As it turns out, the girl who was almost a teenager when a computer first appeared in the house and who is not a natural techy, can be quite successful in a career based on something she has no real interest in and with companies doing things she doesn’t relate to.
That’s because it’s all about the people – finding the right ones to speak to, cultivating relationships, building trust – which is something that does come naturally to me. I enjoy meeting new people, finding out about them, working out how to get past the initial social hesitancy and corporate veneer to the unique person underneath. It’s something I do in any setting, not just work, and comes, in part I suspect, from a need to be accepted, be part of a tribe, to be safe – if you like me you may be less inclined to criticise, ostracise, excise me from the pack.
Being a corporate professional also met some needs I thought were important: to be seen as successful, adding value, making good money, independent. Emphasis on “to be seen”; it was all about how I was perceived by others – looking externally for validation I was good enough, trying to prove something that didn’t need to be proved, still looking for approval from the people I loved and respected.
And I could do it for a while, quite a long time in fact. I even did it with a smile on my face because I enjoyed many aspects of it but there came a point where I was asked to create a brand for myself so I could “market myself as a resource” within the consultancy company I worked for. A red flag was raised although I didn’t recognise the reason at the time: I just felt an instinctive shrinking from creating what I perceived to be an artificial persona for the sake of progressing in the business.
I left the company and went free-lance; great idea, I thought, this will give me the freedom to choose where I work and for how long and my worth will be decided on the quality of the work I do, not on how well I portray myself and live my brand. And, in many respects, it was a great idea – I’ve worked for all the companies that were on my aspirational list, I’ve moved roles and companies when it’s suited me and, ironically, I’ve created such a reputation (brand) for doing good work and delivering results that I’ve been offered permanent roles at all these companies. Which was very gratifying and made my ego happy…. but it wasn’t satisfying my soul.
Leaping back in time just for a moment, food, specifically sweet treats, was a very important part of my childhood and adolescence. Good times were celebrated with wonderful home cooked meals, bad times tempered with tea and cake. And somewhere along the way I learnt to equate feeling warm, happy and safe with eating; particularly high calorie processed carbohydrates in whatever sugary form I could lay my hands on. It was my go-to self-soothing mechanism but it took a long time to recognise the pattern: feel something uncomfortable (sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, bored, frustrated etc), eat cake / biscuits / sweets to distract from feeling – stuffing in more and more and more until the physical discomfort outweighed the emotional upheaval. Persisting even though the ‘fix’ was so fleeting, such a mirage, and the come-down afterwards was brutal – such self-recrimination, shame and guilt. All instead of sitting with an unwanted feeling for the 90 seconds or so it takes for emotion to physically run its course in our bodies (after 90 seconds it’s a choice – perhaps unconscious – to perpetuate the feeling)*.
This pattern was always present throughout my twenties and thirties but it ramped up significantly in my forties as I pushed on with my corporate career, hitting milestone after milestone I’d set myself. The crisis point came in a series of binges lasting over a month: the classic buying of bags of sweets from the vending machines at work (targeting different floors so as not to be noticed), stopping at the petrol station on the way home for more, then at the supermarket to scoff a packet of biscuits in the carpark – shoving them in one after another – disposing of the packaging in the bin by the car before going home to a full dinner with my husband. The waistband on my trousers would get tight and I’d stop for a while, then resume with even greater ferocity. Hating myself all the while.
And that’s where I was wrong. I shouldn’t have hated myself, because when I did realise what was going on, it was so blindingly, lovingly simple – I was bored, I wasn’t doing what I was put on this earth to do and this behaviour was a not-so-subtle nudge from my soul / sub-conscious / the Universe to wake up and stop tolerating. Yes, I was tolerating – and I do acknowledge that I was very fortunate: I was in a comfortable financial position doing a job I enjoyed (for the most part) with a very happy home life and it was all so nearly right, except for the large part that wasn’t. I was living to work and (deep breath) the work I was doing didn’t fulfil me. The eating was numbing the feeling of ‘this is not enough’. And when I faced that truth, the urge to sink into a carb-fuelled semi-coma started to reduce.
But not altogether. There was still a lot of work to do in finding out what would fulfil me: what would bring me Home.
*Jill Bolte Taylor ‘My Stroke of Insight’