For many years I battled through life. I adopted masculine energy and stepped into an ethereal, engorged power stance as I fervently propelled myself forwards. I warred against internal and external resistance, defiantly donning armour as I assertively slayed the myriad obstacles in my path. I pushed through personal boundaries and obsessively chanted ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. I squashed that fear and indeed I did do it anyway. I made progress, I evolved, grew, ascended… Externally, the houses got bigger, the number of children higher, businesses swelled, the career hierarchy elevated, onwards and upwards I pirouetted. I was definitely dancing my way up. A merry dance in hindsight. A dancing delirium I now reflect.
In all my pursuit of next and new I was relentless. I would run daily on my treadmill, 6am efforts before the children woke and the working day began, pushing myself to nausea, saying over and over “I am unstoppable” (parroted from Tony Robbins in “Unleash The Power Within”). My work had no limits. I was passionate about it, addicted to the results and expanded strategies and to-do lists almost unconsciously. I pushed myself to exhaustion, dangerously tipping into immune collapse and repeated cycles of burnout. In my sick bed I’d chastise myself for naively believing I was invincible and vow to be gentler upon recovery. It took many years before I did indeed finally break the cycle. (Read more about my cure to achieve maximum impact without burnout in my best-selling book Flourish: Redefine Success & Create More Time, Energy, Impact and Happiness).
All this pushing, effort and warrior behaviour was a juxtaposition of extrinsic ‘success’ (and let’s be clear the version of success I was chasing was certainly not one I’d spent time defining at this point), and intrinsic compromise. To the outside world the glossy ‘have it all’ package twinkled captivatingly as fit, slim, clever, mummy me, entrepreneur me, social butterfly me, career-winning me cavorted through life with apparent zing. The inner world however was a zone of over-functioning, anxiety-riddled boundary pushing, corporate battle-doom, relationship stress and emotional heartache. It was a murky mire of compromised values and far from sheeny shiny inside.
There’s one moment in time I identify as my most acute Warrior Crisis. I sold my business, put my children into full time childcare (for the first time in over a decade of parenting) and went back into a corporate role whilst I chased rapid and solid income increase to get my eldest children in private secondary schools. 3 things were going on.
- Compromised values. I left my children with a childminder to go to an office job working rigid hours 9am-6pm 5 days per week. This utterly broke my heart. And yet I did it.
- Loss of authenticity. I donned a corporate persona as I ventured into corporate realms for the first time in a ‘global big gig’ totally out of my depth, terrified and intimidated by every interaction and task, faking it to make it. This was where the austere hair with the blunt cut fringe came in.
- Fierce independence. As I sunk into the recognition that no-one was coming to help progress my life into the vision I desired for the family bar me, I bubbled with resentment, frustration and anger towards my partner. I became steely and as the pennies rolled in, so our marriage rolled out.
When I look at who I was at this life juncture, it’s only now a decade on I see the frightened, grappling girl I was; an alternate, fledgling version of me, afraid yet abounding with bravery, ambition and effort. I had to adopt a warrior archetype as every day was indeed a battle. I was stratospherically out of my comfort zone.
When we are scared, we enshroud ourselves in protective armour, physically and metaphorically. My armour of yesteryear was my 80s power dressing (heels, blazers, stiff bodycon dresses, chunky gold necklaces, cringe, cringe), my severe hair, my assertive personality and my obsessive busyness. Privately I had nightly panic attacks. Stillness made the fear acute. So, I managed the emotional crisis with avoidance strategies channelling the angst away. I pushed myself harder, flurrying into over-functioning, a classic form of anxiety suppression. I worked out more intensely, socialised more, drank more booze, partied harder, I worked longer and longer hours and allowed myself to slavishly surrender to the endless business task lists. I simultaneously renovated a home, continued to mother as intimately and supportively as I always had.
On and on went my ridiculous pursuit of more. Never saying no, always raising the standards. Boy did I perfect the art of utterly disregarding balance.
It’s only with hindsight I reflect upon how distant this self-contained, somewhat abrasive warrior woman now is to me. She was there to protect me, propel me and serve a purpose at a time I needed to shield myself within that archetype. I was struggling and she was a salvation of sorts.
Now, as I approach another birthday, mid 40s, divorced, raising 4 children, running 3 businesses, life is still busy, abundant and full of various challenges and riches but I’m no longer in battle mode. Today I feel softer. I feel calmer, more grounded, centred and clear thinking. I prioritise better, nourish myself more, am driven by what illuminates my soul. I’m authentic. I actually feel more myself.
What’s interesting here is that I’m no less productive, no less impactful and no less of a being. I am in fact more gracefully productive and I am definitely happier. I’ve come to see life as more of a game to play and less of a battlefield. I laugh at adversity and have taken an awful lot of pressure off myself. Don’t get me wrong I still have high standards but they’re less tautly fixed and when I don’t achieve an idealised version of perfection I relax and let it go. So, the kitchen floor is muddy, oh well. So, the kids didn’t have clean sports kit on today, oh well. So, I didn’t run a single time last week, oh well. So, the PowerPoint blocks didn’t align symmetrically, oh well (actually that’s a tough one to let go). And ooops I ate TWO chocolate cornettos, oh well. I’ve adopted a lot more acceptance and fluidity. It is what it is.
Perhaps my spirituality has expanded. I’m definitely more trusting in a divine power. Equally, I’m more trusting in my own intuition, in following my gut. My mantra today is to follow my heart before my head. I’ve learned to release and surrender. I’ve learned to stop my self-flagellation when I miss a self-set deadline, a workout, or have indulged in that extra glass of champagne. I’m living with integrity and have started to believe that I am enough. I know what I know, and I can do what I can do. As long as I’m trying my best, compassionately and consciously, that is enough. I feel a huge sense of being exactly where I need to be.
So, when you examine your own life and your own warrior where does this archetype manifest? Is it a healthy, propelling progressive energy? Or is it a harmful, fear-induced mind state that marks a danger zone?
There’s a lot of hype today around being a ‘boss babe’, assertive girl power and, for both men and women, making a big fat dent in the universe (ideally a positive one of course). Our culture, with its frenetic pace and accelerated change, stimulates a world where we go into battle the moment we open our eyes, racing to get the kids to school, feed the dog, prepare for hours of zooms, wash our hair, do the laundry, order the food shop and so on. It is a juggle (never mind a global pandemic) and that in itself becomes a war against time. But do you need your fiercest warrior self in the day to day? Perpetual cortisol-fuelled fight mode is gravely unhealthy.
What would happen if you let your metaphorical guard down? If you were gentler with yourself and others? If you relaxed and released your warrior from duty…?
I advise you to do an experiment for one week and observe your emotional undulations. Look at what provokes a trigger state that rouses your defences versus those moments you feel ‘in flow’. Watch what happens when you release an aggressive stance and soften. Test the impact it has on your relationship dynamics be it with your children, your team or your clients. Likewise, what happens when you expose your vulnerability? When you release your fear instead of hardening around it, very different outcomes ensue.
For me, I see retiring my warrior as a blessing. I can still be assertive and lead astutely when necessary, but I’m more, well, graceful with it. Even physically I note a new gentle fluidity. I’m curvier, softer and my work attire today is all floaty florals, flats and dangly jewellery. I even curl my hair now. Within my work, rather than a defensive stance, I simply bring my strengths and experience to every project and am empowered by having total clarity on what they are (I have done a lot of ground work here and can help you too). Most importantly I’m ultra- clear on when to stop. I have learned to pre-empt the peak of the stress and productivity curve before it descends into burnout/lame decision making/conflict/etc. I switch of the ruthless, relentless keeping on warrior and pause and breathe.
Without the warrior the world still spins, stuff still gets done, but there’s a whole lot more joy, love and wonder to every day that simply isn’t as abundant as when she’s in charge. I’m glad we’ve parted company. Is it time you softened a little too?