International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women and their allies. This year, it is specifically a day to challenge. To challenge behaviours. To challenge perceptions and stereotypes, and to challenge ourselves.
This is my story, by Camilla Redding
I’ve never been an overly confident person, although I can fake it when needed. I always thought I was a bit odd, a bit of an outsider. I don’t look the right way and I don’t like the right things and I have a mental illness. I suffer from personality disorder (traits of various ones rather than just one), and this can often distort my perception of me and the world around me. This is something I have suffered from for my entire adult life, although it was only diagnosed recently, and has really impacted my entire outlook on the world. I wake up in the morning and I never know how it will go. I may feel ok, or I may feel sad, worthless, incapable. But, I get up regardless. I get dressed and I got to work. I climb another mountain.
In work I enjoy my job. I enjoy the challenges it brings and I think I am good at it, although I have doubts all the time. I am surrounded by people who I enjoy working with, but who make me feel inadequate, not by any fault of their own, but because I cannot understand how I can even begin to compare with their ability and their knowledge. But I continue to work, to do my job and push through.
You see, if my world was the popular game “Among Us”, I would most certainly be the imposter. I don’t have any fancy degrees (although I did try twice, yes twice, and didn’t succeed either time as I just couldn’t cope with the pressure), I haven’t networked and rubbed shoulders with amazing people and I don’t have years of experience under my belt. I’m just me, a middle aged wife and mother, with greying hair and more junk in my truck then I would like, trying to get my head around how to juggle my perceptions of myself, and the perceptions of people around me.
When I heard we were setting up networks, I was curious about how they would work and what would be discussed. I intended to be, what I have now heard coined, an “elegant lurker”. I didn’t intend to participate but I wanted to understand if there were people like me. When I listened to the conversations taking place in the Women’s Network, I became aware that actually, I did have an opinion, I had something to say. I couldn’t possibly say it though could I? Who would possibly be interested in my opinion? So I bit my tongue, whilst having the conversation in my head a thousand times over. By the time my inner monologue had finished I could have put Oprah to shame. I did decide to push myself though, and put a comment into the chat box.
This is it, I can do this. I wrote my thoughts down and pressed enter, then waited anxiously for responses. What if they don’t like what I say? What if there is a spelling mistake? Why am I even speaking up? Those little, niggling voices were speaking up again. I frantically looked for a recall button, but, the responses weren’t scary or negative. People agreed with me and appreciated my input. I was being heard.
Reading this, you might be surprised that I am now the Deputy Chair of the Women’s Network. I certainly didn’t expect it to happen. I changed my mind multiple times before finally putting in my application, and I only did it in the end because I didn’t think it would get anywhere. Why would they choose me when there were so many talented people in the Trust? But, low and behold, along came interview day (which was terrifying by the way) and I faced the panel, and I talked, I smiled, I laughed and I breathed. I survived. It was ok. I was ok. Even if it didn’t go anywhere, I did something which terrified me and I made it through the other side. I gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done and I carried on about my day.
I was shocked when I was offered the position of Deputy Chair and I still have to remind myself every day that it is because I performed well, and not because of a lack of options. I thought “this is it; I have received some form of validation so now I’m fine”. But I’m not. Now I am swimming with the big fish, and it is so intimidating. Everyone is so smart, so passionate and educated about their cause. I am a builder’s tea amongst a sea of chai lattes. They are all friendly and supportive and it really is an amazing atmosphere, but it is hard for me to justify my presence when I feel so completely out of my depth. But, I smile, and I share my opinions and I offer my support. I tell myself to ignore those little voices in my head and do what I know I can do. Sure, I might not know loads of people, and I might not have a lot of qualifications, but I can make a pretty good spreadsheet and I have an eye for detail.
Every day I have to challenge myself. I challenge myself to get up in the morning, to go to work, to interact with my colleagues and to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I challenge myself to look past my own perceptions and trust the honesty of those around me, rather than second guessing their motives (the amount of times I have had positive feedback and my head has said “they are just saying that to be nice” or “they don’t mean that” is really quite sad). I challenge myself to trust my instincts and to believe in the validity of my opinions, even if others don’t and finally, I challenge myself to believe in me, that I am worthy, that I belong.
We all face challenges. Whether those are physical or mental, or challenges in our professional or personal lives. When we are battling our own internal voice, it can be very difficult to be confident enough to challenge others. The fear of recrimination, of being made to look a fool or fear of confrontation can all impact our ability to speak up and say “no, this isn’t right”. There are times when we need others to speak up for us on our behalf, to lead the charge or to be the pillar of support. We all have a duty to do what we can to fight inequality, to challenge poor behaviour and question negative perceptions.
I know on the surface this all might sound quite negative, but underneath it all, it’s a story of success. A story of triumph over adversity. I’m still pushing forward and I am still climbing mountains. I am still here, and not only am I surviving, I am thriving.
In the words of the great Ru Paul: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”