“If we treated others as we treat ourselves, we’d probably be in prison!”

Alan de Button, The School of Life – Founder.

This quote reveals a lot about how we tend to deal with ourselves. About the quality of our internal dialogue. Who hasn’t criticised themselves? Who hasn’t doubted their abilities?

I admit. It has happened to me many times. I’ve felt like an imposter and wanted to give up without even starting!

I can give you an example. It was in 2006. I set out to provide training for the first time to a group of strangers. In the past, I did it to colleagues and co-workers. I enjoyed doing it, and people appreciated my style. In one of my career changes, I wanted to get a job to pay my bills, so I applied to be a trainer in a project whose goal was to help all the employees of an organisation from top to bottom. To do a good job, I absorbed all the technical topics and worked day and night to prepare a training that I thought would be dynamic and catch people’s attention. Before the first day of training, I had everything ready. Only I panicked. That’s right!

I began to doubt myself: Who was I to go and give that training? What was I thinking when I applied for that project? Worse, was the project manager blind? Why on earth did he hire me?

I had never trained a group of strangers before! These thoughts escalated, and I imagined the worst possible scenarios, from having a blank, losing my voice, running away, and not knowing how to answer questions. With these scenarios, there was only one smart thing to do: Give up! I thought to myself: I will give up, and everything will be fine. But the training is tomorrow morning, and already is 9 pm. How am I going to get out of this?

I made up my mind. I had to find a way out of the situation without looking too bad. And for that, I needed to come up with a good excuse. One that everyone would believe. I called a friend to validate my idea and my contingency plan. My patient friend listened to me. I described to her all the movies I had imagined in my head. I told her the plan I had conceived. She snapped: There you go, perfect! That statement made me stop. What do you mean? I replied: I’m not a perfect little girl. I’m just not up to it. I’m not going. That’s it!

My friend, a classmate at university, had followed my entire journey up to that point. So, she knew my way of working and my level of demand. She began by reminding me of everything I knew about the subject. After all, I had been the best post-graduate student and had done a project in my company adopted as a model for the rest of the organization, which was by no means small. It had dozens of areas and thousands of employees. She reminded me of how my peers and employees looked forward to the training I prepared.

As I listened to her attentively, new perspectives began to emerge in me: Wait, maybe I could give this training. The truth is that I am skilful, and I have training experience. Otherwise, the project manager wouldn’t have hired me. He must be a valid person to be managing the project, right? The only thing that was new to me was the group of people I was going to be with. Who I was going to give the training to. That was the only new element.  Except those people were also likely to expect a super experienced and confident trainer on the topics. And I was not that person. So, I would certainly let them down. Suddenly, I had an idea: I’ve got it! The first thing I’ll do when the training opens is to assume that this will be my first time and not to expect too much! 

After all, we’ve all been there at some point. The crowd would understand, right? And so, I did. In the 90 km I travelled to the company, I had time to rehearse how I was going to say that sentence. It wasn’t to go over the program or the rest of the work involved. The most important thing was that start.

The moment came. I was shaking like a leaf. I looked at people and smiled. I was hoping they wouldn’t notice I was so scared.  As soon as the group gathered, I fired off the sentence: This is the first time I’m training strangers. I will do my best, but I hope you’ll cut me some slack because of my anxiety.

Do you know what happened next? I completely opened. From that moment on, I informed. If people had high expectations, it was their problem because I was being honest. I gave a full day of training. Mission accomplished!

But the most impressive thing was that I got to the end of the day and didn’t even remember the previous feelings and the panic from the night before. Everything just flowed. Some of the people came up to me at the end and said: It sounds like you’ve been doing this all your life! I can’t believe it was your first time.

This event was crucial to me. I talk about it in my book. Because of that day, I discovered the fulfilment when I provide training and a passion that has lasted until today. It’s been 17 years now. Have you seen what I almost lost because of my negative thoughts?

It is just one of the many stories when I almost gave up because of my ‘big bad wolf’. In other words, the ‘big bad wolf’ is those discouraging thoughts and internal dialogues. In my project, I witness these feelings in my clients when faced with new challenges. So, all of us have these thoughts.

At this point in my sharing, I want to invoke the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, who has devoted more than 30 years to research in social and developmental psychology. One of the most relevant conclusions she reached is that:

The idea of ourselves profoundly affects the way we handle our lives!

You noticed in the personal example I shared that how I saw myself in the challenge influenced my emotions and behaviour towards it. Given this conclusion, Dr. Carol Dweck recommends that we can develop more confidence. Of course! It’s easier said than done. Except that it is possible to do it.

In the Career Redesign® project, I support working professionals who feel disappointed with their careers to create conditions to achieve fulfilment. A big part of the work is about changing perceptions and the view of themselves. They arrive with ‘big bad wolves’ and are self-emasculating and make a thousand and one excuses to justify being where they are and cannot move forward. So, I work on their vision of themselves and help them focus on what to do to progress. And that is transformative. It makes them achieve more than they ever dared to imagine. It’s not me who says it. They say it themselves.

So, I will share with you three steps that all my clients apply to achieve more and better. These are the steps I went through to deal with the situation I described.

1st step- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people.

The simple fact of hearing yourself verbalise the idea about something is enough to realise that perhaps you are dramatizing the situation. On the other hand, sharing your doubts with someone who has a positive attitude toward life and deals well with challenges will give you access to alternative perspectives to your own. It creates the conditions for new ideas and strategies to emerge.

2nd step – Find out if your reaction is based on facts or fears.

It will have crossed your mind that I exaggerated my reaction to the challenge I described. In the end, it was about doing something familiar to me. The only new variable was the group of strangers in front of me, and it was what I focused on. I focused exclusively on the unknown element and felt insecure. So, it is crucial when facing the situation, to separate what is familiar and brings you comfort and confidence and what is new and different. It will enable you to balance your negative perspective.

3rd step – Focus on your past achievements and successes.

This aspect is crucial. We spend our lives looking at what we have not achieved and failed to achieve. But how many times have you sat down to identify and evaluate what you have achieved and how you achieved it throughout your life? What can I tell you? It is a powerful exercise. Inevitably it will show you that you have dealt with many new situations in the past and been able to overcome them. Often successfully. Also, many strategies that have worked well can be applied now. My friend reminded me of that and made me look at the challenge with a more assertive lens and be able to find a strategy that brought me more confidence.

In summary,

We should recognise that we all have a ‘big bad wolf’ in us. Those inner thoughts and voices take it upon themselves to make us feel incapable to life situations. We have also realised that we can manage these ‘bad wolves’. I recommend three essential safety measures:

  1. Share your anxieties with positive people to gain new perspectives,
  2. Realise what facts and longings are in analysing the situation,
  3. Focus on your former achievements and identify which strategies may be transferable to the new challenge.

In this way, you may realise that you have achieved much more than you have ever imagined.