From a young age we are segmented into those who can and those who cannot. At our school we did the 12+ exam to see if we were clever enough to go to Grammar school. I wasn’t. Fortunately for me many of my circle of friends weren’t either. But it was one of those early life lessons where you begin to realise sometimes you are not enough. You don’t have the right skills or knowledge therefore you end up in the “Can’t Camp”.
Then as you approach adulthood everyone asks what do you want to do? I wasn’t really that fussed, I didn’t have a specific career planned out but I did quite fancy being an air stewardess. And I always wanted to travel.
Whilst having a bit of me-time at the hairdressers recently, my hairdresser and I began talking about our businesses and she shared how it can be a challenge to find decent, committed and reliable staff. Especially those willing to start at the bottom and do the mucky jobs in order to progress, learn and grow.
I told her that my very first job was as a Saturday Girl in a hair salon in the village where I grew up. I’d sweep hair up off the floor, washed people’s often dirty stinky hair, ran errands and even got down on my hands and knees to polish the brass pipes around the salon with Brasso. There is no doubt the owner got her monies worth out of me. I’d work every Saturday from 8am until 4pm. Go home for a little break and then start my next shift in the chip shop until 10pm.
I didn’t aspire to being a hairdresser or working in Mrs Chippy’s but I needed to earn some money and had to start somewhere. Like we all do.
One thing leads to another
Eventually a new salon opened up in the village and they needed staff. As I had more experience under my belt I got a new job with a promotion. I was allowed to greet customers, answer the phone, book in appointments and process payments. As well as wash hair. Much to my delight there’d be no more cleaning.
Whilst working in the nice salon I studied travel and tourism at college, it was here I faced the first of many “career rejections”. I couldn’t be an air stewardess as I wasn’t tall enough.
Lo and behold another rejection quickly followed, my boyfriend and I split up, my life seemed over before it had really began. (It so wasn’t!)
I sought more change to get over my heartache and whilst looking for yet another job I came across an ad in the Evening Standard for holiday representatives to work in France. I wasn’t tall enough to be an air stewardess but maybe I could do this instead?
I applied, got invited to an assessment day at a hotel in Hammersmith and as I didn’t expect to get the job I went out with my mates the night before, got back late and seemed to be extremely hung over.
It was an intense day, a bit like an X-Factor audition with random group tasks as the panel watched and assessed us. Somehow I lasted the day and was offered a position. (They must have known I’d fit right in with my alcohol fumes!)
Which left me in a bit of dilemma? Should I stay or should I go?
My parents were concerned. We all had no idea what’d be getting into. Plus up until that point I’d led a pretty pampered life at home.
“Two weeks” said my Dad “I’ll give you two weeks and then you’ll be back home”.
For the first time in my life I believed I could do something else. So I packed up my belongings, took far too much stuff and headed off to France and my new life changing adventure began. My living quarters would be in a tent!
After two weeks I called home to confirm I would not be coming home. Yet.
I went on to live and work in France for several years and now my Dad will tell you “It was the making of her”. Yes indeed it was. Some may say character building.....
As the years passed eventually I returned and sought a “proper” job. The only issue was my lack of experience as I traipsed round the local recruitment agencies desperate for someone to give me chance. But it was rejection after rejection. Things had certainly progressed back home and it seemed everyone knew how to use Microsoft applications, how to type at speed, how to work out formulas and create tables in Excel and how to create whizzy slides in PowerPoint. Except me.
My self belief began to waiver. Maybe I was not up to this office job lark? Maybe I should stick with what I knew?
Fortunately my lovely Mum believed if given the chance I could work in an office. She did and she knew a lot of people locally including those in recruitment agencies. She made some calls and one lady agreed to see me.
I knew the significant importance of this appointment. I knew if I could get in front of them then maybe my gift of the gab would get me something decent?
This time I was not hung over. That definitely helped me appear more professional.
It appeared they believed in me.
Enough to give me a temporary role working as a receptionist. As I could answer the phone. I could take messages. I could open and sort the post and eventually I could learn how to transfer calls without cutting people off.
After a month or so something remarkable happened. They asked me to move into another role, in the data entry department. Where I learnt to type fast, really quickly.
Being away from the reception desk meant I had the opportunity to mingle and make friends with my colleagues. I helped them out when they needed something. I tried to be as helpful as possible and say yes to everything. If it would help me progress even further.
Then something even more remarkable happened. They asked me to move into the customer service team. With a much better role. More money. And training courses. Finally I had a big grown up proper job.
They believed in me too.
And my lovely Mum and I decided we both needed to know more about Microsoft and signed up for evening classes at the local college. Which meant more progress and knowledge.
Maybe now I needed to believe in myself?
We’ve all been told through-out our lives and careers by others what we can and can’t do.
Sometimes we get to decide.
Reflecting on my own path I realise every experience is still valid. Every challenge, set-back and rejection taught me something valuable about my own beliefs.
Now I ask myself when something comes up where does this belief come from?
Did I get to decide this or did someone else?
Whose voice is it telling me I can’t do something? Is it mine? Or someone else’s?
Sometimes I know the answers immediately. But sometimes I don’t. These are called subconscious limiting beliefs getting in the way. And I am not alone with these, working with my clients and chatting to other remarkable women in business we all have them. They may vary in type. Or we may have exactly the same. However it is a continuous work in progress to unearth why we believe what we believe, especially about ourselves and our own capabilities.
Because to outsiders you may appear calm and collected, but when asked to stand up and present at meetings you believe you cannot speak publicly. You believe you’re no good thanks to a teacher once embarrassing you for speaking out in front of your classmates.
You may not have received any encouragement whilst growing up and were repeatedly told you would get nowhere in life. Therefore you believe you don’t deserve to be successful with your petite business.
You may have been told off for “showing off and getting too big for your boots” when you achieved something. Therefore you believe it’s best not to speak out and share what you know on social media. Just in case someone calls you out again.
You may have been singled out for not fitting in or wearing the right clothes. Therefore you believe you can’t create your own videos or do Facebook Lives because you may not look or sound the part like everyone else.
If we have been told somewhere along the line that we are not good enough, cannot do something, don’t have the right skills, don’t look right or whatever it may be. It all stays with us. Filed away in the “Belief’s Bank”.
So it is a challenge to grow, bloom and transform until you unearth, rediscover and question precisely what YOU believe.
When someone says you can’t do it. Do it twice. And take pictures.
Of course there’s work to do, we have to dig deep find the roots and ask ourselves questions. Such as who am I really? Is this what I believe now? Am I ready to believe something else? And am I willing to believe in ME? Even if those around you don’t.
Looking back if I believed I had nothing to offer and listened to what I was once told I know I would never have ended up where I am now.
Most of the time I am pretty resilient, some may say stubborn. Whatever. Yes, I’ll take that.
But if someone tells me I cannot do something or underestimates my abilities, questions my integrity, wisdom or expertise I do not take this lying down. As now I know what I believe. Especially about myself.
I’ve done the inner work and continue to do so. I know myself better than anyone. I know where I have been and precisely what I am capable of and I also know we all have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone “out there”. Only to ourselves.
Now I believe it’s not so glamorous after all…
Every time I fly I look at the air stewardesses and remember that my friend was tall enough to became one. She worked incredibly long hours and through her eyes it changed my perception. I learned it wasn’t quite as exciting or as glamorous as I once believed. Being a holiday rep suited me so much better. Especially when I believed I could do this instead. And just for the record, now I am totally tee-total!