Why you shouldn’t compare yourself to others

And other tall tales…

So, I wasn’t haven’t a great week anyway. I’m working on writing my third book and it’s a long, hard slog. I’ve been feeling demotivated by this. I’ve haven’t worked on any new dress patterns and I’ve not sewn up any fab new dresses recently. This is mainly due to environmental guilt – I feel like I am adding to the consumerist mountain of material possessions. Therefore taking a bit of an enforced breather from the crafting, even though I thoroughly love it. The book is different as it’s only available in digital format – still trash you might say, but at least it’s not ending up in landfill.

Enough moaning – back to the nitty gritty of why I started this inane post. It was a humid summer evening last night, and I was reading lifestyle blogs as people are wont to do before going to sleep. The I get a notification on my phone – a message! My friend’s sister wrote a book (a proper one, paperback and sells on Amazon) some months ago with a new angle on feminism. She’s been invited to present it at the House of Commons next week. My friend was obviously really proud of this achievement.

I should be too, right? And I am – it’s a good topic. The thing is, the overriding emotion was that of emptiness and lacking. I know it’s awful to focus on myself when I should be feeling nothing but happiness and excitement for her success. She is only a few years older than me but her success (I feel) highlights and brings to the fore my shortcomings and failures. I don’t feel that I have achieved enough when I compare myself to her. I didn’t actively make the decision to use her as a yardstick against which to measure my success and worthiness as a person. It just happened. At this moment, my life seems to lack direction and purpose. I’m not doing anything ‘big’ like her, not being seen out and about, not in the political world, not taking a noticeable and meaningful stance on issues such as feminism or racism. I’m just living my life, typing away, going to my office jobs, sewing the occasional dress.

Well, the only thing to have come out of this mind funk so far is the motivation to write this post.

Interviewing for Introverts

How Not To Succeed at Job Interviews

You’re just not what we’re looking for…

The last round of interviews I had to subject myself to was about 5 years ago. I still feel its negative effects deeply. Others would say it provides a solid learning experience. I’m divided.

The first of the batch was at a private equity firm and had been set up via a recruitment agent. I wasn’t keen on working in financial services, having the preconception that I would be routinely be surrounded by successful extraverts, play hard, work hard types. The agent pushed it, saying this one was smaller, it would be different and my CV was good so I fell for it.

The two gentleman who interviewed me stereotyped visions of traditional banker types – older, salt and pepper hair, impeccably dressed in dark coloured suits. They radiated ease and confidence, but they were pretty friendly towards me. I was able to deal with their questions, even though I’ve never worked in finance before. At the end of the questions, I allowed myself to believe it had gone reasonable well and perhaps I would get called back for second interview. Alas, this was not to be the case. Unusually, they gave me feed back right there and then. They were impressed by my record, the lack of finance experience wasn’t a problem as they could see that I can learn and adapt (I’ve had a career change in the) past) but they were worried I wasn’t going to be a good fit. They said I was too quiet and the managing director was quite a harsh man, not afraid to shout at people if they’d made a mistake, that sort of thing. They thanked me for coming in.

I knew they were right – I don’t want to work for someone who can’t keep their emotions in check and behave professionally. However, the interview left me reeling, my already low confidence had taken a hit. I wasn’t good enough because of my personality and they’d spelled that out in block capitals. I WAS TOO QUIET. I always try to hide that part of myself but it’s impossible. It’s too much of who I am, and who I am hinders me from getting jobs in this strong, loud, extravert world.

A second interview with another potential employer was set up some weeks later – this time with a fashion retailer aimed at middle aged, middle class women. My role is back office. The interviewer was a slim, attractive woman with brown shoulder length hair, in her early forties. It was a hot day, but she was the kind who manage to always look cool and dry. No sweat stains on her armpit for her.

She smiled occasionally, but they were the ones that didn’t reach the eyes. The questions were ‘how would you do this?’ and ‘give me an example of how you would do that?’ type. My big mistake in the interview, the one that gave away my introvert tendencies was when she asked what I’m like in the office. It was not something I’d prepared for. I said that I was someone who could really get stuck in on a figuring out a problem, to eventually look up some hours later and realise I’d not spoken to someone in all that time. I know, what a disaster of an answer. I could see her eyes bulging slightly. From that I’m sure she could deduce that I’m one of the quiet ones, don’t like small talk, no fun in the office, don’t contribute much, you’d hardly know I was there. Not what they were looking for. I did not get called back for second interview.

Not sure how I managed to eventually land a job in that year. After all those knock backs which were due to my personality, my self-esteem suffered. I was being rejected because of who I am, not because I hadn’t yet acquired enough experience or hadn’t yet learnt to format this spreadsheet, or do some fancy formula with these numbers. These are things that can be changed or learnt. Personality is hard to change. I’d say impossible to change, but you may disagree.

Letting Go of Mistakes

I made a big mistake at work today. Nothing illegal, life-threatening or anything, but embarrassing for the company that I work for. As I realised what I’d done, I could feel the chill going down my spine, heart racing, face flushing and dread sinking in. I put off informing my boss for a few minutes – I just didn’t want to deal with it.

He emailed me back to say it was a serious mistake (I was working remotely) and it definitely must not happen again, re-iterated. It was copied in to a few other team members, more for info probably but why did I feel like it was to widen my circle of shame?

It was something that could have so easily been avoided. I can’t understand how I missed it. Looking back, I think ‘only an idiot or extremely lazy person could have done that’. I can’t get it out of my head – I’m excruciatingly embarrassed and ashamed. What must he think of me? I’m only to happy to fill in the blanks.

I’m also feeling bad about feeling quite so bad about myself. I find the self-pity and self-loathing to be utterly self-indulgent. I should get some real problems.Ackno

I feel so bad that I’m going to try and apply what I’ve previously learnt from reading depression and low self-esteem help books:

1)Don’t judge yourself based on isolated or specific incidents.

I take this to mean that I shouldn’t base my value as a person based on just a few negative incidents. I should look at myself as a whole. At the moment, only past mistakes are running through my mind. I’m trying to build a mental dam – not too difficult, I can easily focus on my BFM today. I feel that overall I am a bad person.

2)How you would feel towards someone who had make the same mistake.

Generally I see mistakes as part of life. Usually not life-threatening and most of the time. I’m quite understanding and forgiving. I don’t imagine that others are, so I feel justified today in ruminating on my mistake. I’m only hurting myself, I know.

3)How big a deal is it in the grand scheme of things? Will it still matter in 6 months, 1 year, 10 years time?

It is a big deal to me. I have a fantastic memory, especially for negative events. Sometimes I can’t get to sleep if I start thinking about past shortcomings. It’s very likely, almost certain, that this event is going to be haunting me in over a year’s time. Also I imagine it will lurk in my boss’s memory – not an active memory, but just enough to taint their view of my competency. I think that’s the worst thing in this particular mistake.

Maybe the shame won’t feel quite as strong and will diminish over time. It’s not helping me now to know that, though.

In 6 months time, I’m sure I’ll have made another rotten mistake to ruminate and obsess over.   Something to look forward too…

4)Acknowledge that I did the best that I could do at the time.

Oh dear. The problem arose because I didn’t do anywhere near my best. Going forwards, I will be obsessive about trying to prevent myself from repeating the same mistake. A positive outcome perhaps? Possibly. However, I can already see where this is heading. Me taking longer and longer at work to check things, then double check things to make sure I did check properly the first time. Heightened stress and anxiety when I have to perform this monthly task – the expectation and dread of further failure. Especially now I’ve been warned by my boss that ‘THIS MUST NOT HAPPEN AGAIN’.

Typing this out has made me feel marginally better. I’ll save the obsession and rumination for when I go to sleep tonight and there’s nothing else to occupy my mind.

I’ll be sure to let you know in 6 months whether I still think of today as a big deal.

 

Painfully Not Speaking Out

There is an everyday event that still sticks out in my mind.

I was waiting at a bus stop and two school girls in maroon uniform turned up a few minutes later. They were about 14 or 15 years of age and one of them was drinking a bottle of Evian.

As the bus approached, I heard the clatter of plastic on the floor behind me. Looking around, I saw the empty plastic Evian bottle lying on the floor. The girl had just dropped it, as though the floor were just one giant bin.

I got on the bus, followed by the two girls.

I should say something. I should definitely say something. Any normal person would say something. Those were my thoughts non-stop on the bus during the ride home. Glued to my seat and staring wilfully out of the window, I remained mute.

It’s awful to litter. That street we were waiting on was the absolute pits anyway.  Bags of rubbish strewn everywhere, half empty take-away boxes dotted about, dog mess and chewing gum and all sorts. And I could understand how it had gotten that way, if that girl’s behaviour was acceptable, the norm.

I wish I had said something to her at the bus stop – ‘Hey, you’ve just dropped your bottle. There’s a bin over there’.  On the bus I felt trapped between speaking out and the fear –  fear of creating a scene, fear of confrontation. Worse, afraid of being verbally, maybe even physically abused on the bus. It’s happened to me before (racial abuse) and no one comes to help. Probably because they’re afraid too, or perhaps they don’t give a damn.

But maybe the confrontation would be more bearable than still ruminating about my cowardly inaction almost a year later. That said, the time I was verbally abused on the bus still makes me angry inside, and that was more than ten years ago.

Networking – An Introvert’s How Not To Guide

Networking – the word strikes fear and brings it me out in a cold sweat.

I work in a finance department of a UK company. We have several offices around the country and also in Northern Europe. Once a year the finance teams all meet up at a company sponsored conference. This year, it was in Newcastle. I already knew I didn’t want to go but hadn’t been able to come up with any good excuses so get out of it – no holiday that had already been booked, no children to have to look after because the husband was away, that sort of thing. Believe me, I tried.

We caught first class trains up to Newcastle and arrived at pretty decent 4* hotel. After checking in, we met up at the hotel conference rooms for the obligatory power point presentation to show us exactly what we were going to be subjected to over the next to days – in sharp, crisp bullet points.  Seriously, I don’t know why they bother with that bit. It takes half an hour, and if we left it out, we could all retire back to our hotel rooms half an hour early. But such is life.

Then we had the predictable getting to know you session. This time we had to pick a film title that said something about us. We only had a few minutes to come up with something and suddenly I could not think of a single film other than Bambi and Neon Demon (a film which had recently been premiered at Cannes, so you can guess what kind of film it might be). Obviously I couldn’t use Bambi, could I?

So the conference leader (Marcus, the Group Finance Director) goes around the group and each person comes out with their film title and why it relates to them. They’re all pretty forgettable, either that or I was still sweating out what I was going to say when it was my turn. Which is now! So I went with Neon Demon and said it’s because I like to wear neon colours at the weekend. I cringed inside as I said it, and imagined that everyone was looking at me oddly, or pityingly. The film is actually a gross out horror film if you’re interested, about a model trying to make it big in LA.

Then followed some awful team activity which involved brainstorming and sharing the rubbish that we’d come up with everyone else. These aren’t the worst parts of business conferences/team away days. At least it’s structured so you’re not drifting around relying on small talk.

The true horror is the coffee break. (Sorry I’m switching tenses here as I like to). I dread this part as it’s a free-for-all. Dispersing to the coffee machine and free mini pastries, we cluster in small groups around high little bar tables where there are no tall stools so you have to stand. Aware that my boss is lurking, I resist the temptation to  seek the safety of hanging out with my colleagues from the London office (where I’m based). I’m sure he’d see that as weak and making the whole purpose of this networking opportunity redundant. I sidle up to a group who look reasonably friendly – they look like they could be a my level in the organisation. I introduce myself and then ask a little about them and their role. So contrived and on-script, I know, but people often say that I’ve had a sense of humour bypass and I was last in line when they were dishing out personality. Therefore after the initial introductions, I run out of things to say. I’m introvert and shy – I hate telling people anything about myself unless I can be anonymised. So I stand woodenly and fix a grin to my face and watch them talking to each other, hoping that I look like I’m part of this networking nodule. Sometimes I move my lips, so that at a distance it looks like I’m talking. It’s pretty obvious I’m just a bystander, as no one makes eye contact with me after the initial introductions. Feeling like my duty is done, I trot off to the ladies to kill time until coffee break is over and we can resume in some more structured corporate activity (analysis of Q1 results).

 

Am I Shy or Introvert?

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Good morning, visitors!

So in my previous post I mentioned about my school reports from age 5-18 commenting on the fact that I was shy and quiet.

Throughout my school years, I believed that this was A BAD THING. This was due to the wording in the reports.

‘Her work is good but needs to participate more in class.’
‘She is one of the quieter students of the class.’
‘Quite shy and would benefit from speaking up more.’

Apart from the use of the word ‘but’, you may think that there isn’t anything especially negative about these statements. Then why did my heart sink when I read these reports as my thirteen year old self?

In this present moment, I think it’s because the reports comment on my personality and character. And then suggest that I change, making me a better student. Is it wrong for teachers to call out on enduring personality traits laced with the undertones of disapproval?

I feel that I’m a being a bit precious about this. If a student were displaying anti-social personality traits, then you would probably expect a teacher to comment as such in a school report. I suppose the difference is that I don’t feel like I’m harming anybody with my awful shy and quiet ways.

I remember a primary school teacher saying to my parents that he wished there were 6 more of me in his class. Why not the whole class like me? Because then whenever the teacher asks the class a question, there would just be silence staring back.