Prior to moving to my current workplace, which was back in 2006, I was a very different person to the one I am now. I had almost no confidence, had frequent anxiety attacks and was a bag of nerves and worries. The way I overcame my lack of confidence in new or uncomfortable situations was to plan things to the tiniest degree, anticipating every detail so that nothing was unexpected. I remember losing sleep one night because I had to go to Boots the next day to buy make-up and camera film and they were on two different floors and I didn’t know if I would have to buy them separately or if I could go up to the first floor and pay all together. These were the sorts of challenges that would lead to crises of confidence and my mind running in circles. I remember being at the till in Topshop once and knocking a cardboard sign over with my handbag – I can still remember the disparaging look the uber-cool shop assistant gave me. She probably forgot the incident almost immediately, but I had to go home I was so mortified, seeing it only as confirmation that I was somehow not built to do all the every day things that most people found simple and I found petrifying. At the time I had a cocky, confident boyfriend and I leaned on him for everything – he would be the one to make phonecalls, ask for things in shops, find the way if we were going somewhere, and generally take charge of situations. We broke up because when we were on holidays from University (e.g. in the long break between May and October) I was too nervous to get the train from Southampton to Hemel Hempstead (where he lived) to see him. It seemed like a huge, unconquerable task, akin to travelling to the other side of the world for me. Losing out of things because of a lack of confidence was a frequent theme for me. When I was hunting for my first flat my Mum told me that if I was old enough to buy a property I was old enough to go into the estate agents and ask what they had available, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was convinced everyone was constantly looking at me and thinking I was an idiot and so I minimised contact with strangers in case I didn’t say, or do the right thing. I always felt a little bit like there was this ‘normal’ way to behave that I’d somehow missed the memo on, like maybe I was off sick on the day they taught that in school. I’d constantly overanalyse my thoughts and actions, with my most common thought being “Am I being weird?” or “Does everyone think I’m an idiot?”
|img credit: gemma correll|
Moving to my currently workplace in 2006 transformed me because it put me in situations I was uncomfortable with, or scared of, so frequently that they became second nature to me. It gave me that positive reinforcement that I could do things, and the outcome was fine, or successful even. Even being in an Admin role (my first job) put me in lots of situations I hadn’t been in before and built my confidence in meeting new people, being assertive, networking and selling myself. When I moved to the Press Office it was huge challenges all over again – being sent on trains and planes to meetings all around the country, representing our organisation at exercises, groups and meetings and having to deliver presentations. Not to mention talking to journalists and TV companies and having to single-handedly deal with major incidents in the middle of the night whilst in my PJs. I learned a million things during this time but the biggest lesson I learned is that with a bit of practice and a lot of exposure to it, you are capable of doing almost anything.
I’ve moved jobs twice since then and I stopped doing out-of-hours Press Office work last September. My job now is much more routine and anticipatable, albeit I now have new challenges like I have to design and deliver training and faciliate workshops. But for the most part, I’ve allowed myself to move back into a comfortable space. 90% of the time I can hide in my cosy office and my calendar is free of meetings and weeks away. My capabilities in unknown situations are not being used. They are gathering dust.
I noticed this with great clarity a couple of weeks ago when I had to travel to London for a two-day course and then go on to the AX Paris event afterwards. I began going back into my old ways of meticulous planning to avoid awkward or uncomfortable situations. I declined to do something on the Sunday before I was leaving because I felt like I needed to dedicate time to packing and making sure I had everything ready. The old me would have just done it the night before. No biggie. I got myself worked up about where I’d get changed and where I’d leave my suitcase. Arriving in London on the Monday afternoon I mentally chastised myself for not pressing the ‘doors open’ button immediately when the train arrived at the station (what an amateur faux-Londoner – someone else had to do it for me) and then got all worked up, gripping my paper Google Maps printout in my sweaty palm and negotiating through crowds trying to find my hotel. When I closed the hotel room door behind me I literally collapsed into a heap and wanted to hide there forever.
|img credit: anxiety cat|
Part of the training I do where I work is in self-awareness – i.e. becoming more aware of your behaviours, values, personality, strengths, weaknesses and so on, and how you’re perceived by others. I guess I try and practice what I preach and tend to try and be self-aware, as well as being quite an analytical person, so this regression into some of my old ways hasn’t slipped under my personal radar unnoticed.
I think that part of the reason is that my priorities and goals have changed. A few years ago when I was working in the Press Office my aim was to move to London, work in Press/PR and be one of those people who goes to art galleries, drinks wine al fresco on summer evenings and knows when to press the ‘doors open’ button. Then I met Tom, for whom the idea of being in London for longer than a day is his worst nightmare, and we made the decision eventually to live by the sea (and the forest), get a little dog and continue working for the same organisation. And so, when I’m sent away for events or training these days it’s not a taste of what I want my life to be, it’s time away from my lovely home, boyfriend and woofer. Life has become easy and comfortable, and challenges and unexpected events seem larger by comparison.
I don’t quite know how to finish this post because I don’t know what the answer is. Do I push myself into unfamiliar situations to train myself back to being uber-confident, or do I enjoy the solace of the space I’ve created for myself? Do I recognise that what I like is the ‘simple things’ in life, or am I just copping out and convincing myself of that so I don’t have to do the tough stuff?
For now I am going to be grateful for the achievements I have made and for the person I have turned into. And also grateful that I have found something so special to me that it is now hard and out-of-sorts to leave it behind. I recently found a list of aids for building self-esteem when I was doing some research on assertiveness for work and it really resonated with me so I’m going to end by sharing that. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with 1 unless that’s the source of your anxiety, but I like the others.
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