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Re-establishing your confidence

Loss of confidence is a key
factor inhibiting women from returning to work after a career break. Often, we express this loss of confidence in different ways such as ‘I’m too old’ or ‘My work can’t be done flexibly’ or ‘There aren’t any jobs in my field ‘: this blog will be addressing these specific potential barriers in other posts.
It is natural for confidence to disappear after a break from an activity which formed a large part of our identity previously and also provided status, goals, income and positive feedback from colleagues, customers and suppliers.  Without anything to replace these key aspects of a working life it is hard work to maintain confidence levels.  Moreover, in the absence of regular positive messages from those around us, it is easy to create a negative picture of ourselves and be overly self-critical.  This harsh internal voice has the most damaging effect on our confidence.  Despite all this, it is possible to regain our confidence: there is a list of suggestions later.
My Harvard Business School classmate, Claire Perry MP, a former investment banker and McKinsey consultant, expressed the experience of many in a Sunday Times interview (The Sunday Times, March 25 2012)
‘I was basically unemployed for seven years [at home with my children] and going back, even voluntarily, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Once you’re out of the workplace you lose your confidence’
Claire’s return to work began with offering to do work experience as a volunteer for a few months, on a Government economic committee.  And this route is a model that works well for many women.  Working as a volunteer whether for a charity, a school board or a community group gives us an opportunity to be reminded of our skills and value without the time commitment and pressures of employment.  We remember the things we used to do before and realise that all we need is some practice.
Other activities which also help us to regain confidence include:

  • Finding activities that express us as an individual, rather than as a carer or partner
  • Enhancing our knowledge and skills.  It is possible to find out about interesting and useful courses through the internet, a local library and adult education colleges.  Talking to previous work colleagues can be reassuring: they can suggest relevant literature to read
  • Becoming more familiar with new technology.  Computer shops, community centres and colleges all run courses or a young, tech-savvy neighbour might offer tutorials for a small fee
  • Asking for feedback, on our strengths and things we are good at, from the people who care about us.  It is easy for them to assume that we don’t need feedback because we appear to be managing everything very well
  • Acting confident.  Sometimes, our thoughts and feelings can follow from our actions, so by acting confident we start to feel it
  •  Spending time with people who support us and help us to feel good about ourselves
  • Ignoring that critical voice.  This can be easier to say than to do, but it is important to recognise how unkind this voice can be.  Would we allow a friend talk to us this way?  If they did, would they remain a friend?  Learn to be kinder.

However we go about rebuilding our confidence it is essential to remember that it can be a slow process, but every small step that we take will accumulate over time until we are ready – and eager – to return to work.

Posted by Katerina – co-founder of Women Returners.