Breaking Free from the ‘Just’ Box

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Be all you can be says Dinah Liversidge

How often do you put yourself in the ‘just’ box?

“I’m just his PA’, ‘I’m just doing my job it’s nothing special’, ‘I’m just her assistant’. Do any of these self-demeaning sentences sound familiar?  It’s always fascinated me how many of us that work in a role where we serve others, see our position as ‘just’ a supporting, background role, rather than a measure of a shared successful partnership.

Every successful leader I have ever worked with has had a common belief that their Assistant is integral to their own success.  I wonder how many of those Assistants knew this.

When we decide to put ourselves in the ‘just’ box, we give other people permission to treat us with lowered expectations

It’s important to question why we might do this:

  • Fear of failure; if we lower someone’s expectations then if we don’t achieve perfection they can’t say we didn’t warn them.
  • Fear of showing someone up; we may not want to out-perform someone else in the team by doing a task better than they do, particularly if they are more senior to us.
  • Fear of the limelight; receiving praise can feel uncomfortable, particularly when done in front of other people.
  • Fear of success; I’ve worked with more than one Assistant who was worried that if they performed too well, they’d get promoted out of a job they loved.

These fears are, like many unknowns, larger in our minds than in reality.  A fear of failure is something that is often spoken about, but few of us admit that it applies to us.  It’s completely reasonable to want to do well in our work and do a great job for the person we support.  Part of what makes an exceptional Assistant, is the desire to over-deliver on expectations.

When fear becomes an issue however, is when it starts to impact our level of concentration resulting in mistakes; or makes us less confident to express our opinions which would be of value and important for our executive to hear.  Before you can get out of the ‘just’ box, you’ve got to be real with yourself about which of these fears are holding you back and start shaking the habit.

My top three tips for dealing with fear are:

Daily

Admit your fear and decide to be courageous.  Courage is only something we can achieve if we are experiencing fear; you can be brave without fear, but to show courage you have to feel the fear and still do the thing that scares you.  I highly recommend the wonderful ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffer. If you’ve already read it – read it again!  Then set yourself a Daily Courage Challenge and take one step every day.

Weekly

Share your fear with someone you value.  Telling someone when we’re less than confident about something in our professional life can feel like a step too far. Surely if we admit that we’re afraid, or less than perfect, we’ll undermine our credibility?  I believe the opposite is true and that, as Brene Brown shares in her brilliant TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability, sharing our imperfections makes us approachable, stronger in the eyes of those who respect us, and often more honest with ourselves too.

Monthly

Acknowledge your courage and reward your progress.  Challenging fears is like changing a life-long habit.  We’re always ready to celebrate when someone gives up smoking or alcohol, so now it’s time to celebrate letting go of our fears and making progress that is good for our mental wellness.  Write down all the small achievements over the month, especially the things you found most terrifying, and at the end of the month read over them again and celebrate.

The ‘just’ box will begin to show you its true colours, the more you challenge the fears.  With every small achievement, you’ll be more conscious of the fact you’re using the word ‘just’ less frequently and with more thought.  When we become aware of the negative words we constantly use, it can reveal a pattern around how we use our language to keep ourselves boxed-in.  Safe.

When you become aware that you’re not putting your role down so often, it’s also going to become more apparent that there are people you tend to do this with more than others.  It’s worth noting who these people are for you, and why you perhaps feel the need to belittle your role or your achievements around them.  Challenge your own thinking on what their perception of you is; it is likely that you’re projecting your own self-doubts onto others, often without any justification.

When we stop over-thinking what other people may or may not be thinking about us, we let go of a highly destructive force.  It is amazing how quickly we get dragged back into self-deprecation when we spend our energy trying to work out if we’ve upset / let-down / annoyed someone we work with.  This draining way of thinking is not productive and nothing positive will come of it.  It’s one of the fastest ways back into the ‘just’ box.  Every time you find yourself thinking in this way remember, you’re working on change and that is going to take time. You’re working on change because you deserve to live free from the ‘just’ box.  You’re working on change because you’re ready to be all you can be.

The final stage in getting out of the ‘just’ box is to write your value statement.  Not to be confused with your ‘values’, this is a statement about your worth and the value that you bring to your Executive or your team.  You don’t have to share it with anyone else. It’s a reminder to you, to the voice in your head for the wobble-days, where you’re feeling doubt or a lack of self-worth.  It’s there to remind you why the ‘just’ box doesn’t serve you and you don’t belong in it.

  • Create your value statement on beautiful paper, or in a beautiful notebook, so that you can touch it and look at it whenever you want. I like to get creative with mine, and colour it in and surround it with doodles.  Whatever works for you IS the right way to do this.
  • Make your statement easy to read out loud, and to memorize, so that you can repeat it to yourself. Remember, this is for you so make the words authentic.
  • If you don’t believe what you’ve written, it’s not your value statement yet, so start again, and be less worried about getting it right.
  • Make your value statement part of a daily acknowledgement of your achievements. Remind yourself every day that this is why you will never again fit into the ‘just’ box.

Belief that you add value, that you are valuable to another person, to their success and ultimately the success of the company, may feel like showing off.  It may feel like you’re ‘getting above yourself’.  All of this is your mind’s way of getting you to stay put, to not make change.  It seems crazy to suggest that we’d resist a change that is going to improve the quality of our day, every day, but our minds like familiarity – even when it’s negative – so push through. Keep reminding yourself why you’re making the changes.  Like any new habit, you’ve got to work at it until it’s routine for you to think this way.  It’s not easy, but it is worth it.

This belief is key to success when making changes and it is so often what trips us up with a new, positive habit. When you have a bad day, and everything seems to be saying to you “See, you belonged in that box all the time.  Who were you trying to kid?” you need to remind yourself that it’s normal to stumble. In fact, I’ve fallen flat on my face and thought I’d never get up again more times than I can recall.  We all have days where our new positive head talk suddenly gets drowned out by the old, familiar voice that undermines and challenges our best intentions.  Tomorrow, when you get out of bed, you get to wipe that slate clean and re-start the positive.  You don’t need to feel bad about the off-day(s), they’ve happened and can’t be undone, so move on and stay focussed on your new No-box-mission.

You deserve to succeed.

I’d love to know how you get on challenging your fears and banishing the ‘just’ box from your life.  Do connect with me on Twitter @DinahLiversidge and let me know how you’re getting on.

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About Author

Dinah Liversidge

Dinah Liversidge is a Massive Change Mentor and no-box-thinker. She describes her working experience as diverse and exciting, having started as an Assistant in the 1980s, where she acquired the skills which gave her the confidence to transition into a hugely challenging role as International Event Manager for Smithkline Beecham, for 11 years. Relying again on her Assistant skills, Dinah went on to establish and run her husband’s roofing business, the London North and West Region of a world leading networking organisation and now, writes, part-time for her daughter’s VA business, whilst coaching and mentoring a small group of entrepreneurial clients. She lives with her husband, John, on a smallholding near the Brecon Beacons, Wales. Having overcome massive change in her own life, Dinah helps people re-invent a new life for themselves, a version of themselves that allows them to thrive despite the odds. She writes on her blog dinahsblog.com and also for Amethystpa.co.uk. Dinah will be speaking at Executive Secretary LIVE in Johannesburg 28-29 February 2020. For further information and to book, visit www.executivesecretarylive.com

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