"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."
- Maya Angelou
In the beginning.
I have been at odds with my surroundings for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, while my siblings adored Versace, I adored second-hand florals. While my gender meant I should feel lucky to have a man, inside I questioned, surely he should feel lucky to have me too? If you've seen the film Happy Feet, I was the dodgy penguin who danced with his feet while all the others sang. The world seemed like an odd place to me where everyone, despite their uniqueness, seemed happy to do and be the same as everyone else. When everyone asks why I am so confident about being true to my authentic self, I explain it is down to one single factor. Despite six siblings, growing up in a busy household and being quite outgoing, I have always carved out my own space away from the noise. A space where I could define myself and not be defined by others. My own retreat or SoulSpace as I like to call it, was at the top of our home as a child. I spent endless hours designing it and filling it with a mix of items that supported me and gave me peace. It was an environment where I could recharge, create, and find the strength to fight another day. It would be true to say that I have just never felt my ability was down to my gender or race. My cocoon protected me from all of that.
However, due to my environment at school, I felt as though I was not a whole person for not having a dad. You see, my Dad had gone AWOL before I was even born and so I learned the art of public speaking and went into broadcasting while juggling a career in the city, in the vain hope that he would see my name one day and squirm with regret. It'd be true to say that beneath my smiles, my childhood and adulthood were spent hallucinating about how perfect my life would be if only I had a dad. Yes indeed, I gave permission for this ONE human being to define my worth. Combined with the medley of Peter and Jane books I was intravenously drip-fed at school (the Instagram of the day depicting the seemingly oh so perfect lives) there was always this one gaping hole in my life that nothing I bought or achieved seemed to fill: house, car or shoes.
Driven to the brink of insanity in my quest to make my father pay, on one miserable rainy day in a pub in Balham I stopped; pressed the pause button on my life and suddenly said to myself that's it! Enough was enough. I was perfect just the way I jolly well was.
The opposing external messages and stereotypes about my social status were so powerful, nonetheless, that I found there was only one way to cut through the negative messages in my mind - to get badass!
Holding the pen like a knife, I scrawled my father's name slowly on a napkin, went outside and burnt it. With each flicker of flame, I forgave him and forgave myself for choosing to give him this power. I cried non-stop too from the release of what felt like taking a heavy rucksack laden with bricks off my back. Under the intense heat the post-it-note, the incomplete label I had allowed society to place on my head for not having a father, lost its glue and fell from my forehead too.
"I scrawled my father's name slowly on a napkin, went outside and burnt it."
Here's the truly great bit, however. Driven to prove my father wrong, I not only developed the skills to become a great speaker but was blind to the stereotypes which said that because I was a woman, a woman of colour and a single mother, I was less able to achieve the things those with 'perfect' lives could achieve. Indeed, the most 'success' I had ever had which was my interiors and lifestyle business in the prestigious Islington, was when I was indeed just that - a single mother. With my son in private school too, properties and skiing holidays as a result of being my authentic self, it also demonstrated that one's ability had zero to do with your race, gender or social status, but one of resilience, mindset, and self-belief.
I became an activist against stereotypes, fixed mindset cultures and the unconscious biases that impact our lives and livelihoods. It became my life's mission to create a culture in schools and workplaces where we could flourish and thrive as our authentic selves. I now use my interiors training, NLP and Growth Mindset training alongside my communication skills gained in broadcasting to empower others. That is to empower them to pause and release the negative thought patterns running a gauntlet through their minds. This is alongside tools to build resilience and become your best self.
It is time to press the pause button and forgive the parents, siblings, teachers, loved ones, institutions, bosses and bullies who have made you feel that you are not enough just the way you are.
Most importantly, it is time to forgive yourself for believing them.