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Alexandra Heminsley and the joy of being average

22ND MAY 2019

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Whatever industry you’re in, the idea of an evening of networking usually leaves you feeling cold. A necessary evil, yes, but not the most organic way of making meaningful connections. We’ve been on a mission to flip the script in recent years through our Brilliant Women initiative – a network for women who don’t like traditional networking groups.

Emphasising shared experiences, stories and learning, we continue to build a friendly forum to explore challenges facing us today. Last week, we had the chance to bring in bestselling author Alexandra Heminsley to speak about her journey to embrace averageness.

Since her debut memoir, Run Like A Girl, Alex has been an advocate for celebrating the idea of just being ‘ok’ at something. From running to wild swimming, she’s conquered sports that once seemed inaccessible to her and others –that only seemed to be open to those who are elite or looking to excel.

Before the rise of Instagram, #fitspo, and the body acceptance movement, there were few books available that avoided traditional narratives of hypermasculinity or bettering yourself for others. Instead, Alex started her own small revolution; a celebration of running just for pleasure and not feeling pressured to improve.

Her perspective particularly resonated with us when viewed in the context of work. The common compulsion to be perfect, to only start something if you can achieve success to a pre-determined standard holds many of us back. Even if we do try something new we can often feel dissatisfied with how we’re performing – even when we’re doing well. It’s difficult to accept, but the average is where the majority sits; it’s nothing to be ashamed of!

We’re still absorbing her brilliant (and moving) story – but here are a few of the lessons we learned from the evening. Have a look and check out her books immediately; we insist.

Chase the joy, not the results
While Alexandra’s dedication to running for herself was a success, it quickly became harder to stay true to being average. There’s nothing wrong with improving – but when the pressure to excel and obsess about stats crept in, running became work and lost its joy. And while going from five marathons in two continents to swimming to Ithaca isn’t exactly an everyday achievement, the feats were accomplished by chasing pleasure rather than a desire to be the best.

Focus on how you feel
After running had lost its appeal and an exhausting IVF experience had taken a huge toll, Alex needed to reconnect with herself. When she took up wild swimming to conquer fears, every session was a chance to explore the possibility of her body and adaptability – even she was ‘flailing around’ in the sea. Returning to a space where she was free to be a bit crap at something rejuvenated her self-esteem, as she was motivated by her sensations rather than pushing for extremes. Naturally adapting to difficult conditions was just a bonus.

Something is better than nothing
Often, it’s the self-inflicted pressure to be exceptional that is what truly holds us back. Wanting to achieve something big and perfect is usually a fast route to doing nothing at all, as we’d rather not try than fail. However, as Alex emphasises, even just 10 minutes of doing something a day has value – all those minutes and efforts quickly add up.

We’re not alone
Alex’s inbox is packed with stories from readers who have connected with her experiences. Describing the ‘undiluted joy’ of reaching people who were also going through her challenges, she showed how galvanising it is to open up and hear that you’re not alone. Whether you’re trying to escape the expectations of yourself or others or just trying to do the best you can, feel reassured that there are others in the same boat.

Average can be a luxury
It’s easy to take it for granted but being ‘normal’ is not always an option for everyone. While we all understand the concept of diversity, we can’t truly appreciate the experience until we are on the other side of average ourselves. It’s only when we embrace ourselves and are mindful of what others are going through, that we can redefine what average is and make parameters more representational.

Honour everyone’s experience
You don’t need to be exceptional to be heard or given a seat at the table. It’s difficult to accept, but we are all valuable even when we’re not being extraordinary.

These are just a handful of the insights Alexandra had to share – and while we can’t possibly capture her humour, her energy or her exceptional averageness, we have taken her experiences to heart. If you want to be kept in the loop about our future Brilliant Women events, give us a shout at brilliantwomen@enginegroup.com.

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Brilliant Women