When you meet a great number of new people – and very cool new people – in a short period of time, it presents an opportunity for reinvention. You can be someone new because you are someone new. No-one knows what you were like before, there is no prior knowledge accumulated through years of acquaintance. You can choose to break free from past attitudes, ways of engaging with the world, turns of phrase, habits of dressing… all without freaking out the people who knew the ‘old’ you so very well and are quite content with her and like what they have come to expect from her.
This is how it has been with my new network of contacts and friends, brought to me through ScienceGrrl. Setting up ScienceGrrl has been a rollercoaster ride, which I’ve described in blogs here, here and here. It sometimes feels like I have two parallel lives: one where I work for the NHS, manage a home and am Mum to two small boys; another where I am interviewed by Pallab Ghosh for Radio4, get e-mail from Liz Bonnin and organise swanky launch parties in central London. The real difficulty is that these lives don’t exist in isolation; they constantly interleave, so I have had to mentally resolve how it is that I am the person that does both sets of things…that in fact, there are just things, and just one life to do them in.
The trick to staying sane in the middle of all this is to be essentially the same person in both settings. I was talking this through with a colleague who knows me well, and he wisely remarked ‘Of course, you present yourself differently in different situations, but it’s still you’. The key is to know who you are, what is fundamental, what is the essence of (in this case) Heather Williams and give that appropriate expression in different contexts. The role, theatre, presentation, and communication of yourself can’t be allowed to take on a life of its own. That way lies madness.
This authenticity and integrity at the heart of life, this allegiance to the truth about yourself, in turn leads to truth-telling in all your dealings. As Shakespeare wrote: ‘To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man’…which is particularly helpful as I’m no good at lying, and wouldn’t want to be – my life is complicated enough without having to cover my tracks as well.
So, who am I? What are the essential, defining facts about me?
I’m a disciple of Jesus, and I believe in dealing fairly, giving generously, taking the initiative, enabling others, loving sacrificially, being responsible… in short, I’m here to push myself as far as I can go so I can give all God has put in me to the world and leave it a better place, taking care of my physical and mental health so I can get there, and encouraging others to do so. I express that as a Mum, friend, daughter, wife, STEM ambassador, sister, physicist, preacher, lecturer, secretary to the UK PET Physics Group, colleague, cellist, social media chatterbox, ordinary member of the Institute of Physics’ Women in Physics Committee, piano teacher… and now, Director of ScienceGrrl.