At the beginning of March, the finalists for the Venus Awards 2018 (Devon & Cornwall) were announced and, having been shortlisted as a semi-finalist in two categories, I was very proud to see my name in the three finalists for the 'Inspirational Woman' award.
Shortly after this announcement, I received an email with an e-badge, with a lighthearted instruction to "PR the hell out of the fact that you are a finalist" ... and that's where I got a bit stuck! OK, yes I was able to share this news with friends on Facebook, and I think I may have tweeted it too, but always with a slight awkwardness, even embarrassment.
Over the past couple of weeks I've been reflecting on this - on being a finalist, how I feel about it, and what it brings up - wanting to say more, but each time pulling back from sharing the news more publicly, or even sharing the reasons why I'm not sharing the news ...
So, I have decided to go for it. To share.
As I look through all the Award categories - Employer of the Year, Customer Service, Company, Small Business, Marketing & PR, etc, I realise straight away that my discomfort comes from being a finalist in the 'Inspirational Woman' category - it's not being a finalist, it's about being a finalist in that category. It seems so grandiose, so lofty an accolade that straight away it brings up feelings of my not being worthy of such a title, and activates that critical inner voice that tells me that I don't deserve any such recognition.
Maybe it's just me, though even as I write that, I know it's not. As women, I believe we often struggle to step into all of who we really are, and fully embrace all of what we can achieve, let alone celebrate and shout out about those achievements. Worse still, to be seen to be doing so! We are taught to stay small, not be 'too much'; we embody societal attitudes that to be proud is to be arrogant, and that others will see us as a threat if we dare to put our heads above the parapet, and will shoot us down.
In a society which has been shaped and dominated by a patriarchal social system, even though it is acceptable for women to hold positions of power and influence, and to be largely free to live their lives as they choose, women can still struggle to fully step out of the shadows to celebrate their abilities, authority and potency, and to believe they have the right to do so. For me, this is why those feelings of unworthiness come up.
"The primary goal I want to accomplish in life is to inspire someone, to challenge what is, and to consider what can be ..." - Dr R Kay Green
Back to the Inspirational Woman category. I recently came across a blog on HuffPost entitled 'What is the true meaning of inspiration?', by Dr R Kay Green, an author, trainer and coach. She speaks of the ordinariness of those who inspire by how they live their lives, and says, "What inspires are the people who do something to better humanity in their own small corner of the world. They don’t need headlines or accolades. They need only to know that they stepped up to make things better."
So I guess that's something I do know - that I stepped up. And that is something I am proud of.
I also know that others have been inspired by the work I have done to raise awareness around young people's mental health, and to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental illness. I know that I have changed attitudes, and I know that The Project, which I set up in 2013 to support young people experiencing mental health issues, has helped many hundreds of young people and their families. I know that, in speaking out about my daughter's mental illness, and the impact this has had on our family, I have given permission for many others to speak out and share their stories. And I know that the training and workshops I run, both for young people and for those working with and supporting young people, have helped people to have greater understanding around mental illness. I know and accept all this to be true.
Do I deserve recognition for this? That's a whole different question, and that's where the discomfort comes in. But maybe this isn't a question for me to answer. I've certainly never sought it, but having been nominated for this award, and then shortlisted as a finalist after having met Sally Allen, an entrepreneur and Founder of Wizard Jeans, the sponsors of this award category, there are obviously those out there who do believe that I am worthy of being a finalist.
In addition, my recent Fellowship Award by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, to carry out research overseas into early intervention initiatives promoting positive mental wellbeing in young people, is a further indication that others believe in me, and my potential.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Marianne Williamson
That being the case, my challenge is to accept this, and in doing so, to step out of the shadows and celebrate my achievements. I need to do this for me, but I also need to do this for all women - to know that it is acceptable for us to be all of who we are, that we are not too much if we fully show up and shine. And if, by doing this, it gives me more opportunity to bring about change, challenge attitudes and make a difference, then I need to embrace this opportunity, and as instructed by the Venus Awards team, PR the hell out of it ...
Debbie is the Founder of The Project, a successful early intervention support network for young people affected by mental health issues, based in East Devon/South Somerset. Since opening in 2013, The Project has been nominated for and won awards, and been recognised as an example of best practice at Government level for its innovative and effective approach to supporting young people.
Debbie has recently set up The Project Training & Consultancy, a social enterprise providing mental health awareness training, as well as consultancy around early intervention support for young people. The Project's model has been manualised, to allow replication in other areas in response to demand, so more young people can access the help and support they need, when they need it.
For more information:
www.theproject-training.co.uk | e: firstname.lastname@example.org | t: 07874 269233