Cézanne Britain on Intuition

April 4, 2021
10 min read

Cézanne Britain is a corporate commercial lawyer who blazed her own trail to become a director at one of South Africa’s top tier law firms. She then set off on her own to form the 100% black woman-owned commercial law firm Britain Renecke. For six years, Cézanne helmed a successful law firm, and earned the Business Women’s Association Emerging Entrepreneur Award in 2016. 

Now, she’s decided to press pause and reset for the next chapter in her career and life. Cézanne has operated with a fierceness, becoming an unstoppable force but her path has always been guided by the beat of her own drum. This month, Cézanne talks to The Thread about allowing her intuition to lead her down the road less travelled. 

What does intuition mean to you and how do you use it as a metric to guide decision making in your life, both personal and professional? 
When I think about intuition, it’s like the left and right brains integrating—that “gut feel.” That something you can’t quite put your finger on.  It’s an innate knowing.  It’s a feeling and not just seeing.

I’ve experienced it as a beating of a drum in the distance. It seems external and distant; yet, at the same time it is coming from within. Hearing it. Listening to it. Feeling it. Being enveloped by the rhythm, to the point of where my body cannot resist moving to it. Not in a way a power-less way, but in a power-filled and empowering way.

It’s instinctual. It’s not rational. A bit woo-woo.

For me, it has presented itself as a magnetic pull that I have found more difficult to resist and more natural to follow; in dreams, signs and symbols; questioning without knowing what the questions are. A discomfort and showing up in my body physically in the form of unease and illness, when I have failed to heed it.

As for a metric to guide decision making in my life – it is everything, yet not something that can be quantified. This was not always the case. But I’ve worked towards allowing myself to be courageous, and given myself the space, to go with my intuition because “it feels right” for me. I pay attention to how situations affect my nervous system, how my body responds. Whether or not it makes sense to others.  Whether it relates to something as simple as buying a plant or deciding on the strategy of a negotiation in a material transaction.

I always say there is a song for every situation. And the song I am thinking of now is “I am what I am.” One of the lines is about beating your own drum “Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty”.

My need to honour myself and be authentic was becoming more important to me.  I had to call myself out and rise.

You’ve made some really bold career moves – moving from being a director at a top tier law firm to venturing out to start your own boutique commercial law firm in 2015, what motivated such a daring move?
I must admit I do not regard my career moves as bold and daring, but I suppose it’s about perspective. It may sound cliché, but my need to live an authentic life and being true self has been at the forefront of my career decisions. The feeling that there is more of myself to discover, more that I can contribute.

When I decided to become a commercial lawyer, there were many motivations at play. Whilst there was a personal goal I desired to reach; I was also highly motivated to make a difference in the transformation of the commercial law sector. There have always been very few black and brown women seated at the table. I had a very strong desire to blaze a new trail that included me getting a seat at the table to hopefully pull out a chair for others like me. Representation is imperative and it was a strong underpinning for my career choices and decisions. 

Whilst being a director of a top tier law firm is applaudable and an achievement I hold very dear to me, I was growing in a way that was incongruent to the space I was in career wise. This led to discomfort that I needed to listen to and work with. I had to listen intuitively and not pay attention to society or others’ opinions. It required a large amount of faith in myself and my intuition.   

My need to honour myself and be authentic was becoming more important to me.  I had to call myself out and rise.

Maya Angelou described success as “liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” You recently made the decision to close your legal practice and take a moment to pause. For most people, leaving a successful practice seems counter-intuitive, and yet, you seem ready to step into the unknown. What does success look like to you now and how is it different to the idea you had of success in your 20s?
This quote really resonates with me. Success in my 20’s was about climbing the corporate ladder, conforming to societal norms and essentially being “great on paper.” Funny thing is, I felt invisible, and unsuccessful in many ways. 

Success now is about me being the best version of my authentic self and living my life on my own terms. I have been fortunate to experience professional satisfaction and achievement, exploring entrepreneurship as well as overcoming deep trauma and grief. I have given myself permission to be free—free to embrace the multifaceted me who is not defined by what I do for a living or what I have studied, who thinks in splashes of colour on a canvas and song lyrics. Free to love myself with all my imperfections, not only for what I have achieved, but for who I am becoming. 

I have moved so far from corporate ambition and more towards making a lasting impact in the world. My intuition has now led me to a place where pausing and resetting is essential in becoming ready for what is next.  

My becoming.

I spent much of last year asking myself some hard questions and listening to the beat of that drum. I was not at peace. I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be, notwithstanding the discomfort. But, where was I going? What impact was I making? Was I living a purpose filled life, by my standards and definition? Was I living a life of significance or was I settling? 

The result – I realised that I was exhausted, I was achieving at the expense of myself at various levels and I was not fulfilled. I wanted more from myself and I wanted to grow in a different way. I needed to dare myself to take action, and not just think about it.

This has all triggered the desire for a much-needed pause. I needed a pause. I needed a hard reset after almost 20 years of working, and I needed to create the space for the hard reset.

I’ve let go of this fear for myself and allowed myself to fall apart with the knowledge that brilliance can be found in being put back together. Just like “Kintsukuroi” – the ancient Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer – we are more valuable and beautiful for having once been broken. 

As women, we tend to endure situations even when we intuitively feel that the situation is not the right fit for us – whether it’s an incompatible work environment or a toxic relationship. In some instances, women lack the economic freedom to walk away, but in many other instances, our own fears root us in the same position. How have you harnessed intuition to guide you and how can other women cultivate this?
Though it might sound cliché, it is truly a journey that requires internal work. We are often fearful to strip down and see the parts of ourselves that may seem ugly. We need to hold up a mirror to ourselves and see the things that make us feel uncomfortable. This is where we begin to say, “I am in this situation. How did I find myself here and how do I get out?” It starts and ends with “me.”

In the same way, intuition requires us to sit with ourselves and honestly grieve how we may have disappointed ourselves. Only then can our radiance be revealed. 

Listening to ourselves and doing the work necessary to overcome those insecurities is essential. Reconnect with that fearless inner child that is silenced by a society that requires that from us for us to survive. Taking that power back and stripping ourselves down to who we really are is where it all begins. 

As women, we need to accept that we are not perfect, that we can listen to our own cry for help and be vulnerable with others. The expectation to be “Superwoman” is harmful to women and keeps us stuck. Working with the imperfection is an important step in reconnecting with ourselves. 

I have come a long way in applying this to my own life and accepting those imperfections. Whilst my inner critic is still loud and present, silencing her as often as I can has been helpful to my journey. 

Ultimately don’t be afraid to call yourself out.

Have you experienced moments when your own fear kept you in a situation that didn’t feel like the right place for you?
I have. Without a doubt. I believe that fear is linked to the lack of confidence in self. At least, that is how it has manifested in my life, and been a big reason for staying in places that didn’t feel like the right place for me. 

At times I have also felt that I had to endure. I was good at it and it was like I received a badge of honour. But then, the beating of the drum. I’ve been fortunate, privileged to have it and the courage to lean into it and to tap into a fearlessness of the unknown. 

I’ve learnt that it is okay to challenge the fear, to step into the unknown, to fall apart, for things to fall into place.  

I’ve let go of this fear for myself and allowed myself to fall apart with the knowledge that brilliance can be found in being put back together. Just like “Kintsukuroi” – the ancient Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer – we are more valuable and beautiful for having once been broken. 

Thus, my intuition leads me to believe that even in my brokenness, I am more valuable and beautiful than I could have ever been had I never fallen apart. 

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