Bragging rights: celebrating your own achievements

Woman with cone symbolising bragging

“I know words. I have the best words.” Donald J. Trump

Nobody likes a boaster, the kind of person who brags about their connections and drops names at every turn, without giving their claims any kind of substance.

It’s is when people use a tenuous connection to make themselves appear more important. It may be that they drop in a name, followed by a pause to allude to the weight of the relationship; or mention a place, such as an educational institution, exclusive restaurant or holiday destination.

The most ludicrous example I’ve witnessed was when I heard a senior University figure asking a first-year student if they’d ever eaten at a certain award-winning eatery. It was clear that this was his way of establishing his status and making small talk within his own circles. He was at a loss when it came to creating connection with a broader audience.

Why do we downplay what we’ve accomplished?

In a desire not to be seen to be bragging, we often go too far the other way and downplay our achievements. Being too humble isn’t helpful when you’re looking to secure business – clients need to understand the value that they will get from working with you. They’re not mind-readers!

In some cases, it’s because we’ve been brought up not to be boastful. Family members, especially parents, feel the need to take us down a peg or too. This is their way of protecting us, but can be damaging for our progression. It’s difficult to ignore feedback from the ones we love, but we are seeking validation from the wrong quarter if we do listen too closely.

My dad is 84. Even when I worked as a Director at a quango in what he knew to be a well-paid job, he simply didn’t ‘get’ what I did for a living. Nor did switched-on relatives. Some thought I worked for the Council, others that I worked in translation. So why would I expect them to understand what I do as a self-employed professional?!

However, I did exactly that! Dad often tells me (out of love and a wish to keep me ‘safe’) that I should get a nice comfortable job in the Council. He didn’t even listen when my big sister from the States. When she last came to visit, she told him that I was the last person he should be worried about, I’m on my path. You’d think he’d have given up by now…

Our old friend, Imposter Syndrome….

I’ve written many times about imposter syndrome. It’s where people ‘internalise their accomplishments and [have] a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Love, it’s not bragging if it’s true!

You should become comfortable with owning your achievements, if they’re relevant to the dialogue and especially if they form part of your skills portfolio. Endorsements, reviews and testimonials are powerful tools that should support your personal branding mix. Please don’t be afraid to ask for them. If you’ve done a good job, clients are usually more than happy to be asked.

Celebrate your achievements – without bragging

You can’t change what people say to you, but you can change the way you hear process their advice. Hear then out, then take a step back and decide whether accepting it would be useful to you.

When you start believing in yourself, you radiate confidence and this is when work starts to flows better.

A great way of putting together your pitch, LinkedIn/CV profile or website introduction is to ask at least one person who has worked with you to review it. A supportive friend who understands your work can help you to distil your offer.

Try it out. Here’s an example of how I work with organisations. You can use the text in bold to help you with your own structure.

I work with clients who want to develop an engaged and productive workforce by improving their employment practices, because I love to see people thrive. I’m best at creating connections and ‘translating’ complex information into meaningful briefings.

I’ve helped clients such as first direct and ITV, as well as smaller organisations, create employee engagement and diversity initiatives. I’ve spoken internationally on this subject, learning and sharing good employment practice from diverse organisations.


To find out more about my work, check out the rest of my website or connect with me on LinkedIn.

 

 

Are you expressing your whole inner self?

Are all the inner parts of you are getting to express themselves? Are there any parts that feel suppressed or neglected?

Recently, over dinner with friends, I said that my inner Wild Woman hadn’t been expressed for a long while and that I’d missed her. 2015 was a difficult year with a few bereavements and some personal setbacks. While I have socialised, most of this has been in mine or others’ homes.

Unleashing your inner wildnessInner Self - My Wild Woman

This weekend, away for a close friend’s hen do, my inner wild woman got to come out and play – flirting with handsome foreigners in Lisbon and getting soaked by a fountain in the main square – we were posing for a photo when the jet turned outward. I found myself doubled up with laughter and everyone around me joined in. Crazy laughter is infectious!

I feel like a part of me has been put back. Wildness is expressed in different ways. I have to admit that I didn’t always choose the best ways to let off steam in my youth, but they do make for some interesting stories…Now I try to channel it healthily by doing an adrenaline activity at least one a year (Skydive – tick. Abseil – tick. Ben Nevis – tick) and through regular exercise.

Making like a pumice stone…

Recently, a friend was feeling emotional. We were in a group and she wanted to regain her balance. After leading her through some breathing exercises and Reiki, she asked me if I’d hold her hand to steady her as we walked along.

Next came “I love you, babes, you’re so calming…like a pumice stone!” Wait, what?! (I think she meant a basalt stone, which retains heat – my mind boggles). Another friend, on hearing this, responded that although I have a lot of energy, I do give off calm vibes.

I do feel that energy and wildness can be balanced with stillness. It’s just important to not let one dominate the other, so that we’re grounded, but still able to access our higher self. Steadiness and intuition are a powerful combination.

Sit quietly when you can and ask which part of you wants to be expressed. Have you been too still? If so, how can you bring some fire into your life? Or have you been too flighty and unfocussed? How can you ground yourself?

P.S. If you’d like to read more about accessing your inner wild woman, I can highly recommend the book ‘Women who run with the Wolves’ by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés.


 

Do you feel that parts of your shining, authentic self have gone AWOL? You know that to get yourself back, you’ll need to let go of the stuff that’s dulled your flame… and that isn’t easy.

This is where I come in. My superpower is helping people to release – let me help you to re-ignite!

I’m Anj Handa, your mentor and guide. For the last 18 years, through both professional training and exceptional intuition, I’ve successfully helped people to navigate bereavements; serious illness; domestic abuse; redundancy; friendship and relationship breakups; money worries and more.

I’ve also been through all of the above personally and I’m still smiling!

Wonder Woman Power – here’s how to get it!

Power-Photo-wonder-woman-model

I love to receive the Guardian Women newsletter in my inbox each week. The varied articles give an insight into the situations other women in business are experiencing. My particular interest is understanding the factors that hold women back. Sure, external factors such as workplace discrimination play a part, but our own confidence issues and self-limiting beliefs also play a role.

The first article in this week’s newsletter jumped out at me as it’s a subject I’ve always been interested in: body language. I’ve studied body language for years from different perspectives, from studying Neuro Linguistic Programming, to poring over books such as ‘What Every Body is Saying’ by former FBI officer, Joe Navarro.

In her article, actor and coach Sarah Perugia describes how to use non-verbal communication such as an expansive posture to present an outward appearance of confidence and energy.

Strike a Power Pose!

‘Power posing’ is a technique I’ve used for many years, from ‘steepling’ my hands when seated (have you noticed that many women sit with their hands under or just on the desk) to imagining an invisible thread above my crown, prompting me to sit up straighter. Good posture conveys high self-esteem.

However, this isn’t just about visual impressions. Research has proven that ‘power posing’ can have a significant impact on our emotions, physiology and behaviour. Readers that have followed me for some time know that I love to explore the academic research behind such findings and I was led to a 2012 study by Harvard researcher, Amy Cuddy.

Fake It until you Feel It

Amy Cuddy’s study demonstrated that power posing, even for as little as two minutes a day, has an impact on testosterone and cortisol levels, effectively wiring the brains to handle stressful situations more effectively. My power pose of choice involves standing like Wonder Woman with my hands on my hips. It works for me!

Cuddy and her colleagues undertook an experiment to test whether changing nonverbal behavior prior to high pressure situations such as job interviews could improve performance. Participants in the study took on expansive (open) poses, or contractive (closed) poses. They were then asked to put together and deliver a speech to two evaluators as part of a mock job interview.

Following evaluation of the results, it was clear to see that high power posers not only performed better, but were more likely to be chosen for hire. More interesting still, this was based on their presentation quality, not their speech quality. Smiling, hand gesturing, nodding, and leaning forward during an interview were some of the factors that improved the participants’ chance of being hired.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It really is! I’ve shared Amy Cuddy’s TED talk below, which makes great viewing. Have a watch – then get power posing!


 

A bit about me: I’m an experienced Board member who also happens to be female, of an ethnic minority background and usually younger than my fellow Directors. It can be a lonely place and I’d love more women to join me!

I’ve combined 13 years’ experience of advising organisations on equality and workforce development with extensive research into coaching tools and techniques to create Be (You) – so that other female leaders can benefit from the support that I lacked.

Be (You) is a modular growth mindset programme for professional women which combines high quality executive development techniques with deeper self-directed work. Get in touch to discuss how I can help.

 

My Body Tells Me – Part Two

Body image - photo of Anj Handa lying on the beach after yoga
Don’t exhaust yourself trying to please others – everyone has their own idea of perfection.

Last year, I published a blog called ‘My body tells me’ following some conversations in the gym relating to body image.  Re-reading it now, I don’t have too much to add about the question of body image and ‘helpful’ suggestions from partners, except to say this:  Your worth does not increase or decrease with your clothing size.  Sure, if you want to tone up and look the best you can be, do so. Just do it for yourself.

My earlier blog was aimed at women, but this goes for men too. This week, as the latest guy decided to tell me how I could improve myself, I recounted a story to him.  A number of years ago, someone I dated had such an issue with his (minimal) love handles that he would always wear a T-shirt to bed, despite my constant reassurance.

Some months later, he took up marathon running and as he became leaner, his confidence grew to the point of arrogance.

He wasn’t a particularly nice guy to start with (if you’re asking why I was with him, trust me, I’ve asked myself the same question many times). Ironically, it was when he looked his best that his personality worsened and I really began to dislike him. Not the best grounds for a relationship…

I have to admit that when I was younger, I made the mistake of dating cute men that relied on their looks and career and hadn’t worked much on their mind and spirit.  Cute alone just doesn’t cut it.  A couple of male friends have even decided to marry based on their preferred physical type and lived to regret the decision.

Looks change, weight fluctuates, but a quality personality and strong values endure and yet are not so easy to find.  So, if you don’t have someone in your life that looks at you as if you are the perfect being that you are (yes, you are), do yourself a favour and move on to your next adventure!

A storm in a bra cup: keeping (a)breast of the debate

Warning: This blog contains a number of breast-related puns, which readers may find offensive or simply not funny. You may stop reading now.  However, this is a matter close to my chest (or far from it, depending on which way you look at it) and I felt compelled to write.

Bra photos

It was with some laughter and head-shaking that I read an article on Labour MP Alison McGovern having received a letter from a party supporter suggesting that she had shown her cleavage on national TV as a ‘strategy.’

In another article, Labour activist Jessica Asato revealed that she had once received a letter following an appearance on TV that read “Please cover your breasts properly. Respectable men, women and children do not want to see your cleavage. Sluttish behaviour is degrading. Have some dignity.” What a tit!

It really ain’t that easy for women with ample bosoms.  If we wear high-necked tops, it can (heaven forbid) make our boobs look even bigger. V and scooped necks are more flattering, but attention can be drawn down to our cleavage for those who choose not to focus on our faces.  Anything smock-like can look like a maternity dress.  Jackets and cardies can help cover up a bit more, BUT THEY’RE STILL THERE!

It saddens me that women still have to have these debates about breasts and periods.  It’s not like we have much choice about either, yet both cost us money and are taxed as luxury items.

I recall having to pull up a police officer on this matter, aged 17, whilst working in my parents’ clothes shop.  He’d stopped to ‘check everything was alright.’ I assured him that everything was fine with my breasts and that he could now speak to my face.

I developed the assurance to speak up from early on. Being one of the first in my class to reach puberty and wear a bra, I needed to.  Sadly, attitudes haven’t progressed much from bra-twanging at the age of ten to leering adults, who really should know better.

Readers aged 30+ may remember the American sitcom Cheers.  Frasier’s wife, Lileth, was portrayed as a cold, somewhat hostile character.  In one episode, it was revealed that she wore bandages around her chest to keep it flat.

The analogy seemed to be that by unleashing her breasts, she became less of an ice queen. As an aside, the choice of name for the character was interesting. Lilith represents one aspect of the Great Goddess – in ancient Babylon, she was worshipped as Lilitu, Ischtar or Lamaschtu and in Jewish mythology as an evil Demon of the night, lying in wait for men, and killing children).

Bra faced cheek

Depending on the situation, some decorum is required.  I once had a – very curvy – PA who turned up to take the minutes of my Board meeting wearing a bat-winged top. It kept sliding off her shoulder, revealing a pink bra strap…and a love bite. I hadn’t seen the like since going to a club called Samatha’s in Swindon in the 1990s. While I have generally been relaxed about work attire, smart casual is the minimum I’d expect at a Board meeting.

With that said, I feel that people of all sizes should be able to wear what they choose without commentary.  Revealingly (no pun intended here), my most visited blog is one called ‘My Body Tells Me,’ in which I explore the a more sinister side of attention to our bodies.

So here’s me, dreaming of a world where women, and men too, can be ourselves without being made to feel ashamed of the body nature gave us.

I am woman, hear me roar!

It’s International Women’s Day, so it feels apt to be writing this blog today, although the real reason I’m writing it now is that it’s only today that I’ve had the time to reflect on my week and attempt to put my thoughts into some sort of coherent order!

It’s been a busy week. Along with other meetings, I’ve attended a women-only Positive Impact session, had a business lunch with five like-minded women, had deep chats with each of my three business partners, been to two conferences on Female Genital Mutilation and a Celebrating Women in Leeds event.

I’ve also had conversations with four people about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – ranging from a Chief Exec of a highly profitable business to a coach that helps others with this for a living. Additionally, I’ve pulled a few people up during the course of the week on their use of “I’m just… [a mum] [a student] [X’s husband].”

leo-350690

We are not “just” anything. This blog is about courage and how I’d like us to be more forgiving of ourselves, as well as others. I know what matters to me and that gives me the courage to make change in ways that I personally feel capable of. I’ve often been described as brave, but that can be a subjective definition.

I have friends with ME, depression and other conditions that pick themselves up, dust themselves down and carry on each day, even when they barely have the energy to brush their teeth. I find that extremely brave. At an individual level, these everyday acts of courage are just as important as grand gestures and should be celebrated.

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Mother Theresa

People often look to Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others when they think of courageous people. The grand expression of their acts can be intimidating. So intimidating that ‘mere mortals’ are deterred from seeking to effect change within themselves, never mind within their wider communities.

It’s important to remember that these figures all started with small steps that ultimately transformed many lives, but we don’t all have to aspire to be changemakers at that level. It’s about considering the matters that concern us and doing something about them, whether it’s writing to our MP, using creative expression to create awareness or simply discussing these topics within our own circles.

There are many excuses that we can make. I know that it’s rarely apathy that prevents people from challenging the status quo. Worry about what others will think, the fear of losing friends, lack of confidence, feeling like we don’t have enough knowledge/that we’re too young/too old/too unfit can all contribute to inaction. Change can feel uncomfortable, even when it’s good change. I’ve know – I’ve been there myself.

However, from personal experience, I can honestly say that when you start living in alignment with your core values, when you take time out to listen to your higher self and when you figure out what really matters to you, courage is there for you to draw on when you need it. From this courage comes transformation – within and without.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs

What are you waiting for?

Reclaim your Power

boxingThis is one of those blogs that has come straight from my heart.  Not planned, not crafted, simply expressing thoughts that have emerged.  Firstly, I should explain what I mean by reclaiming your power.  Power isn’t about exerting control or dominance over another, it’s about operating from a place of connectedness to what you know is right and true.

This blog has been brewing for a while and it was after attending a couple of business seminars on Diversity recently that my reflections started to take shape. The first event was about a high-profile Diversity initiative in London which may be replicated in my hometown, Leeds.

The second was about Female and Ethnic Minority small business owners. At the first event, the discussions were similar than those I’ve heard over ten years ago and at the second, while the conversation was mostly upbeat, there was still an air of struggle and helplessness.

From my own recent experiences, I know that when I’m working towards my heart’s desire, the right kind of support, people and opportunities flow.  For many years, I was governed by my head and if I’m really honest, believed that following your heart wasn’t for hard-working, successful people.  Doh!  When you’re passionate about something, that’s when other people want to join in.  To me, that air of excitement is what power is about.  Fear has no place when happiness and excitement prevail.

Too many of us (myself included, in the past) worry about what is expected of us by friends, family and peers, so we become reluctant to stick our head above the parapet for fear of what others might think. It was a Brené Brown TED talk  “Why Your Critics aren’t the Ones that Count” that helped me to start ridding myself of self-censorship.  In her talk, she refers to Roosevelt’s ‘Man in the Arena,’ which gives me goosebumps every time I read it:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I’ve finally learnt how to listen to my inner voice, the voice that used to speak in a whisper.  I’ve learnt the joy of creating – drawing, writing – and more importantly, not being afraid to share them when they’re not a perfectly finished article.  In fact, those creations seem to be the ones people like the most.

The other change is about responsibility.  I’ve always been a responsible, dependable kind of person, but there was one thing I used to avoid and that was about my responsibility to use my voice to encourage others to love themselves more and to follow their dreams, no matter who they are.

The fields I’ve worked in have typically been white, male-dominated and my peers have tended to be a fair bit older. When I was younger, while I didn’t let my ethnicity or gender get in the way, there was a certain element of ‘imposter syndrome’ and I apologise to my former self for this.  Hell, I could run circles round many of those peers and yet I questioned myself as to whether I was good enough!

What I now know is this: nobody can be universally loved, not everyone will approve of  what you’re aiming for.  Some will suggest alternatives in ‘your best interests,’ some may even mock you.  But your dreams are not their dreams.  Your skills and attributes are unique.  Use your power to connect with what you really love and go for it.  I’m looking forward to hearing about how you plan to reclaim your power.

With love

Anj

My Body Tells Me

I’ve just been to the gym and felt compelled to blog as soon as I got in.  It started with my walk into the pool area, where my every move was watched by a frankly very creepy guy.  It was when he followed me into the (empty) sauna and continued to stare that I spoke up.  In the past, I might have either hurried out, or if I was feeling particularly brave, sat it out with my arms wrapped around me in a futile attempt to shield myself.  No longer.  I politely told him that this is my body and I’d appreciate it if he would stop staring as it made me feel uncomfortable.

In my own time, I left to shower and change.  As I towelled my hair dry, one of my earrings came off and bounced across the floor.  Two ladies got on their hands and knees to help me look and we got chatting.  One was a young mum of two under 3s, who was reluctantly exercising to drop a dress size prior to her holiday; the other a 60 year old who’d just run 15 miles on the treadmill to shed the half stone she’d put on whilst on her holiday.  I told them that my body needed a bit of care and that I’d just treated it to a spa.  It made me think about my own body and body image.

Like many women, I’m sure, I’ve had partners suggest that I should to dress differently, cover up.  I’ve had them tell me to add some pounds, to drop some pounds.  I have even had a former female friend tell me that since I had lost weight (I hadn’t, I’d just toned up, which is beside the point) that I could now date a mutual friend – a friend with an unhealthy lifestyle who wasn’t my type, physically or in terms of values).

My body has been ‘accidentally’ brushed past, groped.  It’s almost been taken forcibly on a few occasions.  Shocking, maybe, but by no means uncommon.  You just need to read the sheer volume of posts by women on #YesAllWomen and #EverydaySexism.

bouncing

None of them succeeded.  Because here’s the thing.  I love my body.  It’s been thinner, it’s been bigger.  It’s taken on the waxen hue of the dying when my already low blood pressure plummeted to almost fatal levels.  It’s suffered from a prolonged bout of vertigo.  My tummy, while still flat, isn’t as taut as when I was in my 20s.

But this amazing body of mine, a year away from 40, can take me up mountains, let me swing from a hoop, execute a flawless parachute jump landing, hold myself horizontally in a Chinese flag.  It lets me leap on bouncy castles and climb trees like a child.  It also tells me when I need to slow down and it needs a little care. And for that reason, I love it and thank it every day.

Resilience – Embracing your Life Lessons

When I was recently approached by a magazine to write about Resilience, I wondered at first which angle to take. There are just so many aspects to building Resilience. In the end, I decided to share some of my personal journey with readers. So what is Resilience, anyway? I believe that it means different things to different people and that we achieve it at a stage and in a way that suits us. Here’s a formal definition:

“Resilience refers to the psychological ability to let go of old internal structures of thinking and behaving that over the years have given us a sense of stability and coherence; as well, resilience refers to our ability to create and reintegrate new structures of thinking and behaving that provide us a more mature sense of coherence.” Wilson and Ferch, 2005.

If you’re like me and you prefer a more holistic description, I think Buddha encapsulates it well:

“All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.”

My shift started around my birthday at the end of August 2012, when an Associate position with a client that went against my values ended and I lost a friend through suicide. My bereavement was a huge shock and although I had just sent out a tender, at the time I had no immediate source of alternative income. To say I was at a low ebb would be a massive understatement. On 2nd September 2012, to keep my mind occupied, I started to dig in my garden, despite the blazing sun. As I dug, a robin flew down and perched a metre away from me and watched me for five minutes before flying off. I felt a sense of calm, as if it had brought a message of reassurance that everything would be OK.

Sure enough, on 5th September, I heard that my tender application was successful. That was the start of a new client relationship that continues to this day. Over the next ten months though, I continued to work hard, yet as I approached my next birthday I began to reflect and admitted to myself that I wasn’t fulfilling my heart’s desire. The only problem was, at the time, I didn’t know what that was or how to go about identifying it!

I began to read voraciously. This reading informed my decision to move towards building a more heart-centred business, despite reservations from family and friends. Since December 2013, I’ve been working hard to set up People Help People with my fantabulous business partners, after three years of working alone and I’ve been feeling a creativity that I haven’t experienced in years.

Photo of People Help People team
Me with the People Help People lovelies. Clockwise: me, Jean, Bernie, Vivienne

Cue a synchronistic series of events, some of which are still unfolding. For those of you who aren’t aware, since January, I have been supporting an inspirational woman, Afusat Saliu, with her quest for asylum. She has since been deported, but the legal battle and support for her and her daughters continues. The ability to speak to national press and Ministers about challenging issues was a huge confidence-booster and I am clear now that my passion lies in empowering girls and women through building resilience, improving their life chances through better education and healthcare and tackling gender-based violence.

This is the backdrop to a time that has thrown up some important life-changing lessons. It feels like I have left a former me behind and there’s no going back now. It’s produced a more grounded, open version of Anj and I’m happy to share with you what it has taught me.

First, I learnt the lesson of trust. Trust in myself to remain grounded and trust in the goodness of others (daily meditation helps too)! I trusted that somehow the resources would come to help me both Afusat’s campaign and with business.

Next I learnt the lesson of asking for help. Since I have been asking for help for someone else, I don’t hesitate. I’ve gone straight to the highest levels to ask for assistance and it doesn’t feel cheeky. I’m somebody who has always been fiercely independent and asking for help felt like a weakness in the past. Now I understand that it is a strength.

My third lesson was about confidence. Not that I wasn’t confident before, far from it. I’ve always been comfortable in most settings. Being brought up in a large extended family, working in sales and running business networks isn’t for wallflowers! This lesson was specifically about confidence in my own wisdom. It was about knowing when to draw on specialist advice, but also when to trust my own judgement and my intuition, even when loved ones are trying to deter me in a loving but misguided attempt to shield me (“You’re so stubborn!” seems to be my poor dad’s constant refrain).

The fourth lesson was about faith. I don’t mean faith in a religious sense, more a belief that someone is benevolently watching over me and that any lessons sent my way are because I need them, even if it doesn’t seem like that at the time! I’ve learnt how to just ‘be’ – to take action, but to have faith that the end outcome will be the right one.

And finally, it’s about love, which is what life is about, after all.