What is confidence anyway?

confidence

Last week I was asked to think of a time I felt truly confident. Go ahead, try it. I did and I was horrified to find that I had to go right back to my school years, performing on stage as part of my local dance school. Really?! A 40 year old Cambridge graduate who has worked at a Magic Circle City law firm amongst others, raised 3 children, is co-chair of the PTA, sings in a choir, lives a comfortable and blessed life in Yorkshire’s Golden Triangle….and this is where I need to go to recall a time I felt truly confident? I have to confess, I shed more than one self-pitying tear and I have been pondering the issue of confidence ever since.

It’s fair to say that there are lots of people who assume that I am really confident; in fact, I have been told that I can be quite intimidating (which I cannot even begin to imagine). It is also true that perhaps my behaviour is not what you would expect from someone who feels they lack in confidence. The fact that I share my thoughts and feelings on this blog, for example. The fact that I put myself forward as joint chair of our PTA, in a school full of high achieving, successful parents. The fact that today I went to see a web-designer since I have decided to launch a business as a freelance writer without any training or experience. And yet I cannot tell you how many thoughts I waste thinking people don’t like me and worrying that I don’t have any real friends. I find it hard to be in large groups and am that awkward person who interrupts or talks over someone at the wrong time, waffling on with nervous energy. I often wake in the early hours and spend 3 or 4 hours with my heart racing, feeling slightly breathless and catastrophising a work or social situation, berating my decisions and unsuccessfully trying to wake Dan to help me calm down. I lie awake wondering if I ought to be on medication and whether or not there is anyone else amongst our friends like me.

Confidence is defined as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities”.

Yet it is fascinating that, my initial reaction aside, when I take a longer and more considered view of what confidence might mean to me and what I think it looks like, it is not a person’s state of mind that I turn to, it is their actions. I see them walking into a room, head held high (I can do that bit). I see them sharing thoughts and ideas (I can do that bit too). I see them leading a team of people (turns out I can do that bit too). When I think about a confident person, I don’t imagine how they sleep or wonder how they feel, I wonder what they do.

Because, let’s be honest, is there really anyone out there, hand on heart, who can say that they do not have their own moments of self-doubt? Who doesn’t worry that they are not witty enough, clever enough, attractive enough, successful enough?

So, I wonder, does it matter that I have not felt that pure joy and assurance I felt on stage kicking my way through the can-can aged 16? If we define confidence as a way of living rather than as a state of mind, then does this allow more of us to celebrate ourselves as achieving the hallowed status of a confident person? Need confidence and self-doubt be mutually exclusive?

Not if we define confidence by our actions and by our ability to always take that next step forward; by our ability to keep moving and keep daring.

Clearly panic attacks at 2am are not healthy and are bordering on bonkers, but I think some of the loss of “pure confidence” is sadly an accruement of age and experience. However, these days, I really am trying to live my life bravely. OK, I am not changing the world or taking enormous risks, but for me, I am consciously choosing to push myself out of my comfort zone and trying to find a new future as I face 40 and transition into life with all of my babies at school. I am reading the personal development books I dismissed derisively and am going all new age as I try and find my light and my core desires, plus I am telling people about it; hoping to help someone else with the same fears and the same questions I have. I have passed my half way mark on this beautiful gift of life and I want to make the rest of it count – but on purpose and not by accident.

As a mum who has spent a lot of time at home in the same place and largely in the same routine for 5 years before venturing back into the work place, I felt I had lost my confidence. But if I am kind to myself, I need not look back to my 16 year old self, since I have started moving again. I am not treading the same path, I am on my way, even if I do not really know the destination. But that’s not the important thing; the important thing is I have begun and I am taking steps every day. So next time, I am worrying and being unkind to myself, I will take a deep breath in and think about the things I have done, which I could not possibly have imagined I would do, like this blog. I will remind myself that I am living with new purpose and courage and that is confidence enough for me, for the time being. I hope you can do the same.

Kerry

x

ps thanks to Pinterest for the image

Wanted: Role Models

role model

As mum to three girls, I am aware of not only my own job as a role model but I am also conscious about who else they may look up to as they grow. In so doing, I have always had faith that there are certain issues the generations between myself and the girls’ will have figured out….one of these being the old ‘work-life’ balance.

It came as a bit of a surprise to me then, to read @TimesMagazine on Saturday which suggests many of our 20-something young women still feel isolated and consider there to be a very limited number of role models demonstrating just ‘how to have it all’. The article centred around fertility issues and the decision about when to have children, but in so doing interviewed young women who felt that there were either women at the top of their game who left it too late or were successful at the cost of their families versus women who left promising careers to be at home.

Can it really be right that in the 9 years since I left the world of ‘big law’ behind that, for a large number of young women, nothing has changed?

I acknowledge that I did not even try to make it work. A male partner in the law firm where I once worked told me, quite bluntly, that he did not think you could be both a mother and a partner in a law firm to the best of your abilities: you could do one brilliantly or both badly. At the time I married my husband, the talented and in many ways pioneering female partner in our group was struggling with the heartbreak of leaving her daughter in childcare and her own marriage was ending. Elsewhere, I saw women who didn’t see their children contending with colleagues and partners with little or no sympathy. In that major law firm, there was not one person I could identify as a role model. Maybe, at that point I should have vowed to make a change, but I didn’t. I decided to head to London to make a nest egg of money to enable me to get out and to be a stay at home mum.

And I have loved that time. But as the girls grow, I question the example I am setting them. I worry that I don’t want their own expectations, ambitions and horizons to be limited by looking at my own role as “just a mum”.

So what next then? Again, I have looked outward to find a role model – who can I be like, whose working life would I want in the context of raising a family? Still, I cannot find her.

That’s not to say there are not women I admire. There are plenty and there are many, many friends who are at the top of their game, heads of department, business owners, who are all doing amazing things, but they have made decisions about childcare that I did not want to make (and for a time, was fortunate enough to not have to). I say this without any judgment at all. We all do the very best we can and we all respond to our own needs and desires. But the question remains, is it just not possible to ‘have it all’?

I cannot believe that. And now, as I personally seek to find myself a working future, a role in which I am more than “just a mum” (the hardest job of all), I do find that there are options out there.

I have written before about the growing number of “returning mums” which I consider myself to be. I have also written about the growing number of entrepreneurs and about working as a consultant and the flexibilities that can bring. 9 years ago, there simply was not the same number of self-employed.

In my steps back into law too, I find people really changing the landscape and challenging the way legal services are delivered, meaning that yes, in actual fact, you can be a corporate lawyer and have flexibility, independence and life balance, all without judgments made. The limiting factor for me to date has been my own mind-set and my own confidence.

So if, in my own little corner of Yorkshire, I can feel a change and find opportunities, why do the girls in London 20 years behind me feel just like I did as a newlywed, despite the liberties offered by technological advances?

Do we still have to ‘go small’ to realise the life we desire? Is that still the real problem? That despite the equality officers, despite the many investment programmes, despite the many conferences, in the larger organisations, the change is still not felt at your desk if you are a young woman still growing in confidence and experience?

If not, why not?

In my blog ‘Honesty’, I wrote about how, in order to appear professional, I was encouraged not to talk about my childcare requirements, not to mention that I couldn’t do a call at 3.30pm because I was on the school run. Equally, it is said time and time again, that women manage their work-life balance but they do so in secret, haunted by the notion that if a woman leaves the office early, she is slacking, rather than simply being a responsible parent.

Are those women who are ‘having it all’ simply not shouting loudly enough? Is it time for the many high achieving women out there to be more visible? To be proud of the juggling act they are doing rather than to hide it? Should they be flaunting it more: “Look at how impressive I am! I am doing incredible things at work and at home!” . My hope is that there are plenty of role models; just not enough of them are known to enable us to all find our own personal one, that one that speaks to us.

As for me, this small article in @TimesMagazine has given further fuel to the growing fire in my belly, to do ‘my thing’. To really put the effort into shaping a future that works for me and that works for our family. If there are still not enough examples out there for all the bright young women, including our 3 fantastic daughters, well I’d better get going. It all starts at home.

Kerry

X

Ps I must stress that this piece is not a criticism of either stay at home mums or working mums. As I have said, we all know that we are all doing our best and I am in awe of all we do. Being a mum really is a challenge (and a reward) I could not have expected. Let’s face it, no matter what any of us do as a mum, we are our own harshest critics, and we will never believe we have got it all right!

Pps thanks to Pinterest for the image.

 

 

In different places

In different places

My husband is my proof reader. He checks for spelling mistakes, typos and errors. But more than that, he is my litmus test. How is the piece? Is it ok? Is it good enough? Will people like it?

There have been a couple of blogs that he didn’t want me to publish. But Friday night was new. Not only did he not like my blog ‘I Believe in Fairies’, he actually hated it. More than that, it made him roll his eyes, it made his skin crawl….It turned him off and he suggested that he was no longer the best person to check my blogs.

The wind was well and truly taken out of my sails.

My Dan is the most big-hearted, forgiving and loving person I have ever met. I celebrate it every day when I look at our daughter L, who is sensitive, old beyond her years, generous and kindness itself – I joke that she is all Dan; she could not possibly have come from me!

So our discussion on Friday evening was a first in our relationship.

The fact is, that currently Dan and I are in very different places.

The last month or so, I really feel like I have turned a corner. I know it sounds dramatic, but on the day I turned 40, I was literally beside myself. I approached that day with foreboding, knowing that it would proclaim a day of judgment which I could no longer avoid. I would have to accept that I was drifting and take some responsibility for a new direction. On that day, I felt a complete failure. I felt old and I felt the weight of wasted opportunities. I looked back harshly at forgotten dreams, abandoned aspirations, and could only see myself adrift with no real direction or drive. Blinded with self-pitying tears I declared my 40th birthday as the worst day of my life and in the face of my husband’s protests argued that “any f***er can knock out children” and that I had achieved nothing. I vowed that come my 41st birthday I would not feel that way.

This blog is part of that promise and the last month or so in particular, has marked a real change in the way I feel about the future. Right now, I am in a really, really good place and I feel full of hope and excitement.

By contrast, Dan is having a really tough time. Dan works in sales dealing with large retailers who even at the best of time are notorious task masters. With the falling pound and the uncertainty of Brexit, Dan’s job right now is particularly difficult. Combatting the large retailers takes a resilience few of us have and I have long admired how Dan and his colleagues soldier on but just lately, the battle scars are deep and un-healing and whilst Dan will always be my hero, right now, his shoulders are rounded and his chin dipped. Coupled with the fact that my earnings have dropped after I took a step back, well that’s a whole lot of pressure.

So Dan faces an emotion new to his big heart. He reads by blogs, which have lately declared myself as feeling empowered and joyful and he feels jealous. Jealous of the freedom which he pays for (in hours and in cash) and jealous of the choices I am able to make, because I have had the ability to step off the hamster wheel and to look around and find a new direction (again because of the work he does). To be honest, it’s testament to his beautiful soul that this has only just happened now. Were it the other way round, my resentment would have been loudly announced a long time ago.

Of course, Dan and I have been in different places before, but this time, I am writing about it. It is in black and white and as my editor in chief, he is confronted by it in harsh black and white.

Yet, even as Dan was telling me it was tough to take, I knew he was bleeding. My wonderful, wonderful husband would never for one minute want to hurt me or to bring me down. So I know that he is wounded deeply to even open that dialogue, but also that he would admonish himself thereafter for the look on my face as he spoke. I have never felt more loved, than I feel loved since meeting Dan.

So what next? Do I bring down the sails? Batten down the hatches? Stop writing about what is currently in my heart?

I know that’s not what Dan wants. I also know that if I am not writing about what I am feeling, then I am not being authentic. I am not being true to myself.

But it did make me wonder….Tragedy sells better doesn’t it? Some of the biggest responses I have had, have been in response to me feeling vulnerable and low.

It has also made me think about the direction I am going. Dan asked me, who is my audience? Who do I want it to be?

I confessed that I don’t know: I am writing really for me, because I just want to keep writing. But if I think about what I have found really rewarding, then perhaps I am writing for an audience. I am writing for someone who might feel like me. Someone I can give help to. To let them know what got me through, what gave me direction, what kept me going.

It also gave me a bit of a shake. Dan and I are a partnership. This is my reminder – I wrote the other day that I know I need to be a grown up and pay the bills, but that this was easier to bear if I was filling my creative need. This is my signal, my flag to be true to my word and I will.

So, my sails are still set, I just need to keep checking my compass more regularly.

Thank you Dan, you remain my North, my South, my East, my West. My everything.

Kerry

x

ps. The blogs Dan didn’t want me to publish in particular,  were ‘True Colours’ (https://kerrytalks.com/2017/06/08/true-colours/) where I talked about freedom to choose my politics without being branded a bad person (he thought it too evocative) and ‘For the Dads’ (https://kerrytalks.com/2017/05/02/for-the-dads/) where I talked about how privileged I am to have time at home whilst my husband works (he thought it might not be appreciated by the many mum friends I have in the same position).

pps. Thanks to Pinterest for the image

I believe in fairies

Fairies

Our girls have a thing for all things magical, including fairies. So, what is it about girls and fairies?

It’s nothing to do with pretty and pink; the stories that captivate them are embedded in nature and the universe. They are elemental and talk of ‘the source’ and using power to heal. They celebrate girl power and friendship.

A victory for the fairies is not about advancement above others or about having power greater than someone else. It is about striving to be the very best that they can be. About realising who they are and honouring their gifts. It is about finding courage to look into their souls, know themselves and learning to accept and use the powers bestowed on them for the greater good of their world. Which means protecting nature, teaching and spreading kindness, helping each other to grow, showing the way by example and through the bonds and spirit of community. When they are fighting darker forces, those forces are those using magic for their own purposes, for their own advancement to the detriment and harm of others. Those forces break nature and the elements and turn their back on the natural order. When good triumphs, it restores equilibrium but also lifts the dark fog from the eyes of its foe.

Which got me thinking….despite my cynicism and wilful reluctance, many of the books I have been reading recently are by writers who declare themselves to be spiritual and in some cases, “priestesses”. I am learning lots about the law of attraction, about the power of the universe and its limitless bounty. I am even trying light sourcing (a kind of meditation)!

I am attracted to reading (and still, I can barely bring myself to say it) about the power of women to heal the world, to bring a new dawn, to mark a change, to encourage people to live authentically, with success defined by passion and values and not by material gain. Trust me, I have put these books down many times before now and read them despite myself, fighting the impulse to roll my eyes. And yet, lately, I am inspired to read about women as a sisterhood, raising each other up and praising each other’s unique gifts. Urging us all up to be open, honest and brave.

I am not the only one….The next time you are on a train, on the beach, in a hotel or grabbing a coffee, look around you. Spot how many women are reading books by Gabrielle Bernstein, Rebecca Campbell, Abraham Hicks, Danielle LaPorte etc. There are a growing army of readers compelled by this spirituality, a growing following of these new spiritual healers, coaches, leaders, whatever you want to call them.

In the stories that the girls read or in the animations they watch, children are portrayed as having a bond to the fairies, since they still have the ability to believe in magic and are still close to nature. Whereas, grown-ups are seen as dangerous, as non-believers: we have strayed too far from the elements of the earth and no longer believe in magic or our ability to harness it.

Equally, the books I am currently reading separate the writers and their audience from the recent past: from incessant materialism and the pursuit of wealth and success at any cost. Citing the relentless cut and thrust of the last era as being largely responsible for the alarming growth in depression, mental health issues, obesity, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide: in short, as a race, we have strayed too far from source, from the universe, from simplicity and our basic values and off this path we are either lost or (unsuccessfully) seeking solace elsewhere. These books want the world to wake up. They are not denying readers wealth, success or material comfort just asking them to breathe and re-align.

Essentially, they want us to live like fairies.

And yes, I am known to love Disney films, musicals and happy endings, but do you know what, I think they might have a point.

Plus, how often do we say that if we really want to learn something, we need only look to our children. So I am going to join my girls, captivated by the power of the universe and the triumph of friendship and sisterhood.

I believe in fairies (and today I wore a long floaty dress!!).

Kerry

X

Ps thanks to Pinterest for the image.

School holidays: not long enough

School hols

The longer title of this blog is “Why you won’t catch me moaning about the school holidays” and I am going to buck the trend and tell you I love them!

If you have read my blog ‘Back to School’ (https://wordpress.com/post/kerrytalks.com/111), you will have seen how I always feel sad at the end of the holidays since it means we have to step outside of our tight family unit, perfect and enough together. Jolted into reality and forced to look outwards, no longer so easily able to be completely ourselves.

But today I have been reflecting on another reason I love the holidays so much.

This last week has for me, been my idea of heaven and it isn’t down to glorious weather or amazing days out to the seaside or country houses (though we do love that): our days have been simple ones. Full of lazy mornings, dog walks, hula hoops, skipping ropes, bikes, craft, playmobil, the park, the garden, made up games. The basic pleasures of just being. Of being at home.

I don’t want to claim for one minute that we are the perfect family – these days have naturally been peppered with whinging, bickering, the odd push and shove, bangs to the head, mummy screeching….but it has been absolute bliss and I have no desire to wish the girls back at school (despite my butterflies about what this new chapter in September might look like).

These days are easy, without expectation, without deadlines and without pressure. They are essentially, just like the preschool days.

If I had to pick a favourite year, it would be the year all three girls were at home – H was 3 (then 4), L was 2 (then 3) and F was new-born (then 1). I loved it. The four of us girls rubbing along. Yes, it was hard work sometimes, but we were our little gang and life was without a serious care.

As soon as you have children people start telling you, “enjoy every moment” and “don’t blink” and when you are in the thrust of nappies, tantrums, weaning, breastfeeding, all that good stuff, it is so hard to really grasp that sentiment or to genuinely believe everything is a phase (and honestly, it really is!). But as soon as your eldest starts school, wham! Your life is measured in terms, everything speeds up, the demands on your time multiply aplenty and before long, like me, you are facing your first sense of empty nest!

So, I for one, will be forever grateful for school holidays. No matter the weather, no matter the sibling scrapping and no matter the monotony, since I intend to hang onto the simple times with my girls as fiercely and for as long as I can. And this week, has been throw-back Thursday every day. Long may it continue.

Kerry

x

Other people’s children

other people's children

Over the last three weeks I have been thinking a lot about other people’s children.

Watching the Year 6 children in their leaving assembly, saying farewell to some pre-school buddies who won’t be joining F in her reception class, chaperoning at the girls’ ballet show, spending time with my nephews, meeting my close friend’s new-born son, having other children to play….Some of these children I know really well, others not very much at all and yet for all of them, I feel such genuine love.

That’s not something they tell you when you have children: just how much your heart can expand.

I know it’s the stuff of comedy everywhere that we only like our own children and cannot stand other people’s, but I just don’t find that to be true.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint and I will confess there are kids out there that I find it difficult to be with but when it comes to the children in the heart of my community, it’s different.

And for those children who belong to friends, well the bond is so, so deep.

Holding my friend’s new-born, there is nothing (and I mean nothing) I wouldn’t do. Those feelings deep inside my tummy, guttural, raw, instinctive: he is part of our pride and the love is very, very real.

I have written before about the strength of the friendships we have made at school – how our children will reach for a hand, not really worrying which mummy holds it back and how for our young, the tribe of school friends really is an extension of family.

But with emotions running high, with leavers and parents fruitlessly pushing away the tears, with gasping goodbyes to preschool years, with nervous energy shining in the spotlights of a dance show, with the arrival of a new addition, forever a breath-taking miracle; I have been thinking what this means as a mum, beyond the obvious friendships that we share.

I have always felt that the mutuality of our experiences means it is easy to make friends and easy for those friendships to be instantly intense; we are tethered together by a shared understanding of what we have all been through, are going through or will endure.

Yet I think too, that when you observe a good friend’s child brimming with joy, sadness, elation, fear, achievement, disappointment – whatever it may be; you know too exactly the beat of your friend’s heart, as a mum. The empathy is so strong, that it is not enough to stand and watch with a simple ‘oh dear’, your heart is pulled too.

When I cry too I have attributed it to a sense of understanding – thinking how I would feel, as a mum, if it were my child, but I don’t think that’s right anymore, I think the lines are too blurred and that sometimes, I am crying for that child as if their mum. That child who I cannot help but love, even if I have no right to, even if I have no claim to call them one of my own.

Before I met Dan, I didn’t consider myself particularly maternal; yes I knew I wanted a family, but as a girl it was always my sister who played with babies and toddlers. I always felt too awkward and had no connection. Yet today, having had my own children, I don’t think there is a child I would turn away. I don’t think there is a child I could not love.

I’m not sure that this blog makes very much sense….I guess what I am trying to say is how lucky I feel but also how much I love my friends’ kids and whilst I am not denying that they are wonderful, wonderful kids (and they are), I think some of this love is just unstoppable once you become a mum. In the words made famous by Celine Dion, as a mum, your heart really does go on and on. Sometimes that can feel pretty overwhelming but if you think about it, this capacity to go on giving love, is what makes humanity so very, very special.

Kerry

X

Ps thanks to Pinterest for the image

 

For love

for love 3

Since I started this blog in March, so many people have said to me that they would love to do something similar or do something creative but that they just don’t have the guts or they worry that what they create would not be good enough.

I have these doubts all the time too and actually, they sometimes prevent me from showing up (in fact, I am terrified about publishing this very blog – it’s rather out there and perhaps a little bit smug), but here is what helps me get started:

I have always had a niggling feeling that I wanted to ‘do something’. I still have that sense and I am still not 100% sure of what that ‘something’ is. However, by surrendering to the urge to write, that goal is starting to form.

Spending time doing something which I really love is expanding my horizons and my dreams in a way I had not anticipated. But the biggest and the best change that I could not have predicted was just how much joy, spending time at my laptop, with words, has brought me. It is more than the hour or so spent….it is time spent before, stretching out my thoughts, exercising ideas, racing around my brain; it is time spent afterwards, the sense of achievement, the feeling that I have grown, that I have learnt something new. It is stimulating in a way I can barely explain. I feel grateful. I feel peaceful. I feel full.

It is freeing as I consider the future: yes I still need to be a grown up and there are bills to pay, but that somehow feels easier to bear, so long as I am filling my cup with words and creativity. I think too I am finding some release from the need for approval – I am writing for pleasure and not to please and in so doing am finding out new things about myself. I also feel liberated about what success looks like – I used to feel such guilt: I had a brain, qualifications etc that should be resulting in a certain status, a certain level of wealth, if only I applied myself. Now my notion of success feels different. It is measured by my response to what I feel called to do. When I write, I feel like I am living this life as I am meant to – full of excitement and breathless. I am living consciously and not just going through the motions. I have this growing sense of comfort that when my time is done here, I won’t feel I have wasted it, because I will have lived passionately, regardless of whether or not I run a successful business or have a large house in the country. Finally, I am growing into a good role model for the girls, beyond simply being mum.

And all of this, simply because I began. I showed up. I responded to my longing to be a writer. The thing I never started because I was afraid I would fail at and if I was terrible at the thing my heart most desired, what next?

See, there, I have said it. I am a writer. Not because I have published a book, not because I am read my millions (or even hundreds), but because it is what I feel compelled to do and it is because what fills me with light, love and joy.

So, if you want to write a blog, if you want to sing opera , if you want to teach, if you want to paint, if you want to write poetry, if you want to campaign – just begin. Just do a little bit of what you love and see what comes.

There need be no end game, no plan. Just do it ‘because’. Just do it for love. Baby steps. You won’t regret it and only good things can follow. Not because you are going to be an international megastar overnight, just because you will be helping your soul to sing.

I would also strongly urge you to read ‘The Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert and ‘Light is the New Black’ by Rebecca Campbell. Both books have felt like keys to unlocking my fear and letting it go.

Now my excitement is palpable and I feel like I have just begun. I’d love for you to feel the same way too.

Kerry

X

Ps thanks to Pinterest for the image

Pps thanks to @Thebigmagic @Elizabeth Gilbert @Lightisthenewblack @rebeccacampbell