When Feeling Awkward Gets In The Way Of Change

Have you ever wanted to try something new but because it felt awkward you backed away from the change and went back to what felt more comfortable, even though part of you really wanted to persist with the change?

I have been struggling with such a difficulty.

I recently become aware of something small that could lessen the influence I potentially have in the world. It looks like this:

Dotty Rachel

When you look at that photo do you think – ‘There sits a credible executive coach and corporate facilitator?’ I didn’t think so!

Although I don’t actually turn up to meetings with clients looking this dishevelled and dotty (really I don’t!). I do have wild hair and a tendency to present myself a bit like a kindly lady doctor (as this is what I was for many years!).

However, I recently read this paper and also this one and realised that appearances do impact on whether others take us seriously. Then a dear friend, who is also a client, told me, ‘Rachel, one of the things I love about working with you is that you turn up to run a session and people don’t expect you to be so competent because you aren’t dressed in a sharp suit and you appear so unassuming and then you do amazing work and they are surprised‘.

And I became concerned. I want my work to have a significant impact on others. I want to play a part in helping people to have more vitality and meaning in their work. I don’t want something as simple as my appearance to mean I am starting at a disadvantage with new clients.

So I decided that I wanted to present myself in a way that is authentic but perhaps a little more skilful. Goffee and Jones call this: Be Yourself – More – with Skill.

What does that look like for me? Probably not a sharp suit but perhaps a little tidier?

So I ask my lovely daughter, Ellie, to teach me how to put my hair in a bun. I have found this new skill very hard to learn. I feel clumsy and awkward. My mind kicks into action telling me, ‘Why are you wasting time learning something so silly when you could be learning something useful and important like Relational Frame Theory‘. The bun falls out halfway through the day and my mind says, ‘Told you this was ridiculous’.  I start to wear a little more make up and my mind tells me ‘It is so superficial to focus on your appearance’ and ‘Everyone is judging you‘. I feel like a fraud. But part of me is excited about the possibility of who I could become.

In the presence of these conflicting thoughts and feelings I remind myself that the best values and actions are freely chosen. It is okay for something as small as learning how to put my hair in a bun to matter to me. I ask Ellie to help me again..and again. I write down her instructions and follow them carefully.Notes on how to make a french roll I am still rubbish at buns but I persist. One day I will be a lady who weaves beautiful buns, knots and french rolls. Hopefully, as a result, I will look a little less dotty and a little more competent and I will ‘be myself – more – with skill’.

If you were to ‘be yourself – more – with skill’ what would be different about how the world experiences you? Is there a change that you want to make but it feels awkward?Would the change be a move towards your values? If so, are you willing to persist with the change and have the feelings of awkwardness?

I hope so! Because:

‘It is never too late to be who you might have been’

George Elliot

I am going to be the lady who both knows Relational Frame Theory and wears a beautiful bun.

How about you? Who will you be?

14 thoughts on “When Feeling Awkward Gets In The Way Of Change

  1. Thanks Rachel.I will ponder it in the garden. Doesn’t Ellie write good instructions? When you get the bun thing happening, can you post it so we can decide if you are still yourself?

  2. Priceless, rachel (especially your hair falling out in the midst of it all – frankly, I wish I had been there 🙂

    Just an anecdote:

    The very first time I co-led a training organized by a large (nutrition-based) company, where at least 50 “real physicians” (I’m “only a psychologist”…), I took out my very official looking suit and cravate, giving me the look I was supposed to have in that scene.

    And then… it turned out that I was the only one with a cravate, and that there were only three participants not in a sweater…

    Thank goodness.I could poke some fun at myself. And it actually did help to gain sympathy, for this too well meaning and too impressed psychologist.

    Worse still: during the (indeed rather long) presentation of my senior colleague…
    I fell asleep in front of the audience!

    When I woke up, I saw 50 smiling faces.

    Since then I decided that me trying to look sharp was a hopeless ambition.

    So I go for: “not being too blunt”.

  3. This is very interesting to me as I am a professional but not a psychologist, although, it was my major in college, I left this profession to my sister who just retired, not too long ago.
    My first Psychology professor was Goldie Kornberg who was in her early sixties, taught most of her life in China, dressed in long skirts and wore shawls with her long grey and black hair in a braid down her back. And to me was the one person with the most common sense I had ever met. This thought, coming from an 18 year old, going to school in Boston and living in a city for the first time (in the 70’s, I might add) was pretty unusual.
    One day we talked about “being different, being yourself and apart from others”. I told her I was an independent person, much different from my sister and brother and that by the very fact that I left a small town to be here in Boston against my Mother’s “better judgment”, proved that I was different, myself and set apart from others. I was not the same as everyone else!
    She smiled and asked me, “What are you wearing today?”. I replied, “Jeans and a T-shirt”.
    “Look around”, she said. “You’re not that different”.
    “How we look in life is not the point. How we appear to others through our actions, speech, knowledge and how we treat others through these actions is what sets ourselves apart from others”.

    Through my life, I have met some pretty crazy looking, unkempt, “Einstein’s” and I have been proud to call them my friends, colleagues and teachers.

    I would not be worried about how I look but more about what I communicate to others.

    I joined ACT because I was looking for a communications class. I thought I lost a skill. I think I have found a better source. I read what everyone writes and have truly benefitted from “listening” to the conversations.
    Thank you……….Kim

    1. Kim,
      I love this quote –
      “How we look in life is not the point. How we appear to others through our actions, speech, knowledge and how we treat others through these actions is what sets ourselves apart from others”.
      She sounds like an amazing woman -it is wonderful that you still remember what she said to you.
      I am pleased you have joined the conversation here.

  4. This is your greatest strength and makes you so amazing. You are like a hidden treasure to be discovered. Please don’t ever show up ‘sharp’. There are plenty of those and they are rubbish! I actually think you do look like a credible coach. To discuss…

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