Paul Gilbert: 'I do not think we can pretend to be invulnerable and cope well forever.'
It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and I would like to write something positive and encouraging about mental health and wellbeing.
In 2016 I wrote about being diagnosed with depression. Thankfully it was a relatively light brush with a deeply uncomfortable illness. With love and support I recovered well and believe I have learned to manage the odd dip since.
I do not feel my depression has gone forever, but I now have a perspective on it that gives me hope it will not overwhelm me again. Partly for me this has been about acknowledging that my vulnerability should not be hidden.
I do not think we can pretend to be invulnerable and cope well forever. I have found that it is better to accept vulnerability as part of the mosaic of our lives and to let it make the picture so much more vivid and real.
Self-esteem and self-worth
I would like to share a little about self-esteem and self-worth. I know when anyone is struggling it is easy to think that everyone else is coping brilliantly. Our weaknesses make us feel very lonely. I hope therefore that it might be helpful to someone if I write a few words about the fact that I have never coped brilliantly with, or indeed felt worthy of, any role I have ever had.
I have heard people say lots of kind things over the years; they say I can be an inspiring speaker and sometimes a funny writer and some people think I am an insightful mentor. Such kind words are appreciated and I count my blessings every day, but it is not the same as what I feel.
As a director of the business I founded in the year 2000 I have worked all over the world from Singapore to Cape Town to Washington. However, I am certain there has not been a single day when I felt worthy of the opportunities I have been given.
In twenty years I have not been able to accept even one compliment without an overwhelming wish to say back “yes, but you’re wrong…”
How can it be that in my late fifties I have so little regard for my experience that I still feel gripped with anxiety before a presentation?
I have been part of a team that has created wonderfully enriching developmental events, but I do not sleep for days beforehand and afterwards I struggle to read the often beautifully thoughtful feedback from a grateful delegate.
I love my mentoring work. The people I work with are gifted and kind, and they inspire me with their courage, and their commitment to being thoughtful and brilliant contributors. To help such brilliant people fulfil their potential feels like one of the greatest blessings of my life, but I have never asked any of them if I have helped.
I love writing, but I would be mortified to have my words critiqued. I write mostly to calm my swirling mind and so that my exhausted ideas may rest away from the noise inside my head.
I was once told by a lawyer that he was disappointed with a report I had written. “Is this it?” he asked before destroying my work. He concluded his email saying: “You know you are not as good as you think you are”.
I thought to myself: 'Mate, you have absolutely NO idea!'
The email is years old and it is still the only feedback I can remember word for word. And the trouble was, I believed him. My self-doubt is part of me. On a good day I can appear like I have it all under control, I can trust that I have done things before and I will therefore be able to do these things again. But on a poor day I doubt I will ever work again.
The reason I feel it is important to share this most private of fears, in this Mental Health Awareness Week, is because it is also the twentieth anniversary year of our business and I want to say out loud, proudly and with certainty that my fear has not defined me.
My fear has not stopped me from being a contributor and helping other people. My fear has not stopped me from being valued by others. My fear has not stopped me from trying to be kind.
There are a few things at the heart of the way I work, and I would like to share them with you. I think they are the most important things I have learnt in my whole career and without these thoughts I would have been lost a long time ago.
First, if you feel that you cannot love yourself you must still allow others to love you. I know I am not the best judge of my worth, but I trust others who love me to guide me and help me.
Second, if you cannot easily ask for help, please surround yourself with people who will step in to help you without being asked. The best teams look out for each other. The people I work with inspire me every day. The people around me have changed my life for the better, for ever.
And third, if you fear a bad day is closing in, try to let it pass, a good day will not be far behind. Your talent and your values are a constant, a stormy mind is not.
In the hauntingly beautiful words of John O’Donohue:
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
Whatever our fear, however it feels, it emphatically does not define us. Fear may want to engulf us, but it cannot do so. It is just one feeling, and we have so many others to rely on.
Fear can shout and make a din, but noise is not the same as truth. Despite my fear, which I have had for as long as I can remember, I know it is possible to have a career full of blessings, full of achievement, full of love and kindness and friendships for a lifetime. That is the truth.
Perhaps it is because of my fear that I have found the most beautiful and cherished people to work with; people full of soul and kindness. Perhaps it is because of my fear that I know there is such untapped potential in everyone, and I believe in everyone’s opportunity to be the wonderfully kind, thoughtful and fulfilled contributor that they and their talent deserve to be.
Perhaps it is because of my fear that I feel it is my life’s work to stand beside others and their fears.
My final thought is for my colleagues at LBC Wise Counsel and in our amazing faculty. I love working with you. I love your kindness and your brilliance. I love the values you live by every day. I love you. You have lifted my world and filled it with blessings.
Paul Gilbert is chief executive of LBC Wise Counsel. This article originally appeared on his blog, which can be found here.