The Advice I Would Give My 17 Year-Old Self – Lesson 1

I spend one day a week working as a Careers Coach in a Sixth Form Centre which I find to be an incredibly rewarding part of my week. I see those students who have a clear career plan and the grit and determination to succeed. I also see those students who know what they want but lack the confidence to go for it, believing everyone else is better than them. I see those who are quite relaxed about their futures, taking it in their stride, and finally I see those students who firmly believe they CAN’T! The more time I spend with these young adults, the more I consider how I was at 17 and if I had the chance again, what would I do differently…what advice would I give to the 17 year old me. My first piece of advice would be:

Have a go. Push fear aside. It doesn’t matter if you make a few mistakes along the way. We learn from our mistakes and they make us better and hungrier. Mistakes give us valuable experience which ultimately helps to increase our confidence. With more confidence comes more opportunities.

Despite having two incredibly encouraging parents I was often afraid to try things. As I sit here now as a confident woman I cannot believe I was ever that person but I really was. I can remember being the child in class who would often know the answer, but would never put her hand up for fear of getting the answer wrong. I never asked a question because I felt my questions were stupid but someone else would always ask ‘my question’ and then be praised by the teacher. I now ask any question I want to as I know that if I don’t, someone else will! When I finished secondary school it was my parents who encouraged me to go to Sixth Form College stating that if I didn’t like it I could always leave but if I didn’t try I would never know what I was missing. Now, if I hadn’t gone to Sixth Form, I would not have met six of my best girl friends and walked away with four A levels and yet still the fear continued when it was time to go to university and then again when it was time for me to study and work abroad in France. Living and working in France really did challenge me at many levels. I felt I was competent at speaking French but I needed to ensure that what was coming out of my mouth was perfect. As a result of this need for perfection I would often miss opportunities as I was working out the grammar and sentence formation in my head and not saying the words out loud for fear of looking stupid. If only I could have been more like my Dutch friend Horriah who didn’t care if she made the odd mistake, she spoke at every opportunity available to her as I watched in awe.

As with many of us, the more we do things the more our confidence grows. I no longer care if I make mistakes when I speak French, as long as I get my point across. I also put myself into situations which I know I will find challenging but I throw myself into them with gusto asking myself ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ Only last week I went to a careers networking event, the prospect of which did not fill me with joy but I knew it would be beneficial. I went along, looked confident, met some lovely people, learnt new stuff and came away having ticked another box. I know that the next networking event will be much easier.

So this message applies to anyone of any age. Fear might exist but unless we learn to have a firm word with it, push it aside and have a go anyway, we may miss opportunities. It doesn’t matter if the odd mistake is made along the way, the more we try different things, the more experience we gain. The experience will turn to confidence and with a good amount of confidence running through our bones so much more is possible.

As parents, not only do we need to offer encouragement to our children but they need to see us stepping out of our comfort zone and trying things that we may be scared of. It is also good for them to see us failing occasionally and for them to see us coping positively through those experiences. Failure is a positive thing and something which should not be feared. I recently watched a great interview with Sara Blakely, Founder and CEO of Spanx, who talks about how her Father would ask her and her brother each night at the dinner table what they had failed at that day. He would high five their failures. This exercise helped Sara Blakely reframe the definition of failure and now within Spanx she continues to celebrate failure and says that if you can learn from it and laugh about it, then it is all worth it.

I owe a lot to my parents because without that constant encouragement who knows where I would be today. What I do know is that the more I put myself out there to try different things, the more experience I gain and that experience gives me much more confidence.