Confidence and self-esteem – is it the holy grail for the modern woman?

Why do we spend so much of our time wondering why we are not good enough, how we can do better, how not to let others down? Or am I just thinking about myself?

I am the oldest of five children, one of three girls. My parents supported us all in what we wanted to do as we grew up. This was still at a time when, at least in the older generation and in the part of the world in which I lived, it was thought more appropriate that boys would go onto further education and girls would go to work. Not so with us. My young sister and I both went onto higher education and the boys into apprenticeships. My mother was challenged about this by older women in our community. Like my father, she believed that we should have equal opportunities, with my dad going further, by stating that he believed that his daughters were as good as any man, and better than most. Mum was a bit of a trailblazer herself being one of the first woman in our area to learn to drive, so there was no way she was going to hold her daughters back.

So how come I still grew up riven by self-doubt and lacking in confidence? I am still not sure when I look back although I think being over-weight from fifteen, for ten years was not helpful. I was at a good school and was in the top set for all of my subjects, but because I was not top, saw this as a negative. Why was I so hard on myself?

It took me a couple of decades to understand how the way I feel about myself determines how I think, what I do and how I relate to the people around me. Now for the first time in my life I feel completely comfortable with myself and I believe that it is down to understanding who I am.

I think that the process of getting to where I am was a gradual process. Whatever job I took I was good at and in two separate careers progressed up the ladder so over time I did begin to gain some confidence, but it was as a result of external positive feedback. There was still this little niggle inside.

In my forties, I experienced a life-changing event which was the catalyst for me to really look at myself and decide where my future lay. One of the things that this event did allow me to do was decide for the first time that I was going to stop trying to please the people that I loved most, and be more assertive about what I wanted to do. The second thing I did was decide to stop feeling guilty about everything. The problem was that I really did not know what I wanted for my future as the one I had planned had just been taken away from me.

So where next?

I decided to do a massage course because I had always wanted to learn how to do it. I went back to yoga which I had done in my twenties, but then had abandoned it for gym, circuit training and running. I loved my Wednesday night Ashtanga class and so when the opportunity to train to be a teacher came up I took that opportunity too. I had no plans to make these new skills into a full-time job, I did it because I loved doing these things and felt completely comfortable with them. I certainly could not visualise myself teaching yoga. That was for people much better than me.

However as I learned these new skills over the course of a few years, I decided that I wanted to try to make a living from doing them. I found that, for the first time, in using my body for work, rather than my brain, I was becoming more and more comfortable in my own skin. The beauty of yoga is that it develops self-awareness not just at the mental level but also at the physical level too. I realised that I was not self-conscious about my own body and therefore not about bodies in general. I still had to overcome my shyness and lack of confidence in my ability, to stand up in front of other people. I struggled, as usual, with the thought that I probably did not know enough and did not have enough experience. Then I decided that I had to go for it, so I got up and did it and I keep learning so I have new things that I can continue to offer.

I am in situations now which were once challenging. I massage people, often for injuries, sometimes in areas of the body which require delicacy, in treatment rooms which are small. I have to be confident to make them feel at ease, and I do, because I feel supremely at ease in my own body.

I go to clients’ homes to do one to one sessions and immediately have to put myself at ease in a new environment in order to be able to do my job and do the best for them.

I teach yoga in challenging environments: I teach yoga to long-term prisoners which requires patience and you always need to be on your guard for the unexpected. I teach yoga to people with MS and am constantly thinking and looking for ways in which I can help and challenge them in the difficulties they face.

The difference about all of this is that for the first time in my life I believe that I can deal with the situations with which I am faced and I have it within myself to do the job well, without needing to hear it from others. I know that I have achieved this lack of unease, a new easiness, because of doing what I love and from the personal practice of yoga and meditation.

The wonderful thing too is that I am not talking just about my working life but all aspects of my life.

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