#MATransformers: Stumbling Blocks, Self-Care and Self-Sabotage

For the past year I have been part of the Museums Associations Transformers: Diversify cohort. The year has flown by and I attended the final wrap up event last month.

When I applied for the programme, I was full of grand ideas about how I was going to do my part to bring about radical change in museums, and lots of those ideas were centred around this blog. It started as a space for me to share my thoughts about museums, to test out my voice and see what I could do with it. It’s important to me to have a space which is my own, not connected to my job, where I can say things I feel passionate about, that might not always toe the party line. I want to build this space and continue the important conversations which have started, particularly those around workforce diversity.

During the programme I awarded some micro-funding to help develop my work and my ideas for change. I have used this to book a course to help me improve my writing skills, and crucially to get some training in interviewing others. I have had some great reactions when I have shared my own experiences through the blog, and I want to open this platform to others.

And yet…the Transformers wrap event has come and gone, and I have hardly shared anything about it here. A lot of what I’ve gained from the programme is about my personal development (It’s a CPD programme after all) but along the way I thought I was going to be able to share much more with my networks.

What has stopped me? A huge part of it has been anxiety and imposter syndrome, not wanting to step up and get started, to announce that I was putting something ‘out there’ that might be setting myself up to fail. I felt underconfident and I wanted to do my training course to boost that confidence before I really got going. When the initial dates I booked were cancelled it was the perfect excuse to keep putting things off. I was trying to protect myself from the things that were giving me anxiety, but in so doing I have created an extra pressure on myself by thinking I should be achieving something while simultaneously feeling frozen from taking any action.

During the past year I’ve also been dealing with the stress that comes with underemployment, trying to freelance for the first time to make up the short fall, and I am currently doing what amounts to four jobs: two part-time employed roles and two freelance projects I am fitting in around them. I’ve sought treatment for this stress, and the accompanying depression and anxiety, and have been working on CBT techniques which have helped, as have the basics like exercise, and trying to eat well and sleep better. This is what I mean when I refer to self-care. It is not about carbs and bubble baths (Check out this episode of the podcast Still Processing for a thoughtful examination of the history of self-care and what we mean by it. This article from The Pool is also worth a read on the subject).

I have unfortunately found it all too easy to chuck my unhelpful procrastination habits under the umbrella of self-care: I can’t possibly write a blog about museums when I’m trying to maintain a work-life balance, right? I can’t embark on another project (and one I’m not getting paid for) in addition to these four jobs/projects I’m already stressed about, can I? I’ll just try not to think about it and endeavour to spend all my free time doing designated ‘self-care’ activities -reading, knitting, yoga -instead. That’s better. Except it’s not better, now I am super stressed and constantly thinking about this project that I should be doing, that I really care about and that, once I get over myself, I really enjoy developing.

What I’ve been trying to pass off to myself as self-care is actually self-sabotage. For fear of failure, I have put off even getting started. I spoke at that Transformers wrap-event about dealing with some of these feelings, with the ultimate conclusion that the best solution to self-sabotage caused by imposter syndrome is to focus on the work you want to do, not on how you will come across to others while doing it. Reflecting on the Transformers experience in the weeks since then, I think it’s important that I start sharing my ongoing takeaways and developing work from the programme now. Even if the moment and the hashtag buzz has passed, it’s better late than never. One of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way is the power of being prepared to be vulnerable, to be brave enough to be seen to try and fail, to allow yourself to be seen struggling. That’s where people connect and individuals grow.

So to return to what I want to do with this blog, this space: I would love to build it into somewhere I can speak truth to power, to engage with and amplify different exciting voices in the museum sector and beyond. I want people who are struggling in this still very problematic and in many ways unrewarding sector to know that they are not alone, and that they can make a difference. This project may change and develop, it will take time, and that’s OK. It’s a labour of love.