I didn’t want to go.
I wasn’t feeling myself and the last thing I felt like doing was attending the NYT Creative Leadership Training weekend, which was essentially a giant audition for the role of Course Assistant on the NYT Summer courses/classes. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted the role. I barely wanted the role.
However, something in me felt the urge to apply for this training months ago, and a little voice at 6am on Saturday morning said “Come on, get that booty out of bed, we’ve got work to do..”. So I trusted the little voice and found myself on a train to London Waterloo at 7:26am. (I journalled like a mad woman for the entire hour, it was brilliant).
Run by Delma Walsh a psychotherapist and Kane Husbands a movement director, it was very much a weekend of intense learning and personal development. 10-6pm both days, with games, movement exercises, group discussions, what felt at times like group therapy and a truck load of self-reflection. (*More on what I learnt over the course of the weekend in Part II of this post..)
One task on Day 1 involved writing a letter to ourselves (not to be read by anyone but us), just checking in, seeing how we were feeling that day, noting things we were proud of, achievements, personal triumphs, and thing we wanted to work on, both externally and internally. I struggled with this, because I was not really in a place – mentally, or literally in that room- to begin writing about how I was actually feeling that day, that moment. So I half-assed the task, and – with very little feeling- made a list of things I’d done that I was proud of, and things I wanted to work on in myself and externally. I had no plans to cry in front of these people, and writing about how I was actually feeling would unleash…well, just that…feelings. So I kept it as un-emotional as I could, sealed my envelope and thought well that was easy.
Like with most of the exercises, we then sat in a circle and discussed how it went for us. And, as it turns out, one person did cry. I can’t recall exactly what she said but she’d clearly stuck to the task and put her soul into it because, well, I felt her. “Oh I don’t know why I’m crying!” she said and I just filled up with admiration, because I knew exactly why she was crying. She stayed true to the task, and really wrote a letter to herself. When you really consider how you are feeling in a single moment, when you acknowledge what you’ve achieved up until today, what you’ve been through, how far you’ve come and all the things you still have to work on…That’s some deep shit right there. That’s, for some, something that’s going to raise some feelings. Did I mention we only had 10 minutes to write this letter? I was so happy for this young woman. Her tears meant this room really was a safe place – for lack of a less cringe-worthy-term – to be vulnerable, to share our real, unfiltered thoughts and feelings and to simply be ourselves.
I knew after that point, if I was going to get the most out of this weekend, I would have to put my heart, soul and therefore feelings, into each and every task. I have never excelled in group-discussions. So there were a dozen times when I could have contributed to the conversation – probably should have contributed – but didn’t. I knew it was lessening my chances of being offered the job each time I failed to raise my hand and share my thoughts, but part of me just didn’t care, part of me just thought “You are here, that is enough, listen to what the others have to say, take it all in and just be here..don’t beat yourself up for not putting your hand up, just do what you’re comfortable with”. I was not in the expand-your-comfort-zone, really-push-yourself state of mind. For me, simply being there was pushing myself, the 6am starts and 2.5 hour door-to-door journey in meant that by about 4pm, I was struggling to stay awake, let alone showcase my best self/the performer within/my inner leader.
Day 2 involved upping the self-reflection. We were presented with a board full of “the roles we play in our lives” and asked to list the roles we most identify with at present, and the ones we’d like to work on identifying more with. We then shared our thoughts.
Now, up until this point, I’d been able to hold back my tears. If anything had set me off, be it a tricky question from the psychotherapist, or a good friend’s tears from across the circle (a few of us cried that weekend…) I had been able to deep-breath the lump in my throat away. Not this time. I read through the list, wrote down the terms I identified with the most, and as I listened to each person’s words; let the rivers flow in silence. I mean I was sat, on a chair, bang in the middle of a cluster of chairs, I considered leaving the room to go cry solo in the toilet but it would have been physically tricky and I really didn’t want to interrupt or miss all the sharing, particularly the empowering responses from the psychotherapist. Nope, I was stuck there. Me, everyone else, and all my feelings.
Mother. Daughter. Lost soul. Little child. Worrier. Confidant. Chatterbox. Writer. Poser. Go-Between. Odd-one-out. Robot. Snivelling Brat….
I mean, suffice to say my list was not making me feel all that great, but they were the roles I most truthfully connected to, in that moment. Did I really feel like a robot? Since when? And why odd-one-out? Oh snivelling brat but only when I’m really really tired…
Then the sharing began. One by one, we shared a little piece of our story. It was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. There was nothing but strength, and authenticity and vulnerability and it was amazing to witness. Tales of loneliness, anxiety, challenging familial circumstances, illness, of being labelled one-thing and feeling another. We were encouraged to identify which roles we needed more of; roles like Superstar, Goddess, rebel-without-a-cause, dragon, and one of my personal favourites Freak. “We all need to embrace our inner-freak more” the therapist said.
If there was going to be a moment to share my thoughts, it would be now. For some reason I had a strong urge to speak up. This was an emotive subject for me, but I knew exactly what I wanted to say. Others had shared their personal challenges, why shouldn’t I?
I know I said some words, and I believe they made some sense, but what exactly I cannot recall. I think I spoke about struggling with the list, because I struggle with the concept of roles within my life. I said at the moment I would identify most with the term Lost-Soul, as I am still figuring out what I want to do with my life, – or even with the next year- and do feel rather lost. I talked about how I had my daughter at the age of twenty and didn’t really know who I was before becoming a mother and – despite all my efforts – still don’t really. The term identity has been ringing around in my head a lot recently, as I’ve struggled with that sense of WHO AM I OUTSIDE OF BEING A MOTHER?!
Delma said this makes perfect sense, as when all my peers were out exploring the world and figuring out what they might want to do, I was busy raising a child.
“But my daughter starts school in September so I’ll have a lot more time…” I said.
“So this is really quite an exciting time for you then…” she responded.
*In my head: “FUCK YEH IT IS…”
I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to explore as much as I have over the last few years, alongside raising Maia. But that task opened my eyes to the fact that none of these other twenty-somethings have had a child to raise, they haven’t had the responsibility of being a parent.
Sometimes, when I am being hard on myself, and riddled with a case of Comparisonitis, I forget that my peers have a little more freedom than I. They are free to live and work wherever they choose, book holidays when it suits them, get intoxicated on a Saturday night and take Sunday to be hungover. I forget all of this. I forget the emotional weight of being a parent is huge, and that every decision I’ve made in the last 5 years has had to take into account my daughter.
I don’t just make life-choices for me, I make them for the two of us. Whatever I choose to do has to work for us both. Maia and I are a family, and I am the one steering the ship. I am the boss. If we were a small company, I’D BE C.E.O. The point is, that’s a lot of weight on a young woman’s shoulders, and sometimes, it all gets too much and I’d quite like someone else to steer the ship (like my Mother or Father for example), but of course, the second they take over, I realise…I like being in charge. *I realised all of this on the train journey home that evening, and -much like a small epiphany- large chunks of my inner-turmoil began to make sense, and I felt, for the first time in months, that my thoughts and feelings were valid. It’s amazing how, when someone – a therapist in particular – pretty much lays out to you on a plate the reasons WHY you might feel a bit shit about yourself, you see things differently and..well…feel a lot less shit. You’re given a new level of understanding, a completely different perspective, a bird’s eye view, if you will.
I left that exercise feeling lighter and genuinely excited for what was to come. It may be scary steering the ship, but it’s a pretty phenomenal vessel to be in charge of; the mother-daughter team is one of true strength and, again -for lack of a better term- girl-power.
We remind each other we are Queens and Princesses on a daily basis. She’s recently begun calling me a Superstar, I have yet to object.
*PART II: “What I learnt from the NYT Creative Leadership Weekend” coming ASAP.
P.S: If you made it this far into the post, that’s 1795 words, so BRAVO and thank you for reading… Now maybe go read a book.