Do you remember when you first decided what you wanted to be when you grew up? Maybe you wanted to be an astronaut or a ballerina or a vet.
From age 9, I wanted to be a lawyer.
You see, I had decided that my super power was to help people, to sort chaos in to order. I would protect people who needed protection from the bad scary things out there.
Like every 9 year old child, I thought I could change the world.
I worked so hard to become a lawyer; form applying for work experience age 10 (I was told to come back when I was a little older!) to applying for mini-pupillage left, right and centre.
I refused to be put off.
When the barrister I was shadowing on mini pupillage asked who the lawyer was of my parents, and commented on my 'crossing multiple socio-economic boundaries' to try and become a lawyer, I shrugged it off.
That's a lie. I cried my eyes out that night, and then turned up at the mini pupillage the next day and, thank god, was assigned to someone else.
My path to qualification wasn't easy, wasn't smooth, and I worked longer than most people would have done in the expectation that I would make it.
But somewhere along the way, definitely before that mini pupillage but it didn't do much to dispel the image, I decided that in order to be a lawyer, I couldn't be me.
That no-one would want me as I was, and so I had to change to fit the mold.
Maybe you can't relate?
Attending training courses and finding my accent subtly change to become more clipped, more 'posh'.
Pretending I know what the hell people were talking about when they discussed politics or niche interests - I was too busy working in shops trying to make ends meet to have any time for real interests.
For years I divorced who I was from what I wanted to be. I felt keenly that I didn't fit in, didn't belong, but like the stubborn ginger I am, refused to take no for an answer.
My CV tells you that in my spare time I like going to the cinema, reading and singing.
The truth was I *worked* in the cinema, on top of my paralegal job and a volunteer position, the most I read was my Facebook feed before work and the only singing I did was in my car, belting out Defying Gravity and other showstoppers to raise my mood before arriving at the office.
If you ever saw a ginger woman, mouth wide open mid-song and tears streaming down her face, driving old-style Seat Leon on the M4/M5 interchange - that was me. Sorry about that. Couldn't have been pretty.
At some point, probably 6 or 7 years into my career I was so damned tired.
I was tired of pretending that I didn't love rock and metal music and that I knew composers other than Chester Bennington and Amy Lee.
I was tired of doing nothing but eat-work-sleep-repeat. Even some of that was sketchy. I regularly had a 'dinner' of crisps eaten in the car on the drive home and woke up frequently through the night, terrified I had/hadn't done something at work/couldn't pay my bills/wondered what the hell I was doing.
Then, back in 2010 or 2011, I started doing something that was completely un-law. I started making jewellery.
I rapidly moved on from charm earrings on a wire to creating designs with resin, copper leaf, clock pieces.
This was something I did in the evenings, an hour before bed. I started selling my designs and, when I was featured in Clifton Life magazine I was over the moon. There were my photographs, of my jewellery, that I sold around the world, in a magazine!
I was so proud of myself.
I had barely told a soul what I was doing. A few people at work knew about it in this semi-defensive way of 'I've told you so now you can't take the piss about it'.
So you can imagine my abject horror when, in the middle of a training event, another attendee asked loudly 'Leah, are you the founder of RogueJewels Steampunk Jewellery Designs?'
Shit, shit, shit. Busted.
Of course, this isn't a story about how my legal career came tumbling around my impeccably adorned ears.
But that fear; of being my weird self, of opening up who I really was to other people, followed me around constantly.
I was so used to hiding myself that I didn't know how to stop.
I was so convinced that who I was wasn't enough, that I didn't really know how to just be 'me'.
I put on an act for so many years of my career, tied myself up in knots trying to be the person that they thought I was in order to get ahead, get qualified, get promoted.
It's exhausting, just thinking about it.
It's something I see day in and day out with my private clients.
They worry that they aren't 'enough', just as I did for over a decade.
They worry that, compared to the people next to them, they're not qualified enough, not loud enough, not flashy enough.
Isn't is something we do as women? Shrink into ourselves and try not to be offensive, try not to draw too much attention.
After all, draw too much attention and you get a label.
'Bitch' 'Ball-buster' 'Loud' 'Bossy'
Draw into yourself and become too quiet though?
'Mousey' 'Boring' 'who cares?'
We're so determined to walk this fine line, to be loud but not too loud, to b friendly but not too friendly (god forbid we are TOO friendly in the office and some guy gets the wrong impression).
We wear clothes that are nice, but not too nice. Fitted but not revealing, expensive but not flashy.
We wear discreet jewellery and hide our politics and hide our anger and frustration at being overlooked and ignored and our ideas stolen.
Isn't it time we called bullshit?
Isn't it time that we stopped tying ourselves up in knots so desperately trying to impress without offending, shine without shadowing others that we just stopped?
Stopped being anyone but ourselves.
Stopped worrying about what other people think.
Stopped apologising for who we are.
We worked damn hard to get here.
It's time to appreciate ourselves and let that light shine.
Instead of muffling it, quieting it, blanding it out.
I am proud to say that, in the last couple of years of my career in law I started being more of who I was.
I wore my own steampunk jewellery to work and gave it away as gifts to colleagues.
I spoke my clients' language (yep, that meant that sometimes I swore in client meetings. I call a spade a spade and bullshit bullshit).
I still had moments of feeling sick at who I was and who I had become.
Sitting quietly in a client meeting whilst my client trashed 'people on benefits' (because THAT's a single homogenous group, right?) whilst inwardly screaming 'you're talking about me 20 years ago, do you get that??'.
Sitting there with my head down rather than speak up when what we were doing was totally and resolutely wrong, because I was scared of getting the 'trouble-maker' reputation.
But the more I became myself, the more I couldn't not become myself.
The more I heard my own voice the easier it became to say no to what was not aligned. To resect my moral and ethical compass.
We need more women who are not afraid, who are prepared to stand up and say what might be unpopular, might not be the status quo, but needs to be said because they can't not.
And the only way I see that changing is by more women becoming confident in who they are and what they are and how they do it.
Speaking loudly without fear of a label.
Speaking proudly without worry of being stifled.
Doing what is right, even when it doesn't always contribute to the bottom line.
Because we've lived double lives for far too long. It's exhausting and you have more important work to do.
PS I am so inspired by the concept of being confident, owning your own unique gifts, and not being ashamed or feeling the need to belittle or diminish yourself that it's time to do this, officially.
I am leading a small group of like-minded women through an immersion course, Confident Unique You.
Together we are going to get in deep as to why you should be confident in who you are and what you do; we are going to get clear on your own special super powers, the work you do with ease and grace because it comes so easily and naturally to you, and we are going to get practical on how to elucidate and elaborate on your gifts without feeling pushy, bolshy or the bitch.
Did you know that the vast majority of women will not apply for a job unless they can already accomplish 90%+ of the competencies of the job, whilst men will apply when they can do less than half?
Your fear, lack of confidence and worry about speaking out is holding you back - emotionally, energetically and financially.
It's time to speak.
It's time to find your Confident, Unique You.
This starts on Thursday by way of audio trainings delivered direct to your inbox. This is going to consist of *at least* 3 trainings delivered to you, but my gut says there could be 5.
This is an immersion course.
Do the work and you will emerge with a new respect for yourself and the work you do, a new confidence about speaking and being you and most importantly, you'll stop hiding and twisting yourself up in knots. That energy has FAR better uses!
All of this for one single payment of £47 - but only for the first five women to join. Thereafter the price will revert to £97 (which is still 10% of what I *should* be charging for this game-changing work!).
We start Thursday, will you join us?