Self belief and the nay sayers

Something I've wanted to write about since forever is self belief in the face of adversity.

Self belief is something I've struggled to find for a long time, and still do now. It's hard to believe in yourself when perhaps others don't appear to believe in you. I truly wish I could go back in time and tell 20 year old me to tell the nay sayers to do one, but alas, I can't, and so deal with my issue I must.

When I was 20, I'd quit uni to be with my then boyfriend and was wholly unsure of who I was and what I wanted to be. I began filming and photographing my friends bands as a hobby, taught myself to edit and I really enjoyed it. So much so that I figured...I'd love to do this as a job. So, I began to think about how I could become a freelance photographer/videographer and what that would entail for me. I was excited, motivated and ready for an adventure that allowed me to embrace my creative energy.

Then I got an email from a family member that pretty much knocked me off my stool...if I'd had a stool anyway. I'd mentioned to them that I was thinking of starting up my own business and the email I received I've kept hold of, and it has hung over me ever since. To be honest, I've always been afraid to share it, but I now feel so strongly about helping others not feel like I do that honestly, it's time. I guess this is like closure for me too...so, get comfy folks.

"Louisa, I want to talk to you about your future." - ok, so it opens friendly enough I guess...

"I'm not saying this stuff to be hurtful, indeed, far from it: It's BECAUSE we care about you and are worried about the direction your life is taking, that I feel the need to say something." - so, I can see where this is coming from - I was 20 years old without a "real" job, I could probably use some helpful guidance and mentoring to set me on my path. I mean...I wouldn't say my life direction was worrying...I wasn't on drugs, I barely drank...I just wanted to start my own business...HEAVEN FORBID!

"If you want to do something professionally you HAVE to get the appropriate qualifications: This is more true today than it has ever been; if you don't do this you will always lose out to the people who have --  from the employers' point of view -- done the work, made the sacrifices that goes with hard study, and can prove that they know their basic stuff. The fact is you will mostly be competing for jobs with people who have the qualifications AND some professional experience. This is not something you can teach yourself however much you might wish
it were so."
wow...bold, and quite frankly not factual...but still not actually the worst part of this email. Of course, qualifications can be desirable - and in some cases mandatory but not always. Shall I let Ellen DeGeneres or Steve Jobs know that they will never succeed professionally? Bill Gates was probably kicking himself when he dropped out of college, realising he was nothing and never would be. And as for Mark Zuckerberg - no chance of that one man band succeeding.

"The thing you want to do is a very desirable and exciting career path, which I'm afraid also means that employers are spoilt for choice: Only the very best are likely to make it and there might be 10 or even 100 people chasing every job." - and I can't be the very best because I don't have a degree...gotcha.

"If you think you can start your own business I'm afraid you may need a reality check; this requires so many skills (and money) and the type of people that succeed in business are highly driven workaholics: I know I'm not, and it isn't a trait I've seen in anyone else in our  family
either: Working 15 hour days would be the norm while you're learning and it certainly wouldn't get easier once you are trying to build a client base." 
- This part is the real kick in the teeth, and still, now, makes me cry. To say something so blunt and cruel to an eager tween, keen to make a go of things is just so unfair. To assume I don't have the skills required to succeed, or to outright tell me I'll never be highly driven...what the...because you're not highly driven...what?!

"Unfortunately it takes teams of people to do significant work: One man bands really don't stand much chance, and of course any business requires money to run it (at a loss) for perhaps several years." - I'm not a fool, I know business requires money and that it is hard work. Perhaps I could be successful...oh no wait I need the qualifications.

"I don't want to trash someone's dreams but when those dreams are unrealistic it would be wrong NOT to say something -- for example it's nice to imagine winning the lottery, but it would be madness to plan your life on the assumption that you are going to at some point." - I should probably let them know that I plan my life based on winning the lottery and I don't even play it... weird comparison though...comparing someone wanting to create their own business to a one in a million lucky draw... 

"Meanwhile I'm afraid you are wasting the best years of your life; these are years that you can never make up unfortunately, and while you are proverbially treading water, the other people that you are effectively competing against are getting further and further ahead." - I'm more concerned about the hours I'm wasting reading this email.

"Even if your are currently "only" missing out on wages, in a few years time when you may be wishing to buy a flat or a house or even a fairly modest thing like a car, you may be very regretful." - I mean, I get this, I really do. I'll probably never own a house...but I'm not regretful. I have a beautiful little family, friends who love me and now a business where I can make a difference to peoples lives. Perhaps material possessions should mean more to me...but actually it's ok that they don't.

"I hope you will have read this in the spirit that it was written: by someone who loves you and cares about your future." - thanks...

Suffice it to say, I didn't reply to the email. I've never brought it up. I abandoned my film business, disheartened and feeling worthless. I felt like I would never amount to anything. My ego was truly bruised and it's taken me 11 years to be able to talk about how this felt. Raw. Unsupported. The first stirrings of my anxiety disorder began here.

Anyway, I got myself a "normal" job in an office, no qualifications, worked my way up to a senior level in the finance department...no qualifications...became a business analyst...no qualifications...all the while that email is lingering in my mind. Never once did this person ask how may job was going, congratulate me on my work etc. Always asked my brother though...hmm

When I decided to start this business, I was scared of mentioning it to my family, waiting for another email to arrive, I didn't think my mental health could take another bashing. But I picked myself up and marched bravely down a road of risk, uncertainty, zero salary and long hours to reach my goals. I knew in my heart this is where I needed to go. I could have spent 60 years working my office job, easily. But why? I have a creative side which is desperate to grow & a need to help people. 

This whole escapade led to my current business getting to a point where we were going to attend a big show, but my self doubt manifested as huge anxiety and I ended up in therapy. My main trigger is believing others will think I'm rubbish, a fool and worthless. Because somebody thought it was ok to tell me I could never succeed. The thought of talking to strangers about my business terrified me. Because somebody thought it was ok to tell me I'd never succeed.

To this day I cannot take a compliment without cringing inside - when people compliment my business I struggle to not squirm away. I am still filled with self doubt because somebody thought it was ok to tell me I would never succeed. I still haven't had a well done from them...not that it would mean much now. I cling on to every negative comment. 

So, where can we go from here? Well firstly, it's important to embrace the knowledge that NO ONE can tell you you will not succeed. No one. This is not to say that they can't chat to you about where you see this going, give some advice, perhaps warn you of the potential risks you may face...but that's the lot. Only you know how hard you are willing to work, how much you want to succeed and how far your passion will take you.

I am forcing myself out of my comfort zone these days. I am proud of where I have got to, and I am proud of the business I have built. I am excited to see where it ends up, and if it does fail in the end - at least I gave it my best damn shot. All we can ever do is try, the minute we stop, that's when we fail.
 

louisa sheward