, I was going to find a way to drop the masks and master the art of SHOWING UP in my life, work and world, for real.
And here I am! That all happened a little over six years ago now, the journey has been amazing as I have delved deep into my own self perception and done the work to find face and embrace what was at the root of these thoughts about me. I’ve learned so much about how beautiful, smart, savvy and talented leading women like us, struggle behind the mask, with lies about our true identity.
Masking is a MINDSET
When I say masking, I’m not talking about every act of concealing or hiding something about you, we all hide and often that’s appropriate too. It’s the thoughts behind the action that it is important to get clear about. For example, there is nothing wrong with wearing an artificial eye to cover a disfigurement or putting on a poker face to hide fear. These acts by themselves are not the problem, but if, as in my case, at the root of my hiding were the thoughts “I am ugly”, “I am unlovable”, “The real me is offensive”, now that’s where the problem lies.
Not all will identify with ugly or unlovable, for some the belief is “I am a mistake” or “I am inadequate, not enough, or I am somehow inappropriate”. These are BFDL’s (Big Fat Dirty Lies) and it’s these lies about our SELF that are a drain to our power, effectiveness and wellbeing
As you think, so you experience
Harbouring BFDL’s, whether consciously or unconsciously, will slow, stunt or STOP your capacity to thrive and evolve and increase. I’ve seen the effects not just in my life but in the lives of the women I work with. Here are just a few:
- Playing small, punching way below your weight
- Saying no when you want to say yes
- Saying yes when you want to say no
- Not speaking up
- Not showing up
- Not stepping up
Do you identify with any of these? Often, because we are oblivious to ‘masking’, we have stories, excuses and justifications about why things are the way they are in our life, but understanding masking gives us the power to create radical shifts and change in our work and life experiences.
We need YOU!
The truth is:
YOU are beautiful, filled with BEAUTY, and beauty is within you
YOU are powerful, filled with POWER, and power is within you
YOU were born to touch the world in a unique, authentic and powerful way
You don’t have to look too far to see that our world is in real need of innovative and creative solutions. Trouble is behind the mask, it’s hard to see that you’re it! YOU are the solution, the answer… YOU have what it takes to make a powerful difference…. honest!
Decide to find and face the BFDL’s (Big Fat Dirty Lies) and the masks you may we wearing.
Admit the pain, listen to yourself, pay attention to your Dis–Ease, there will be big clues there about what you really think about YOU.
Get support, find a friend, colleague or family member and talk about this article and see what comes up for you. Invest in professional support; coaching is an amazing professional partnership that will help you see what you cannot see on your own and help you venture safely into the YOU behind the mask.
Once upon a time I thought I was ugly and unlovable, now I’m unstoppable in my mission to be the real me and make the difference only I can make. My prayer for 2016 is that you will be UNSTOPPABLE too!
About Dion Johnson:
Founder and Chief at Woman Leader Global, The Women’s Leadership Development Agency, offering what is called “behind the mask” support for midlife women in senior leadership.
Dion, awarded mentor of the year 2013 (Women Inspiring Women Awards) is also an Executive Coach and Global Conversationalist on issues affecting women in leadership.
Her mission is to co-create platforms, products, services and events to support the rise of ‘Authentic Feminine Leadership’ in senior, decision making levels of the marketplace, across sectors, industries and the globe.
The philosophy that underpins Dion’s work is simple: when women leaders thrive, our world is a better place… and to thrive, women must be intentional, decisive and deliberate about mastering the art of ‘showing up’ in leadership and life FOR REAL, or as she likes to say, with Radical Authenticity(TM)
Dion supports and challenges women in senior leadership to nurture and express their unique power to influence and impact their teams, organisation, industry and ultimately, the world through Radically Authentic Leadership(TM) and life.