I probably come across as quite a confident person. Some might say I’m borderline arrogant at times. But that hides the truth: that I lack confidence, but can put on a good show.
There have been times when I’ve suffered such a loss of confidence, I’ve cried myself to sleep at night, woken up with a feeling of utter dread and ultimately made myself ill.
The most miserable time of my professional life was in my early twenties, when I moved from a friendly, nurturing Public Relations agency, to one ruled by fear.
All the signs were there during the interview. My gut feeling was telling me that the MD was going to be difficult to work with, but I arrogantly thought I could handle it. After all I had a full two years of experience under my belt! What could possibly go wrong?
I should have listened to those feelings. I remember the MD barking down the phone at me on day one and realizing I’d made a terrible mistake. She seemed to relish any opportunity to undermine me in front of clients or journalists. She once explained to the client sitting next to me, that the reason the latest project hadn’t gone to plan, was because my client and I didn’t like each other.
Really? I wasn’t aware that we didn’t like each other, and nor was the client!
My confidence hit rock bottom during those long, excruciating five months before I found another job. During that time, I became ill with IBS, but never took time off fearing she would give me a poor reference.
For the next few years I really struggled to express my opinions at work – in a job in which I was paid to be consultative – for fear of being shouted down.
Becoming a new mum was another confidence-sapping experience for me. A difficult birth, awful post-natal care and months and months of sleep deprivation, led to depression. I had no confidence in my ability as a mum and felt completely overwhelmed with the responsibility for another human life.
With the help of a good counsellor and a very supportive family, I picked myself up again.
My forties have brought new challenges but also a sense of self-awareness – a confidence factor identified in the new book from Psychologies. “Real Confidence: Stop Feeling Small and Start Being Brave”, written by a group of experts with lots of letters after their names, is a guide to building confidence and courage. The book says that confidence comes from knowing what we’re good at, and learning to do those things we’re not good at.
Real confidence comes from mastering our environment, and a lack of confidence is the result of a gap in our knowledge.
“Authentic confidence is based on knowing what we know, knowing what we are capable of doing, and that means we can admit what we don’t know and take time to master this. If we’re prepared, we feel we can handle anything thrown our way. It’s not luck”, according to Dr Nitasha Buldeo.
The key to confidence is not focusing on trying to increase confidence itself, but to focus on the skill I need to develop and gain competence in. From that ability and knowledge, comes the confidence itself.
It’s the opposite of the usual ‘fake it until you make it’ advice in self-help books like ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers, which I’ve often lived by. I’m always taking on challenges before I know how to handle them. Instead of ‘fake it until you make it’ this is: ‘keep trying until you make it’.
According to this theory, yes my boss may have been a bully, but if I had more experience in my profession and the knowledge to back up my opinions, I would have been able to stand up for myself and wouldn’t have suffered a confidence crash.
I am well aware of my limitations in all sorts of areas. I’ve decided to pick one and work on it. I’m not happy with my photography skills. Until now, I’ve been faking it and that’s been bringing me down. Having read this book on confidence I’m now ready to do something about it. I’m going on a photography course in a couple of weeks and have several books to gen up on.
Wish me luck, I’m going in.