Sticking Two Fingers Up to Self Doubt on World Mental Health Day
Self doubt is a killer isn’t it? It’s like a nasty germ sitting on your shoulder, whispering negatives into your wide open ears and drenching those thoughts into your brain. Becoming a mother and almost losing my husband after only three years of marriage made me realise that life is too short for second guessing. I don’t speak openly about these things and although I work in social media, I’m a very private person. I’m hugely selective about the people I have in my life and no longer question my own decisions. Here’s why I’m putting two fingers up to self doubt on World Mental Health Day.
Self doubt is a horrid voice that holds you back from being and doing what you want and love. It fans the flames of fear and before you know it, you’ve talked yourself out of that idea because it isn’t good enough, would never work, what would people think?
When It Was Just Me
When I was a little girl I was the shiest person on the planet. I detested being in crowds and would become even more introvert. I’m an only child and would prefer to play on my own than with other children. I didn’t find it easy making friends even though I was never short of them. Friends at school gravitated towards me rather than the other way around. I was picky, and still am, about who I spent my time with and this dictated that I had small, but genuine, groups of people around me. Even at a young age self doubt questioned if I fit in, if I was liked and all that nonsense! If I met my younger self now, I’d tell her to go and grab life by the balls and not give two shizzles about fitting in!
It took me to until I was twenty four to find my voice. I was giving a speech on European Monetary Funding at the European Parliament in Brussels and I suddenly realised that that voice came out of MY mouth! It was an epiphany. I was there as part of the debating team for my Masters Degree at Liverpool University, (Economics in case you were wondering), which in itself was comical that I’d even ever joined. I always felt that what I had to say wouldn’t matter, or it would be wrong and I’d look a fool in front of everyone. So, I self doubt would creep in and I kept silent while others said what Id thought. They claimed the praise while I just shrivelled a bit more inside for not being able to speak up. That day in Brussels changed my life.
Life after that was easier. I grew up. I was more confident and realised that I could do things that I’d often admired about others. How did they find it so easy? How were they so confident? I’d grown up being envious of so many people so for me to stand on that stage in Brussels was like putting two fingers up to the self doubt that had followed me around like a rain cloud. I finished my Masters and got a job at the biggest investment bank in the world. That was a whole new ball game.
The first few years at the bank were brilliant; 6am starts and 11pm finishes. Booked cars and taxis, paid for dinners, client events – it was like I was living someone else’s life. I still didn’t believe that I was worthy of it all. I didn’t believe in myself enough to progress to the level I wanted to be at, so I quit and booked a one way ticket to Rio de Janeiro! You couldn’t make it up, could you?!
At twenty nine I landed in Rio with two of my closest friends with every intention of finding myself. Had I have stayed sober long enough, I probably would have, at the local cocktail bar necking a Caiparinha! Self doubt played no part in that trip. For the first time in my life I felt completely free. I travelled for well over a year, finally stopping in Sydney where I was interviewing for an associate job at American Express. I was down to the final interview against a guy and we had beaten 50 other candidates to get that far! Life was good and I was in with a chance of making a new life in Australia. That was, until my cousin called to tell me that my mum had been seriously ill in hospital and that I should probably come home.
By the grace of God, she recovered and joined me in Bangkok for a six week backpacking trip around Asia before I finally flew home for good. I was in Liverpool a week before heading back to London to work at my old firm. The job was more senior than before so the pressure was on. After having time out of the industry, self doubt reared its head again and I struggled to adapt. That was when I sought out my first mentor. Someone to bounce ideas off, to talk solutions through with, instead of battling everything on my own, in my head and not getting very far with it. That was another life changing moment. She was amazing and I once again, stuck two fingers up to self doubt as I climbed the ladder and proved my worth.
And When It Was Just Us
Then I met Max. He was loud. Very Italian. I’d never been interested in Italy. The food was bland and I thought he was gay. Three years later I married him and at the age of 34 I was told I probably wouldn’t have children. Yet, I found I was expecting our first child on the day we returned to London from our honeymoon.
What surprised me about that news was that I didn’t panic. I didn’t think “what if I cant do it?”, “What if I’m not a good mum?”. I was elated. I knew I’d be a good mum and the self doubt vanished. Becoming a parent lifted me. My confidence soared and I realised that if I could do that, I could do anything. Instinctively I wanted to be the example for my child that anything is possible and that meant that I had to step up. How could I raise my children to be confident individuals if I wasn’t confident myself? When my daughter was fourteen months old, I thought I had a kidney infection. It turned out I was twenty one weeks pregnant with my son. Luca was born when Sofia was eighteen months old. The time had come for me to stick two fingers up to self doubt once and for all!
Becoming a parent has taught me that I MUST make time for myself, that I MUST continue to do things that I love and get over the fear of what if’s. It’s all too easy for women to lose themselves in the cycle of breastfeeds, nappies and school runs. The void of motherhood becomes bleak, until one day the children have gone and theyre left not knowing themselves anymore. Imagine the self doubt in that situation – totally soul destroying. I always say that I LOVE, really love with all my heart, being a mum but its not the only thing that I’m good at. I was a person, a woman, before I became a mum and that person is still here, just as present, pushing on everyday to keep the me in the equation.
Now, at the age of 42 I am confident and my self belief is at an all time high. I’ve had to teach myself over the years that somethings won’t work out, but that’s ok. I don’t feel guilty about things and I don’t panic. Yes of course there are moments when I doubt my actions but I no longer get that knot of fear in my stomach. Perhaps it age, or life lessons, that taught me not to give a toss. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it.
For someone who grew up on a council estate in a single parent family, destined to be a statistic, I think I’ve proven that you can be anything and anyone you want to be. I talk a bit more about that here. As long as you stick two fingers up to self doubt, the world is your oyster!
Credit: Thank you to my beautifully talented friend Lenka Will at Baby-Chicks Photography for capturing these moments