Growing up, when I was away from the safety of my home and family, I was a shy child. I was afraid of strangers, loud noises (fire engines and car washes particularly), the deep, louder voices of older males, and anything that had to do with my performance being measured.
When I became a waitress at age 14 in the local pizza shop, I was so scared of interacting with customers for fear of getting something wrong, that I hardly ever went out on the floor. I stayed out the back, doing the background work like washing dishes, rolling pizza bases, making pizza boxes and getting pizza’s in and out of the oven instead. I was so scared of not being up to scratch, that not putting myself out there was much easier to bear than how I would feel about myself if I made a mistake or did something wrong.
The world must have had other plans for me, as from then on life constantly presented me with new and differing ways to conquer my fears.
It began with learning to dance starting at age 12 and being involved in dance productions, and doing dance exams. My confidence in myself grew. After leaving home at 16, I became an outward-bound phone sales rep (I can’t even believe this now!), then a receptionist at 18 for 3 companies who shared the same office space in Parnell. One of those companies was a promo company which then lead me onto doing promotional work in nightclubs, and at events. (Again, unbelieveable!)
After being promoted from the receptionist position to being a media assistant, I would go to meetings in the boardroom where sales reps for TVNZ, The Radio Network or NZ Herald would come in and present to the media team. I remember thinking, “that job would be my worst nightmare.” Being put on the spot like that, having my voice or ideas potentially questioned. I was SO AFRAID of getting things wrong. So, I kept quiet in these meetings, only becoming animated once they were over.
My managers would try to encourage me to ask at least one question in a meeting, but I didn't want to do it unless I knew what I was talking about. I was just so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and feeling stupid.
As I moved up in the company, I suffered from extreme imposter syndrome. I tried to express how I felt, but to no avail. Little did I know that less than 10 years later, I would be the one presenting these sales meetings in client’s boardrooms and be the team leader responsible for multi-millon dollar sales targets.
So how did I gain the confidence?
Here are the 8 confidence hacks I have learned over the last 20 years of my career:
1. Say yes to opportunities and think about them later. Throwing myself in the deep end has worked for me, repeatedly. I still throw myself in the deep end to this day. Case in point, last Friday I was randomly asked to be an actor for a DHB video. I said yes, and worried about it later. The experience turned out to be awesome, and I enjoyed learning something new.
2. Get out of your comfort zone. Every time I have done this it has stretched the edges of my abilities and taught me that I can trust myself because it all works out in the end. Feel the fear of not being good enough and give it a go anyway.
3. Be prepared. In the beginning preparation is what got me through scary moments, until the scary moments became more natural to me (see point 7.) I remember the first time I was asked to do a 90 person company wide presentation, as a stress management coach. This was while I was still in my sales role and doing a little bit of coaching work here and there. I felt SO SCARED!!! I remember being in the shower feeling sick with anxiety. But I prepared as well as I could, and it was just me up against my fear in the end. The presentation was fine! From what I remember anyway ;)
4. Fake it until you make it. I'm not such a fan of this saying, but I did my fair share of faking it until I made it, and it really helped with my confidence when I made it through. Every novice must start somewhere to become a master. It is a necessary, un-skippable part of the learning process that is so important to your growth.
5. Work on your self-worth. So much of my insecurity was around me being so scared of not getting it right. Boy, have I made a lot of ‘wrongs’ in my life – it’s quite unavoidable really - but man oh man have my wrongs been the key piece that have led me to the biggest ‘rights’. I worked through my self-destructive behaviours in therapy between ages 24-33 and it completely changed my life, my behaviours, and the way I felt about myself.
6. Find a Mentor. When I moved into my Account Manager sales role when I was 29, I worked under an incredible boss. He believed in me, made me feel smart, and like my ideas were important and that I was a valued member of the team. My confidence really took off at this point in my life.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Remember how I told you that when the sales team came into the office when I was a young media assistant that the thought of doing their job was my idea of hell? Well after I took the Account Manager role at age 29, I slowly but surely became a presenting ninja through having to present every day to different media agencies. I used all the above (particularly faking it until I made it), kept at it, and over the 5 years that I was there, presenting to a group became as easy to me as breathing. The image to the left is me at my very first Media Awards after joining the company at age 29.
I can say the same from the moment I had my very first counselling client at 25, right up until now. Every client and every session contributed to my learning and growth.
8. Upskill. Invest in yourself. Undergoing my Bachelor of Counselling gave me so much safety and validation that I was okay and allowed to do this, (work with people). Same goes for my coaching certification. It was about finding something that would contribute to my own sense of confidence and knowledge that I can do this. Lastly every time I work with a psychotherapist it influences my own practice with clients. I find being a client is the best kind of experience you can have if you want to be a really good coach.
Bree Nicholls is the founder of The Being Way and the creator and trainer behind The Being Way Coach Training. Bree is creative, relatable, and dynamic in her work. She works 1:1 with coaches and business professionals, providing coaching and supervision to those who are working in the coaching, therapeutic and leadership fields. Bree's style is supportive as well as challenging and her process creates significant positive change for individuals, groups, and businesses.