Feeling my authentic self
This last year I've found myself spending more time on social media than ever before. Whilst often it's been my solace and escapism from the intensity of the real world (why would I die for Jackie Weaver?!) - it's also become inescapably intense with the sheer volume of stories of LGBTQIA+ struggles (at its mildest) and hate crimes/murders (at its worst). It's easy to see this and think only of how bad this is outside of the UK - without reflecting on how things can, and should, be better at home. As part of Pride Month and ahead of Global Pride Day (27th June), I wanted to write about how we still need to be relentless in our battle for equity and inclusion for everybody - and how supportive and inclusive workplaces have made such a massive difference to my own mental health.
Growing up in a changing, not changed, world
I've known I was bisexual since I was a teenager; a confusing sexual awakening driven by High School Musical, Vanessa Hudgens and a dashing Zac Efron. This era was quite a peculiar one as my teen years were surrounded by a culture slowly shifting from its vulgarity over lads mags, banning page 3 and slowly starting to realise that using 'gay' as a derogatory insult for something lame was probably making your queer friends feel demonised. Real change and acceptance was coming, but in a shifting world the faux pas (or purposefully offensive) anti-LGBTQIA+ actions were very much part and parcel of my everyday.
All this culminated in beginning adulthood aware of who I was, but not entirely confident being that person. Even moving for university in chase of further freedoms was mired in a backdrop of restrictions - same sex marriage and rules on giving blood all changed whilst I studied. However there's a lot to be said for the detrimental effects a national conversation about whether you 'deserve' equality has on people leaning into being their authentic queer selves. It's unsurprising that I, and many of my LGBTQIA+ friends, headed into the world of work harbouring negative feelings around validation as to who you are and what you're capable of.
Learning to be wrong
So what does this result in? Yes, quite a battering on your mental health but as you get up after each punch you start to build up a resilience as you mature. This steely nature lent itself to working in sales where I was cold calling and being told 'no' 50 times a day - this isn't as difficult when the world has been pretty much shouting the same thing back at you for a decade.
And whilst that job was incredible, it gifted me with so many brilliant experiences and people, and taught me the importance of looking after my mental health - I wasn't able to push through the invisible barriers in front of me to really flourish as me. The problem was that I was prioritising resilience, partnered with an inherent feeling that I needed to justify my place in the world. There was no room to lean into my vulnerability; I didn't feel safe enough to be wrong.
Don't get me wrong, resilience is something that is absolutely crucial to self development, but it needs to be flexed because there are moments when putting up that steel isn't protecting you from external attacks, rather leaving you open to hurting yourself. There are definitely elements of struggling with internalised ideas of masculinity which contributed to this - and thank god I'm now confident in defining my own masculinity - but realising that more external factors were playing a bigger part of my internal feelings, helped drive me to seek guidance, with both friends, family and on a professional basis.
Feeling safe and trusted with your colleagues allows you to lean into your vulnerability – this only feeds creativity and innovation. Everyone from Chekhov to Hemingway and Angelou has a fab quote on trust; it’s the foundation of all great work. But getting to a place of trust with your team is often something that needs to be built towards, rather than gained overnight.
Working in client services for an agency means I spend my entire day liaising with all of our different service teams, as well as alongside our clients and their respective teams too. The perk of this is that I’m constantly in conversations with super interesting people who are completely unalike one another. This isn’t lionising the job, as an extrovert with self-diagnosed new-puppy-syndrome who needs someone to play and entertain them constantly, being part of these conversations daily is my joie de vivre.
That said, getting to that place is always an ongoing journey. Working in a culture that celebrates individuality rather than stultifying it lets me relax my shoulders, lead with my chest out and give breath to new ideas in abundance. It’s such a cliché to say there’s no such thing as a bad idea, but it’s true because we never know what’s going to spark the great idea. Feeling free to put ideas forward which are, more often than not, going to be shot down gives breathing space for change. That very idea of being able to fail without fear and knowingly keep moving forward, ensures that these individual failures are never seen as our final defeat.
Failing fearlessly- together
I’m very aware of the privilege I hold – I’m white, male, come from a stable family and have the income to have attended fortnightly therapy for years. I’m also super aware that my personality type lends itself to accepting the idea of failing fearlessly, because I’m always talking and pushing for change. This awareness means recognising that not everyone I work with is in a similar position; this makes it even more important for the internal role of conductor of the orchestra to ensure that everybody feels they can be heard.
Every instrument can deliver a killer solo, as long as the arrangement gives it its right and proper time. Nobody should ever feel that their voice is diminished because of who they are, yet we live in a world where, too often, voices are baselessly marginalised. If you’ve spent a lifetime having your voice taken away, it’s not good enough to just give these people the opportunity to speak – they’ve spent so long whispering that you need to make sure you’re handing them a mic so that they can be heard. This means demanding equity rather than just equality!
It’s our own personal responsibility to check ourselves and make sure we’re not just doing everything we can not to stifle anybody’s creative freedoms, but that we’re our best to nurture and water every seed of possibility for everyone we work with. Only by doing this will we allow beautiful bountiful gardens of joy, innovation and prosperity to bloom.
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