When We Show Up
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Next week I am giving a talk at a conference organised by JLL, a volunteer group of predominantly American businesswomen who focus on developing the potential of women and helping women, children and families in London break the cycle of poverty: https://www.jll.org.uk/ The theme of the conference is ‘When We Show Up’ and my talk will be on women, leadership and what happens when we show up. As part of its marketing campaign, I gave a video interview and was asked: “So what happens when you show up, Hannah?”
This was my response: “I spent many years struggling to show up and each time I failed to do so, I felt guilty, depressed and bad about myself. Worst of all, it distanced me from ‘me’, from life and from others.” In the article: ‘What does your 8-year-old Self Think of You’ I wrote: ‘If my 8-year-old had met my 39-year-old she would have felt ok about what I was doing but she would have been disappointed with the woman I had become. I had become very dutiful, over-controlling, fearful and was stuck in a victim mentality. I had also stopped dancing and writing, both childhood passions of mine. I’m not sure my 8-year-old would have liked me very much.’
At other times I’d seemingly show up, physically there but not fully present. Like many women, I grew up ‘playing small’, trying to be a good girl, focusing on empathy and listening and shying away from speaking my ‘voice’, my inner truth. And yet, paradoxically, I have always wanted to make a positive difference to the world, to change it for the better. So, despite my ‘good girl’ intentions, my voice would not be silenced for too long. I wasted a lot of energy over many years trying to reconcile this internal conundrum: how to stay safely under the radar and yet how to voice my inner truth.
And then I finally gave up resisting and started to listen. It took a lot of courage and a lot of stumbles but gradually the shift happened: each time I consciously showed up I began to respect and like myself more. And this encouraged me to stretch myself further and, in turn, this created a positive flow: like attracting like. I began to embrace life and because I was open to ‘me’ and life, I became open to others. This is what true intimacy is and the real reward for showing up. As I wrote in: Loving me loving you: how to learn to love yourself: ‘I’ve learned that paradoxically loving myself brings joy to others, that the more my heart sings, the more I ‘dance’ and embrace my life, the more I bring that to others.’
Sue Walter is an extraordinary and inspirational woman who has always shown up and who is now on the cusp of a very exciting change in her life. As CEO of The Hospital Club, an award winning private members club in London www.thehospitalclub.com Sue spearheaded the club's turnaround and growth strategy culminating in its global expansion into the USA https://www.thehospitalclub.com/la and built up a career spanning nearly thirty years across diverse organisations ranging from private, not-forprofit, start-up and private equity. I invited Sue to share some of her wisdom:
Hannah: Joining the dots backwards: what’s brought you to this point in your life and career?
Sue: Steve Jobs said - “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever”.
On first reading, my career path appears disjointed. However, looking back on it, the unconventional journey that brought me to this point, makes complete sense, at least to me! I have never had a career map, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. I’ve never had a “north star” to aim for in my career. I have been led more by opportunity and instinct than ambition. Every position I have ever held has presented itself to me at the right time in my life through a chance conversation or (like my first job) sitting on a train and seeing an advert above a window. Consequently, I have always been open to the possibilities that come from being present and allowing new things/people into your life. I have kept this philosophy throughout my life and it has served me well. As a result, I have had an amazing career and life.
In terms of my work journey, I started out in the Civil Service: it was a great foundation in terms of developing my skills and confidence. I then became HR Director at the Royal Opera house during a hugely challenging but rewarding period in its history from its closure and successful re-opening in 1998- 2001. I then joined Universal Music heading up their HR services. During this time I had my son and decided to leave the music industry so that I could spend more time with him. This decision led to an opportunity to be part of a small team tasked with launching an exciting start-up called The Hospital Club. This was my first experience of a start-up and it was here that I discovered my love and aptitude for building and growing organizations and teams from the ground up.
After the successful launch of the club in 2004 another chance meeting led to my move into the world of private equity. With TSL Education Ltd I was able to further develop my skills in growing businesses. My time at TSL moved me away from HR and firmly into operational management where I headed up another start-up which went on to become an award winning business and market leader. Then, when the opportunity came along to return to the Hospital Club, this time at the helm, the “fixer” in me couldn't resist. Seven years later my mission to turnaround the club and expand it is close to completion and I am ready and open for my next challenge!
Hannah: Can you tell us something about your experience on creating success in a corporate man’s world?
Sue: I'm not sure that gender is what differentiates great success or failure for that matter. I have known and learned from some amazing leaders - both male and female.
There have been times in my career when I have been held back or not taken seriouslyecause I am a woman. I have at times sat in meetings where I was ignored in favour of my male subordinates (who were assumed to have all the right answers). Whilst these experience have been frustrating, I have not allowed them to define me. These experiences have only made me more resourceful in identifying different routes forward. Necessity has often been the mother of invention when it comes to women creating successes in the work place – talent always finds a way to shine. Being a woman should never be used as an excuse for not pursuing and achieving your dreams.
Hannah: What are your thoughts on the #MeToo and ‘Time’s Up’ movements?
Sue: I have mixed feeling about the #MeToo campaign. It has given a voice to those who have felt ignored or not able to speak up in the past, which is definitely a good thing.“Me Too” when put together, are two powerful words which represent unity, support and remind us that we are not alone.
But something deeper is happening in all strata of society. Change is coming. Social media has enabled voices and movements to galvanize and unite quickly in ways which are awe inspiring. However, I believe that to effect real change, we need to have all parties at the table and all voices in the conversation. It is therefore important that the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns also have male representation. If you have been a victim of assault or abuse, then you should feel empowered to speak out and be heard, irrespective of who initiated the campaign. Sexual abuse is not limited to gender, so, rather than dilute the main issue by splitting it, everyone should come together and speak with one voice against abuse in all its guises. This way, we give permission to all victims, irrespective of gender the confidence to come forward without fear.
This is not about male or female, this is about a pattern of behaviour which, historically, has been largely ignored. If we speak with one voice, then we become a more powerful force against all aggressors and, hopefully. expedite change across the board.
Hannah: We are both mothers of sons: how does this influence the above for you?
Sue: As the mother of a 16 year old boy, on the cusp of becoming a man, I think it's important for him to have good role models throughout the stages of his life. Seeing successful women will inspire young boys/men like our sons every bit as much as it inspires young girls/women. Seeing male and female role models allows our sons and daughters to dream bigger dreams and have higher hopes for themselves without the trappings of their gender.
I truly believe that good role models can come from anywhere and can be any gender. It's about what inspires you and resonates within you. Think about your favourite teacher when you were at school. Chances are that they were your favourite not because of their gender, but because they inspired you and opened you up to possibilities you hadn't thought about before. This is my greatest hope for my son - that he grows up in a world where people are not judged by the extrinsic but by the intrinsic qualities they bring into the world.
Hannah: What are your top five tips for what happens when we show up and for what happens when we don’t?
When we don’t show up:
We are not part of the conversation
We are disconnected
We don’t learn or grow
Nothing is new
Life goes on without us
When we show up:
We hear the word “Yes!”
We speak the word “Yes!”
We connect with others
We collaborate and give birth to new ideas
We are reminded that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves