I have always been a pretty self-conscious person. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m quite tall and tended to stand out amongst groups of friends, or because I was picked on a lot in school, or because (like most women) I’ve been taught that being nice and accommodating to others is critical to success (and in some cases survival).
Whatever it is, I hate being conspicuous in public and tend to play it safe in terms or hair, dress and presentation to keep from drawing attention. I think a lot of cis women would relate to that (and if you don’t I’m truly envious!).
I knew without doubt when I was pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed if I could. But my natural concern was how would I cope in public? Would I cover up? How would I respond if someone said something? What was the deal with feeding when catching up with work friends; I mean can you get a boob out??
I needn’t have bothered myself with the worry!
Elliott fed within moments of arriving in the world and nuzzled on the boob was his favourite spot for the next 18 months. For the first time in my life I gave absolutely no shits about what other people thought. I have never cared less about anything in my life and that was an amazing life lesson.
For the first time in my life I gave absolutely no shits about what other people thought.
On morning one of the beautiful mums from my Mum Club arrived to our catch up really distressed because her daughter had decided she needed to be fed at the supermarket and some persnickity middle-aged woman had a go at her about feeding in public. We had a big chat about how we felt about feeding publicly. A few shared how self-conscious they felt about feeding which highlighted to me how unself-conscious I felt about it (and that is 100% not a judgement on their feelings! Everyone absolutely has their own personal levels of comfort which I fully respect!)
But given I’ve spent my life trying to blend into the background, it was strange for me to embrace an act that tends to be fairly polarising and does attract attention. So I reflected on how I could be so empowered about breastfeeding and so unempowered about so many other aspects of my life and here’s what I came up with:
My baby needed it: the mother bear instinct kicked in hard on this one. I knew breastfeeding Elliott was helping him grow and develop (the 500g that kid crammed on each week confirmed that!). I also understood the protective factors that supported his immune system that breastfeeding supplied.
I was responding to Elliott’s needs. Babies have terrible senses of timing. They always seem to need feeding at the worst possible moment. But there was no way I was going to ignore his needs for the ‘comfort’ of fully grown adults around him.
It was bloody practical. If I needed to shop, or eat, or converse with someone for more than 5 minutes, breastfeeding was the perfect way to keep Wee Man happy so I could engage in the world. Productive mama tick! Happy baby tick!
I just felt that what I was doing was right. That I had a clear purpose. It was instinctive.
My wonderful coach Nicki would often ask me in our sessions to identify how I know things are right. She was supporting me to trust my gut instead of over-analysing with my head. She talked about the sense of ‘deep knowing’ which I just couldn’t get a grasp on.
She talked about the sense of ‘deep knowing’ which I just couldn’t get a grasp on.
It wasn’t until I stopped and reflected while writing this blog that I realised I do know what deep knowing and what it feels like. The conviction of knowing something to be right or true deep down in your gut.
That’s the feeling I had about feeding Elliott, and that’s why I didn’t give a fig what anyone else thought or said. For the first time in my life I was 100% secure in a decision I made and actions I took because it felt right. I didn’t need anyone else’s approval because I had my own.
This is a pretty important discovery for me!
I can now tap into that feeling of knowing and self-assuredness and evaluate how other decisions or situations compare. I can ask myself what I need to move myself from a feeling of uncertainty to certainty.
So I considered the three main reasons I felt empowered about feeding publicly and tried to convert them into a professional context;
I am powerfully driven to support others to succeed. I am empowered when I can share knowledge, expertise or energy that helps someone else to thrive.
I have to focus on serving the needs of those who seek my help. My approach isn’t for everyone. Some observers may tut-tut or roll their eyes, but I am empowered when my actions are meeting or exceeding the needs of those who have sought me out.
I need to have method to my madness. I struggle when the purpose of my actions is unclear. I am empowered when I can see that what I do is effective and makes life easier or simpler for someone else.
So my personal challenge from here, especially in moments of doubt, is to look at what I’m doing through the three lenses above and try to tap into that deeply empowered ‘knowing’ to propel me forward.
Have you had moments of deep knowing? What does it feel like? Do you seek out that feeling when making decisions or dealing with tough stuff?
Self-reflection for leaders
Which activities or decisions do you feel deeply to be 'right'?
Which activities and decisions do you feel less certain of?
How does the certainty or uncertainty impact your approach and behaviour?
What difference would having greater ‘knowing’ or certainty have on those activities you’re less certain about? How would your approach change? Would your impact be different?
What can you do infuse more knowing or certainty into those activities?