Archives for category: vulnerability

On Tuesday 28th June, we hosted our first ever conference – HeANDShe – with a diverse panel of speakers from the worlds of neuroscience, mental health campaigning, media and advertising.

Our intention was to discuss how to bring men along to the gender conversation, along with starting a debate about how men are also harmed by gender stereotypes.

The evening brought thought-provoking conversation about how and why the panel would tackle harmful gender stereotypes.

For those of you that couldn’t be there, here are some insights.

Dr Jack Lewis, neuroscientist, kicked off by stating that female and male brains are much more similar that dissimilar, and that nurture plays a huge role in shaping the brain differences between men and women. What this means is how we treat our girls and boys, which research tells us is different even before they are born if we know their gender, is what largely shapes the consequent differences in our brains. He suggested that the brain is more likely to remember narratives and stories, rather than facts. This may be why the idea that ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ has gained so much traction, when in fact the similarities are much more pronounced than the differences.

Natasha Devon MBE, the Government’s former Mental Health ambassador for Schools and co-founder of the Self-Esteem Team,  explained the devastating impact that gender stereotypes can have on young men and boys, which is shown by the alarming high suicide rates and rise in mental health and self-esteem issues that young people suffer today. She suggested that having one emotion – whether that be happiness or anger – isn’t enough for any human being, and that men especially need to be able to have the space and opportunity to be able to open up and share how they’re feeling.

Harriet Minter, Women in Leadership editor for The Guardian, put forward the case that women need to do less and men need to do more, expect more and ask for more.  She shone a light on how hard it can be for men to choose a career that they are passionate about over providing for their family, how challenging it can be for men to have the space to care for their children, and how it might actually be tougher for men to ask for flexible working and extended parental leave than it is for women. Harriet argued that gender equality is still just a “nice to have” in our industry and we need to continue having this conversation if we are ever to affect real change within our organisations.

Paul Frampton, Group CEO of Havas Media Group UK & Ireland, went last and did a great job at landing these insights in the world of advertising and media.  He discussed leadership styles and how “leadership is changing… and emotions are the secret weapon of great leaders”.  This, in his view, provides a strong case for more gender diversity at a senior level and the emergence of a feminine leadership styleHe said, “We’re starting to see a world where vulnerability is valued in the workplace, especially for millennials” which is something that The Hobbs Consultancy has been championing for a long time.

Paul argued that “knock on change in the ad industry will have a knock on effect in wider culture”, and it is because of this that I think we all have a collective responsibility to affect change in our industry.

If you are interested in us bringing the HeANDShe conversation to your organization please get in touch.

Speak soon

(Marketing and Operations for The Hobbs Consultancy)


Self-compassion is one of the most important modules in The Daring Way™ intensives that I run, and also a theme that comes up time and time again in my coaching with female leaders.  Why is it that we sometimes speak to ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t dream of speaking to our friends, (let alone our enemies)?

At its simplest, self-compassion is about treating yourself in a way that you would treat a close friend. What do you do when a close friend is struggling?  You give them a hug maybe, let them know that you’re there for them, you might buy them a gift or show them some empathy.

Too often, with ourselves, we interrogate our thoughts looking for fault and blame.  We beat ourselves up for our failures and the “should” voices have a field day; ‘You should have tried harder’. ‘You shouldn’t have believed in that’. ‘You shouldn’t have trusted that person’.  I also have a tendency to isolate myself and shut myself off from the rest of the world.

Kirsten Neff is a professor at the University of Texas in Austin who has made self-compassion her career’s work.  I recently had the good fortune of attending an advanced workshop in Texas which she led.  I have to say, the work we did together blew my mind.

Often in my courses we discuss Kristen Neff and her work.  Up until now the response has been fairly ambiguous. Yes, everyone agrees that we beat ourselves up and speak to ourselves in terrible, terrible ways.  Yet everyone feels a little bit resigned to it, that it’s an impossible habit to break.  There is a limiting belief that to embrace self-compassion is to be a bit fluffy and ‘woo woo’.  To be frank, it feels a little flakey to be consciously saying ‘Oh you poor thing that must be really tough’ to ourselves, rather than ‘come on Rox snap the fuck out of it!’.  The other push back is that our own internal critic has been the driving force behind the success in our lives.

Kristen blew all of this out of the water.

Firstly, she came along with the science.  The physiological underpinnings of self-criticism is your body feeling threatened – which will produce cortisol and adrenalin.  You don’t need me to tell you quite how damaging these are in large quantities for our bodies.  The physiological response is trying to attack the problem but in actual fact these stress hormones are attacking ourselves because we make ourselves the problem.

In contrast, the physiological underpinnings of self-compassion are in the mammalian care giving system.  Physical warmth (giving a hug), gentle touch and soothing vocalisations all produce oxytocin and opiates in our system. Also when you are compassionate the reward centres of the brain light up.  Self-compassion literally gives our body the resources to be able to hold our own pain.

When we think about our success being driven by our own self-criticism and harshness, you cannot help but wonder at the cost of what.  Sure, we may be driving our external success via promotions, pay increases and getting that mortgage.  But what is the cost of that on our physical and mental health? And is it truly sustainable?  We know that women seem to be more sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol than men (as detailed in Arianna Huffington’s Thrive).  Surely it’s time for us all to start taking this a bit more seriously.


Take a self-compassion break (courtesy of Kristen Neff).
Every bone in my body resists putting this simple breathing exercise in the newsletter and also resists doing the breathing exercise.  Breathing and mindfulness are a continual struggle for me – and yet the science is showing me it isn’t fluffy, new age shit at all.  This is what we need to start to heal.

Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out.  On the out breath, breathe out compassion for other people.  On the in breath, breathe in compassion for yourself.  Keep doing this for two minutes thinking about different and specific people to breathe out compassion to, and then extend the same loving kindness to yourself.

Kirsten’s website is also a wonderful resource for learning more about self-compassion.

Love Rox

Thank you for taking an interest in our work this year.  It really has been a phenomenal year for us as a team and also myself on an individual level.

I always encourage people to reflect on the year past before looking forward to the year ahead.

Our 2015 highlights

  • Assisting on Brené Brown’s School of Life workshop this weekend just gone was super exciting (and super tiring).  This was a key highlight along with getting trained in her new Rising Strong curriculum.
  • The Emerging Women conference in 2015 really expanded what’s possible in my mind and has created the inkling of lots of ideas for 2016.  Plus I’m about to book my tickets for next year!
  • Getting published in The Guardian – yay!
  • I’ve also had a great trip to the US, settled my eldest son in school, expanded my professional network and have taken on a number of associates for my business.

What do you want to celebrate about 2015?  Take some time to think about your key achievements and learnings…

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And what do you want to make a commitment to doing in 2016?

We have a Daring Way™ workshop at the beginning of the year to support you in making this your most courageous year ever.  Plus Rising Strong dates bringing the new curriculum to life…
Here’s to being grateful for the year that’s past, and excited about what’s to come in 2016.

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Rising Strong 2
With love, Rox

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How much do you organise your life so as to avoid failure?

What is your relationship with those face down moments?  Do you put your head in your hands thinking, “I’m obviously a failure, I’ll know not to do that again”? Or do you think “Oh that didn’t work out this time and I know better for next time”.

In truth, failure isn’t failure if you can learn from it.

Brené Brown’s new work, ‘Rising Strong’, is all about those face down moments that we all have.  Her premise is that if we have a process for picking ourselves back up again after a failure then we are able to be more brave, more often.  And if we are truly brave with our lives then we will fail.  (Note: She doesn’t mean you will risk failing more often.  She means you will actually fail more often.)

What is so striking for me about the process is that it starts with getting curious about our emotions.  And how opposed that is to how most of us live our lives.

I go into organisations where people are told they are ‘too emotional’ and that ‘emotion should be kept out of the workplace’.  I coach people who were told as children that they should ‘stop being upset about that as it won’t get you anywhere’ or ‘emotion is a sign of weakness’.

I was an emotional being in the workplace.  I definitely showed emotion in a way that other people weren’t entirely comfortable with. And usually this was the flip side of me really caring about the work that I did and therefore getting frustrated by lengthy processes or people not sharing my vision.   More recently someone observed that I seemed angry* about the way a project was going in a big organisation.  It was taken by me, and I assume it was meant by them, as the opposite of a compliment.  The implication was ‘there is no room for anger in this organisation’.

But what if we could get curious about these emotions?  Instead of feeling them and immediately pushing them away, what if we could hold the space for them, reflect on what is behind the emotions and move through them mindfully? When I was told I seemed angry, I mainly felt incapable and embarrassed.  I subsequently tried to shut the anger away and show up as lovely, kind, jolly Rox to move the project forwards (because nice girls don’t get angry, right? And, more to the point, you “should never show emotion” in the workplace). Reflecting on this now, I was angry because I saw something that really contravened my values being played out.  Too right I was angry – the behaviour I was seeing needed calling out, not passively accepting with a smile on my face.

Let’s be clear, holding the space for our anger does not mean shouting or acting aggressively.  I mean giving ourselves permission for the feeling and getting curious about the cause of it, rather than pushing it away immediately.


I see the alternative being played out in workplaces and families across the country.  Unexpressed emotion has a habit of building up and either affecting you physically (insomnia, anxiety, stress) or of finding an outlet at an equally unsuitable time (road rage, shouting at your children). I wonder if the passive aggressiveness I see in offices is a symptom of this too.  As I tried to shut my anger away, I found myself on a constant loop in my head having circular conversations with the people involved in this scenario.

It is only through knowing how to rise strong, trusting that we will be able to pick ourselves back up again enhanced rather than diminished by a failure, that we are going to be able to take risks in our careers and in our lives that will move us forwards.  The very first step in this process involves getting curious about our emotions and acknowledging when we are emotionally hooked.

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Recently I decided to have a couple of singing lessons.

Yeah, I know. It’s provoked quite a weird reaction in most people I’ve told.

Singing is something I’ve never been much good at and something I’ve always wished I could do.  One of my coaching clients is a singing teacher and I just felt that now was the time to have a go.  Moreover, it would be a great opportunity to do something that feels really vulnerable (cross ref The Daring Way™ which argues that vulnerability is the foundation of joy and connection).

It was so interesting to me being conscious of all my internal chatter in the run up to it.  Just booking the lesson brought up SO MUCH SHIT for me.

I vividly remembered the time at school being told that I wasn’t very good at being on the stage, and therefore stopping doing anything drama like.

I began thinking of all of the other things I had stopped doing in my life because I wasn’t very good at them, instead focusing on the things that I excelled in (mainly academia and hanging out in local car parks).  Sport is a great example – I was pretty average at running, hockey and netball and pretty rubbish at tennis (probably due to a recurring double vision issue I have!).  Weirdly I won my primary school badminton tournament but it didn’t turn out to be a premonition of great things for me.  Rather I remember trying again at University in an inter-hall tournament and literally conceded the game half way through when I realised how embarrassing the score was going to be.

I began to wonder why I couldn’t do these things just for the pure enjoyment of them, rather than having to excel at them.  And I felt really angry at myself for conceding the badminton game.

Then my husband started asking me about the “singing lesson” – it was almost as though he was making those annoying inverted comma things in the air.  He clearly thought I’d finally lost the plot – ‘aren’t you going to feel really, really embarrassed in there?’.  Well – yes – probably.  It was clear that he thought this was a mad idea, which then brought up further internal chatter for me.  ‘If people close to me don’t approve of this choice, maybe I shouldn’t do it’.

It ended up being a metaphor for so much.  For the things I had longed to do as a child and abandoned because of a fear of not being good enough. For going against the crowd and doing something that other people might think was odd. And then, finally, as I struggled to keep the appointment in my diary amongst other work and children pressures, its relevance became tied up with just how often I put my own ‘frivolous’ requirements at the very bottom of the pile.

The lesson was fine.  I enjoyed it despite it being hard.  Sue was very supportive and not at all judgemental.  We did lots of breathing exercises, posture and making of sounds rather than singing – perhaps because the teacher suspected by self-consciousness.  She asked about my objective for the lesson.  It suddenly became crystal clear.  I want to be able to sing loudly, and probably out of tune, in the car with my kids without being totally mortified.  But, more importantly, I don’t want to pass this avoidance of the mediocre on to the boys.  I want them to seize activities they love doing for the hell of it and not necessarily to need to be ‘good’ at them.  And I know enough to know that I can’t just tell them that – I need to role model it myself.

*Photo courtesy of

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I’ve been hiding in my cave for a couple of weeks. My newsletter hasn’t gone out, I have had to postpone clients and I think I’ve had worse sleep than when my children were 6 weeks old. Returning from holiday to a perfect storm of croup, chicken pox and a tube strike really has created havoc in my family and work life.

Throughout, I’ve had the sense at the back of my mind that this stuff matters. That I needed to write about it. And I’ve procrastinated – partly because of the mind-bending exhaustion. But also because I don’t have any answers for you; I can’t suggest how to sail through this stuff. I don’t want to silver line it for you.

And so I share here some of the misery, exhaustion and feelings of hopelessness – not to seek attention or sympathy – but to reassure you that you are not the only one struggling. This shit isn’t what we share on social media, or even necessarily tell our closest friends. But this shit is sometimes our truth, and our truth always matters.

Sure I tell those closest to me about the horrors of A&E in Ashford on a Friday night, what a pain in the ass it is to lose money from cancelling clients and the frustration of being housebound for five days. I don’t volunteer the information that sometimes I wonder what on earth I’m doing trying to run a business when I’ve got a two and a three year old. That I constantly worry that I’m not a good enough Mother / Wife / Business owner and friend. That there is a ‘who are you to think you can do all of this?’ gremlin’s voice resounding in my head.

Sometimes two weeks will pass in a heavy

One area of my life is always being neglected and typically my children and my business get more of me than my husband and my friends. And during a period of “crisis”, it was just the kids, quite frankly, that were getting anything. And I’m not sure they were getting anything too meaningful out of me. (Notice how I’ve forgotten to include myself in the balance equation too – spending time on myself is, as I’m sure most mothers identify with, right at the bottom of the list when things get tough.)

And you know what, that’s fine isn’t it? Well, not exactly fine, but acceptable. Ok, maybe. I’m reminded of an article about the pressures of having it all. It summarised, in one of my favourite pieces of journalism of late; ‘’ALL’ IS A WHOLE FUCKING HELL OF A LOT’.

And it is. We’re all trying to fit in a hell of a lot of stuff. And I’m so grateful for the varied life that I’m able to lead. Yet it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed, tired and guilty. For all of the positive, constructive messaging that the media – and myself – sends out about how to make it work, please know that sometimes it feels bloody difficult for everyone. Sometimes you are going to feel absolutely, on your knees, can’t string a sentence together, exhausted. Sometimes you will wonder if it is worth the effort. Sometimes two weeks will pass in a heavy eyed, slightly numb, out of your own body trance and you’ll look back and wonder what on earth happened. Sometimes there’s not enough wine in the world.

Please know that you are not the only one who sometimes feels like this. You can have it all – ‘It’s exhausting and it’s a balancing act and it’s way too much for anyone to handle, ever. That’s also what’s so gratifying about it’.*

(Heather Havrilesky in NY magazine;


It has struck me recently as absurd the way in which women tell their employees that they are pregnant.  “I’m so sorry” seems to be a common offering.  Both absurd and somehow understandable when you consider the cultural backdrop in the workplace against which the conversation happens.  And yet I think there’s another conversation that needs tackling so that workplaces can become more inclusive – the ‘I’m trying to get pregnant (and I’m finding it really tough)’ one.

The workplace culture currently seems a long way away from this. In a culture that is increasingly competitive and demanding increased resilience, hours and commitment from its people, a focus on something that will one day temporarily take them away from the workplace seems problematic.

Add to this the fact that infertility is a deeply personal subject with huge potential for shame. Our wider culture, if not the culture in the workplace, prizes fertility as part of our gender identity. Not particularly helpful for a man that has been told he has a low sperm count or a woman who has been told they aren’t ovulating regularly. Add to that, talking about sperm, periods, ovulation and so on is just a bit uncomfortable, even with your closest friends sometimes. Of course people might not want to be open about it. It’s a shame storm waiting to happen.

However I’ve come to realize that we are losing out by not talking about this. By keeping silent we lose that opportunity to connect and realise our common humanity.  As soon as one person opens up about a miscarriage, others share their experience.  Suffering quietly means that you lose the opportunity for your peers to connect and support you through a truly testing time.  You create a further stress on top of a pretty stressful situation – trying to keep the appointments and your hurt quiet.  Your bosses continue to hurl work your way and wonder why you’re not too emotionally resilient these days – not realising you’re still coming to terms with the news that it’s unlikely you’ll ever conceive naturally.

And I’m beginning to sense that, through keeping quiet, we are missing the chance to build the kind of workplace that I think many of us would like to see. One in which we encourage people to bring their whole selves in to the workplace. The pressure of keeping your homosexuality to yourself has been well documented in the brilliant book ‘The Glass Closet’. What about the pressure of keeping your biggest disappointments quiet, and instead pretending that everything is just dandy?  Could we create a workplace in which we show empathy and compassion for the struggles in our wider lives? Is it possible to create a workplace in which having children is seen as essential for the human race to continue – and so is welcomed and supported?

I am fully aware that the workplace is not ready for this conversation at the moment. It would be great if more women shared their stories, and yet my call is for a cultural shift led from the top. One of the most memorable moments in my career was hearing a founding partner of one of the top creative agencies talk candidly about her fertility struggle in front of 100 industry women. My call is for leaders to humanize the workplace, to role model having the difficult conversations and to bring in empathy. Let’s create a workplace in which everyone can bring their whole selves in to the workplace and be valued for it.

The Daring Way for female leaders talks about being brave, learning empathy and your purpose in the workplace :

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May 2015 will see us deliver a Daring Way™ intensive for female leaders. As someone who has worked at a senior level in the corporate world, and has been through this work, I thought it was worth sharing my experiences.

So what stops women from stepping in to their leadership?

Maternity really was a great opportunity for me to step back and reflect on what had been going on for me in the workplace the past 12 years. It was also a time – in 2011 – when women’s voices were gaining momentum and presence about the structures and processes that were holding them back at work. Or maybe I’d just been too busy to notice their voices until then.

What really struck me was the way in which I had unwittingly held myself back. I had self-sabotaged. I had to take responsibility for how I had shown up in the workplace.

Looking back at my career, I see a bit of a wobble getting used to being in the workplace after university followed by a rapid progression to middle management.  I worked out quickly that the key to getting ahead was to be liked and appreciated in the office.  And that meant being reliable, getting stuff done, fitting in with the culture, being easy to line manage and not making mistakes.  I moved around the country quite a bit as a child and consequently learnt how to adapt and fit in.  I worked out how to adapt and changed my behaviour accordingly in my new role.

The three years before maternity felt different. It felt like a struggle.  I was working really hard, putting in long hours, getting great feedback from my clients and, it felt to me, not really getting the internal recognition for it.  I was getting feedback from my seniors telling me that I needed to exhibit greater leadership, have a vision and be more consistent in my emotions.  What I didn’t get was any clues as to how to actually do this.

Things began to shift for me on maternity leave and then further whilst exploring The Daring Way™ (Brené Brown’s experiential curriculum).  The work helped me dig deeper in understanding where these behaviours came from and gave me tools and techniques to help overcome them.  I realised that fear was what was stopping me from stepping in to my leadership.

Fear that people wouldn’t like me
The people-pleasing gremlin inside of me (that, let’s be honest, comes from a fear of not being liked), got in the way of me sticking my neck out, speaking uncomfortable truths and expressing my own point of view.  Supporting and developing people in the workplace is a core value of mine and a great leadership trait.  And I have come to realise that this is different to the hustle for being liked, which is driven by fear.

Fear that my ideas would be ignored or rejected
I had become known as the ‘do-er’ and it was pretty hard to shift this behaviour or this brand image, partly because I hadn’t understood what was driving it.  It was fear.  Doing, completing tasks, staying in action felt safe.  People would accept and appreciate what I was offering.  I was unconsciously terrified that if I stopped doing that, and offered ideas and vision instead, my contribution (and therefore myself) would be rejected.

Fear that if I became too “powerful” I wouldn’t fit in 
This was a new learning from The Daring Way™ for me.  When I was growing up my Mother was the head teacher of the local school.  She was actually a brilliant role model for me for female independence and drive.  Ridiculously (and understandably), as a child, I felt self-conscious of her difference to the other Mums and felt we didn’t ‘belong’ in the community as a result.  It had taken me a long time to feel like I ‘belonged’ in London and the unconscious internal messaging was that I would lose that sense of belonging if I progressed to the top at work.

So it was fear that stopped me from stepping in to my leadership.  And I suspect that managing all of the above fears were what drove the ‘inconsistency of emotion’ that my managers noted.

I see women being given similar feedback to me regularly and not being given the development, tools and techniques to truly address what is holding them back.  I think part of the challenge is that the process runs deep and involves some soul searching. It isn’t something you can tick on a ‘to do’ list. I trained to deliver the Daring Way™ because I instinctively felt that it would provide the tools and techniques to support women in showing up and being seen in the workplace.

The outcomes of this Daring Way™ work for female leaders are:
– Increased confidence and self-belief in your own perspectives, beliefs and vision
– Greater resilience; being able to be with conflict and difficult situations
– Freedom from limiting beliefs about your offering and your creativity
– A process to support you in stepping in to your leadership and managing what holds you back.

Contact for more information and click here to sign up to the event

Image courtesy of khunaspix at

Image courtesy of khunaspix at

‘If you don’t learn from it, then it’s just wasted pain’ – Liz Gilbert

I was reminded of these words last week during a, thankfully short-lived, health scare. As is so often the case, just when I needed it most, the universe came and dumped in my lap a situation full of learning and insight. The health scare became my teacher about true vulnerability.

I am married with two small children and a dog. I coach women and run workshops about Vulnerability for a living. I thought I knew this stuff.

A routine appointment at the doctors ended with an urgent referral to the hospital. I had to wait to be contacted about the appointment.

Ten minutes later I found myself avoiding my pre-booked yoga class and heading home to be with my husband and children.

Brené Brown’s definitions of Vulnerability resonate the most with me, and are the ones that I explore with people in coaching and workshops. It is showing up when there are no guarantees. It is emotional exposure. It is risk.

And, as I arrived home, it struck me suddenly how vulnerable it felt to even show up and be with my family. I had anticipated it being a comfort. It was actually a kick in the stomach. Just being with them, laughing and singing, felt excruciating. The enormity of what there was to lose – for us all. The potential devastation to those I love so much. The responsibility.

And I became aware that Shame had gatecrashed the family time too – grumbling, ‘What kind of mother do you think you are? Why did you not go to the Doctor months ago about that health niggle? Who are you to think you have immunity to all this health stuff? That’s it, you’ve failed as a mother and a wife’.

And in all of this excruciating vulnerability and mind wiping shame, I stopped showing up with my own family. I shut down. I was there in person and body but my heart and soul were missing in action. The time when we probably could have done with our own brand of connection the most and I was not there.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to my supervisor how difficult I was finding understanding the concept of numbing. It turns out I’m pretty good at doing it without the props. And still, once the children were in bed each evening, I reached out for whatever I could find to numb myself further – red wine, box sets of The Good Wife, sugar, chocolate.

Joy became the most difficult emotion to be with. I went to the theatre and felt myself shrinking at the fun and vitality observed on the stage. ‘Don’t enjoy this; this is what you’ve got to lose’, the joy stealing gremlins whispered in my ear. Until a beautiful rendition of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ had tears streaming down my face in awe of the beauty of the music, the lyrics and the shared witnessing of a peak experience with everyone else in the theatre.

I found I couldn’t even share my deepest fears with my husband. The magnitude, the scale, the sheer weight of the altered awareness was overwhelming. Even now I am struggling to describe the experience as I didn’t truly let myself go there. Best surely to exist a few metres back from the cliff edge and pretend it’s not there?

Now I’ve been given the all clear and can truly just get on with things. Yet this glimpse of a life with no guarantees is worth sitting with for a while longer. Buddhism teaches that nothing is permanent. The only certainties are sickness, old age and death. Rather than being morbid, this is about an enlightened approach to living. Our choices and behaviours would be so different if we could grasp this concept, and yet we live as if we are indestructible.

I understand why. Showing up and being seen in a life recognised as impermanent is perhaps the most vulnerable arena of them all.