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How to thrive in your career as a quieter, more introverted person – with Lara Hayward, Career Coach

Lara Hayward - Quiet Connections Podcast
Guest: Lara Hayward
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I am a Career Coach and Blue Health Coach. I started my career as a litigation lawyer, a role which required me to put on an extrovert mask and be loud and fighty every day.  Although the work could be interesting, pretending to be someone else was exhausting – and this led me to full-on burnout, anxiety and a lot of unsettling soul searching. After taking some time out to finally listen to that quieter voice in my head, I went back to study English and retrain as a career coach at Oxford University, where I am now the strategic lead for Creative Careers & Sustainability. I’m now in a working environment that celebrates difference and have the confidence and strength to do all of those things that, as a lawyer, were too scary to do.

Welcome to a fascinating conversation with Lara Hayward that’ll touch on aligning our careers with our values and who we are; championing our quieter personalities at work; celebrating motherhood as a high performance role; the natural world’s ability to shape how we feel about ourselves; and the ripple effect of world-class athletes speaking out and prioritising their mental health over expectations.

As an ex-lawyer involved in the NHS and Olympic and Paralympic Sport, and now a Career Coach at Oxford University and a Blue Health Coach, Lara is one of those people with a career that will make you think, wow she must be super confident so I’m thrilled that Lara is sharing her behind-the-scenes story and her insights with us in this episode.

You may have already met Lara if you attended one of her career workshops this summer – and if not, you can access her workshops for free right now here.



Hayley Stanton: Hello and thank you for joining us here on the Quiet Connections podcast. I’m Hayley and I want to welcome you to a fascinating conversation with Lara Hayward that’ll touch on aligning our careers with our values and who we are; championing our quieter personalities at work; celebrating motherhood as a high performance role; the natural world’s ability to shape how we feel about ourselves; and the ripple effect of world-class athletes speaking out and prioritising their mental health over expectations.

As an ex-lawyer involved in the NHS and Paralympic Sport, and now a Career Coach at Oxford University and a Blue Health Coach, Lara is one of those people with a career that will make you think, wow she must be super confident so I’m thrilled that Lara is sharing her behind-the-scenes story and her insights with us in this episode.

You may have already met Lara if you attended one of her career workshops this summer – and if not I’ll be sharing a link to these at the end so you don’t miss out! But first, let’s hear from Lara…

Hayley Stanton: Welcome to the quiet connections podcast, Lara.

Lara Hayward: Thanks, Hayley. It’s lovely to see you again for having me on

Hayley Stanton: excited to talk to you. Could you begin by just sharing a little bit about your story and how you can relate to feeling socially anxious and not good enough?

Lara Hayward: I can indeed. Where to start. I know when I worked with you on the careers workshops we sort of went right back I think to the time when I was working as a lawyer. And I think at that time I very much had a sort of extrovert mask on and a lot about being a lawyer, certainly in litigation I think is about performing. And some people do that very well, but I think for me I realized over the course of my career, I probably did it “well” for a while, and then just was starting to feel absolutely exhausted by it. And I knew it was because part of that work role wasn’t really aligned with my values and who I was. And I felt like I was having to be much more kind of loud in that the broader sense than sort of what I’d ordinarily be. But I suppose if I think about, being quiet, it starts way, way before that, when I was younger, I was very much one of those sort of dreamy kids. I used to read all the time. I was constantly outside sort of running around and just in my own little dream world and being very active and artistic and those kinds of things. And I was quite happy there. And then, yeah, I guess probably at school it changed because you kind of go through that whole thing about fitting in and sort of being someone you’re not.

And I think after, and I can only reflect on this now, I think after I left law, and then we did a lot of work on realigning. I suppose work with my values, but also, what comes with that is looking at who you are. And I realized that I was actually a much quieter person and more introverted, and I actually just really sort of value that now and kind of work with it rather than against it. So it’s been a long, old road to kind of get realigned, but yeah, it’s, it’s really good. And I’m feeling much more like myself. So I can just embrace that now.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. And tell us a little bit about the work that you were doing.

Lara Hayward: Yeah, well, I qualified as a lawyer into private practice and ended up working in a healthcare team. So a lot of my clients were NHS trusts and it was really interesting work intellectually quite tough at times we did a lot of inquests, a lot of public inquiries, judicial review dealing with thesesort of real. thorny medical law issues. So often, really looking into the moral side of law, I guess, as opposed to sort of pure law and pure rules, there’s, I think in healthcare law, there’s a huge element of that. And, but within that, sort of quite a lot of adversarial work, in the high court a lot. And although I wasn’t doing that, everyone thinks lawyers are the wig and gown people and they’re not, they’re barristers and, and not what I was doing. I was the solicitor, so I kind of sat behind them, but, in terms of having to be on it for that kind of work you really, really do and there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. And, I think, some of my friends or colleagues who do that work, I have the utmost respect for them, but I think I just found it, just for me, I just felt like there’s this constant pressure to perform and this constant sense of stress that if, if you’ve got something wrong you could be struck off effectively, and that, and that happens rarely, in the grand scheme of things. But I think I just felt so much pressure to do the work well and right. Which is a good thing. But I think balancing that with the things I also need in life to keep myself kind of well and healthy, I found quite tough. I was working at a good firm and with good people and didn’t have sort of crazy city hours like I know a lot of lawyers do. But yeah, I think I only realized again afterwards when you’re dealing with things like prison inquests and sort of going into the details of that, it can be quite tough and because I’m a quite sensitive person that sort of stuff stays with you and it’s quite hard to switch off.

But from the healthcare stuff I moved I then became in-house counsel at a health regulation from there. Then I moved into sports and I worked as a lawyer at UK sport, which is the sort of funding agency for Olympic and Paralympic sport. And that was a nice fit I think, my background, my skills I worked with a really good team. I still miss a lot of the people who I worked with there and a better fit for me, but I think I knew then if I wasn’t going to kind of stay or want to be a sort of lawyer in sport, then it was probably time to kind of leave law and find something that I found more purposeful. I think that’s probably ultimately culminated in me leaving. Yes.

Hayley Stanton: Okay. I’m going to ask you in a minute about what you’re up to now, but I just want to highlight the reason that I’ve asked you to talk about your career history, because I think you’re one of those people that I would have been looking at. Thinking you’re amazing. You’re successful. You’re confident you are totally like a different breed to me. And yeah. I just want to highlight that actually, you still had those kind of anxieties and self-doubt and everything under the surface, and even people that we, we see who are successful, and you were still very successful, it doesn’t take away that fear.

Lara Hayward: Oh, god no, and it’s, and it’s, it’s really strange. Like I don’t feel like I’ve been successful at all. Massive imposter syndrome. When I compare myself to anyone, I get all of those sorts of feelings, like, well, what have I done? What have I contributed to the world?

And not in a woo with me sense. And it’s just in that, I think we live in a world where all of us are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone on a global scale. We didn’t have to do that, you know sort of 20, 30 years ago. And it’s just this sort of constant pressure. So yes, I thank you for sort of saying that, but I, I genuinely mean it, I’ve never felt that. And I think I’ve always felt like a fraud and always kind of, wondered what my skills are. I know we’ve spoken about this before, in my current role, building up to sort of speaking in public, it’s always a huge thing. I get massive nerves. Yeah. I think when I was a lawyer, I can say this now because I’ve been out of it for long enough. If I had to do certain types of public speaking, I’d probably try and do all sorts of things to get out of it. And then, and it just made me feel like I was back at school again, it’s crazy when I look back now through all of that stuff. But I think, I think that just shows me that there was something not quite right about me being in that role and or something that I probably needed to face and navigate and sort of push through which, which I think I have done, but in a, in a healthy way, rather than in a, all this it’s something wrong with me, I need to sort it out kind of way.

Certainly the public speaking element, it’s more, I’ve looked at it in much more as, okay, well, what am I happy talking in public, about where do I have confidence. And I think if you look at it in that way, you can find areas that you can be a really passionate and really articulate speaker, for example. So yeah. Sort of flipping it on its head and working out how to use your skills to their advantage I think.

Hayley Stanton: Absolutely. That has been my experience as well. I’ve been able to stand up in front of hundreds of people and talk about social anxiety and mental health. But I couldn’t interview a senior executive for a podcast about careers in a previous role. Yeah. Very different. Your heart has to be connected. So tell us a little bit about where your heart lies now.

Lara Hayward: Where my heart lies now? Wow. Probably in too many areas. I think it’s definitely in the well-being personal development coaching space. And I have the privilege of working with some amazing students at Oxford. And that’s doing career coaching across all subject areas, specialized in creative industries and sustainability which is so closely aligned to what I love if I think about it, the natural environment, conservation and creativity, they do form my values. All of the stuff I do outside of work has elements of that in it. So it’s amazing to work with people who are looking for support and guidance in those areas. I think branching out into the wellbeing space and I’m really interested in the intersect of work and wellbeing, but also, how do we perform well and what do we need to perform well, and I think we’re seeing a lot more of that happening in general conversations, in work, in the public sphere, in medicine, health care and I suppose, individual responsibility for how we look after ourselves and manage ourselves and what we can do if there are I suppose, resource restrictions or limitations.

So I’m really interested in that space and then connecting it all with purpose, I think. And that’s the, that’s the element that’s often missing in a number of spheres. So I, I think I’ve always been one of those people that looks at everything very holistically and really believes in sort of circular economy type structures and how there are certain things that can operate in certain spheres and give something back as well.

It doesn’t all need to be geared towards a just profit making or, or just this. So I think all of the work that I’m doing at the moment probably falls into those areas. And yeah, it’s an exciting place to be, and it’s sort of constantly evolving as well. And just really nice to have that mix. I think. Which is something that I didn’t have in law, it’s very narrow and obviously you’re dealing with rules and regulations. Like that’s what it is to be a lawyer. And I think that’s the one thing I’ve realized, like I’m such a not rules person, but I very much like looking at what is possible rather than what people can’t do.

So, yeah, I think that’s another sort of values fit then. And that’s where I am now.

Hayley Stanton: That’s so nice. So a lot of people then have trouble seeing where their quieter, more sensitive qualities actually fit in at work. And they feel like it’s a little bit of a disadvantage. And I think sometimes the workplace, it gives you the message. That is a disadvantage and somehow you’re not good enough. So what advice would you give to those people?

Lara Hayward: I think, I mean, I found myself talking about values quite a lot, and this would probably be my advice, getting really close to who you are. And if you know you’re quiet, but also know where your quiet gives you strength and how it can benefit you. I think that there sort of comes a time where you just have to really back yourself in that and value it. Because I think certainly in some sort of new corporate workplaces I’ve worked, although again, I think it’s changing. I really do think it’s changing. There’s always been this sense that you have to be a certain way and we all need to develop our competence. We need to do this. We need to do X, Y, Z. And I kind of just reject that now because people are just not the same, you know? And, and I think culture’s flourish when we’re able to be ourselves within reason. And, as long as it’s furthering the business aim, but to further a business and you need, you need to really look after your people and people need, need to feel supported, engaged like they really want do the work that they do. So I think it comes back to knowing who you are really valuing what you can give and then not being afraid to champion that in your own way at the workplace. And that there’s always going to be, I mean, just thinking of my sort of network friends, family, or the connections, and then they all do different things. Everyone will moan broadly about the same thing. If they’re in a team meeting, particularly on zoom and that’s obviously been sort of amplified over the pandemic, that’ll always be two or three people who’ve got the loudest voices who speak more than everyone else. And, there’s part of me that will say sort of let them get on with that. But if you do have a really valid point to make, then also just try and make that. And if you only have that one point to make, just make it and make it well. And everyone else can rabbit on for hours and hours. But if there’s something you really want to say, just try and say it because it probably will be hugely useful.

And I, yeah. I don’t see that as kind of working against your quiet or trying to push through it. I just see that as, as sort of trying to say, the one thing that you think is really important to say, and you can sort of expand that out a little bit and, and also not be afraid of saying things like, so if you need more time to digest points and prefer getting pack back to people in email, then just make, make that clear. And, and so, I think I’m better if I can get back to you in email, after having a few days to think about it, is that going to give you enough time and, and often, invariably, unless you work in medicine maybe, or in the forces or whether it’s some kind of real urgency or immediacy that is usually okay.

That’s just sort of widening the conversation about different ways of working different ways of communicating, highlighting that different people have different things that make work better for them. But I think often, and this can be the thing, I think the quieter people struggle with a bit, it’s getting that across. I know that was my own experience. It’s like, okay, well, this is what I need. How do I say that? Is it valid? Am I able to say it? But I mean, maybe I’ve just been lucky with the people I’ve worked with, but the more I, sort of done that, the more I’ve been able to do it and it’s usually really well received. And I also think there’s something in that if you don’t, if you don’t know, you don’t try, or if you don’t ask, then you won’t know. And I think doing that bit by bit as well, does build your kind of capacity to be a quiet person in the workplace and the way that works for you. And it allows other people to understand how you can be worked with as well.

And I think that’s the thing to remember often people won’t know because they’re coming from a different way of communicating with different reasons why, so they won’t necessarily be able to understand that. So I think, it’s almost like quieter people owe it to themselves, too, to kind of say, this is what I need. And if it’s then not met or completely shouted down, and that’s a different conversation to be having or different things to think about but I think at least in the initial stages, just try and say what you need with an ally or with somebody who, you know that can hear it.

Hayley Stanton: That feels really helpful to me. And I think that one of the things we often have trouble with is trusting in ourselves. It feels rebellious. I think when we’re a quieter kind of person, we can have the tendency to go, well, there must be something wrong with me and therefore I’m not going to speak up. I’m going to try and hide it and just try and catch up. Or you compare yourself to kind of your extroverted colleagues and think you should be keeping up with them or speaking up as much as they are. So we put kind of unnecessary pressures on ourselves as well. And what you’re talking about is creating a level playing field for, for everyone, regardless of your communication style.

Lara Hayward: Yeah. Yeah. And I, I think, I think from what I’ve seen, teams that perform well, and this is from lots of different areas, the ones that have a real understanding of each other’s kind of nuances and unique skills and abilities, and try as far as, as possible to work with them, and sort of engage people in those differences and, and raise awareness of them. And that, it’s basically raising relational awareness and that can only be a good thing in every facet of life, as far as I’m concerned, rather than sort of dictating certain things or suggesting even, sort of corporate, I’m just going to have a little bit of a rant on corporate wellness programs. They’ve always been like one size fits all, which is kind of crazy. But when, when I was working at UK sport, for example, instead of a gym membership, it was a healthy lifestyle benefits. If you were somebody who wanted to go to dance classes instead, then that was available. And it sort of little things like that, which, financially, I presume they make little difference to an organization, but they can make a huge difference to a group of employees who might have completely different ideas about what kind of movement or what’s healthy for them, that would incorporate yoga or anything else as well. So they’re sort of tiny little tweaks but allow people to be more themselves at work. And I think that allows people to be more themselves and then work well, I think, you become more productive, more efficient, more engaged from that. So, yeah, I think it’s usually important.

Hayley Stanton: Absolutely. I think that really values everybody’s uniqueness and just shows you that you’re worthy if you receive something like that.

Lara Hayward: Yeah, exactly. And, and I think that creates loyalty and trust and yeah. But then I think I’m very much an idealist, so that’s something I’d like to see. And, I think there’s often, in the workplace feel like we don’t have enough time to do all of this because everyone’s so busy delivering things operationally, but actually if you put time into that, I think it can really reap rewards long-term and yeah, I think there’s, there’s so much in valuing difference and, and thank God, we are seeing a world now that I think is becoming more open to that. And we’re certainly seeing more diverse voices. I think out there in the media and in other spheres, I think, it’s got a long way to go, but I, I certainly feel like that is happening that is happening. And hopefully it has been again accelerated a little bit by the pandemic.

Hayley Stanton: So, I feel like this is a really important conversation because for most of us, the emphasis is on the individual to kind of grow their confidence, show up and be seen, use their voice. And there’s not so much conversation around how we can change the environments around us too. How could you create a space for people to use their voice or provide the reassurance or stop sending the messages that we’re not good enough as a quieter person and send a message that actually we value you.

Lara Hayward: Yeah. Yeah. It’s I mean, it’s, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? I know we’ve spoken before that, certainly as I was growing up and sort of going sort of the early part of my career, it just felt like constantly, as a quieter person, you always getting told that you need to be more confident. You need to be more out there. you need to be more that, but nobody was telling any of the louder people that they need to be quiet or perhaps take a bit more time to listen. And, it’s so frustrating because it’s like one is not better than the other, and it’s not binary either. We’ve spoken about this before that. I think we, we all seem like so intent maybe because of conditioning to put people into groups or boxes, and it’s just so much more subtle and, or complex than that. I know that I can be very sort of, for want of a better word loud in certain arenas where I’m really passionate about something and really want to fight for it. And other times I’m not, and I’m sure that applies to everyone, people who are very sort of confident and a great vocalists and, and sort of great speakers -I’m sure there are times when they need sort of quiet time to sort of recharge. So it’s it’s valuing that and understanding that as well. And probably not trying to categorize everyone or make everyone a dataset, which happens a lot too. Yeah.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. So before we came on, we were talking about Feeling the pressure to perform. And can you talk to us a little bit about feeling the pressure to perform?

Lara Hayward: Oh God. Yeah. Well, I suppose for me personally, I noticed that it’s a family trait as well. I think I always feel that, and I don’t know why, I don’t know where it comes from. I didn’t have parents who were like you need to be this thing and you need to be, I didn’t have that. So it’s self made pressure, I think. And there are probably elements of that coming from society as well, but I’m not going to blame society entirely because I know it’s sort of self directed and I think mine was certainly a form of perfectionism. I think it’s changing now. I think my sister, probably my dad suffer from the same thing that if it’s not going to be perfect, then we’d sort of get a bit paralyzed and that’s super limiting. I think that pressure is getting, maybe it’s sort of developing in two sort of parallel ways, on the one hand, I think it’s getting worse because we just, we live in a global society. We can see what everyone else is doing all the time, all over the world, there’s pictures and videos of, of, of everything. So I think there is that kind of sense of everyone, even people who are sort of fairly immune to it or who can handle it really well. I know still suffer from that and will there be people doing that? And that’s where I should be because that’s sort of the, the peer groups that I recognize or, or the space I feel I’m in. So I think it comes from there. And but then I hope also with that. Because there are now sort of more high profile people kind of speaking out against it and, sort of standing up for themselves in, in terms of wider public’s fear. I’d also like to think that there’s something sort of running counter to that, but it’s trying to sort of balance it out. But again, as I say, I am ever the optimist, so I kind of tend to look at things in that way. But we were sort of talking about Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka and how they’ve spoken out recently and sort of effectively prioritize their health against their media obligations or the pressure of performing at the highest level. And I think because I used to work in elite sport, I just see that as a huge thing, I think culturally that’s massive and. I think they’ve both said and I, I don’t know if it was directly or not, but, seeing all the people start speaking out about this has enabled them to speak out about it; and I think, enabled us all to look to athletes or, anyone who’s performing at that sort of level and under that huge sort of public gaze, that they’re people too, and they’re no different from the rest of us, on one level, I mean, I certainly couldn’t do gymnastics like Simone Biles, not, not even close .She’s streets ahead of, the world in that sphere, but, but fundamentally, it takes so much bravery I think when you’re operating at that level to say, actually, no, I’m not going to do that because I need to prioritize my mental health. I think that’s huge. And she’s a young woman and that really helps other young women or anyone who feels marginalized, perhaps because they’re going through mental health issues or, or anything else that makes them feel like that. So I think that that kind of thing can have a huge impact. And it’s really positive to see.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah, I agree. And what feels really beautiful to me is that it kind of bridges the gap and yes, we feel more compassion for them, but we also see the sameness between us. And I think that this is probably the biggest problem in the world, that we just see so much difference between us and other people at the minute.

Lara Hayward: Yep. Hugely. And this is one of the things I get really passionate about and I know I do this, but we have habits of putting certain people on pedestals and talking about them, like they’re sort of superhuman or completely different to us. And then you just get some athletes who completely sort of smashed that.

And I think Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Johnny Johnny Wilkinson is another one. He’s written a lot about this, but he has a great podcast, the high-performance podcast, which he’s on and, he spends a lot of time talking about anxiety, how he didn’t sleep, and this is one of the best rugby players of all time, who changed the game at the time.

And I mean, I remember listening to that and again, I can’t relate to his success as a rugby player, at all. I could completely relate to this feelings of anxiety and insomnia and the stuff that he had to deal with. And it, it was hugely helpful to hear somebody like that, talking about it and go, oh, wow. Even when you’re that good at something that stuff doesn’t go away, it’s there, you know? And he talks about how he managed it and eventually came to deal with it. Meditation, Buddhism, all of these things. It was, it was just fascinating. Fascinating because I think we’ve created a world where we do like to paint people as perfect and like nothing can touch them. And then here’s somebody who I admire as a sports person, but I actually, you admire him even more for talking the way he’s talked about his mental health struggles. I just think that’s incredible. And it’s entirely relatable. And I’m really interested in this as a sort of question and conversation about this sort of concept of high performance. Certainly there in sport, in the elite sports world, I think working at Oxford university, certainly lots of high performance there in the academic sphere. But what I think isn’t talked about as much, or what people forget is that I know the example we, we talked about earlier, if you’re a single parent who’s managing a household and two or three kids, and you’re managing to keep that together and, do all of that. Well, that to me, that’s really high-performing because you don’t have the resources that other people do in that high-performance world. You’re having to do it all on your own within your own capability. And I’m fascinated by that as well. Like that’s not spoken about, and people in that world, would never think of themselves as high-performing, but actually I think there’s a real interesting kind of stream of thinking about that. And again, can we not just look at people as people and there’s lots of people doing incredibly well at life who we will never hear about, and I’m often really interested in those people, it’s like, what, what do they have going on that we could, that we could learn from?

And I think often it’s mindset, and I met people from lots of different backgrounds, who haven’t had any of those sorts of resources or things available to them yet they’re flourishing in life. And I think that that’s really interesting. let’s talk to them and find out what they’re doing as well.

I think, mindset. The first thing that comes to mind. And that’s something that I’ve really struggled with. I feel like certainly when I’ve been high periods of anxiety or I’ve had really tough things to deal with, my mindset can completely flip and I can become very negative and just see all the bad stuff when I know that in the grand scheme of things I’ve had a lot of privilege and supportive parents and sort of financially okay. And all of that stuff. So when I meet people and this actually happens through my work at Oxford as well who haven’t, you haven’t had any of that. And yet they’ve got themselves to this place and they’ve done it all on their own. I think it’s a lot of grit, resilience, and ultimately mindset, that sort of Ability to just turn things around and, it’s amazing. it’s so humbling when I meet people like that. I love it. It’s like a real reminder. And I’d love to explore it more. I think this conversation has shown me. I just, I really would love to explore that more where, where that comes from and all the parallels between the sort of people who would put themselves in that bracket. And I’m sure there is lots of research around it, but yeah, I’m always really humbled and really grounded by it and just thinking there’s something, there’s something in that. Yeah.

Hayley Stanton: I’m really intrigued about what that difference in the mindset might look

Lara Hayward: Yeah. Where it comes from or just is it the tools, whether you’re aware of them or not that you can use to turn things around in the moment, so when things are really tough, what do you do to kind of flip that and make it into a sort of growth opportunity, I think. But yeah, lots to think about.

Hayley Stanton: Absolutely. I think one of the things that’s coming up for me is the idea of completing the stress cycle. Physically, there are things that we have to do in order to tell our bodies that is okay and the stress has moved on because even if we can complete whatever was causing us the stress in the first place, even if we deal with that, we’re left with that feeling of stress. So that might be for some, it might be meditation or running or swimming or walking or so many different things, things that bring you joy. So what’s the kind of things that help you?

Lara Hayward: Oh God. So this is something I think completing the stress cycle, it sounds very similar to, cause I’ve had quite a lot of sort of somatic based therapy sessions. And I think it’s sort of similar to that. So your body has a physical response and I started that because I had a PTSD diagnosis after quite a difficult event that happened while I was traveling and I’ve always had a predisposition towards anxiety anyway, and that’s how I feel it very much in my body. And then somatic therapy sort of works with you to kind of actually work with a feeling. So it takes you sort of out of your head, which is where I spend far too much time and overanalyze everything and work through the feelings in your body. And then yet you then find ways of working through that and sort of getting out of your system as it were. So it sounds very, very similar. For me, I think, yeah, definitely. I’d say definitely movement of all kinds. So, so dancing is my all time favorite thing to do. I don’t feel like I do enough of it, but it’s one of those things, I’m a terrible dancer, but when I’m doing it, I don’t even think about that. I just love the feeling of it. I can completely switch off from everything and as a self-conscious person, that’s really interesting to me, what is it about dance? Where I don’t care what I look like. I don’t care if I look silly. The feeling is so good that who cares about that. So definitely dance. Anything in the water. I absolutely love swimming and I love swimming because I like the way my body feels in the water. I mean, it’s like this sort of multisensory experience. It’s not, I don’t even think of it like exercise. It’s like just getting in for a five minute dip and getting out, it gives me as much joy, pleasure, meditative space feeling as if I’m going for an actual two or three K stomp. So yes, definitely movement. I think singing and voice again, I’m a terrible singer. It’s something that I would love to be better at. But there’s something. It’s about synchrony of movement and voice. So I think for people who have anxiety, PTSD, being part of a choir, Actually is a really good sort of therapeutic space, but it doesn’t feel that way. And I think as far as I’m aware, again, I’m not a scientist. So if anyone’s listening, listening to this who is apologies for any mistakes I make, but that sort of connection with the vagal nerve, which is hugely important in any kind of anxiety, PTSD treatments. And I think there’s just so much release in using your voice, which again is a really interesting thing thing to think about for quieter people. And it doesn’t mean that you go around shouting all the time, but what are ways that you can use your voice just to activate that system and let that emotion out or release the stress. So yeah, probably dancing, anything to do with water. Yeah, they’re probably the top three. There, there are many, I realized how much I just need to move. I was having another conversation with with a friend who’s ex military and he was saying something very similar to that. He said, I just want to move all the time, but you can’t do that unless you’re an elite athlete. So how do we facilitate this? So yeah, I mean, hugely important for me and, and I think that’s actually become a tool now, if I feel still have a tendency towards feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I think I realize overwhelm is like my nemesis. And the way I regulate that, it’s just like, put some music on and sort of just moving my body, like a idiot around my kitchen. And that does tend to help. It does tend to temperate. So yeah, they’re, they’re the things that I would definitely turn to, but there are, there are many.

Hayley Stanton: There is so much joy in just kitchen, dancing, and singing at the top of your lungs.

Lara Hayward: Those two things. Totally underrated.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. It doesn’t matter if you think you can sing or dance, just move. I think this is really interesting that you’ve brought it up actually, because when we’re socially anxious I mean, this isn’t something that I used to do. I was very sort of closed and still and of course that’s like how I was brought up to be quiet and still and convenience basically. So it’s actually really, I think, equally as scary and freeing to be moving like that. I can remember like going to go into discos when I was kid and just standing there and I couldn’t move and people were going, it’s just easy to just move your arms and getting frustrated with me, but I just couldn’t do it at the time.

Lara Hayward: Yeah. And I completely understand that. I think there’s also something probably about British culture. I know I got a bit of a rude awakening, but it was brilliant. I’d just finished a university and I was doing a temp job. I can’t remember what it was. It’s like some sort of translation exercise, like down in the archives, but lots of other people who working with me from various bits of the university one was from India and one was Greek. And I can’t remember where the other person was from, but anyway, in their cultures, they have this incredible sort of dancing culture. So any sort of greek kind of celebration or wedding, or even just a dinner, people tend to dance afterwards. And we did a lot of things socially together, and I just recognize how for that, that was just completely normal, you know? I think people love dancing, Brits loved dancing as well. And not that it’s necessarily about sort of where you’re from or what your nationality or citizenship is, but, it’s like we can only do it when we’ve had loads and loads of booze. And that again, that’s fascinating, I think other cultures are just better at doing it and certainly Latin cultures as well. There’s, there’s so much more vibrancy and sort of linked to sort of movement and the arts. I feel anyway. That’s what I’ve seen when I’ve traveled. And I think it is here, but just this, this sort of like super serious air about, and it has to be done in a certain way. And it’s just, I just feel like we need to get rid of that.

Hayley Stanton: That would be lovely. Yeah. Just hearing you talk about this, this culture of dancing and that just kind of lights me up and I just really love the idea of that. It’d be wonderful. If we could have that here. I noticed in, in like, five-year-old kids and my family, there’s not a lot of movement there and I’ll be like dancing away in the car and she’s just looking at me like, what are you doing? And she won’t join in and she’s just too afraid to, already the, the movement is kind of getting shut down.

Lara Hayward: Yeah. There’s so much isn’t there. I think all of us, all of this stuff, I think whatever our stuff is, or, our angst or shadows or whatever. It starts so early and we often don’t notice it’s there until later, and then you’re sort of having to navigate it and sort of work out why. But it’s just, I just think, yeah, movement, I just think is absolutely, whatever works for you. Like it doesn’t have to be a sport. It doesn’t have to be dance. It doesn’t have to be anything, but just something, whatever makes you feel alive, I think is, is the thing that you need to be doing more of that could be writing poetry. It could be making sand art. It could be anything, but if that makes you feel like you do more of that, and then it impacts everything else for the better.

Hayley Stanton: I have to say that it’s not always comfortable work either. But it’s like in the depth, that discomfort, that we’ve really truly grow. And I mean, I met you on that blue health coaching course. You are also a blue health coach. And I don’t think I’ve gotten through a coaching course yet where I’m not having some kind of uncomfortable experience growing and crying through it.

Lara Hayward: Yeah, no, I agree completely. I mean, I know, I remember from the blue health coaching course, we sort of had to tell each other our life story and then, stuff comes up there that you’re like, oh my God, I haven’t thought about that for a long time, and it’s still really deep. And I’m studying elite athlete wellbeing management at the moment. It’s a great course. It’s really, really involved. It’s run by an Australian organization and we had to do a similar thing. A live story exercise. And I was actually paired with a professional player. He’s just retired, very different background to me. And it was also, so difficult, but also the most amazing thing because you spend, and this is sort of one of the benefits we talk about sort of quieter qualities, you spend an hour listening to somebody else’s life story and their biggest achievements, their biggest regrets, the hardest things they’ve worked through. You’ve learned so much about another person, but you’ve learned so much about yourself as well. And I think, both of those experiences, recent experiences, have really stuck with me and yeah, you’re right. It’s not easy facing that stuff. It never is. But on the other side of it, I just think it enables you to build better relationships and, in work and life, you know, romantic relationships, whatever. And at the end of the day, once we get to the end of all of this, that’s the stuff that matters, right? But yeah, I think it’s important to have support around if you’re facing all of that kind of stuff. Yeah. And the blue health coaching was fantastic cause everyone was just so warm and open and supportive. So yeah, it was good. I definitely need to get down to Cornwall to see you all soon.

Hayley Stanton: So you mentioned significant achievements in your life. Tell us what your most significant achievement is in your mind.

Lara Hayward: Oh God.

Hayley Stanton: Or like what’s the biggest comfort zone stretch?

Lara Hayward: Yeah. Okay. Okay, so significant achievement. And it’s quite a fun one. I’m going to go with one fun and one, not so fun, but still a significant achievement I think was coming third at a charity strictly come dancing competition in Oxford. And that involved training for 12 weeks. And we had to learn a latin and a ballroom and do a group performance and then something else. I’m going to say it’s significant achievement wasn’t so much about coming third, it was more about coming back to myself because that was in May 2017 and I’d had the PTSD diagnosis in the January and was really, really struggling. And then I think that came along at the right time because it gave me purpose and it enabled, I was sort of working through it, doing something I loved with a group of people and the aim is to raise lots of money for charity. And I think we raised about 25 grand. So, everything about that, I think it was just awesome. So it wasn’t, it wasn’t really about the third place. It was more about, I suppose, starting to overcome quite a tough time in my life. But through something that I really loved and, and then raising so much money for charity. So it was like, that was a, that was a pretty cool thing. And I tend to look, I think, at things like that, and it was a big sort of team effort. So, yeah, maybe that’s both actually a significant achievement and comfort zone stretch because even though I love dancing, performing is really, hard. I suffer hugely with performance anxiety, but for that experience, actually, I just love it. It was that it was the good side of adrenaline. It was actually just hugely kind of connecting and really the most present I’ve ever felt. I can still feel that feeling. Particularly when we did our group dance, it was a Pirates of the Caribbean and it was a Paso, so it was completely not my personality, like very sort of fierce and Latin and just awesome. And just to channel that kind of emotion instead of, my usual, fairly calmish steady state. Yeah. It was just brilliant actually. Thank you for asking that question cause I haven’t thought about that in a while. And it was awesome. Yeah. But I think with the combined kind of benefit of really starting to work through what was going on in my mind and my body, I think at that time.

Hayley Stanton: That sounds incredible. Again, you’ve brought up about having that, not so much support, but being part of something, being part of something bigger. And I think that a lot of the time we feel like we are on our own and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We feel like that, keep ourselves to ourselves, and we don’t reach out and connect or we don’t become part of something because it is scary. And what if we fall? What if we fail? And I think that this is a really key part of growing our quiet confidence and coming back to who we are is actually being around other people and having these joyful moments and these deeper connections.

Lara Hayward: Yup. Yes. So, so true. I think, as you were saying that I, it’s taken me years to feel like I actually belonged any anywhere, and that’s, that’s not because the people around me before weren’t open to that, I think I could have belonged, but because of my internal feelings and state, I just feel like I didn’t. And I felt like I wasn’t good enough to belong to some of the groups that I was part of and I didn’t fit in for that reason. And a lot of the time that was my own internal stuff. And I think that’s been one of the biggest changes actually. And I’m going to be really honest. I’d say that’s probably only changed in the last five, six years, and that tied in with, when I left law, going through that horrible experience of PTSD and really having to face my demons and then, starting with strictly. And I think that really was the start of the journey to just kind of go okay. Well, I want to do things that are really in line with who I am and I need to be true to myself and, and be okay with that. And it it’s hugely releasing. It’s just, I realize all of that stuff that I was feeling when I was younger, you can start to let go of that. But I think belonging is a huge thing and yeah, super hard actually, as well. If you, if you do have a tendency towards anxiety or social anxiety.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. Yeah. And you’re right. We have to kind of belong to ourselves before we find it externally.

Lara Hayward: Yeah. I’ve seen, as soon as you belong to yourself, then you start meeting the right people and, and you start, I think you start, you’re presenting your real self so that the people that are coming into your life and are the ones who are going to kind of meet you there. Yeah.

Yeah, which is really, yeah. It’s really exciting. It’s amazing when that happens and it’s just the law of attraction really, isn’t it? Definitely. And it’s just so it’s so painful, I know when I, again, speak to this with some of the young people, I work with that, the feeling of not belonging as well is so it’s so damaging, it’s just a really tough thing to navigate. Yeah. I hope people can kind of reach out more about that. And that’s where my work is taking me to help people sort of navigate that space if that’s what they’re feeling when they’re younger.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. It’s so needed. It’s so common. What message would you give to those people who are feeling like they don’t belong?

Lara Hayward: Check in with those times where you feel calm in yourself and when you feel like you are being you and you’re not feeling anxiety because they probably hold the key to who you are. And I really think if you know who you are and that’s sort of, I think what your values are, what you like doing, what you feel really strongly about, what you want to fight for. I think that’s when you’re able to kind of really find belonging. If you’re staying true to who you are, it sounds really cheesy when you say on a podcast like this, but I really think, authenticity and belief in yourself and belief that whatever your version of what authenticity is will lead you to other people who can come meet you there. And that’s when you truly belong.

Hayley Stanton: Yes. Yeah. It’s the key to finding your tribe.

Lara Hayward: Yeah. Yeah. And so much can change from that once you’re there.

Hayley Stanton: Yeah. I love that, it feels really useful because so often we’re in a place where we are trying to shape ourselves to fit in so that we can feel belonging. But what you’re saying is let’s do it the other way round. Let’s really find out who we are and then go out and pursue those things that light us up. And then we will find belonging and it will be natural. We don’t have to worry.

Lara Hayward: No. And, and I think, it’s another sort of, one of my, I suppose, questions that I’m really interested in. I think our schooling system goes a long way to taking us away from that because we’re, thrust in, all doing the same exams, all using the same modality to be assessed. And I just really question where the value is in that. I really do. Like, even for people who can ACE exams, it’s like, generally they’re not developing themselves. They’re just trying to ACE an exam. So even if they do well out of that, they’re still kind of doing what somebody else wants them to do to get a grade rather than going, okay, well, where are my innate skills, abilities, qualities? Where are the things I want to use? What are the subject areas? What are they? So I think there’s something in that that was quite an interesting conversation because I don’t think it lends itself well to that. And then the other one is I think a lot of people feel like it’s quite selfish approach. If we focus on ourselves and what we want, then we’re excluding everyone else. But as long as that’s run in line with celebrating difference and understanding how different people, different skills, different qualities can work together. I think it can’t be a bad thing. And I don’t think it’s a selfish thing, but it’s another one of those things that starts really young, we’re sort of funneled into a system. And that takes us away from perhaps pursuing some of those things, unless we’re lucky and we’ve got supportive communities around or that one person who champions that, yeah, it can be really hard, I think, to find out who you are, even if you are high achieving, sometimes that can take you away from alignment with those things that make you really happy.

Hayley Stanton: Absolutely. And I was, the good little girl with the grades and then I kind of was like, what am I going to do with it? I didn’t feel like I could speak up. I didn’t feel like I could go out and get a job and be accepted. I thought people will see the real me and reject me. So, without that self-belief, and without that confidence, then I couldn’t use what I had to learn anyway.

Lara Hayward: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s a really, really interesting space and I think it’s really exciting that there are forest schools and beach schools. And one of my colleagues was talking about, I think the development of there’s now there’s now a GCSE in natural history, which sounds like it’s going to be much more engaging with the natural world rather than just sort of reading stuff out with books. And, and those kinds of things are exciting because it feels like you’re connecting more with the world and learning that way and learning about what might interest you from that? Because if you connect with the natural world that could take you into a creative space because of the beauty of nature, or it could take you into a sort of exploring space or geological space or a scientific. I think there are just different ways of kind of engaging with learning and different ways of learning, not everyone wants to read books and then write exams, maybe they want to learn something and then act it out. But again, I guess the difficulty is, how do we sort of do that for everyone? There’s so many people and in an ideal world we would be able to, but yeah, I guess that’s a whole other conversation.

Hayley Stanton: I know that you are really connected to the natural world. So tell me how that connection, shapes how you feel about yourself.

Lara Hayward: I think it’s awe. So I sort of soaked some sunflower seeds the other day and planted them. And I know it’s the wrong time for any gardens who are listening, it was the wrong time of year to do that and all the rest of it. But I was fascinated by just watching this kind of seed root and then watching it grow and then seeing the differences every day. And this is one tiny thing, and that’s my experience of the natural world. Like whatever I see in it, I am in awe of it. And it sort of asks for nothing, these cycles of things happen and it teaches me about myself. So even something really simple, basic, but looking after houseplants, you realize how much water they need, how much they change each day. If it’s a really hot day, they kind of wither and die and you need to give them extra care. But that applies to people as well. We need to be looking after ourselves and be as aware of that kind of thing in ourselves. I feel like I learn from nature, because we are nature, humans are nature, we’re no more special than any other species on the planet. I’ve just read a great sort of neuroscience book and it is written by Lisa Feldman Barrett. And she makes that statement. We are no different. We have a different way of doing things maybe, or slightly different brain, but ultimately we’re the same. And I think, yeah, just being really connected to the natural world reminds me of that. And I love just, as I say, going out, I live near some, some Meadows in Oxford and just walking there every day. And some people might say, well, don’t you get bored of that? And I’m like, well, no, because it’s different every day. It’s the same space, but there’s something different. You go at a different time of day, you see different things. I’ve been going more in the evening lately and I’ve seen, there’s roe deer and foxes and all sorts of different birds. And for me, that just feels like a treat and it costs nothing. You take away nothing by looking at it, it’s taking away nothing from you. And I just think like the closer we are to nature. The better we can be as humans because it connects us again with fundamentally who we are, it’s quite grounding. And I was saying to somebody the other day, like there’s been all this stuff about Branson and Jeff Basil’s going up to space. And I’m like, well, I was actually more in awe of my little sunflower seeds than that because this natural cycle of something growing is constantly giving back and it’s accepting of it’s lifecycle and there’s no ego involved. And again, that might sound a little bit woo woo or out there, but I genuinely mean it. I just think that’s more fascinating, more exciting. And I think if we move away from that and only get excited by kind of growth, economic growth and power and money and profit, I just think there’s an end point to that. And it’s not going to end very well for anyone, whereas yeah, if we’re more accepting of it, Yeah. Or just humbled by that kind of natural process, for me, that just makes sense. That makes so much sense. I understand other people might listen to this and be like, oh God. Yeah. It gives me a sense of wonder and awe every day, even in something that’s really small.

Hayley Stanton: I love that. I love that. And yeah, I agree. The more connected we are with nature, the more connected we are to ourselves and with other people. I think, I think you can look out at sea and realize, yes, I’m this tiny pinprick on the world, but actually, so is everybody else. And together we can achieve so much. And moving away from that, I think that it feels isolating. It feels isolating to be that more focused in on ego and money and achievement in that light. There’s something about coming back to that connection first.

Lara Hayward: Yeah, so there certainly is for me. And I just, I just feel like there’s so much simplicity in that. I could talk about that forever because it’s like a genuine love, when you just realize how deeply ingrained something is in you. And I couldn’t live without it, so I actually moved to where I’m living, so I could be next to the river and next to the Meadows and so I could sort of be in them every day. I think the sea is my first love and it always will be, but work and everything else sort of keeps me here for now. But I think just being by your own little chunk of nature that works for you, it’s life-giving, but you’re not taking anything away. Yeah. And I think that’s really nice.

Hayley Stanton: Aw, thank you for sharing that, Laura. So I’m wondering, what would you say to your younger self? If you could send a message back?

Lara Hayward: God, I mean, to my younger self, I just wish I said like, just be you, it would all be okay, but just it’s really straightforward, I don’t know if my younger self would have listened to it, but that’s what I needed to hear. Just be okay with being you, it’s fine. It’s fine. It will all be fine.

Hayley Stanton: It’s much needed reassurance there. I’m sure we could all use a little bit more. So my final question for you, Laura is what is inspiring you right now?

Lara Hayward: Oh, the Olympics are inspiring me. It brings up so much emotion, and it allows us to feel like if you have that connection and it’s all the stories. I’m a swimmer, so I really love the swimming. And there’s a guy who’s in lane eight from Tunisia, like no one was even looking at him and he won, from nowhere he won this event. He’s 18. It’s one of the stories of the games. And I just find so much inspiration from that. And I think Simone Biles saying what she said, people being brave enough to say what they need. I think that inspires me, and I think particularly young women when they’re doing it as well, cause I think it’s often harder for them and that does really inspire me. Well there’s quite a lot. I feel like I’m inspired by a lot of things, but I’ll stop there.

Hayley Stanton: I’ve heard athletes talking about how it’s supposed to be fun. Yeah. And that is something that’s really inspired me recently too.

Lara Hayward: Yeah. Yeah. And I, I think there’s, there’s so much, when you hear the athletes who often do really well it’s they love it. They love what they do. And I think you’ve got to, you know and they work so hard. It’s so bloody hard, but they love it. And they love that feeling of working hard and remembering that it should be fun. We can all learn a lot from that. And I think I need to remember that often. And if it’s not fun, ask why, and can you make it fun and if not, then ask yourself while you’re doing it.

Hayley Stanton: With that, I am going to go and have a fun dance around the kitchen.

Lara Hayward: Me too.

Hayley Stanton: It’s been so lovely chatting with you, Lara.

Lara Hayward: Always a pleasure. Yeah, hopefully I didn’t go on too much talking about being a quiet person

Hayley Stanton: before we go. Where can people connect with you?

Lara Hayward: So I am on west sporadically on Instagram. So that at Lara.Hayward. LinkedIn as well. So if you just search me Lara Haywood, I should pop up. And I do have my own website as well. That is currently undergoing some updating, but that’s www.larahayward.com. So yeah, any of those few places. If people have any questions or they want to get in touch or anything we talked about kind of resonates with them, I would love to hear from you as well. So yeah. Do feel free to say hello.

Hayley Stanton: Perfect. Thank you. And I will pop up these links on the show notes for this episode.

Thank you Lara. If you’ve also enjoyed hearing from Lara, make sure that you check out her workshops on Reframing Quiet as a Strength in Your Career and Thriving in the Workplace as a Quieter Person, which you can find available for FREE at quietconnections.co.uk/webinars – head over there now for a link to watch on demand for more specific workplace insights. And Stacie will be back next week with a beautiful episode all about hope!

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