Finding Yourself: A Personal Narrative of Self Confidence

Life is a journey, and each of us is running our own race—a race filled with triumphs, challenges and self-discovery. Yet, as we navigate along our individual winding and weaving paths, it’s not uncommon to look around and perceive that everyone else seems to be miles ahead, exuding an unwavering confidence that we ourselves might find elusive. Thinking about myself, I recall so many times, looking at people who I had self-proclaimed to be “successful”, and long to be “like” them, “if only I could look like them, sound like them or have what they’ve got”, rather than embracing who I am and the unique tapestry of strengths and vulnerabilities that make us who we are. Research from the National Confidence Index’s 2023 survey reveal a fascinating trend in confidence levels across age groups. The data illustrates that individuals in their teens and early twenties reported a confidence level of 45%, whereas those in their thirties and beyond exhibited a substantial increase, boasting a confidence level of 68%+. Interesting eh!? These statistics underline the dynamic nature of confidence, with age playing a pivotal role in shaping one’s self-assurance. If I overlay this to my life, this data aligns 100% to my own personal confidence. I often say that as I have aged, I have grown into myself, becoming happy and confident in who I am and belief in my choices and decisions. The aging process really does allow for self-discovery and a deeper understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses. Life experiences, both positive and negative, contribute to the development of resilience and a more robust sense of self. As we age, we become less swayed by the opinions of others and more focused on embracing our authenticity. We tend to be less concerned about fitting in or being liked, and more occupied with getting to bed before 10pm and getting a good lie-in in the morning, or whether to go for the Brooklyn matt emulsion or the Melville silk for the lounge. No longer am I going to places that I do not want to go to, just because everyone else goes there. I’m not drinking a drink that I don’t like because everyone else does. In fact, in the nicest possible way, I don’t care if you like me or not, I’m me and right now I’m cool with that. As someone who has personally battled with confidence issues, I understand the impact of feeling marginalised. Being a victim of bullying, dismissed by teachers, desperate to fit in, be liked and facing the limitations both society and I placed on myself for a long time have left lasting scars. These experiences made me believe that I had no future and that being myself was a hindrance rather than an asset. Being me just wasn’t good enough. It was almost like by putting on an act and being more like “others”, I had a safety net. Meaning that if I wasn’t liked or didn’t connect with someone whilst I was wearing this mask, I’d tell myself it didn’t matter as that wasn’t really me. Or at least looking back now that’s how I would best describe it. It seems silly now, but at the time it was my way of masking who I was and that got me by. It feels somewhat ironic that at a time in our lives when we are making arguably some big decisions about our futures, we are at our lowest in terms of self-confidence. On one hand we are encouraged to forge our own path, decide what’s next, go get em’ and the world is your oyster! Yet internally we doubt ourselves and look for acceptance from others to feel valued and respected. But what do the experts say? Renowned psychologist and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck talks of the importance of adopting a growth mindset to cultivate self-belief over time. “Embrace the power of ‘yet.’ The mindset that success is a journey, not a destination, allows for the development of self-belief over time.” Researcher, storyteller and author of “The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown encourages us to embrace vulnerability as a source of strength, fostering genuine self-belief. “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. That fosters real self-belief.” Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, Tony Robbins advocates for a solutions-focused mindset, urging individuals to concentrate on what they can control to build self-belief. “Identify your problems but give your power and energy to solutions. Building self-belief involves focusing on what you can control and taking positive action.” Quotes like these make such sense now, but would they have done thirty years ago? I’m not sure, I doubt I’d even have picked up a book in the first place! So, before I tell you what advice I would give my younger self, I must tell you that moments like these bring to mind the dulcet tones of Kat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) in 1970, or more my era, the 1995 cover by Ronan Keating and Boyzone singing the hit “Father & Son”. The song is like a musical heart-to-heart about a father and his son (hence the name). The dad’s saying, “Hey, learn from my blunders, and life will treat you better.” But the son’s all about doing things his own way, finding himself and living life on his own terms. For me, it’s lyrics capture the real feels of growing up, family dynamics and figuring out who you are. I think it’s a timeless story that hits you right in the guts, and would not at all be surprised if parents in one hundred years are thinking the same.  Anyway, back to my tips for cultivating self-belief! Acknowledge Your Strengths: Make a list of your achievements, skills and positive qualities. Reflect on them regularly to reinforce a positive self-image. Set Realistic Goals: Break down your long-term goals into smaller, achievable steps

Networking: Overcoming Anxiety & Thriving in Professional Circles

In today’s diverse and interconnected workplace, the value of networking cannot be overstated. Building professional relationships is a key component of personal and career growth, providing a platform for learning, opportunities and collaboration. However, the journey through the realm of networking is not always smooth, and many individuals face challenges and concerns along the way. According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, a staggering 85% of job positions are filled through networking. This statistic alone emphasises the pivotal role networking plays in career advancement. Additionally, a study by Harvard Business Review found that 70-80% of jobs are never posted publicly, highlighting the significance of informal channels like networking in discovering hidden opportunities. The numbers don’t lie, like it or loathe it, networking is a large part of professional life in the 21st century, and becoming more and more relevant as time passes. Entering a room filled with unfamiliar faces can be intimidating. I vividly recall my first networking experience as a young hopeful in a room filled with opportunity—the palpable anxiety, the inner-voice screaming, “get me out of here” before it had even begun. However, it appears I was not alone, as statistics reveal that a whopping 70% of professionals feel anxious about networking. “Just imagine everyone naked” was the advice I was once given by a teacher when I was nervously waiting side of stage, in our 1990 school rendition of Snow White. For those wondering, I was playing the famous key role, of a tree in the woods. My role was to convincingly sway and make delicate swooshing sounds to mimic a breeze blowing through the forest as Snow White went about her business.  Once on stage I was in my element, however the moments prior to this I was far from confident. All those people watching, what if I said something wrong, or worse, fell over (easily done when your dressed head to toe as a mighty oak)! But back to my teachers sounds advice, I’m sure imagining folk naked was a great solution at some before gone time and place however, in a networking environment, I’m not so sure! Feeling like you’re in the wrong place, don’t fit in or are not good enough is known commonly as “Imposter syndrome”. Officially it’s characterised by self-doubt and the fear of being exposed as a fraud.  According to some research, it affects nearly 58% of professionals at some point in their careers. While prevalence rates may vary, it is observed in both men and women, with some studies suggesting higher occurrences among women. Academic settings, workplace pressures and the fear of failure contribute to imposter syndrome, and in some cases even impacting on mental health and hindering professional growth. You’d be surprised by just how many people in senior or public facing roles, seeming the most confident and extroverted of individuals feel anxious or an imposter in all sorts of situations. Even myself, known for talking a lot, speaking to anyone and everyone and finding myself time after time leading teams, have too felt the weight of imposter syndrome during my career, questioning my worth and competence. But how do you overcome this psychological barrier? Well, I’ll get to that. A common challenge in networking is the struggle to fit in. A study by Forbes indicates that 77% of professionals believe that an absence of social skills can hinder career prospects. Over time, I’ve discovered that embracing authenticity is key to connecting with others. People appreciate genuine interactions, so being true to oneself can break down barriers and facilitate meaningful connections (I do think that this get easier with age as you become more comfortable with yourself). Yes, you may be there to promote your business, get sales leads or position yourself for that big promotion you’ve been hoping for. But, knowing your audience, finding a common connection and building upon it in the early stages of a conversation really does lay the foundations of future potential. Navigating networking events requires honing specific skills. One effective strategy that I’ve found successful, is to ask open-ended questions that encourage dialogue. For instance, inquire about others’ experiences or opinions to foster a genuine connection. Using language like, “tell me about”, “how did you” and “what is your view on” are great starters if you’re struggling to find the words. Jotting these down as prompts on a posit note in your pocket is a great fall-back resource should you need a nudge in the moment. Even noting in bold at the top of it “I CAN do this”, can help provide you that valuable shot of confidence when you most need it. Networking can share similar anxieties to those that people experience when public speaking. A fear that affects 75% of individuals, but practice and preparation can significantly alleviate this anxiety, and it’s the same with networking. The more that you do it, the more your confidence grows and the less anxious you will be. In my experience, anxiety feeds of off infrequency. By this, I mean that the less you do something the more anxious about doing it you can become. But by doing something frequently, practicing time after time, repetitively, it becomes something you think about less, you just do it – muscle memory. This practice in Continuous Improvement Leadership terms is known as “Kata”, but I’ll save that for another day! When employed, networking could be a frequent or even daily occurrence, however for those self-employed, networking could be less frequent, with few opportunities to practice, fuelling that anxiety. Personally, I have been on both sides of this coin and understand the impact both scenarios can have. For those looking for opportunity to meet new people and do their “Kata”, my advice is to find a place or environment that you feel comfortable to grow in. I have found this “safe space” in the UK Chamber of Commerce, who’s diverse and well-structured events serve as excellent platforms for networking. These gatherings are very well organised, led by