I’m a recovering Type A, maybe with a bit of Type C chucked in!
Like alcoholics, I’m not sure my treatment will ever be entirely complete, but I’m on the right track.
I’ve always strived to achieve. To achieve with the hope of being ‘good enough’ for the parental figures in my life – be they at home or work. Having always found good grades fairly easy to come by at school I expected the trend to continue in work, sometimes sorely disappointed by the different type of race being run there with politics and relationships suddenly part of the game – not just working hard to deliver ‘the work’.
And some Type A is good, it gets stuff done, it pushes boundaries, it challenges beyond what we first thought possible. But, as with most things, too much and it becomes a weakness. It’s downsides begin to outweight the up.
When I look back on my days in HR I see a me who was shoulder to shoulder with the tough-minded commercial leader : “Well, if they can’t cut it this might not be the right place for them.” “If their caring responsibilities are going to take priority over their job then this isn’t going to work.” “10% growth again this year? Of course we can do it! *collective leadership battle cries* Are you in or out?”
Some of this was because their Type A matched mine – deliver more, more, more, with less, less, less.
And this behaviour was underpinned by an unkindness, a lack of care, a lack of empathy. I was so fixed on (supposedly) doing the right thing for the business, so aligned with these focussed, driven leaders – who were meant to be the role models to follow – that it didn’t occur to me that anything else was an option. I thought it made me a “commercial” HR person – what all the books said you’re meant to be.
I did change my attitude and approach to my role in HR in later years, seeing the importance of holding that space of challenge and providing balance to the Type A leadership style, reminding leaders of the human beings involved – my kids played a big part in that development for me. And my attitude and approach have definitely changed again since leaving corporate life.
But the biggest shifts have come through working with my own coach, that this unkindness I showed towards others started from an unkindness towards myself. That I believed I was only good enough, only deserved praise / attention / love if I was tough and resilient, if I showed I could deliver the results – be they A grades in exams or improved sales and profit, only good enough if I worked hard.
These messages we get as kids, they reverberate through the years.
And so although I know I’ve come a long way in my journey from that version of me back there, I also know there is still more to do to keep myself grounded in believing I’m good enough as I am. From that self care comes a genuine care for others and the ability to make the right choices for the human beings in this world around me, more than the business results and hours worked.
Last week I had another realisation in this journey of mine and this little phrase that came to me resonated strongly – “I think if I’m being a high achiever it makes me better, but it only makes me worse.”
If you’re on a similar journey you’re definitely not alone and I’d encourage you to keep going, keep exploring, keep understanding and empathising with yourself because from there comes understanding and empathy for others.
With levels of mental health concerns rising things aren’t going to improve unless we start here.
And for my own latest exploring on this journey? It’s brought me to Buddhism which has put a whole new mind-blowing spin on it. I’m still processing a lot to be able to write on that. But maybe for another post…
[Photo credits : http://members.cogwa.org/man-blog/do-you-have-to-be-a-tough-guy-to-be-a-man/ ; https://www.surrey.ac.uk/quality-enhancement-standards/collaborative-provision