19 June, 2012

Confidence - finding the right balance

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


  1. ahhh, the comfort zone! And the (not) stepping out of it. I think it was a NZ library, probably Takapuna where I found this little self help book: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.
    Yes, getting out of the comfort zone is scary. but can be so worthwhile. We know we can't be confident before we have the success, but the confidence will grow when we step in the right direction.
    (My DE adventure is waaaaay out of my comfort zone, but as long as every step of the way I felt I still wanted it I didn't let the fear stop me)

    And your remark of the big M made me smile. Being hit with the precursor-M at age 35, the cause of my infertility, I don't think it can scare me anymore. (mhm, hear my youthful confidence ;-) ! o well I'll enjoy that while it lasts....
    Good luck trying new things!

  2. This post reminds me of The Serenity Prayer:

    "Lord, grant me serenity to accept the things I can't change
    Courage to change the things I can change
    And wisdom to know the difference."

  3. I have always been a very confident person who had dips during hard periods of transition. But, I went through a huge loss in confidence after my cancer diagnosis then hysterectomy. I still find my confidence returning... it was really hard to lose that, I felt like a different person.

    These experiences definitely have such a deep emotional impact that our confidence can be affected. I can see why you've felt this impact in other areas of your life... it runs deep. But, I have a feel you aren't too scared to try... sometimes, these things just take time.

  4. I think most of us can sometimes get stuck in a rut, or be unwilling to take a risk - although I definitely became more risk averse during treatment and losses and don't know if I'll ever entirely undo that. I read somewhere that people who take risks are happier than those that don't. Which is something I remind myself of when I'm about to do something that scares me!

  5. What a great post. I have had these same feelings before. I'm fairly successful in my job (why do I say "fairly"???) and I've told my husband, "I wonder if they'll figure out I'm faking it." Because that's how I feel most of the time. Like I'm faking all this, and one day people will find out that I'm really not all that! You have beautiful words to describe these feelings...

  6. Boy, can I relate -- I think I could have written this post. I took a bit of a fall last week & wound up with a sore tailbone ; ) -- but I am so aware that it could have been so much worse. I no longer take good health for granted. And I no longer feel sure of myself at work. I just hope to hang on for another few years until I can retire. In some ways, I'm much more confident than i used to be, but not so much in others.

  7. I hear you. Yep, infertility pretty much did a number on my ego, too. And my acting career took a nosedive around the same time as my first IVF failed. It's not attractive to have no self confidence in your 40s. I only wish I had had a successful career during that time. It would have given me an anchor to hold onto.

  8. I have been trying to build back my self confidence this last year. I realized that it was something about myself I lost (along with other things) during our TTC years. I’m working on it. I can totally relate to the pep talks, I have to give myself them all the time!