Thursday, 13 February 2014

To be, or to achieve? That is the question

I've been thinking recently: what would it feel like if self-worth came from who we are, not necessarily what we achieve?
I was reflecting on this as I'm currently seven months pregnant and I spent the first half of my pregnancy suffering from nausea and sickness that really slowed me down.

This was tough as usually I like to achieve a lot, and during that time I wasn't able to achieve as much as I used to. The part of my identity that is associated with "give it to Jen, she'll get it done" was under scrutiny, mostly by me.

I've always linked my own self-worth to tangible achievements, from getting good exam results to ticking things off tasks on a to do list. But now I'm experimenting with a new way of thinking: even though great achievements can change lives, is who I am more important than what I achieve?

I've road tested this by thinking of people whom I admire: a lovely friend with whom I studied music recently sang several shows a week at English National Opera, whilst 7 months pregnant, looking after a 3 year old and getting some pupils through their music exams. I admire her achievements hugely, but they aren't why I love her. I love her for her kindness, her insights and the fact I laugh a lot when we're together, and that's about who she is, not what she's achieving.

I admire my partner for the fantastic work he does professionally and the fact he comes home and does the washing up, but that's not why I love him.

So now I'm trying to apply the same thinking to myself. It's not as important how many things I tick off my list, but who I'm being with my coaching clients -  the space I create for them to explore has more to do with who I am as a coach than how many articles I've had published.

It's like the quality over quantity argument. We can all rush around doing stuff, and yes if we invent a life changing device or successfully campaign for change that’s brilliant and we will be celebrated for that. But even the drive to do those things comes from who we are, and that is what we will be remembered for by those who know us well.
Aha - you're thinking - is this just an excuse for us to stop working, put our feet up and just 'be'? No, not necessarily, but it is an opportunity to stop beating ourselves up about all those things we think we should be achieving, and remembering that those others value us for the wonderful qualities we have which make us who we are, and not for our impressive CVs.
Starting to celebrate who we are may be a good habit to get into, because at some point in life, even the most high-achieving of us may not be able to achieve for a while. As a wise friend said to me 'we mustn't get addicted to achievement, because there may come a time when it won't be possible. What do we have to fall back on then? We only have who we are'. Olympic athletes get injured, best-selling authors get writers block, sometimes circumstances mean we aren't able to do what we want to, but we will always be ourselves, and valuing that will help us get through those challenging times.
Why not practice by writing an alternative to do list - what I'm going to call a 'to be' list: Here are some sentences to get your started:
I'd like to acknowledge myself for the following qualities:
These are the things it doesn't matter if I don't get done this week:
I am going to make space just to quietly be with myself by....
Loving myself this week looks like...
What are your reflections now you read those statements back to yourself?
What one action can you take this week to make them a reality?

Is there anyone else you'd like to bring in to support you?

Here's something to ask yourself when you wake up in the morning:
Who do I want to be today?

Which of my wonderful qualities will I be channelling?

Please do let me know how you go, and I'll keep you posted about my journey too!

With love


This blog is for Serenna, who gave birth in January to baby Rafael, and for Evan, who got a dishwasher for Christmas so now has more time for Pointless. And for Josh for being a great help, as ever. And the photo of Chinese New Year in Soho is for no particular reason only that it's rather seasonal and all about celebration!

If you'd like to find out more about how working with a coach could help you be the person you want to be, and achieve what you want to achieve, email me at and if I'm not the coach for you, I have a network of talented associates I can put you in touch with.

Jennifer McCanna, Professional Leadership Coach
Follow me on twitter @jenthecoach


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