On self-confidence and the leading edge

It’s been many months since I last posted on this blog, and I’m not really sure why. In truth, there are probably many reasons, but I think part of it is a question of self-doubt. I’m not writing this now in search of flattering reassurances – I’m writing it because themes of not knowing, waning self-confidence and feeling like a fraud have been cropping up everywhere I turn lately and so I thought perhaps it was worth sharing my perspective.

I don’t think I’m lacking in self-confidence generally. As a child and teenager, yes, I probably was. But since leaving university I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin and with the kind of person I am. At work, too, after that first year of just getting to grips with working life, I found myself often challenged but generally confident in my abilities and skills. When I joined my current organisation, I knew it would take some time to adjust: it’s a juggernaut of a company compared to my previous employers, a very different environment, my first real in-house role. But, two years on, I still feel like ‘the new girl’.

For a long time, I put this down to the size and complexity of the organisation – maybe everyone takes years to settle in. But I look around at colleagues who’ve been here a similar length of time, or less, and they appear settled, confident and at ease in a way that I don’t feel. And recently I’ve come to realise that I don’t just still feel ‘new’; I feel like I’ve lost my confidence.

Some of this comes from a good place. I’m lucky to be working in a team that isn’t content with the status quo; we’re trying new things, pushing clients and budgets and partners to do more than they’ve done before, aiming to always be on the leading edge of things. And the edge is an uncomfortable place to be – for me at least. I know it is exciting and very rewarding, but it’s also risky and challenging and daunting. I guess some people – like many of my colleagues – jump off the edge and take control of the lack of control, whereas I’m more likely to be looking back at the gap between the solid ground and me, taking tentative steps rather than that running jump. And, like pulling off a plaster or walking in a straight line blindfolded, that tentative approach is counter-intuitively more painful and more difficult.

I’m also really lucky to be working alongside very talented people. I feel like I’m always learning from my colleagues, being inspired by them, and benefiting from their experiences and skills. And that’s great – I love learning and I want to feel like I’m developing and being developed. But the flip side of this is that I very often feel unworthy. That’s a slightly dramatic word, perhaps, but it’s that feeling of being pulled along on a tide of other people rather than leading the way. I look at my colleagues and don’t quite feel like I measure up. And while learning is great, everyone likes to feel they’re the one inspiring other people sometimes, don’t they?

The problem is that, despite rationally knowing that some of these feelings of uncertainty are just the reverse view of something very positive, those feelings are still there. I have a very busy mind, I’m naturally anxious and my emotions are always close to the surface.

The other problem is that those two good things aren’t the only causes of my loss of confidence. I’m also increasingly feeling that, in order to be successful and to make the impact I want to make, I need to be different from how I am. Some of the changes I’m okay with; they won’t necessarily be easy for me but I consider them development areas and look at them as just improving aspects of myself. But there are other changes that I don’t really want to make. I don’t want to compromise my values or the things I think I do really well, just to fit into a mould defined by other people. So this is something I’m wrangling with a lot at the moment.

It’s worth saying that this is not some crippling anxiety. I’m still doing good work on projects, I’m really involved in my immediate team, and I have strong relationships at work and externally in the industry. I don’t feel useless or lost or ineffective; I just don’t feel as confident in my role and the value that I add as I did a few years ago, and I’d like to get that feeling back.

There isn’t any quick-fix solution to this, but I do think that separating out the different causes of my loss of confidence is a good first step. I also know that I won’t be the only person in this situation – last week’s Dare Conference highlighted just how common it is to feel like a bit of a fraud, or that you’re winging it. I’ve been in two minds about whether or not to post this, but I do think it’s important to be open and I also think that our community is a very supportive one, so I decided to be a little bit brave and post it. Be gentle 🙂

2 thoughts on “On self-confidence and the leading edge

  1. lbl

    Thank you for posting this. I can imagine it would be scary to put it out there, but I often feel similarly and I’m glad you decided to write about it. I’m curious to watch some of the videos from that Dare conference.

  2. Pingback: Front garden stories, back garden stories and highlight reels | Good To Great

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