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Self Confidence, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Shirt

A few years ago, I used to daydream a story about a man who was gradually disappearing. Every day he became more and more invisible and insubstantial to the point where nobody even knew he was there.

You don’t need to have a psychology degree to work out that this guy was me and the daydream represented that my self-confidence was at rock bottom.

Looking back on that time now, I almost can’t recognise myself.

I’ve now worked for Social for just over two years and I’ve come a long way in that time, a journey best summed up by two Christmas parties and two shirts.

In December 2019 I went to the work Christmas party on my second day here, a daunting prospect for most people. I’d met many of my colleagues in the office the day before but was now socialising with ALL of them just one day later.

I bought a new shirt for the occasion so I could look smart and make a good impression. Finding the right shirt was not easy. Not too formal, not too informal and most of all nothing that would draw attention to me. It needed to be a shirt that would make no-one look at me twice for any reason. Nothing to see here, please move on.

I’ve never worn that shirt since and actually got rid of it a while ago because I knew I’d never wear it again. It wasn’t ‘me’ because I was trying not to let people see me.

In December 2021 I went to the work Christmas party on my birthday. This alone is a big deal because in the past, a work party coinciding with my birthday would have been the perfect excuse to duck out. This time I wanted to go.

I wore a vintage-style green shirt with festive imagery all over it that said ‘look at me’ and I got lots of lovely compliments from my colleagues at the party. I felt good, had a really nice time and left happy that I’d gone and that I’d worn the shirt.

So, what had changed in those two years? Here’s what has contributed to my self-confidence:

Having a purpose

When I was a teenager, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to be a football journalist and I worked my way towards it with work placements and a Journalism degree, landing my dream job on a football website straight out of university.

However, after seven years I’d realised that my dream job wasn’t really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Spending my days writing mean things about strangers and promoting beers and gambling websites wasn’t a good fit for me anymore.

After two wonderful years but financially unsustainable years at a wildlife charity my career went into drift mode, and I started to get lost inside it and inside myself. I lost my purpose in the name of trying to find the right job while forgetting who I was and what I was actually good at.

At Social I’ve found that again. I’m a writer and here I’m empowered to use my words in the name of great organisations and causes that I believe in. That purpose is so important at work and every piece I’ve written in the last two years has boosted my confidence.

Being supported

I’ve had lots of great and supportive managers in my career, but I’ve never worked anywhere quite like Social. From the top down, this is an organisation that doesn’t pay lip service to caring about its staff, its proactive in making sure we feel important and supported.

This is demonstrated in many ways but one of the most crucial has come from knowing, even while working remotely for the vast majority of my time here because of the pandemic, my managers and colleagues have my back. And value me.

That last point might sound silly. After all, they hired me, so sure they valued what I could bring. But it’s so important to let people know (in every context of life) how much you value them for who they are and what they do. Because none of us is completely secure in ourselves. We all need reassurance.

And this is ingrained in the culture at Social, not through slogans on walls but through actions and behaviours of every single member of staff, led by example from those at the top.

Working at it

I’m an introvert, so meetings have never been my friend. In smaller group settings where I’m familiar and comfortable with everyone, I can be very talkative, but larger and more formal meetings can still see me fade into the background, lost in my own head.

My managers at Social recognised not only that this was an issue for me but also saw the potential in the glimpses I’d given them, so together we worked on how I could boost my confidence to speak up in meetings, including taking more time to prepare for them so that I could be ready with something to say when I got the chance.

I wasn’t put under pressure to change who I was, which is crucial. Too often introverts are made to feel ashamed of being quiet and to feel like they should conform to extrovert ‘norms’, but this was about giving me the confidence to be myself in meetings but still to contribute in the ways that even I knew I could.

This approach continued at a team Presentation Skills and Confidence Building training day last year. In other jobs, even the name of that would have terrified me, but I felt ready, valued and confident to take part and came away with important tips and skills that have helped increase my confidence even further.

The importance of confidence at work

It’s all a lot of work to get to the stage where I could wear a silly Christmas shirt to a party, isn’t it? Of course, there’s much more to self-confidence than wardrobe choices. An Indeed survey showed that 94% of employees found confidence vital to complete daily tasks at work, with 98% saying they perform better when they feel more confident.

And the great thing about confidence is that it breeds more confidence. When you’re feeling confident you do better work and doing better work helps you to feel even more confident. Social has helped me reach this point where I have more self-confidence than at any other time in my career and believe that I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done. Everyone wins.

Just wait to see what shirt I’ll wear at the next Christmas party…