In my recent blog post Laying Ghosts to Rest I described having had my confidence ripped away at school and being left feeling stupid and not good enough. This lack of self belief had terrible consequences in my life. I thought it was just my story, but I’ve been inundated with messages from women I went to school with who’d suffered throughout their lives with very similar confidence issues. I was horrified. It just didn’t seem right.
So I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned on my long and windy road to confidence. I’ve gone from being a tortured fragile soul to actually a (largely) really happy, bouncy version of myself. I’ve had a lot of help with therapy, counselling and coaching, which I used to be embarrassed about, but the truth is, it’s been the making of me. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
- To be kind to myself and to forgive myself. We all make mistakes or bad decisions in life – that’s just normal human behaviour. But learning to forgive ourselves for those mishaps is so important. The weight of guilt and shame I’ve carried for getting into horrendous debt in my twenties nearly derailed my entire life. But as I’ve got older (with the help of therapy) I’ve become a lot kinder to myself about that situation. I’ve learnt to reframe it. My mum died when I was 23 and I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my dad, so I felt very alone when she died. Money became my friend and my escape route. Money replaced the love that I’d lost. I spent much of my 30s utterly ashamed about the mess I’d got myself into financially (which fortunately I’ve sorted out). But in recent years, with the help of coaching and therapy, I’m actually quite proud of the stuff I did when I racked up debt. I spent money on counselling in my 20s which was a life saver for me, I travelled the world for a year, I went on many fascinating courses. And I lived my life. I wanted to meet people and go to parties and experience things, and I did. My mum’s death made me ultra aware of wanting to live life to the full.
- There are different ways of being intelligent. From my school days I’d been fixated on what kind of intelligent I wasn’t. I wasn’t academic, I wasn’t scientific, I wasn’t a natural at languages, I didn’t have a photographic memory, I didn’t know much about current affairs. I often wouldn’t utter a word in meetings in my last job, deeming everyone else to be more intelligent than me. During coaching and therapy, we examined what kind of clever I was. I can do logistics, creativity, communication, I’m resourceful, practical, I think outside of the box, I have vision. It’s a long list of skills and talents that I’ve started to celebrate.
- To allow myself to be vulnerable. I used to be the master of never asking for help. Perhaps my mum dying when I was so young made me super self sufficient. But in honesty trying to live my life so robotically really wasn’t working. When I got divorced a few years ago, I put my stiff upper lip on, didn’t complain and just cracked on with things. I’m not sure how I did it. It was a really lonely time. However what was brilliant was that I went into therapy. And my therapist identified that I was completely out of touch with my feelings and effectively isolating myself by trying to be so independent and strong. She was very clever at prodding me and questioning me and making me understand that I needed to express myself and let people in in order to be happier.
- To recognise when a situation isn’t working for me anymore. My job at 5 live at the BBC was an amazing experience for me – I was there eight years and worked with some great people and really came into my own. But in the end I felt stuck, and couldn’t develop my career or my confidence any further there. I left in May 2016 and haven’t looked back. I catapulted myself out of my comfort zone, last year was all about being creative and having some time out and this year I started my business. It’s still scary and I don’t entirely know what I’m doing, but I’ve learnt a lot, met loads of interesting people and had a pretty amazing time.
- To embrace new opportunities. One of my favourite quotes is ‘old ways won’t open new doors’. I think as we get older it’s so easy to become very rigid in our routines. Personally if I don’t have cake and Netflix in the evenings after dinner, I feel very hard done by. However despite some of my cumudgeonly, cosy habits, I have been pretty good at throwing myself into new situations in the last few years. It started when I was getting divorced when I just thought, I can either stay home and be lonely or really make something of my life now. I was feeling a bit socially rusty, but I joined a fell running group, ran a couple of supper clubs at my house, joined a ramblers club, booked a holiday to Morocco and New York, went out dating and met my lovely boyfriend, and turned things around.
This is just a little snapshot into how I’ve overcome some of my confidence issues. I think nearly everyone has their own struggles with believing in themselves and getting what they really want out of life. I’d love to hear your lessons in confidence if you’d like to share them.