The thing I dreaded the most as soon as I had done it, I wanted to get up and do it again. What is that all about? Initially I think it is an adrenalin rush after achieving something that you were dreading you then feel like you have conquered the world. It’s that glorious moment when the critical voice has yet to kick in and you start to dissect your performance.
You do come down eventually, whether it takes 5 minutes or 5 hours, but essentially you do feel a great sense of accomplishment, well I did anyway.
You see I am happy to get up on a stage with a well rehearsed part and look out to an audience that actually you cannot see, (apart from maybe the first two rows) – it’s just blackness. You can be in the zone, there are no distractions and anyway you are being someone else. Delicious.
However, put me in a room where I have to present and I have written the speech and I can see all those faces and yes I have prepared but I don’t want to sound rehearsed… and.. and…I just have to be myself – gulp! I want to show my natural, vulnerable self and it’s flipping scary. So what have I been doing? I have been putting myself forward for any kind of opportunity where I can speak in front of a group, deliver something challenging to a number of colleagues. I have been saying “YES” to all of it. You’re probably thinking ‘She must be mad, I couldn’t do that.’
Actually quite a few people have said that to me, not the mad bit, but ‘I couldn’t do what you do’. And there’s the rub, there’s a high percentage of people who would rather be buried alive than stand up and present. No really it’s true.
So then I started asking the question- why is this? It is because we’re worried about what people think of us? There is a strong need in all of us to want to belong.
You can however do it. As they say if I can do it you can do it, it’s that simple. It might not be the most comfortable feeling in the world, but the more you do it the easier it becomes. If you weren’t scared and didn’t feel the nerves, which you can reframe as excitement it would mean you didn’t care and perhaps you would dial in the performance. Like a sports person does after a thrilling game and they do the ‘sports talk’ thing, you know like they’re talking about someone else – in the third person!! That really winds me up, where is the passion, the vulnerability the connection with their audience? Perhaps, they’re just knackered.
I am giving you permission that it’s ok to show up as you, even if you feel like a bundle of nerves and you worried you might look stupid, just say to yourself ‘it’s ok I am being me, it’s real’ and people will understand, they know what it feels like.
It doesn’t matter anyway what they think as it’s there stuff and you’ll never really know and that’s a waste of energy. You are being brave. As Brene Brown argues ‘that vulnerability is in fact a strength, and when we shut ourselves off from revealing our true selves we grow distanced from things that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.’
What do these words conjure up for you? Weight issues or feeling like an imposter, a person who pretends to be someone else to deceive others. For me it’s about the feeling of ‘I don’t belong here’, or ‘I am not meant to be here and they’re going to find me out.’ I think we have all been there, that internal dialogue that goes round in your head, which actually prevents you from being in the moment.
It can also can be described as the Imposter Syndrome or Experience and now we’re going into the realms of psychology. Mike Cunningham a performance coach agrees with me, it makes it sound like a label. It sounds official a recognized ‘syndrome’ and I am not a fan of that description.
Why do we feel like this? Why do believe that we are unskilled and not up to the job? We want to show up as our authentic, best version of ourselves and it is a basic human need.
Let’s just try something. Can you recall a time when you were at your best, being true to yourself? You know that feeling, when you know it feels right and it is in line with how you express yourself and your values, when we feel personally powerful and attuned to ourselves. In this state everything about us becomes synchronized – breathing, speech, posture, expression and movement. We are no longer fighting ourselves; we are being ourselves without judgment. The honest, powerful connection we experience internally.
There are short cuts, helpful neural, physical pathways we can practice in order to bypass the negative thought processes that we can experience when this self doubt and lack of self –belief creeps in. It is also known as the lizard brain (amygdala), the part of the brain that is responsible for anger, fear and negativity and stops you from succeeding. It is responsible for your ‘fight or flight’ reflex and it wants to control you, to stop you from doing anything risky or new.
But we can beat it, I know from personal experience, as there have been so many moments in my life where this self -critical talk has stopped me from moving forward and I can and do get stuck. However, I practice failure, despite how rubbish it makes me feel and push aside the countless ‘fakery’ chatter that goes on in my head.
That it is exactly what I did a year ago when playing Paula in Timeshare by Philip Ayckbourn. Every time I played her I pushed aside the negative thoughts (with great difficulty I might add) reminding myself that I belonged and I had a right to be there.
It doesn’t come easy and it takes practice. The lizard brain, is responsible for my house being generally always tidy (procrastination.) For not saying ‘yes’ to a particular challenge (making excuses.) Shallow breathing and feeling sick (inventing anxiety) and reading and re-reading an idea without just sending it out there into the world (obsessing over details.)
The good news is that you can fight these things and do the opposite to what your lizard brain would like you to do. Try it, you can, you can, you can. You belong, you’re not an imposter, I am not a big fat fake! Let’s get out of our heads, get out there and be an explorer.
‘I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes,
I’m thinking about making more.’
I know what it is like to suffer from lack of self -confidence and have many stories, but I think the one that motivates me the most is this one…
I worked in the theatre and thought that was going to be my life’s work, but unfortunately lost my brother quite tragically and couldn’t face performing any more. I couldn’t even sit in the audience without feeling huge anxiety, let alone go for auditions. So I got my self a safe office job in recruitment and thought I would return, but never really did. I remained in my comfort zone and felt invisible, unfulfilled and uncreative.
It was only after having my son that I returned to a more creative life, running drama workshops for children, adults, and disability groups.
Over time I discovered that whatever the type of group, there are certain things that you can do in drama based training with the voice and body that can develop and accelerate an individual’s confidence. That is where the idea started.
So I went out and learnt from the experts – trainers, coaches, recruiters, scientists, professors, physiologists, writers and researchers.
I have, interviewed, recorded, attended seminars, workshops, planned and collated only to express the most relevant stuff back to you. So that’s exactly what I’ve done. I share what I have learned from those who were there to share and I am going to keep repeating that process.
I am a mum returner and have found that confidence is one of the top barriers of returning to work for a lot of women. I started off with this group as I could identify with it so easily. Not only that, through my findings I found that the next generation really needed help too. These have been my main drivers.
My experience as a recruiter and drama facilitator has taught me that people need help when it comes to confident communication. So by combining the two I can train and develop these essential skills.
It’s over 20 years since I lost my brother and he was an artist and designer that struggled massively with his self –confidence. By setting up The Confidence Box I can help people with confidence issues when it comes to any interaction where they may struggle with nerves and not show up as themselves.
This is now my life’s work.
I was delighted to be invited to talk to Mark Bridge from the Love Lewes Podcast on why I set up The Confidence Box. I also talk about the exhibition I put on in memory of my brother Andrew Turnage, a designer and a creative maverick. It helped raise money for YMCA Right Here charity, a health and wellbeing project for 11-25 year olds based in Brighton. It’s an award winning project that works with a team of youth ambassadors to improve health outcomes for young people locally and nationally.
The interview starts at 17.22 on the following link
If you need to speak to me – Esther Egerton – about anything to do with The Confidence Box, send me a short message and I will get straight back to you.
Thanks! Esther Egerton