I’ve just received an award which I’m thrilled to bits about. The award was is Female Entrepreneur of the Year and its great recognition and validation that I made the right decision 3 years ago to exit my executive career so I could have greater impact for women and girls, globally. It’s also another nail in the coffin on my former status as the great pretender!
The Great Pretender
I lead and have always led a full busy life. I had a successful corporate executive career too. However, a little while back, I reached a point in my life and career, where I discovered that what had got me to where I was, wasn’t going to get me to where I wanted to go. This was a bit of an issue. Because I had ZERO ideas about where I actually wanted to get to (anymore).
All I knew at that point was that it wasn’t where I was or where I thought it was going to be. I had thought that I was going to be the CEO of a large company, then move into a portfolio career of non-executive directorships. But I reached a cross-roads in my career and life when I realised that this pathway no longer appealed to me, at all.
To put this in context, I had been determinedly on the executive leadership track since my early twenties. I was then in my forties. During that twenty years, I’d almost completely overlooked the need to be connected with myself and stay in touch with what really mattered to me.
I realised (in retrospect) that I was at this point, because for a large part of my adult life, I had bent myself out of shape trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be.
Oh yes, I was the great pretender!
Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken
I think that the expression authentic leadership is completely overused. I prefer the Oscar Wilde quote “Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken”. However, this is easier said than done! Especially for someone as practiced at pretending as I was.
I came to the realisation that I no longer wanted what I used to want. I also no longer cared to align myself with people, organisations and other external forces that pressured me to do things that I was not comfortable with or to be someone I was not.
I wanted to be authentically me and pursue a life and career that was aligned with my values and purpose. I wanted to be myself.
Trouble was, who the bloody hell was I?
Following My Bliss
Now this is no fairy story where the hero suddenly discovers life’s long-held secret and changes things for herself overnight and lives happily ever after.
My truthful, authentic story is one about 10++ years of deliberate and purposeful investment in myself, which was (and still is) often painful, annoying, time-consuming and exhilarating. The investment I made was in getting to know myself better, learning to ask for help (an ongoing challenge!) removing toxic influences from my life, surrounding myself with the right people, embracing my love of learning and above all, getting real about what makes me happy and bloody well getting on with it.
Fast forward a few years and I am at RMIT studying for my Exec MBA. An unintended and early consequence of my study was the significantly increased desire for a major life change. I yearned badly to make a difference on a global level.
During my time at uni I became less afraid and more courageous because I was discovering my strengths, my innate traits and characteristics. The more I discovered about myself, the less I cared about bending myself out of shape to meet what I perceived to be societal, corporate and of course my own, unrealistic expectations of myself.
I also learned what following my bliss was going to look like.
I figured out that following my bliss was living my purpose. I knew my purpose was to contribute to creating a gender equal world. I knew I was meant to be someone who could work to ensure that the lives of women and girls, from all walks of life, were considered as valuable as men and boys. So, I set about making it happen.
Quitting My Day Job
I didn’t quite throw in my day job at that point. I spent a year planning and growing my business as a side-hustle whilst getting myself more and more involved in activities at my corporate job that had more meaning to me.
When I left the corporate world, I made what some people thought of as a risky move. The truth was that I had been planning for over a year and had put all of the mechanisms in place to enable me and my business to be successful. I was also utterly convinced about my ability to have impact, and influence outcomes for women and girls in sport and in business.
Fast forward to 2019, and here I am with a successful business, a thriving social enterprise for women a joint venture to address the cultural diversity deficit in leadership in Australia and I’m a recipient of this latest and other terrific awards for the impact I am having for women and girls.
Don’t get me wrong, being a small business owner is all-consuming. It can be tough, worrying and a hard slog, as is the work that I have chosen (or did it choose me?) But above all, I am following my bliss, having impact and best of all, I am no longer the great pretender.