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Stop Keeping Up Appearances, What Matters Is An Inside Job

Written by: Sarah McNicol, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


“I wake up in the morning running and never stop till I go to bed” Do you relate to this quote from the brilliant and highly respected owner of a successful law firm? Hers is a common experience for driven achievers who, try as they might to work smarter not harder, and succeed as they do at securing results, often feel dissatisfied, inadequate and on the verge of burnout on the inside. Even if, from the outside look like they’ve got it all together. Until I burned out a decade ago, I knew this territory well. How about you?

woman doing head stand on a boat.

This, on the other hand, is the new version of me.

I’m sporting what in my family we call McNicol chic. (i.e. the random combination of whatever's handy and comfortable thrown over PJs. Generally, in the morning before properly getting dressed, but also could be at other times of the day.)

As you can see, I'm doing a headstand on the roof of a narrowboat. My partner Andy took the photo. We're in a peaceful location having spent a restful pitch-dark night, quiet, apart from the owls twit-twooing.

This unusual scene is one of my favourite experiences from my first-ever canal holiday. Nature, stillness, simplicity, connection, time, freedom. Nothing we must do or be. Pure choice.

It takes courage.

Simple as it is, this scene is not achieved without clarity, effort and determination.

These qualities are all required to resist the pull of comparison and consumerism. Also, to overcome the fantasy that cultivating mental and physical wellbeing as well as a healthy romantic relationship is easy or a quick job to be fitted in around other more “important” pursuits.

It takes courage too.

It takes courage to step off the busy treadmill long enough to remember what really delights you from the inside out, let alone create a life specifically designed to deliver it to you.

It takes courage to heal outdated habits too. Healing is where the liberation to live life on your own terms begins.

I often warn clients considering coaching with me that although we will have fun and move mountains this journey is not for the faint-hearted.

It can be a scary path.

To consciously claim what's uniquely right for you and live your most meaningful satisfying version of life, whatever that looks like for you, is demanding as well as rewarding. Unhooking from societal expectations, comparisons and beliefs about what life “should” look like and changing perspective can be a scary path.

The day before this picture was taken, I walked from the narrow boat along the canal into Market Harborough town centre. Taking in the sparkly shops full of pre-Christmas gorgeousness and the palatial houses with huge gardens backing onto the canal, inspired a twinge of nostalgia. For a moment, I wished that I still believed in the fantasy that “stuff” and the comparative social status it bestows delivers happiness and meaning.

It was such a straightforward equation, work hard – get stuff – be successful – be happy.

But, as you may know from your own experience, it’s not so easy. In fact, very often the pursuit of achievement and stuff begins with excitement and opportunity and turns into resentment and bondage.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with stuff in and of itself. Possessions and environments can and do enhance and satisfy daily experiences. However, being bombarded as we are with messages about all that we must have, do, and be to have value, provokes in many of us a constant level of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and striving that excludes the possibility of deep peace and perpetuates our exhausting scramble through the rat race.

It prevents us from knowing who we really are and what truly lights us up.

YOU are marvellously equipped to turn things around

Being on that boat with Andy, off-grid, off work, flipping my body upside down with ease, is possible only because in the last decade I've become really clear about my priorities and the ingredients I want in my juicy feast of a life.

And because I've made choices and decisions aligned with that, giving me time, space, and energy to cultivate a midlife relationship, practise yoga, and take regular holidays from my deeply satisfying work to which I arrive with energy, not collapsed in a little heap of exhaustion.

If I was still hooked on achieving all those external jingle-jangles chances are I'd be too stressed, tired, and focused on the next goal, to truly enjoy the here and now.

The good news is if you recognise yourself in my first paragraph, you may not like where you are right now, but I can guarantee you have the skills, strengths, and characteristics that, should you decide to do so, equip you marvellously to turn things around.

Just like that narrow boat, turning is a little tricky, counterintuitive even (you steer right to go left) and slow. Just like the narrow boat it takes courage and strength of mind and gets easier with practice. And unlike life on the hedonic treadmill, you uncover a sustainable virtuous circle, not a recipe for repeating burnout.

Your first steps

If you think that sounds amazing your first steps are:

  • Make a list of things that make you feel good. Think about experiences, activities, and conditions. E.g. Being in nature, having fun, connexion, time freedom, and wellbeing.

  • Start off with as many as possible. Refine, group, and prioritise until you have a handful of the most important. Simple is good.

  • Think of these as ingredients for your joyful life.

  • Decide how to regularly include them in your days, weeks, and months.

Are you serious about re-finding the joy and meaning in your life, making the impact you want and still having time and energy for yourself?


Book a free no-obligation call with me to explore what it might look like to create a life specifically designed to light you up.

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Sarah McNicol, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Sarah McNicol helps purpose-driven high achievers who are over-committed and feel like they are constantly running and burning out.

Sarah helps them re-find the joy and meaning in life, so they can get what matters done and make the impact they want, whilst still having time and energy for themselves.

Sarah is a healer and change agent. Her sensitive deep approach is underpinned by 30 years of people development expertise, working with thousands of individuals and teams in a wide variety of contexts.



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