My mom has this story about me. I was at a school gala. I was six. And we all got in the pool to swim. And I stopped swimming and turned around and just waved at everyone. I came last, obvs. What followed was a deep-seated fear of physical activity, because, for my whole life, I've believed that I am bad at it.
I was shocking at sport growing up. Shock. King. I came last in everything. Like…err’thang. Swimming? Last. Cross country. Last. Athletics. Stone cold last. I couldn’t hit a ball. Couldn’t throw one. Mostly couldn’t catch one. I skipped PE towards the end of my high school career so that I could study instead. And I was made to feel totally awful about it. If you weren’t slamming at sports at my school (any school in the white northern ‘burbs of Johannesburg), then best you prepare yourself for some pretty rough times. Bullying. Ridicule. The lot.
I was totally brilliant at other things. Public speaking. Debating. The Eisteddfod. I rocked the socks off of everyone. I won the awards. I won competitions. But that wasn’t the currency that everyone was trading in. In fact, that currency branded you a nerd. It made the bullying worse. And if you were a chess player, you were well and truly screwed. You were dumped in dustbins. Yeah, white schools in Johannesburg on the 90s were shit holes.
You were only of value if you played rugby, netball, got drunk and smoked. It was pretty unbearable.
The past month has been a huge sporting month for the world. And it’s got me thinking a lot about excellence, winning, losing and how to keep your shit together when things get really rough.
As bad as I am at sport, I love watching it. It fills me with immense joy. One of the greatest things in life is a test cricket match, where I can sit all day and be completely enthralled by the technique, stats, psychology and all-consuming endlessness of the game. It makes me so entirely happy. I love it. I also love tennis. I’m a fan of the grand prix.
Supporting the Underdog
This last month has had me straight up dead. I died. Deader than dead. Raducanu vs Tomljanović. Djokovic vs Berrettini. Italy vs England. But, the match of the year for me has been the Women’s Wimbledon Final. It made me feel ill. It made me feel like my brain was going to explode out of the back of my head. Because I have been where Karolína Plíšková was in that first set. And it’s not pretty.
If you didn’t watch it, and you don’t know what I mean, imagine this: there’s a room. On one end is a lioness. And she is hungry. On the other side of the room is you. And you are dinner. You are paralysed. You cannot move. You cannot think. You cannot do anything. That was Plíšková in the first set of the match. It was heartbreaking.
So, obviously, I wanted her to win. OBVIOUSLY. Because I’ve been there. So have you. So has everyone. We’ve all been in that situation where the fear is so enormous that we can’t move. And the less we move, the bigger the fear gets. And the bigger the fear gets, the less we move. It’s a vicious cycle of brain-numbing fear that holds us back from stepping into our most unapologetic selves and just crushing it. As my posse of besties and I say to each other, routinely: Are we here to play golf, or are we here to fuck around? (I was unsure about the answer to this one. It’s golf.)
Let’s Talk About Mindset
I am CONVINCED that everything I’m doing is going to fail. Every job I take on. Every single thing I write. Everything. I am convinced I’m going to be fired, and end up losing all my income, my savings, everything I own, sleeping in a tent somewhere on the outskirts of London.
The only thing that would be shocking about this situation is how long it’s taken to happen. Such is the power of imposter syndrome, coupled with the fact that I grew up poor and I've internalised a story that I have no right to wealth.
This is a mindset issue. This is the thing that we struggle with most as business owners. It’s one of the reasons we hire coaches. It’s the thing that pops up in google when you search for the biggest challenge facing female business owners and entrepreneurs. Mindset. We are TERRIFIED. All the time.
So, we know mindset is a thing. When it’s not on our side, it’s an ENEMY. For real. Go and watch the women’s Wimbledon final to see what I mean. There’s this incredible athlete - Karolína Plíšková. At the top of her game. She’s made it to the final. She’s smashed incredible players like Kerber and Sabalenka. She’s got a serve that slams the face off of her opponents. She is Wonder Woman. She’s as fit as they come. She’s strong. She hits the ball with a force that Yoda proud of would have been.
And she gets to this final and she cannot move. Literally. She is frozen in space. That be mindset, lady.
How do we show fear the middle finger?
What did she do? She dug deep. She fought. She came back like a queen. This isn’t easy. It takes a whole other kind of mindset to move in and take over.
Here’s another interesting thing: on paper Karolina should be a winner. She’s been in the top 10 players in the world for a long time. She prepares. She’s strong. She’s healthy. She’s fit. But she’s never won a grand slam title. Why not? What’s happening there that’s preventing her from winning?
By her own admission, it’s her mind. She credits a new team with helping her to stay positive. She says that, historically, on the court she can become very negative and that’s what’s holding her back from being this powerful winning tennis player. That’s the power of mindset.
How do we tackle our own mindset?
I wanted her to win because I have felt that utter desperation. And I have fought like a beast to be in the running when it comes to jobs, success, raising my rates, getting paid what I’m worth. Maybe you have too. So, how do we conquer the negative mindset? The chatter in the head that tells us we’re not good enough? Not talented enough? Not smart enough? Not worthy enough? Give that bullshit the middle finger.
1. Surround yourself with people who think you’re the bomb and who tell you that you can do anything
My husband has been in quarantine for ten days. If you’re married, you know that when your spouse is away there’s a certain kind of freedom to just be a pig, you know? Like…I have been horizontal on the couch, filling my face with chocolates, scrolling through my phone watching cat videos and binging cult series on Netflix. Has he judged me? No. He’s said that he’s happy I’m taking it easy. He still thinks I’m the bomb. He still believes I can do anything. He did get a little worried about the cult obsession, though. He was just like…but what are you LEARNING? He was right. I did feel my brain oozing out of my ears, and I had to stop with the cults. And I moved on to SERIAL KILLERS.
2. Fall in love with yourself a little bit
Just before your meeting, your IG or Facebook live, your interview…put on your favourite heels, or lipstick or perfume. Make yourself feel amazing. That stuff comes out in the most beautiful ways. Do some breathing exercises. Warm up your voice. Look in the mirror and flick your hair like you’re Beyonce at the Superbowl. Put on your favourite music, and dance. Just get into your body. The more you do this, the more you connect with who you are. When we fall in love with ourselves the whole experience of life changes, because you’re just enough as you are. This is something I’ve had to work on really hard, and it’s happening. Some days it’s easier than others.
3. Be honest about how you’re feeling.
Nervous? Own it. Unsure? Say it. Not sure what’s going on? Tell someone. When you’re unsure or scared or confused, and you own it, it makes other people feel like they can be themselves. It makes them identify with you. Connect with you. You become a human being. That is powerful. People remember that, and they gravitate towards your realness. You open up a space for honest, real, authentic conversation. And if you know anything about me, it’s that authenticity is BOSS. Anything else is just fluff. Authenticity is where your confidence lives. When you’re authentic, your confidence is unlocked and it can grow into a pretty radical force.
4. Work hard, strive for excellence
There’s a lot of mediocrity in the world. Like…a ton. Just look at the world’s politicians. I mean…is that the best we can do? Really? With the 7 billion of us on the planet, those are the ones running it? We adore mediocrity. That has to stop.
It stops with you. Be like Karolína Plíšková. Be prepared. Work hard. Know your shit. Because if the fear does raise its head, and you do find yourself feeling stuck, or scared, or unable to move, your preparation is what is going to help you shift away from the fear, into the fight.
You are a goddess oozing talent and magic and people would be damned privileged to be in your company. You can do anything. Be you. Always. Everywhere.
Ashleigh is a copywriter who helps women find their authentic voices, so they can weave it into their business and their branding, and rise. Boom.
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