Managing Director Kirstie Stott writes about why self exploration is the key to courage and to a more fulfilling life.

That moment when something stops you in your tracks for a minute and makes you reflect and think…

For me it was a recent ‘memory’ that popped up on my Facebook account (I know FB is outdated, my 11 year old reminds me often, but I’m retro). It was a photo of the statue in London of Millicent Fawcett with the plaque that says ‘courage calls to courage everywhere’. What a great quote from one of the bravest yet less well known women in history. Courage calls to courage… it’s voice cannot be denied. This made me think about what courage means to me and how important having courage is in the world today in all its guises. 

Reflecting, as people often do at the end of a year while preparing to welcome a new year and all that it will bring, I’ve been thinking about the last 12 months, and as some of you may have seen, we are celebrating our 5th birthday at the ILN, something I’m immensely proud of and something that wouldn’t have happened without courage to step out of my comfort zone and safety into the unknown, both knowing and understanding the risks associated with it (and of course loads of amazing people in the ILN team).

But what I’ve really been considering lately is courage itself, and how some parts of our lives are easier to be braver in than others, where we remain in fear and often shy away from our own paths, fearful of the consequences that being courageous may bring.

I found myself again with the work of Brene Brown and being curious about the truth of living a fulfilling life. As humans, I believe we are hard-wired to seek out fulfilment and connection and we crave purpose in our worlds, and these things we seek are interchangeable within both our personal and professional lives. Brene argues that to get to courage we have to walk through and embrace vulnerability, show up, take a risk and dare! Often knowing that you are leaving yourself open to hurt, embarrassment and as she describes it, shame.  This is a hard ask surely?!  I don’t think I will ever tire of reading her work and thinking about how it resonates with myself but also with many of the people and teams I work with. 

However, getting to this place of ‘showing up’ and embracing vulnerability isn’t easy and we struggle to put our whole selves forward for the world to see, judge and often criticise. But being brave comes with rewards as well as hurt, and if we want fulfilling lives with meaning and purpose then surely there is no option but to take the risk, show up and say I’m here, take me as I am, see me for who I am and also, often, who I am going to be, because life is a journey not a destination. 

As an Executive Coach, I have the privilege of seeing vulnerability in people and I find it beautiful. But it’s often restricted to that place and that few hours of safety within four walls of the session. I’m curious about what, if anything, we can do to get more comfortable in that space, appreciating that vulnerability is not by any means a comfortable place to be; it’s far from it. 

As you’d probably expect, I’ve somehow got to weave in the fact that it’s Christmas time and so the tedious link here is this: Christmas is about giving, gifting and sharing. The gift I’ve decided to give myself for next year is some introspection and I do believe that to fully show up and own your vulnerability in an often unforgiving world it is important to fully know who we are. What better gift to give and to receive than self-discovery.  In the 21 (40) years I’ve been alive, I still don’t think I fully know who I am, and I do believe that this changes as we grow and go through differing life phases, and so self-discovery is something we may need to revisit. 

So if we believe and want to show up and dare greatly in life, put ourselves out there to live a whole-hearted life, reach our own potential and know that we are being the best versions of ourselves, then surely we need to better understand who we are and what we are standing as and where we belong, because we all yearn to belong. 

Understanding ourselves is fundamental as a leader and also as a person living your best life. At the risk of kicking the ass out of Brene Brown’s work, in her book “Braving the wilderness”,  which I’ve wrote about previously here ( ) she says that ‘belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness, an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breath-taking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into the vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand’.

To belong I think we really need to understand who we are, what makes us tick, what we stand for, our standards and values in life. Once we understand and are ‘happy’ with these (I say happy with these because this is one of the biggest parts of our journey, accepting what we find when we discover who we are), we can use it to reach our full potential by being honest and authentic about what we can offer the world. Answering those deep and often challenging questions about ourselves, what drives us, what holds us back and getting what we may view as our fears and vulnerabilities, and reframing these as our opportunities to grow and be our true self can be life affirming.  By knowing yourself, every inch and corner of your heart and mind can be daunting but I know that it will lead to a more fulfilling life, starting with self as a leader is fundamental. 

So if you’re thinking and reflecting like I am about the year gone by and what 2020 holds for you, I would ask you to start with yourself, be brave, ask those uncomfortable questions or if you have a coach then ask them to ask you these questions and spend some time exploring what being you is like. Because if we want the best for our colleagues and teams then we need to role model what good looks like. Remember, courage calls to courage everywhere!