Several months after we’d all been told by Boris to stay at home, I found myself grieving not just the loss of lives from Coronavirus but also the loss of someone who was no longer loved by me. Myself.
Whilst the rest of the world grappled with the reality of the pandemic, I was grappling with my id, my ego and my superego. And as selfish as it may sound, I no longer feel guilty about it, because my introspection was long overdue and shedding the guilt was an important part of my recovery. I was navigating a self- awakening that I hadn’t planned for. I had unexpectedly crashed and burned and was in the process of emerging from the wreckage.
I can’t put a finger on when I lost my sense-of-self. It didn’t just come to a grinding halt, rather it was more of a drawn out and steady decline over the years. And yet the realisation that it had gone missing happened very suddenly at a very precise and memorable moment in time.
After a 20-year career in corporate communications, becoming a mum to two longed for children and juggling work and motherhood for over a decade, I was all too familiar with self-sacrifice. But I was comfortable with it and convinced myself that their fulfilment meant mine. That as long as they were happy – I would be. So I continued to put everyone else before myself without realising that the ambitious fire inside me was slowly reducing to barely-burning embers.
It was in 2020, a decade the birth of my youngest child, and after returning from furlough, that an incident at work finally snuffed my light out completely. My life came crashing dramatically into question when a senior leader, from whom I’d been constantly seeking approval, someone who was very good at making me feel very insignificant, coldly and curtly uttered four simple words that proved to be the final straw.
I’d been working flat out as an Event Manager at a school, a job that allowed me to flex around school runs and holidays. On paper it was any mother’s dream job, but the role was isolated, laden with expectation and with no support. Being a member of ‘support staff’ it seemed, meant not being entitled to anything. And it was the first role I’d ever held where I felt a total disinterest in me and what I was doing from the people I worked with. It was killing me softly and slowly.
So when I was sitting attentively in a staff conference regarding the ethos of the school, I knew I probably shouldn’t get too comfortable. Standing with his arms folded at the side of the room, he curled his index finger at me, and in front of all the other staff called my name out between speakers. “Claire?” He said tilting his head as if he were trying to figure me out. His voice was low and spine-tinglingly cold. “Why are you here?”
Poof. The last ember burnt right out. My beautiful, bright burning fire within which had once energised and inspired me, was reduced to charred remains. I don’t believe he intended to question my entire being, but his words resonated so much deeper than he could have known.
The job was depleting me. I was not thought of as part of the wider team. And that mattered to me. Why was I there at all? Why was I allowing him to belittle me in this way? My inner-self was floored; brutally wounded, and my upright, rational self could no longer ignore her pain. I didn’t have the answer in that soul-destroying moment and I didn’t stand in my power because I had none. I had freely given it all away.
I justified my presence as calmly and rationally as I could, but in my head I often go back to that moment, pause and replay how I wish I’d dealt with it. Told him what I really thought of his apparent mission to force my self-esteem to the floor, in order to bask in the glory of his own importance.
Instead, I retreated to my office where the uncontrollable torrent of tears began and two years of smiley perseverance unravelled spectacularly before my two valued, supportive co-workers. I told my truth in my letter of resignation and I walked away. Then I navigated my self-awakening through a journey of self-discovery to rediscover the woman I was from within.
It took a while for my inner self to stand up from that place on the floor. But now I am able to see that it was also the making of me. I’d been so caught up in making things work around my family that I’d ignored everything that was important to me in a job. In fact I’d ignored everything that was important to me for a very long time. I was living for everyone else but myself. Seeking approval from everyone else but myself.
This profound realisation led me to question my worth, my values, my truths, my boundaries, my fears, my vision, my potential. And when I had done all that, my fire reignited and I was finally able to stand straight and tall, face my future and allow myself to embrace my next chapter.
I knew it was time to start being better at honouring myself. To stop scouring a barren part-time job market for jobs in a field that now totally disinterested and disempowered me. It was time to retrain in something that would make use of my natural qualities and the skills I’d acquired.
I’d already tuned back to my love of writing and started my own blog. I was documenting everything I was feeling at this time in my life, researching, reading, immersing myself in self- development, learning to reconnect, and slowly rediscovering myself.
When I started, spending any time with myself felt uncomfortable – I ended up mulling everything over in my mind, catastrophising and getting upset with myself. But with a lot of patience, perspective and gentle contemplation with my inner self, I stopped looking to please, and go along with what suited everyone else.
For the first time in years, I made a decision without seeking opinion or influence from anyone else. I decided to train to be a Life Coach and start my own business, one that would allow me to work flexibly around my family and fulfil my ambition of serving other women going through what I had. I said YES to myself. And I began to feel empowered, inspired and purposeful again.
Lost & Found
We are all vulnerable to this loss of identity, whether we have children or not. Regardless of our social roles and lived experiences there’s something about midlife that brings a realisation of the absence of self and a longing for reconnection.
One of the greatest challenges we face is realising the limitations of the beliefs we’ve inherited from the patriarchy that our worth is dependent on our productivity and service to others, and that tending to our own needs is selfish. Only once we have can we learn how to give back to ourselves, comfortable in the knowledge that we are deserving of our own attention. I realised on my own journey that it can take a lifetime to lose yourself. But it can take just one moment of clarity to set you on your path to finding her again.
By Claire Pestana
I have used my own experience to create a signature pathway to reclaiming authenticity and discovering the woman within. It’s a five-phase journey of Seeing, Being, Freeing, Believing and Becoming and it forms the framework of my one-to-one coaching sessions. If you’re keen to reconnect with your inner self and explore who you are and what you really want from life, you can download my free workbook ‘Your One True Self: Discovering the Woman Within’ on my website, sign up to my monthly love letter Wild Whispers, and schedule a discovery call to learn about how one-to-one coaching could benefit you.