13 July 2018

Front Line

A career management briefing for
visionary women

Alexander McQueen: designing a legacy

Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet, wrote:

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

Initially dismissed by many as misogynistic, the new documentary McQueen casts the fashion designer in a new light: that of a man scarred by acts of violence against women and himself. And so, almost as an ode to his mother, sister, and younger self, McQueen wove, drawing threads from his own heart and blasting away the concealment that hides much domestic abuse. Legion upon legion of models were sent down the runway, challenging our very notion of what it means to be feminine and beautiful, and yet also to be honest about ugliness, savagery, and decay. In some cases, he empowered his women with ferocity (Highland Rape) or a supernatural force (Plato's Atlantis).

By overwhelming his audiences, McQueen forced them - through sheer sensory enrapture - to contemplate the un-contemplatable: what does rape look like? What depths of despair can these acts drive us to? How do they ensnare us with a tangible sense of our morbidity?

The McQueen film is not a cinematic masterpiece. It is, however, a portrait of a man who summoned reserves from the very depths of his soul to become a master in his field. For many transformative leaders, it is exactly their own quests for answers and meaning that informs the mark they make. If you are an aesthete at heart, we recommend viewing this film while it's still showing in cinemas. If you are simply intrigued by how an inner quest can mark a lifetime's work, watch this when it comes out for home viewing.

View Trailer

Taking on a new course of study?

Returning to any kind of learning programme after years in the workforce can be like jumping into a cold pond. You enter a different ecosystem with which you must now contend. Here, you face a new system for what garners merit, and you have to adjust to a new value system and culture, including different 'big fish'. Unless you are on sabbatical leave, you may also have to adjust to an extra workload on top of your normal one. All of these changes require you to reappraise your own working identity, as well as to reframe what or who you want to be in your envisioned future.

How can you prepare yourself for the upcoming changes? We present some practical hacks to help you:

1. Look at your course modules:
a. Give yourself an overview and work out what modules it would be wise to get a head-start on. Create and apply a conservative plan to do this
b. Understand how 'success' per module is defined. For example, is it about research skills, essay-writing skills, presentation skills, or something else?
c. If you have the option to choose between modules, choose those that play to your strengths. Where taking something you are relatively 'weak' in is vital, select complementary modules that make your life easier

2. Beware course modules that require group work. Plan carefully around the extra time this may require of you

3. Get the tools or software you need in advance. Set it up and test run it in a few different case scenarios

4. Create a realistic plan for how you will fit the new study into your schedule

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Shame: A candid treatment. Part I

Shame is about identity and how you are seen. It is about who you are and who you aren’t. Where guilt is about the action and what you have or haven't done, shame is specifically about you, the subject. Are you good enough? What parts can be seen without you fearing rejection? What aspects of yourself or your life need to be hidden, or protected, from ‘the look’ of others?

When something we do not want to be seen is drawn out into the open, it can feel like a violation, a disempowerment, a threat, or an attack on the very essence of who we are and how we exist. In this sense, it feels like a judgement upon 'me' or 'I', the individual. That being said, we may also feel ashamed on behalf of a group with whom we are associated, for example our family, a peer group, or fellow citizens. It's also possible to anticipate shame, or to feel that another person should feel shame (i.e.: ’shame on you’ or ‘they should be ashamed of themselves’). Thus, shame is very particularly about the worthiness of the subject, and their intrinsic value (or lack thereof).

The physical experience of shame may include us blushing, feeling momentarily confused, slumping or slackening our posture, and lowering our head or eyes. Above all, we seek to avoid eye contact with others, and wish to remove ourselves from company - ideally, as quickly as possible.

The feeling of shame can be acute enough that it momentarily pulverises our self-esteem. We lose a sense of worth, we feel both 'wrong' as a person and deeply misunderstood by others. This in turn may lead to a fleeting sense of hopelessness or despair.

In some respects, shame performs valuable existential heavy-lifting. We are exhorted by a deeply challenging feeling-state to protect (i) that which we do not want to be criticised prematurely, (ii) that which could be destroyed if it were to be seen too early, and (iii) that which is private and precious.

Thus, shame is about what you want to show, what you want to hide, and what you want to protect. But, what about when this healthy existential function is, or becomes, something that impacts your confidence and judgement? Here, the impact of shame on someone’s experience of life, career, and leadership cannot be underestimated.

Shame may make the difference between challenges we approach with confidence, and those we shy away from, overlook, or too readily dismiss. From pivotal career choices to alliances and initiatives we develop, shame can exert a decisive influence on our trajectory. It mediates the capacities on which we draw as professionals and leaders. It also affects how we relate to others, and the success with which we negotiate buy-in, build our teams, and develop relationships and boundaries that support us at work and home.

Over the next few issues of Front Line Woman we explore the manifestations of shame, where it can show up in your career and leadership, and what you can do to effectively address it.

This Week

Articles that shocked, informed, and inspired us

See Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing in London

A 'powerful woman of unparalleled vigour and resilience' she used her camera 'as a political tool to shine a light on cruel injustices.'

Read More

The Relationship Between Knowledge Work and Overwork

Reduced Pay Gap at the BBC, But Has There Really Been Progress?

Read More

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