It’s hard to ask for business when you start a new company. I’ve spent a whole life believing I am the person who keeps to the rules and responds politely; in addition I’m always the one being practical and realistic; in addition I can think things through fifteen times for fear of making a mistake, and avoid being the risk-taker: so starting a new business is pretty daunting. It’s not the planning, the creative ideas, the vision, the product, the underpinning psychology – they come easy. It’s the nagging worry that I might have missed something and got it all wrong.
That’s why I am learning to do shadow work.
Carl Jung calls the shadow the part of ourselves which we have tried to hide or deny. Our family, our friends, our colleagues have shaped our acceptance of certain aspects of who we are. As a result, part of us – our shadow side – is created. Stuffed inside our consciousness, our shadow is hidden so that we, and sometimes others, can’t see swathes of who we really are.
Running a small business, I need to be able to sell our products and services. And when it comes to selling, I remember exactly how my shadow was reinforced. Early in my career a seemingly innocent conversation with a boss, someone I respected and whose opinion I trusted, closed that door on selling. As a fledgling HR professional thinking about different career choices, the door into HR consulting clanged shut with a resounding bang! “You’d be terrible doing client management and selling,” I was firmly told. “Selling takes ballsy sociable people, and that’s not you.”
The impact was significant. I became smaller, closing down who I believed I was and what I was capable of. Stick to thinking. Leave talking to people, being curious about their needs, and boldly asking them to buy your products and services to others. It’s not who you are.
Of course, over the years, I found plenty of experiences to darken this shadow, to reinforce the need to keep it locked in a room and throw away the key. I took backroom roles in a corporate Centre of Excellence, in academic research and even in leading product development in a management consultancy. Being respected for my supporting roles stops me from taking the risk of selling to clients and from recognising that the qualities needed for sales were mine to own too.
The Becoming Journey
On the Becoming Journey, we teach women to delve into their shadow, and bring some of their hidden qualities to life. We learn together that when we suppress a feeling or impulse, we suppress its polar opposite. For example when we deny fear we minimise courage too. As Debbie Ford, in her book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, eloquently said, “What you don’t own, owns you.” At Becoming, women explore how to make the darkness conscious and become a fuller, richer and more capable person.
My shadow was firmly hidden until a recent conversation with Tea Colaianni. Tea inspired me to shine a light onto this locked-away part of myself. She runs Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (WiHTL). Their exciting mission is to make a positive difference to 5 million women and people from ethnic minorities across the hospitality, travel and leisure industry globally by 2025. Her story is clear – this is achievable because she is expert at building relationships and asking for things. Selling is well and truly in the light for Tea.
In the same vein, at Becoming, we also have ambition. Our aim is to help more women to lead unapologetic lives, to create ripples in this world and to broadcast with conviction our position that women are often stuck not broken. That will only happen if I embrace my shadow.
Reaching more women to equip them to lead as themselves means I must step out of the side-lines and embrace a wider definition of who I am. I must ask for business and build relationships with clients. And funnily enough, now I’ve embraced the bolder, courageous and more curious version of me,. I love this aspect of who I am and the people I meet.