During my early career as a FTSE 100 tax professional, I used to get the feedback that I didn’t come across as confident in certain situations, for example, dealing with more senior colleagues, taking the lead, and speaking to a group. To compensate, I worked really, really hard to improve my knowledge thinking I would then become more confident because I would know more.
I also used to think that if I was recognised by others as being good at my job, I would feel more confident. So feedback and performance reviews were important to me. I used to bask in the glow of praise and feel more confident for a while, but then something would happen that would unsettle me and I’d be back doubting myself again.
When I got promoted to Head of Tax for BP’s UK headquartered Refining and Marketing businesses I was initially delighted. It was validation that I was good at my job! The delight didn’t last long though. I found my boss difficult to work with and I worried I wasn’t up to the (big) job. I felt overwhelmed, worried and at times panicky with what I thought I had to do (lead a team of 10 and manage numerous stakeholders), and how I thought I had to be (in control and knowing all the answers). I compared myself with others and found myself lacking.
What did I do? I held my feelings in, tried to appear calm, and tried to speak more confidently. For example, I edited out the “ums and ahs” in how I spoke. I was really surprised when around this time I received the feedback that I was scary. I see now it was because I was wearing a mask – trying to be how I thought I should be. This became exhausting and I believe it held me back from being as effective as I could have been.
The turning point came when I enrolled on a leadership development programme and got an executive coach. We worked on uncovering the real me and I started to take off the multiple masks I’d put on over time in response to feedback and the culture in which I worked. After the programme, I invested more in myself including doing a number of transformative courses with the educational charity ‘More to Life’.
The removal of masks extended to unmasking what I was really passionate about. I realised that I really love to help people grow and express myself creatively. I wasn’t getting enough of these things as a senior tax executive so I left BP and re-trained as a coach. For a year, I coached part-time and worked part-time for PwC. In 2013, I was seriously ill. It was the catalyst I needed to commit 100% to earning my living as a leadership & career coach and an artist.
Today, I am more authentic, more confident and more able to relate well to, and work effectively with others than ever before. And I’m doing what I love – helping others become their whole, best selves.
I still doubt and criticise myself sometimes – after all, I’m only human – but now I know how to manage the little, critical voice inside my head such that it has less power. I believe that learning to manage this voice was the key that unlocked the door to me becoming more authentic and living my unique life where I’m fulfilling my potential. I believe that each person can learn to do this and that I can help.
What were my learnings from my journey of self-discovery?
- I was astounded to find I was unconsciously telling myself I wasn’t good enough and that I’d put this belief in place in childhood.
- I came to understand that my old feelings of worry, overwhelm and panic were prompts for change and personal growth.
- I identified the situations that trigger me into wearing a mask and I know why.
- I learned how to change my habitual patterns of thinking and behaving. We can all do this as our brains can create new neural pathways.
- It’s possible to build more inner confidence wherever one is starting from.
- When I am being my whole, best self, I inspire others to be their whole, best selves. In turn, the organisations we work in become more empowering places to work which leads to greater engagement and stronger business performance. Amazing!
Jo Maughan is ‘YourThinkingPartner’, a leadership and career coach. If you relate to Jo’s story do get in touch with her. Her passion is to inspire and equip professional men and women to become their whole, best selves and she’d love to work with you.