I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome (and still fight daily) is the idea that others know more than me, especially in areas where I am dubbed an expert.
I think a lot of it goes back to when I was younger, especially in my teen years where, although I was in the top set at school there were those around me who were like a cerebrum on legs: they oozed ability, knowledge and were more concerned with where they’d lost two or three marks in their exams than with where they’d gained them!
The problem with hanging out with these guys wasn’t anything to do with their personalities: most of them were really great people to be around. It was the toll that it all took on my self-confidence and self-esteem. My mind had a field day, reinforcing all those doubts that had ever dared to enter my thinking, or had been placed there by others.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I was forced to go back and revisit these difficult and confusing times when recovering from serious illness. During the long, slow, often painful process that was called recovery I was forced (in the nicest way possible) to see these things in their true perspective and identify the lies that I had taken on-board and made an integral part of my life and psyche.
One of the biggest mistakes I had made was when I started looking at my abilities in comparison to others. We live in a competitive world where we are continually compared to others BUT there is no need for us to do it to ourselves. When we go for a new job, invariably our skill sets, talents and background will be compared to those of others competing for the same job. That is the interviewer’s job.
HOWEVER, we want to be at our best in those situations, showing others our true self and abilities.
If we focus on what we don’t have and what we can’t do as well as others, then we will never see our own unique talents; our own unique skills and the things that we CAN bring to the table that others can’t.
Here’s a couple of examples from my own life that may help:
- When I left school, I went straight to university but was so clueless and dispirited about what I wanted to/could do that I gave up after a term (though I did return with my first drum kit … but that is another story!). I worked for 3 years and then decided that I would go back to studying as I had a much clearer idea of where I wanted to go (and where I couldn’t go at that time without a degree). I entered the first year of my degree expecting to be worse than the fresh young things entering straight after their A-levels. I looked to the brightest of them for encouragement and help but I was always aware in my own mind that I wasn’t as good as them. That was confirmed in my exams at the end of the year. For some reason and I still don’t know why, I decided over the Summer holidays that I would really work for myself and make sure that I understood what I was doing. This meant re-learning a lot of what I’d not learnt very well during my first year. The second year was different. Nothing changed in my ability to work with others, but my internal focus was now on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t. I really WANTED to learn and understand to the best of MY abilities. I came top of the year in my second year exams, something I could never have dreamed of. I wasn’t the brightest on paper (my A-level results wer mediocre at best) but my focus had changed and I’d achieved my potential (albeit with a lot of hard work). I passed my degree with a higher grade than I would ever have expected and then went on to higher study. The point I’m trying to encourage you with is that if we look at ourselves it’s very easy to see what we lack. But we have so much to offer that others don’t, and others rarely see the failings in ourselves that we do! I’m definitely not trying to propose some self-help mantra but I am suggesting that a change of focus can bring a change of attitude and facilitate us reaching our fuller potential.
- Another example was when I was working as a member of a Medical Department’s clinical research team in the pharmaceutical industry. I knew some of my strengths: people skills, patience, generally up-beat and good to be around etc. But, it took several years of working with the Dark Side, i.e., members of the Marketing Department, to really bring my core skills to the fore. Medical Departments generally work to a dinosaur type time-scale; it takes a long time to design, set-up, run, and report clinical trials. Marketing work very much in the here and now and want results today (or yesterday if possible). Initially I worked to set-up a Medical-Marketing Interface, a group of people from both departments who could get together on a regular basis to discuss what their priorities were at that time, what they were for the next year and the reality of what information was likely to become available or be wanted in that time. These were not easy meetings but they gradually evolved into a broader set of discussion forums that really helped the two departments work together more effectively. They opened the way for more constructive interaction rather than shooting at each other from the parapets. Through them there was also much closer collaboration in the construction of sales and marketing literature and this is where I discovered something that had probably been obvious but I’d never seen it! My personal ‘gem’ was an ability to make complex and highly technical scientific and medical ideas easy to understand by all, including those from a non-technical and non-scientific background. This did two things: a) It boosted my confidence; I did have something special to offer and b) it paved the way for my last role in corporate business, that of communicating and building professional relationships with members of the medical and research communities and providing fora in which we could openly discuss data supporting the use of specific drugs in difficult-to-treat-conditions. It was also interesting that when I left my job, many of the most moving ‘good-bye’ messages came from these same people.
It took me a long time to realise that it’s not always simply how much we know, it’s a lot more to do with recognising our own skills and talents, developing and using these to the best of our abilities, whilst never missing the opportunity to hear what others are saying about us. As we refine our path, we will be amazed at what we have to offer and as with my university exams, we may just move from being one of the crowd to being a leader.
Even if we don’t, I can guarantee that you’ll feel so much better about yourself and be more confident with what you can offer.