Gina London: 'Sharing your struggle can inspire others and help you'
Although I have never watched a single episode of Top Chef, the popular American TV reality show, I was struck by the contestant voted fan favourite - chef Fatima Ali.
I followed her on Instagram (along with a mere 181,000 other fans) as she shared her life. Photos of her cat. Photos of colourful food she cooked and ate. Photos of smiling friends gathered around her. Photos in her hospital room. Photos of her bald head. Photos of her wearing a collection of bright-knit caps. Photos of her getting her newly-regrown short tuft of hair dyed platinum.
Her posts were funny, irreverent and determined. Most were hashtagged '#F***Cancer'. With the asterisks replaced by certain letters, of course.
You've already guessed that Fatima, or Chef Ali, as she was known, was battling that illness too many of us have also been hit with or which has hit someone we know.
I've written many times before about how and why to share personal stories as part of your business presentations and professional communications.
These may be stories of accomplishment, achievement or success. But, today, I want to specifically focus on why it's important to share your struggles.
It's not only because people like rooting for the underdog. It's because these stories - especially when you are in the middle of the battle and not only looking back after surviving, or coming through to the other side - are the most real, raw and relatable.
Chef Fati was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Ewing's sarcoma, in September.
"I decided not to spend whatever time I had left... lamenting all the things that weren't right," she wrote.
"Instead, I'd make the most of it. I'm using cancer as the excuse I need to actually go and get things done, and the more people I share those thoughts with, the more I hold myself to them."
By October, I was so moved by her posts, I wrote a direct message to tell her how she'd inspired me to get more things done myself. I had (and have) no excuse.
With her tens of thousands of followers, I didn't expect a response. But, despite or perhaps because of her disease, she kindly wrote back: "Thank you so much for the lovely message from Ireland. Sending love your way."
The road of life isn't straight. It's often twisty and gravely and slippery and difficult and just plain unfair.
Can you share something you are struggling with? If you write to me, I can share it here in this column. Or if you'd like me to keep it private, I'll do that too.
Use it as Chef Fati said, "as an excuse to get things done". Or share it for so many other reasons. Here are a few:
1 SHARING STRUGGLES CAN BE A RELEASE
When you open up about a struggle or a weakness to others - especially colleagues or employees - it can be uncomfortable. You will likely feel exposed or vulnerable.
During the US Congressional hearings for now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, I publicly shared on social media the collection of sexual harassments I experienced in my life. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at the wave of emotion that rose up within me.
After I finished writing and hit the 'share' button, however, I felt relief. It was done. Out there and off my chest. It will take courage, but publicly expressing struggles or challenges or difficulties can be surprisingly gratifying.
2 SHARING STRUGGLES CAN GIVE YOU SUPPORT
Another thing I was surprised by was the outpouring of support people offered. Many, in turn, shared their own stories. Followers on Chef Fati's page exchanged tales of chemo and radiation and survival and setbacks. Sharing your own story of adversity will raise awareness to others. If people don't know your struggle, they can't help. I think you'll be surprised how many people will cheer you on.
3 SHARING YOUR STRUGGLE MAY INSPIRE SOMEONE ELSE
Sharing your story helps people in similar situations understand they are not alone. Not all difficulties are health-related, of course. If you learned a valuable lesson as an entrepreneur starting a business, imagine how sharing that struggle and the lessons learned from it will inspire and instruct a future business owner who hears your story. Sometimes sharing a story like this is exactly what someone needs to get through their own difficult time.
4 SHARING A STRUGGLE KEEPS YOU HUMBLE
If your collection of stories is all-powerful and glowing, it's time for some inner reflection. When all you share are glossy stories of how great things are - you might believe your own hype. What are you grateful for? What are you hoping to overcome now? Dig deep and get real. Humility is an undervalued trait in success in business - and life.
Last week, there was another post on Chef Fati's Instagram page. It was a collage of pictures. When she was a little girl. When she was a Top Chef contestant with long, dark hair - reflecting her American-Pakistani heritage. Healthy, vibrant photos. Sadly, this post was put up by her friends and family as Fati had lost her fight against cancer.
She was 29.
Sunday Indo Business