Ready or not?

- 211206


If you’d asked me when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have said I was quite the good girl or good student. I was overall rather dutiful, and while my grades were always good, I didn’t consider this as something that was a defining part of my identity. I guess that’s apt because later on, I dropped out of university to pursue a music career in London. Risky and not particularly good girl behaviour. I did work hard at it, though: I wasn’t simply following a flight of fancy.

I wasn’t just taught how to learn by parents and teachers, who had great expectations for me to be a journalist, lawyer or some other respectable profession (I never fancied getting into medicine, despite the fact it was the family speciality). No, the person that truly inspired me to embrace learning was my wonderfully eccentric classical piano teacher, delightfully called Pipitza Frizzoni. You can’t make that name up.

Preparation and repetition (of scales and exercises of all kinds) were then drilled into me, and the thought of stepping onto the stage unprepared wouldn’t cross my mind. Oh, the horror!

Sadly for Pipitza, I abandoned the classical piano route, for which she was holding high hopes, and instead, I pursued another kind of musical path: singing! And it’s in doing so that I chose to leave Switzerland and move to the UK.

After landing in the British capital, I found my crowd, my musical niche. I mean, it took a couple of years. And it was an open mic night for ‘singers who can sing’ that was the scene of exciting music-making for the years to come and a place where I made wonderful life-long friends.

I was petrified the first time I stepped in there, and I discovered the talent levels of the other artists. Very ‘The Voice’, I believe, although I don’t watch TV, so this is an assumption. Many massively talented people, with exquisite tone, great range, and most of whom knew each other. It was pretty cliquey.

I’ve written about this time before. The short version is: it took me three months from first stepping into The Spot (the actual name of the venue in Covent Garden) to get the courage to sign my name on the list to perform in front of said crowd. Then it took another three weeks for the manager to actually put me on.

The petite white girl with the boyish haircut and no make-up that I was didn’t look like she could cut it. And yet.


During the three months following my decision to get ready for that stage, I practised pretty much every day, an hour a day, a cappella. For some reason, I mainly practised in the kitchen that I shared with my friend Etain. I think cleaning up and singing go quite well together, especially when the apartment is empty.

I bored myself with my own singing I rehearsed so much, over and over and over again. For the non-musicians out there, doing scales or rehearsing any tune is the same as any other activity, including meditation. Our mind will likely go off task and focus on any other shiny thought it can grab onto. And before you know it, oops, it’s far gone (and you’ve bored yourself to tears whilst singing).

The story that I have been telling is that I was over-prepared. I was already good; my nerves were in control. This relentless rehearsal mode I had put myself into was a form of procrastination. I was pushing back the moment I would actually do this thing I wanted so badly: get on stage. It was also the good student part of me, who, with a side of inner critic, was telling me: “You’re not good enough, you don’t know enough, you need to rehearse some more, you are just not ready!”

In her book ‘Playing Big’, coach and author Tara Mohr explains that these are traits women often exhibit: an amalgamation of adaptation to culture and imposter syndrome, something I certainly felt around the time.

Yet I went back every Sunday, religiously (lol), to examine the delivery and levels of the others, adding to the pressure every week, and at the same time, motivating myself further to keep working, to keep getting better.

By the time someone finally handed me that mic, I sang my heart out. The in-house guitarist, Luca, himself a remarkable musician, turned to me at the end of my rendition of ‘Beautiful’ and told me I’d performed it as well, if not better than India Arie. I blushed so hard I reckon I was glowing red. But then again, I knew he was right. And the crowd’s applause seemed to offer a similar indication.

So which was it? Was I over-prepared, stuck in imposter syndrome, a good student/procrastinator? Or was it just the right amount of preparation to knock everyone’s socks off?


This topic seems front of mind this week because I have a few regular clients who seem stuck at a similar spot to the one I was in, some form of limbo. They are good, they know they are good, and there is a bright future potentially ahead, but they don’t know how to get through the muddy stuckness to the next step. How to get there is more often than not the big question. I certainly see in them what I saw in myself: this instinct that I need to just do better, be more organised, do more work, research more, with a side of ‘who do I think I am to be reaching for this goal?’

Often, the question of how I have managed change comes up.

As I’ve shared before, I have a very strong quick-start instinct, but I am also a very resourceful fact-finder. So perhaps in pointing out my quick-start (the highest in my Kolbe conative action style assessment), I was pointing away from my good student tendencies. Often, what may look like jumping in is the result of a lot of work (often, but not always!). That’s something others around me don’t know or see, not unless I talk about it.

For example, I didn’t launch a podcast on a whim. I’d been thinking about it for a good year or even more. And whilst I was more or less ready to do it on my own, I signed myself onto a workshop for the support boost. But then, despite the help, I stayed stuck editing my first episode for nearly three months before going live. Funny that, three months again. Later on, though, when I decided to start recording my newsletter, adding audio was a feasible experiment. I felt comfortable if not proficient in my editing skills to do it on the fly, every Thursday, right after getting the posts copy-edited.

Note that in both cases, as I’d explored in an earlier post (On swimming, resources & finding flow), whether it’s group work or one-on-one, right before I go live with something, I like a bit of coaching, a pair of professional eyes to give me a step up—feedback from a trusted source.

Now there is a culture out there to ‘ship’ ( which means pressing send on the email, go live on the website, you get it). I’ve come into contact with this concept regularly; it’s well promoted amongst others by Seth Godin, author and marketer extraordinaire. Ship even when it’s not perfect, ship to not get stuck. Ship to fight procrastination, because perfection as we know is simply unattainable. Ship and dare put the work out into the world.

This line of thinking has helped me greatly. Had I not been surrounded on occasion by people who shipped, who dared, I wouldn’t be writing at all, not publicly, perhaps not at all. I have a daring, courageous side to me, but there is a fine balance between shipping when you are just not ready, and putting mediocre work, unfinished work or products out there. The culture of luxury, where I grew up so to speak, is as slow as the slowest slug: everything needs to be thought out to the most minute detail.

Push, and pull. Ship, but have everything ready. How to navigate this fine line? When do we know what to do?


The value in over preparation, in knowing your work inside and out as it is said, is that you’ll likely still be good under pressure. I think that’s what the ‘ship it’ model doesn’t sufficiently take into account.

The other day, I was reminded of that after being interviewed for a podcast, called Invested Success. A little into an hour-long conversation on Zoom, the host, Alise Walsh, asked me which were my favourite books. I froze. I mean, I can normally talk about books all day and all night. But right there, I completely forgot most of my favorite reads. Though a few titles came to mind, I even forgot my love for writer Elif Shafak, Caitlin Moran, Brené Brown didn’t get a mention. Oh the shame... And the surprise!

Self-sabotage is a real thing. Think back to what I’ve said before (check out last week’s post!) about how we humans manage change. It’s often the thing we want badly that will trigger the biggest stressor in our system and boom, procrastinate or self-sabotage us into failure.


The thing is that I find the more we wait, the less likely we are do that thing that feels scary. When things are important, most of us balk, at least at the beginning. Promotion, change of lifestyle, a new habit we want to form. It’s all the same challenge. If you find yourself repeatedly failing to act or deliver, you’re probably in said self-sabotage mode. Time to look under the hood (car metaphor...), perhaps get some coaching, to see what underlying fears may be stopping you, or simply what tactics you could use to counteract this problem.

It’s especially important to consider this before we step out, when we put ourselves in performance mode, or are exposed to any kind of stress or pressure: because even the things we know well and take for granted may simply disappear from our minds.

When I look back at my earlier story, after spending some time writing this piece, my own situation became glaringly evident. Singing was this incredibly precious thing to me: one of the things I most loved, most desired and worked the hardest at. It’s because it was so precious that I simply did not want to go out underprepared.

The big underlying fear was negative feedback and rejection. Fresh from the Swiss countryside, I’d had positive feedback in local musical circles. I was stepping onto a much bigger stage. I was desperately scared that I’d get knocked down and lose that connection to that thing I loved so much. So it was easier to lurk around at the back of the room for weeks on end, not making myself heard, not making myself visible, not making a sound.

For the same reason, because it was so precious, I didn’t speak about music in other circles, at work. I rarely put myself in a situation where I’d perform. I was similarly scared of feedback, rejection, or ridicule. Who was I to continue to go on stage while I had a ‘serious career.’

By consistently not exposing myself, I protected a certain sense of identity. No one could take this away from me if I didn’t share it. Right?

If you, like me, consistently don’t step up to do something that matters, ask yourself: what part of you are you trying to protect? Perhaps ask yourself too what is more important: protecting yourself, or going after what you want? If in doubt, and if you have explored your values, you can check how your current strategy aligns with said values.

A few years ago, I explored my personal values, and I identify as courageous. As a language lover, I also like the fact that courage comes from the French ‘coeur’, or heart. When I am able to bring this sense of awareness to my behaviour or my decision-making, it’s easier to find the way forward. I ask myself: how am I serving what I value most.

Whatever happens, the important thing is to put ourselves, or the work, out into the world, with as much integrity as possible.


Most days, I try to live between the two states of over-preparation and the ‘oh wait, I’m jumping in too quickly’. It’s an interesting dance and I can’t say I always get it right. I still have my good girl habits, reinforced by my natural tendencies. I still like to prepare and I certainly love coaching or a good workshop to help me feel more at ease, fluent, whatever the subject matter is.

But I no longer feel trapped by a quest for perfection. Instead, I resource from within more than I did before. Instead of external feedback, I put the work out. I strive to show up, as best I can, hoping for good. Unless we talk about singing. This habit of wanting excellence will probably stay with me until my dying day.

Meanwhile, I’m going to make a list of my favourite books, and authors, so that next time someone asks, I’m prepared.

I leave you with this story which came up in a lecture the other day, given online by Ethan Nichtern (in a new program I am following) which I hope you’ll enjoy. He was talking about Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, who had been speaking at a retreat he had attended:

“She [Pema Chödrön] was asked this question during the retreat:

Is awakening sudden or gradual?

And in her answer, which I think is one of the most solid gold answers of all time, she said:

“Gee, that’s funny. I’ve always thought that sudden was the result of a hell of a lot of gradual.”


Until next week, friends.