Our plans can feel daunting and ambitious. They may feel beyond us but if we look to our past achievements (and setbacks) there are clues as to what we need to do or believe in order to succeed. Sometimes we forget how capable we are or have been.  By way of a couple of my own highs and lows, I invite you to tap into your memory bank for examples of your best self and apply those to today’s challenges.

This blog is based on a presentation I gave to a couple a local networking groups this month. The slots were booked months without a title or theme but there came a time when I had to write something down. I set a deadline, booked an appointment with a fellow coach to go through my ideas and two hours before we were due to meet, the page was still blank! Here I am with a blank sheet of paper not knowing what I am going to talk about but feeling ok about this. Surely “old Shirley” wouldn’t have volunteered without knowing what she was going to say? She’d have been panicking about standing in front of a blank sheet of paper. “How far I’ve come” I thought. Perhaps that is the story – it’s a story of my transformation over the last year or so but hang on a minute. I think I have been here before.

Shirley 1.0

I had a flash back to a recent run when I was thinking of my NY Marathon experience. 12 years ago, now. I was actually having an internal dialogue about my use of internal dialogue when I run (as you do) and I remembered how I felt on the starting line and how positive I had felt about the challenge ahead.  I actually said to myself “isn’t this exciting? I am standing on the starting line of the New York Marathon and I don’t know if I can do it!”

When I signed up for the marathon. I didn’t think about it too hard. I had started running and had done a half marathon or two. I had watched the London Marathon and was thinking about entering when my husband called to say that places in the New York Marathon that year were available.  I said yes straightaway and then I wondered how I was going to do it.

As I reflected on this I wondered. What was that version of Shirley like? Well, she was a bit of a warrior. She was an expert in her field and if she wasn’t, she didn’t let that put her off because she loved a challenge. With self-belief (born out of naivety), she got stuck in and asked questions later.

I won’t say that this version of me was totally successful. She made some poor career decisions as a result of this attitude but it felt easy to ask for help and advice from a position of strength because I was the expert in my field and confident in my abilities.

This version of myself, Shirley 1.0, is almost unrecognisable to me. What happened to her? Where did she go?

Shirley 1.0 enters the dark forest

Well, the answer is that she wondered into a dark forest. Some things can’t be muddled through or attacked with energy and force of will.  My mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010 and died in 2015 and during this time, I also did a couple of challenging contracts. My work put me at the edge of my knowledge and energy levels and I was definitely no expert when it came to dealing with my Mum’s illness; I didn’t know what to do or say. I retreated into myself and carried on as though everything was okay. I believed that I would bounce back at some point.

I didn’t realise it at the time but the very foundation of my identity was coming under question.  I was vulnerable, needed help, and unable to admit it…that wasn’t who I was.   Ironically, I was least able to do the “Shirley 1.0” thing and ask for help and advice.

“You can only enter half way into the dark forest before you come out the other side” (Chinese proverb)

Now who am I?

Following my mum’s death, there followed a period of transition. I was out of contract and in bereavement. I then formally set up my business as a coach. Yep, whilst my mum was terminally ill and I had a demanding job, I trained as a coach! I felt I should commit to it and it was the right thing to do but I hadn’t come to terms with my new identity as a coach and business person.

I was hesitant and lacking belief. “Who am I to coach?” I asked myself.

I had to find some new skills and beliefs if I was to succeed as a coach and truly serve my clients so I started rebuilding. I started networking which forced me to own up to being a coach. I did some more training and became an NLP Practitioner which enhanced my capability and validated my skills.  I engaged coaches to help me deal with the grief and grow my self-belief.

Introducing Shirley 2.0

All of that effort created Shirley 2.0 but she didn’t become a warrior again. Through the self-development process I realised that I didn’t want to be a warrior anymore and I found a flexible more fun version of me. I became comfortable with my new identity as a coach and more able to trust myself that I would be okay. I am more flexible and receptive. I don’t need a shield anymore as I am more comfortable with my human frailties.

“… We say: “I’m only human.” We say it because we’re vulnerable, we say it because we know we’re afraid, but it doesn’t mean we’re weak” (Green Lantern)

As a coach this new identity works for me. However, as I wrote my presentation, I thought back to my identity as a business person with a very challenging plan for 2018 and I realised that playful, flexible Shirley 2.0 isn’t enough!

Current self: Shirley 2.1

Yep, the business person in me still needs some 1.0! That version of me got stuff done, she had drive and she committed first and asked questions later.  She completed her first marathon! I am going to have try new things and do things in a different way and be up for the challenge if I am to deliver my plans.  I needed a patch on the 2.0 model containing the useful elements of 1.0.

Now when I look at my goals, Shirley 2.1 still feels a bit daunted but she has that memory of the marathon and bits of v 1.0 to rely on along with my new beliefs and identity as a coach.  After all, if I started every day like I started that marathon, with the excitement of not knowing quite how things are going to go but doing it any way, what could I achieve?

Over to you. What’s your version 1.0?

Could a past version of you help you with today’s challenges? Have you forgotten some important capabilities, behaviours or beliefs which could really lift your confidence and help you deliver? Is your current self your best self or are you holding on to beliefs, behaviours, or an identity which won’t help you achieve your plans? What do you need to let go of?

Book a free clarity call and find out how working with The Change Agent can help you find your best self so you can do your best work.


  1. Kate

    You write with such honesty and passion. Your words are truly inspirational.

  2. Martin Jarvis

    As a result of listening to your “Your past self…” talk, and after absorbing the content of a couple of related podcasts, I’ve nudged my productivity in a positive direction by trying to resurrect the ‘me’ of a number of years ago.

    Some years ago, I would have known what I needed to do tomorrow, and the day after, and would have got on with it without being distracted by other ‘noise’. I was highly productive.

    I’ve suffered a few years of allowing my business day to be ruled by my inbox – leading me to often feel overwhelmed by the volume of work in front of me. Many client requests were getting dealt with out of sequence (because I was choosing what seemed easy, or interesting), and really warm leads for new websites were being left to go cold before I got back to them.

    I have had a few weeks where I’ve made a real effort to schedule a small number of tasks for each day. These tasks must get done, and clients are being responded to quickly with a deadline date (which I do my utmost to meet). What I’m finding is that as well as getting these essential tasks done, I’m actually starting to pull forward other tasks and spend a little more of my time on business development and on ‘thinking time’. As well as delivering a more consistent service to my clients, I’ve had a real uptick in positive well-being.

    So, thank you for helping me understand that old dogs can re-learn old tricks. I know it’s small beer compared with the Shirley 1.0 to 2.1 shift that you’ve undergone, but it’s a start, and I’m pretty sure that if I can improve by small amounts every month, I might even get to Martin 2.0 by this time next year.

    • Shirley

      Martin, thank you for your considered comments. I really appreciate you showing the benefit – to you and your business – of taking the time to reflect on your habits and trying something new. I wish you every success with your new approach. Shirley

  3. Nicki Kinton

    A great blog Shirley, and I enjoyed the presentation on which this is based. A little bit of reflection is in order to reacquaint myself with the strengths of past me I think.

    • Shirley

      Thank you. Let me know how you get on with finding your past strengths. Perhaps coaching will help?

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