It’s an evening like any other during my mid teens, and my mum comes into my room and hands me a book she saw online that reminded her of me. It’s something like a “confidence for dummies” type of book and, if you’re not new here, you know that confidence was barely even part of my vocabulary for much of my younger life. It’s a kind gesture, but quite frankly, once she shuts my door I chuck it to the corner of my room where it lays and collects cobwebs for a few more weeks… I planned to read it eventually, but for now, I seriously couldn’t be bothered.
Some time passes, and my school starts accepting applications for Head Girl and Head Boy. At first, I don’t want to apply. The application process involved doing a speech in front of the whole of sixth form – why on earth would I voluntarily subject myself to that?
But as time goes on, and more of my friends sign up, including my closest friends… I just knew that I couldn’t let fear stop me from partaking in an activity that would push me to grow. It’s something that’s still a prominent personality trait of mine ’til today (and part of the reason why I recently ended up moving roles). So I sign up, and I start practising my speech. The days comes… and I nail it. I speak about how we as a society are so obsessed with the lives of celebrities, rather than about the topics that really impact all of our lives. I prepare for this speech as if I’m preparing for an Iron Man, it’s a huge focus of mine for many days, but I know that if I prepare well – I could ace anything. The second part of the application process I push to the back of my mind, it’s some sort of group task – that is no way as cripplingly scary as a speech in front of 200 of my fellow students’ eyes. Little did I know, this would be where I’d actually lose my tongue. I end up spending so much time overthinking during the group task, and not having any confidence in my own thoughts, that I end up saying very little – if anything. Certainly not the qualities of a leader or “Head Girl”. Soon after, I’m told I didn’t progress to the next stage. I got to “application stage” – all I really had to do was sign up… ouch.
It hurt. The 16 year old me felt embarrassed, and quite frankly… felt like I failure. I vow 2 things: (1) to ace all my exams and go to a great university to show the teachers that didn’t select me for the role that I mean business, and (2) to work on this confidence thing again. So I dust off that book my mum bought me, and read it.
Beating myself up about lacking confidence and being too quiet was an all too regular experience for the majority of my life. It could be the induction day of secondary school, age 11, where I felt too shy to say much of anything to anyone. Or going to a party, age 13, and feeling frustrated that I felt too shy to dance. Or my first ever meeting, now early 20s, where the pressure to add value amongst all those around me 10+ years my senior made it feel like my heart was physically beating out of my chest.
There were many times growing up where I would find myself “re-centering” – any bad experience with confidence or shyness would bring me back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to make things better going forward. Every school year was a “new year, new me”, and a “new me” always really meant a more confident me. I would say lacking confidence never really held me back dramatically, I was always able to make lots of friends, I enjoyed myself a whole lot at events and parties, I still got the good job, and I even did musical theatre performances on stage to hundreds at a point in my life – it could have been worse, but, for sure, this nature of mine would always bring with it some experiences at times which really got me down.
Multiple things over the years got me to progress. Constantly revisiting this topic and rethinking what I wanted to do to make the changes I desired had me trudging along slowly but steadily. Any set back always felt like a set back to zero, back to when I was a kid, which would leave me in a state of woe is me/I hate my life; but looking back, each set back was only 1 step back from 15 steps forward – the journey upwards was never meant to be linear.
Time/getting older helped too as I started to experience more of life. This meant experiencing the good and the bad. The latter is enough to wear you down and to get you to stop caring so much about certain things. You certainly give less shits the older you get. The former meant more experiences that naturally mould that change too. For example, I went to university without a single friend “from home”, meaning I had to get on with it, or end up not mixing. Or even blogging events – back when I was going to these regularly I would usually go alone to a whole new set of faces, in which case it was either I spend the event standing alone, or go up to someone or a group and introduce myself. My career more than anything has really pushed me to where I am now. Indeed, I work in a role that’s client focussed which means I’m meeting or talking to clients a lot; but perhaps more that anything, my industry is one that will chew you up alive and spit you out if you don’t learn how to come with some vim.
Whilst this all sounds good, the most important thing is that I was always willing to grow in this area. I didn’t want to let some of my natural tendencies hold me back from certain opportunities, so whenever I had a bad experience, went back and rebalanced, it was an opportunity to catapult again to the next level. I called it “faking it til I made it”… teaching myself how to exude a confidence and image of myself that didn’t come naturally from a young age, and convincing people of this. Defining how I wanted people to receive me, and honing this in as I got older. Honestly, I felt like an actress sometimes.
One day, I looked back and asked myself – am I still faking it? People that would meet me for the first time would tell me that I came off confident and whilst I would think “ha, fooled them…!”, eventually, I asked myself if I really was fooling them. Whilst some of these tendencies weren’t always natural to me, I felt as though I’d “faked it” to a point where it didn’t feel like I was acting anymore.
So, on the question – can you fake it to you make it? I think, over time, you can fake it to the point where it comes naturally enough to make the past start to feel like a distant memory of somebody who you once were. That all said, that shy girl will always be a part of me somewhere.