1st Listening Circle: Peeling back the layers…

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

Artwork by Azam Mazoumzadeh a.k.a. zamzadeh

Our identities are complex and many-layered. We carry layers put on us by our family, our education, our culture, our society… We have become used to being in a specific costume, a box where we’re supposed to fit in, confined by the expectations of other people. Deep-rooted beliefs about what we can and can’t do impact every decision we make, and not always consciously. Have you ever felt yourself fall back into the role of a child when visiting your parents - changing how you behave, not liking it but finding it exhausting to fight it? Have you ever wanted to integrate all of your personality into your professional life, but felt this just doesn’t seem possible? Have you ever caught yourself saying sorry just for being yourself – for being overbearing, emotional, chatty (or, if you’re an introvert, not being chatty enough)? We all feel like we have to lie, to pretend, to censor ourselves sometimes.

One striking example is the gender pay gap. Men more often ask to get paid, for example to give a talk, and ask for higher pay than women at salary negotiations. Years and years of unpaid and underappreciated labour, including cooking, cleaning and raising children, has made women embarrassed and apologetic about asking to get paid. Women generally undervalue their work and are less confident than men, feeling like imposters and downplaying their skills and accomplishments. Should we be telling women to ‘man up’, or should men also play their part so both can meet in the middle? This sounds like a very likely topic to explore in a future get-together!

It’s not just women having a hard time sometimes. None of us want to have to feel sorry for being ourselves. We all want to feel free to be our authentic self. We all want to show others: this is me, all of me. We all wear a costume of layers that can get very claustrophobic, and our first step is to understand why they are there, before deciding whether we want to keep them. We are on a long and slow journey of un-becoming, un-learning, stripping back the layers that aren’t ‘me’, getting closer and closer to our core authentic self.

Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place. (Paulo Coelho)

This journey can be made easier by sharing personal stories, and learning from other people’s stories. Being in a safe environment where you can be vulnerable can help you release your doubts and anger, give you the space to reflect, and make you feel valued and empowered. Simply listening, without judgement or expectations or advice, can give you powerful insights. Others who are at first sight different, their outer layers unfamiliar, turn out to have so much in common with you that it resonates at a deeper level. Many MRY members have joined because they gravitated to others with similar experiences, no matter if they come from different ages, jobs, cultures, countries… We love being inspired and finding new personal role models. You cannot imagine something you don’t know, something you just don’t see is possible...

Having these conversations via Zoom offers an unexpected advantage. For many, Zoom was reluctantly forced upon us by the pandemic. However, video calls have given us a unique window into more layers by presenting and seeing more authentic versions of ourselves. Most of us are in the comfort of our own spaces: dressed the way we like, sat in a room we decorated (which includes varying degrees of clutter), with the occasional child or pet making a surprise appearance. Our life and personality shine through without the ‘work persona’ layer we would be wearing if we might have met at a conference or even a café. Not to mention we are able to meet people from all over the world easily without spending much time or money!

We need a network like MRY to help us discover our truest self, hidden under layers and layers, some of which we didn’t know were there or hadn’t realised are not us. We are on a journey to build the confidence to show our truest self and be unapologetically ourselves, more and more. If some of this resonates with you, please feel free to join one of our future get-togethers!

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