I’ve never been overly confident. Confidence was seen as an undesirable character trait when I was growing up. Brash over-confidence was just showing off. It just wasn’t done. So whilst I enjoyed school and was averagely confident there, I struggled with lack of confidence and shyness through my university years. Seriously, I used to sit in tutorials and think “I can’t be the only one that knows this, so I must be missing something deeper.” I followed the school of thought that: "“Confidence is ignorance. If you're feeling cocky, it's because there's something you don't know.”* But actually, it wasn't ignorance. I wasn't missing something deeper. I just didn't believe that I knew enough. My lack of confidence continued in my first years at work. But when I worked in Bangkok, and then during my 30s, my confidence grew and grew. It never got close to where I would have liked it to be, but it made life much easier.
And then pregnancy loss and infertility hit. And suddenly, the self-confidence I had been developing was destroyed. It was shattered. I no longer felt bullet-proof. And the emotions of pregnancy loss and infertility, failure and self-doubt as a woman, all these emotions pulled my self-confidence down. Initially, I was scared to go out, scared to meet people, in case the tears came, in case the awkward comments and questions were delivered.
As the years have gone by, my confidence has improved, but not entirely recovered. Age and peri-menopause make me feel both physically and emotionally more vulnerable. Ectopic pregnancies, suspected cancer (yes, I know I was lucky it was only suspected), and one or two other illnesses, have made me very aware of my mortality and my potential physical frailty. The onslaught of tears has made me very away of my emotional frailty.
And yet this is a time when I should be “in the prime of my life,” a time when I know that intellectually I am at my strongest and should be most confident. I don’t want to appear weak, even if I feel it. So I hide it – apparently quite successfully. After chairing the board of directors of an export company for seven years, I was described by staff (and some directors) as a “strong leader.” Yet they don’t know what I used to go through before board meetings, or the agonies of doubt I’d experience when dealing with difficult personalities. Maybe I would have felt that way anyway, before infertility? Perhaps. But I think I’m more honest with myself now, more honest about my own frailties, and perhaps more prepared to make allowances for those frailties.
So as a result, I find myself a little afraid of taking on new and demanding roles. I used to travel internationally all the time for work, yet now the thought of being away from my husband for too long makes me emotional. I worry that physically I would struggle to cope with new challenges, especially with the big M (I can't yet bring myself to say its name) looming and the threat of TGN returning. I no longer feel the degree of physical invincibility we feel when we are younger. And the emotional confidence isn’t there either, even though rationally I know there’s no reason I shouldn’t cope. If I've learned anything in the last few years, it is how competent I am in my area of business. And yet because I don’t want to crumble publicly, to admit to colleagues I have weaknesses (beyond the obvious), I feel very hesitant about even pursuing new opportunities. Is this trepidation a result of infertility? At least partially, yes. Am I too scared to try? I don't know yet. But I really hope not.
* Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl