As a child, I’m sure much like you, I was encouraged to learn from my elders. Anyone more experienced and ergo wiser than me was to be listened to. At school, in my communities and at home I was trained to look up to figures of authority for guidance, to value wisdom imparted to me above my own inner voice and instincts. This I learned early on was what it meant to be a good girl. Being a good girl earned me praise and recognition and who doesn’t want that?

The good student

I’ve been reading Tara Mohr’s brilliant book, Playing Big. One chapter in particular resonated with me, the chapter titled “Leaving Good Student Habits Behind”. As a 48 year old woman who left formal education a long time ago, reading it, I felt a shiver of recognition. I felt seen.

In the chapter Tara argues that as children and young adults, going through the education system (and in the context of this book she talks specifically of girls and women), good performance and high achievement comes from learning what we are taught, getting good grades and submitting neat, well presented work, on time. We learn to look outside ourselves for knowledge, nurture skills of research and preparation and constantly adapt to meet the expectations of our teachers. 

It’s well known that girls consistently outperform boys in UK schools.  While there are lots of possible factors to consider, one theory is that girls, generally, are more likely to want to please others, and will readily suppress their own needs or instincts to do so. 

Whether this is explained by nature or nurture is a bigger question and perhaps one for another blog.

The question posed by Mhor in her book is, how well does being a good student prepare us to find success as adults?

In this context I see that my own ‘good student’ behaviour has held me back more times than I feel comfortable admitting. And it’s not limited to my academic and professional achievements either. 

Nurture the power within

Throughout my life I’ve prided myself on putting others first. I have a caring nature, am good at and even prefer to listen rather than speak. I can read the mood in a room and have a knack for seeing other people’s perspectives. I recently took an online test, which confirmed what I already knew: I’m a highly sensitive person. 

Being highly sensitive is by no means a bad thing but if you’re not aware of it, or don’t learn to make allowances for this side of your personality, it can leave you feeling responsible for making everything right for everyone, which after time can only lead to burn out.  

Back to the good student though. In her book, Mohr proposes that the way for any woman looking to recover or nurture her own power and ability to ‘play bigger’ is to ditch the habits of a lifetime.  Women, she says, must trust that they can look inside themselves for answers, stop being afraid to challenge or influence authority, and get comfortable with improvising rather than over preparing. In short, it’s ok to wing it sometimes.

Coaching circles

Through my work on Tribe Women and Keystone I’ve been privileged to experience the power of gathering in a group of women, who are not necessarily friends but connected by purpose and values. I’ve always cherished my female friendships and connections with women I’ve met in my working life but it wasn’t until fairly recently I discovered the power of peer to peer coaching, or accountability groups.

A coaching circle is a group of people, not necessarily friends but it certainly helps to be like minded. The group gathers regularly and has some rules that everyone agrees, but mostly it is a safe and supportive space where every member has an opportunity to talk and be listened to. After each person has spoken, others in the group take a moment to reflect back what they have heard, without judgment and definitely not trying to solve any problems.  

The personalities are less important, what matters is the commitment to showing up, the willingness to listen, the ability to ask the right questions and holding the space for everyone to speak.

Speaking your mind

Sometimes the greatest sense of power can come when we are simply listened to and supported while we speak what’s on our minds. Where the dynamic becomes upset is when others, feeling they are being helpful, interject to try and solve your problems. The solution to our problems almost always lies within. 

A coaching circle is a great place to learn that you can rely on your inner voice, and therein lies the power.

Tuning in, every now and again to what I want, without overlaying what I ‘think’ others want first, is something I’ll always have to work at. For now, I’m glad I’ve recognised the pattern and can see all the ways in which it doesn’t serve me or those that rely on me.

It feels like a powerful place to start.

Melissa McConnell

Coaching circles and harnessing the power of community are an integral part of the Keystone programme.

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