Because of my dad’s work-related stress, I grew up walking on eggshells at home.
As a young girl, I learnt that my feelings were unhelpful. In fact, even having feelings sometimes felt dangerous. And so, at a certain moment in my formative years, part of me decided that I needed to transform myself into a high-achieving-low-maintenance-machine to have value in the world.
This school photo is proof of my true commitment to contorting myself into this stifling ‘Little Miss Achiever’ identity. My hairstyle was no accident. I can vividly recall marching into the local barber and saying “chop it all off – I want it short, like a boy”.
Little Miss Achiever’s paradigm is pretty straight-forward: my achievements are the only proof that I matter.
Her golden rule is “never stop proving yourself”. She never feels like she has done enough, and because of this she never feels like she is enough.
Now that I understand her, I also understand why I felt like I was on a roller-coaster ride for the first decade of my career. When I was collecting gold stars working life was exhilarating, but when there were no gold stars, I plummeted. It felt like the roller-coaster ride was getting faster and faster. I knew that the ride was making me sick, but I had no idea how to slow it down, let alone get off.
The thing that allowed me to take back control of my life was learning to understand and appreciate Little Miss Achiever.
Today, I have a deep sense of appreciation for her. She kept me safe as a child. Her drive fueled my academic performance, earning me a scholarship to university. Because of her, I have had a successful global leadership career and worked for some of the most prestigious brands in the world.
However, I also know that her paradigm puts me at very real risk of burnout. Whist her paradigm generates tremendous power, it’s a heavily polluting form of propulsion. It’s not sustainable.
Little Miss Achiever will always be part of me, but today she is rarely in the driver’s seat. Today, I understand that she is way too young to even hold a driver’s license.
I now understand that I can never achieve my way to worthiness. It has taken me many years to get here and remembering my inherent enough-ness is a moment-by-moment practice.
‘Little Miss Achiever’ inspired me to pioneer the practice of self-fidelity. I define self-fidelity as: The practice of being true to your essential nature. Our essential nature transcends all of our ‘parts’. It is not represented by any of the ‘voices in our head’. Our essential nature is enduring, sustainably powerful and good. It encompasses virtues such as courage, compassion, creativity, connectedness and playfulness.
I wrote my book Self-Fidelity How Being True to Yourself Uplifts Your Working Life to share the practice of self-fidelity with others.
Today, every single one of my coaching clients have their own version of Little Miss Achiever – a part of them that measures their worthiness based on their compliance with their unique ‘golden rule’. Whether the rule is ‘always be available’, ‘never show weakness’, ‘put the needs of others first’ or ‘win at all costs’ these rules keep them stuck in unhealthy patterns of pleasing, striving, proving, self-protecting and competing.
Changing our relationship with our ‘parts’ and de-coupling our sense of self-worth from our adherence to their externally referencing ‘golden rules’ is truly transformative. As we learn to trust in our innate worthiness and reconnect our essential nature, we uplift our working lives. Life is no longer an experience of day-by-day survival. We discover that it is possible to thrive.
The below passage is an extract from Self-Fidelity. It is what I wished I could have said to that little girl in the photo:
“The world you are growing up in is a masterclass on how you should be. But you don’t have to be a good student. You will be very, very tempted to join the hustle and to strive relentlessly to collect gold stars – first in the form of good grades and later in the form of fancy job titles, ‘top-talent’ accolades and big salary packages. However, clambering your way to the top won’t fulfill you. It will never get you anywhere close to feeling like you are enough. Instead, you can learn what it means to be true to yourself in life – and at work.”
Are you being true to yourself?
Use my new Reflective Inquiry Tool to find out!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cassandra Goodman is a Thrive Global Executive Coach, Facilitator and author who is guided by an aspiration to activate human potential at work. Cassandra loves supporting leaders to create congruence between who they really are, and how they lead. She has three decades of business experience and has held many different senior leadership roles, including Global Director of Employee Experience at Bupa where she was responsible for activating Bupa’s purpose ‘Longer, Healthier, Happier Lives’ for their 86,000 employees across the world. Cassandra is the founder of The Centre For Self Fidelity and her first book Self-Fidelity was released late last year. Cassandra lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is married and has two young sons and can often be spotted cruising between lively conversations on her bright red pushbike.