I always felt that confidence was something of a personality trait; one that I do not naturally possess. However, last year, I challenged myself to think differently about confidence; to take it into my own hands. I discovered that confidence is a choice; a skill we can develop like any other.
It began with receiving the results of my first multi-source feedback (MSF) – an exercise that all trainees are required to complete at work, whereby all our colleagues are invited to anonymously provide comments on our performance, attitudes and general competency as clinical scientists. I was pleased to receive very positive feedback from my colleagues, but there was one area for improvement that kept popping up again and again: confidence.
I felt frustrated. I was a trainee, with so much still to learn – how could I be confident yet? I initially brushed it off, but kept coming back to it in my mind – actually, how could I be confident? Could confidence be attainable for me, now, rather than simply a byproduct of experience in future?
These are the steps I took to proactively make myself into a more confident person over the last year: not a naturally confident person, perhaps, but one who now feels better equipped to stride into new situations rather than apologetically shuffle.
1 – Face your fears
I had to face up to the fact that, at its heart, lack of confidence ultimately boils down to fear. I forced myself to think about all the things I was afraid of as a trainee at work – things like speaking to new people, being a burden on colleagues, not knowing enough and not having a permanent job. It was only after acknowledging these fears that I could move onto finding solutions. I wrote down 4 or 5 ways in which I could combat each individual fear.
2 – Set attainable goals
I turned the information-overload of stage one into some more manageable goals. The key was to be really specific; things like arranging meetings, revising certain topics, investigating events and training courses, even just wearing outfits I felt confident in. This meant that I had plans I could put into action straight away.
3 – Own your strengths
The MSF was a brilliant tool to help me acknowledge that, yes, I was doing a lot of things right. I read through all of the comments my colleagues had made about me, picking out their positive words and turning them into statements that I could read, repeat and hopefully start to believe! For example, ‘I am a good communicator’, ‘I am hard-working’, ‘I am efficient’, ‘I am an able scientist.’
4 – Stop comparing
Armed with strengths, I made a conscious effort to stop comparing myself to other people around me. I sometimes looked at other trainees and envied how well they appeared to fit in at work, how confident they were, and how easy they seemed to find the MSc material. I tried to rationalise these thoughts, and change my perspective. I thought about how I could be inspired by those colleagues and friends whom I respect the most. I made an effort to compliment people, support others around me and celebrate their successes with them.
5 – Help other people
This was arguably the most beneficial (and at times terrifying) thing I did. I thought hard about who could benefit from my skills, and how I could share the knowledge and abilities that I have. I made an effort to support and welcome the other trainees in my workplace. I put myself forward for opportunities such as sharing my line of work with school children, writing about science online, and even speaking about my MSc project in a pub.
These things have helped me hugely, boosting my sense of value, skill, purpose and positivity. They have made me realise that I am capable of far more than I thought (primary school kids aren’t such a tough crowd, after all!).
I’ve got my second MSF coming up this summer and I hope that those around me might have noticed an improvement in my confidence since my first one. However, the biggest benefit is entirely personal – I’ve proved to myself that little me can do big things, unapologetically. I can be confident and proud of my achievements, while still acknowledging that I have lots to learn. Putting yourself out there might be scary at times, but it reaps great rewards, both personally and for others. Confidence is 100% something you can choose to have – go and grab hold of it.