Baby picture of one of Emma's children

This photo was taken fourteen-and-a-half years ago. It’s of our eldest daughter. The transition to parenthood had been as tough as it was exhilarating. A few weeks before this photo was taken, I’d taken her, with the sacred ‘red book’ that was her health record, to the GP. Like many new mothers, I had been keen to make breastfeeding work, and was lucky enough that it did. A few sleepless weeks in, we thought a bottle would help my husband and I share things out (and maybe get more than 40 mins sleep in one go). She had other ideas, which she expressed forcefully and with a persistence that turned out to be blueprint for for her nature. Our daughter was born (amidst some crazy complications – she and I would not be here but for modern medicine) on the second centile (in the ‘bottom two percent’ for size). There was a graph and she regularly dropped below the aspirational line on the growth chart. The growth chart, I was told, was Very Important.

‘She’s not thriving,’ said the GP, on examining the chart. ‘You need to introduce formula milk.’

I was devastated. My baby wasn’t thriving (or indeed sleeping and she really, no matter how often I was told to ‘show her who’s boss’, take a bottle). I’d clearly done Something Very Wrong. (And remember: she said NO to bottle feeding and it fact subsisted almost exclusively on apple crumble, blueberries and breastmilk for her first 18 months – bye bye, lovingly prepared and frozen Annabel Karmel recipes).

My anxiety hit new levels. Cue: some random woman from the internet insisted on a coffee. (I’d been posting on forum about pregnancy and childbirth). I initially scoffed at this crazy offer for a stranger. She insisted again.

The unspeakably glamorous rando with an unspeakably thriving baby a few months ahead of us entered the café. ‘She’s not thriving,’ I told her, when I managed to remember how sentences worked. ‘But look at her!’ said my to-this-day closest friend. ‘Look at those cheeks! She’s fine!’


That’s the story. I’d been looking at the charts -the GP, it would seem, had only looked at the charts.

As a coach, I regularly meet people tortured with perceptions of their own failures or shortcomings. Impostor syndrome, self-doubt and perfectionism are a regular  theme. Some coachees are regularly plagued by with ‘what-ifs’ when it comes to what others really think.

As professionals, as scholars, a friends, as loved-ones, as parents, dog-owners, vegetarians, women… we are constantly surrounded with arbitrary, contradictory and infinitely potent  measures of what we ‘should’ be in order to be ‘good enough’. From the power of Ofsted to dominate school leaders’ lives to vocal opinions on social media, the ‘not good enough’ gremlins have potential feasts wherever we step.

We so often think in binary terms – ‘I am smashing it!’ ‘I’m a total failure.’ In truth, life is messy – we can respectively fail and succeed in fifty given ways in several different areas of our lives and our work every single day. But we have control over whether we allow these perceptions and these – very real – feelings to define us. It’s not easy, but when the gremlins start to gather and snicker, TAKE CONTROL, and consider:

  • Whose opinion do I really, honestly rate?
  • How much of my emotional energy does this person/concept/view really deserve?
  • What really matters?
  • What do I value?
  • What have I learned from this?
  • If I really want know what others think, I can always ask

Take the boxes and graphs and clichés and gurus and chuck them on a high shelf – or in the bin (sorry, Gina Ford). Give yourself a high five when you know you’ve done well, and forgive yourself the messy bits and try to find the joy in them too. Our children, our students, our loved-ones, our clients and our friends don’t need perfection – they need role models who are flawed and messy and human.

Look at the cheeks, not the graphs.

I believe in helping people be the happiest, most effective and most authentic versions of themselves. Through my work as a teacher, coach and wellbeing expert, I nurture self-belief and self-awareness and remind you that not only are you not alone, but you have more control than you might imagine. You deserve, not just to survive, but to thrive.

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