I’ve been walking past this letter display on the South Bank for weeks, and it was only when I looked at it from a different angle that it made sense.
Following on from the last post, the first main part of the Catalyst programme was a 2 day leadership course run by consultants from a very cool place in Covent garden – think lots of open spaces, free food, beverages and sweeties at every corner!
Problem 1: I arrived in work gear… everyone else (literally every other person) arrived in jeans. Oops, didn’t read the brief properly (an indication of my dedication perhaps?)
Problem 2: Despite the fact that I stuck out like a sore thumb in my work clothes, I was the last person to be chosen to do the introducy-answer-random-questions thing. You know – when you have to stand up, say who you are, what you do etc – each candidate then had to choose who they wanted to speak next. No one chose me. At the end when the dude leading the course (Bruce) asked if anyone still had to speak… I had to raise my hand. I felt like the kid who got chosen last for a team in P.E. So I said that – people laughed good-naturedly, and I wish I could say I felt better but childishly – I still felt a little upset. Inner thoughts going on during the whole introducy thingy were as follows: “Someone please choose me so I can get this public speaking thing over and done with.” “Oh god no one is choosing me!” “This would never happen to Britt! Why don’t people like me?? What’s WRONG with me?” “Oh god everyone else has spoken. I’m going to have to fess up and then I’m going to go the colour of a tomato and I might stutter because I’m in such a state now! I HATE this stupid course!” Bottom line: I spoke and even though I was upset it was fine… I doubt anyone noticed and absolutely no one else besides me would have given it a second thought.
Problem 3: Straight after the introducy thing we had a coffee break and I checked my blackberry to discover an email from Britt to say that they had accepted an offer on their house and could be moving back to S.A. as early as September. I tried to call Britt and congratulate her on the fantastic news but instead I ended up crying. And I made her cry too. Like a big selfish baby. I felt awful for being such an unsupportive sister, so I went into the loo to cry some more. I texted Niamh (best friend in Hong Kong) from the throne to relay my trauma – smart move. The girl is always on hand to talk sense into me. A couple of Niamh pep-texts later I was dry eyed just in time for the next session. Thank god for good friends. I may not have an army of them, but it’s quality over quantity right?
Problem 4: Before starting the next session we had to write our names on envelopes which were then stuck on the wall – our “cookie jars.” Vomit. The premise was that when we noticed something nice about another person in the group we had to write it on a post-it and stick it in their cookie jar. (Sounds kinda rude). I looked forlornly at the cookie jar wall. The inner voice was in over-drive: “No one is going to put anything in your cookie jar! It’s a pathetic concept anyway, get over it.” That bloody cookie jar wall caused me much angst.
Eureka moment 1: No one besides me cared about problem 1 or problem 2.
Eureka moment 2: I’m lucky to have problem 3.
Eureka moment 3: I was paired up with Nasty Lady from the previous post (the one who I found loud, crude and attention seeking) for an exercise on coaching. I found out that NL used to have such a fear of having a heart attack that she would often induce the symptoms and collapse in random places. She had to undergo all sorts of therapy to deal with it. Unsurprisingly, I also noticed more than a hint of insecurity underneath that brash exterior. It made me wonder about how quick I was to judge her. I didn’t like what I saw so I branded her a bitch. Sometimes we need to Ask Why more often. Why is that person the way they are? Put yourself in another man’s shoes and all that. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll never be friends with her, but she made me ponder the deeper issues in the world, and how so many wars and conflicts and racial / cultural intolerances stem from ignorance. Just because someone isn’t the way you’d like them to be doesn’t mean that you have them sussed.
Eureka moment 4: We spoke a lot about our inner voices. Sounds like a support session for the mentally disturbed, right? “We see dead people.” But actually it was an example of how something so simple can be massively helpful. To sum it up: Most of us in the group had a negative inner voice that was stronger than the positive inner voice. Think “No one is choosing me for introducy thing therefore no one likes me! I SUCK!” Just being more aware of that eager stream of negativity helped me. I’m trying to start talking back to it now: “Duuuude, I think I’m pretty cool in a lot of ways, and if they happen not to like me, does it really matter?” Try it before you roll your eyes.
Eureka moment 5: We were paired up with different people on an exercise about first impressions. Apparently I initially come across as quite stern and serious. (Moi??) But before too long I’m smiley and friendly and quietly confident. Say whaaaat? Oh – and this one killed me “You’re very articulate and when you speak you’re so poised and you say exactly the right thing without wafflling.” So I’m not a gibbering nervous wreck then? Wow. Best news ever (seriously).
Eureka moment 6: During all the various pair-up exercises I realised that every single person there had strengths and weaknesses and some fairly impressive insecurities. The more I understood about each person, the more tolerant I was of them, and the less quick to judge.
Final eureka: The 2 days ended with everyone being handed their cookie jar envelope and being told to go find a quiet space, read the notes, and reflect on the 2 days. I took my rather light envelope and headed off – silently cursing overflowing envelopes I had seen earlier. I sighed and took a peek… 7 cookies!! I’m pretty sure my smile wattage would have fueled the building for a day or two. The positive comments were so unexpected, and even though I really do believe that we shouldn’t be trying to gain praise or make sure that everyone likes us, it was a relief to know that I hadn’t come across nearly as badly as I thought I did. I’m grateful for every single one of those encouraging bloody cookies (still working through the angst), but I think the one I’ll cherish and try to live up to the most was the one that commented how honest I was and how great that was for building relationships with people. The relationship building thing is a struggle for me, so as silly as it may sound I loved that little sentence.
Yup – so I’m not sure I’ll be the next president or anything, but it was very cool (and a little uncomfortable) to make the effort to see things from a different angle.