From paralysis to performanceFeatured

After being told directly or indirectly for years that I wasn’t good enough through lack of promotion or pay rise or general kindness in the world of work, a friend of mine sat me down and said, “If you invest the amount of time you work for other people in yourself, you might be surprised by what you can achieve.”

So, I quit my job and took myself out of my comfort zone and into a place of confidence, decision-making, and power as a solo entrepreneur.

For that, I realised I needed to learn to “sell myself” AND be comfortable accepting uncertainty and (the dreaded) imperfection.

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself playing the role of a stamp collector in my first-ever improvisational comedy performance in London. I got the biggest laugh of the night and, most importantly, found self-confidence through comedy.

From employee to entrepreneur

Despite my best efforts, the world of employment has always been grim. At the time, it always felt like a me problem, but in hindsight, the challenges faced by women, and in particular women of colour, are systemic. I won’t go into the UK’s problem with class, because really, who has the time to unpick that? But, in the UK, women represent only 28% of the tech workforce, and in the US parity is also yet to be achieved. Women get paid less, and these inequalities are more pronounced for women of colour. This impacts not only our income (obviously) but also our confidence, and health. Feeling discriminated against also increases stress and depressive symptoms.

After reading Graeber and Brene Brown, I quit my job and decided to work for myself. On paper, I figured, how hard could it be? In practice, it required unlearning all of the things that over-achieving perfectionism and the world of work had drilled into me.

The stakes could not be lower

I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent looking at a blank screen or worrying about an email in my professional life. Looking back on it, most things don’t matter that much. The project will be fine if the client’s email isn’t responded to immediately, and there are worse things than a typo. The endless worry of a senior role is exhausting, and the perfect breeding ground for decision fatigue. Being the only person to rely on when making often challenging decisions is taxing.

For me, confidence and respite came in the form of improvisational comedy. It wasn’t immediate; I signed up wanting to improve my public presence.

Making new friends who don’t know me professionally and doing something outside of my comfort zone that relied on my ability to take risks and be present in a space where, in the words of a former teacher, “the stakes could not be lower” was liberating.

It’s not for everyone, I know, but improv taught me a few key lessons that I implement in my work daily.

  1. The importance of having the right people around you. In a show, like in business, you have no certainty over what will happen. If you have the right people in your corner, from your friends to your accountant, or the IT support, you’ll know that you can handle things.
  2. Don’t dwell on the little things. If someone has asked you to review a document or you need to send an email – just do it. I try to complete all tasks that take five minutes or less immediately. Getting it done will free your mind of the mental space that you need to deal with bigger things.
  3. Self-belief is everything. I had a meltdown my first time on stage and was completely thrown the first time someone in a meeting asked me why I went freelance at such a young age (what does that even mean?!). I had the skills to navigate those situations, and with practice, the confidence to know what I was capable of achieving because of my innate skills and knowledge. Believe that you can, and you will.
  4. The stakes cannot be lower. This isn’t to say that we should all stop caring about the quality of work. I still do great work, but asking for an extension, or pushing back in situations that aren’t working for you isn’t the end of the world. If you send an email with a typo, so what? For most people, it's not going to matter that much.
  5. Have fun. Contrary to popular belief, in improv most people don’t try to be funny. The goal is to have fun. Personally, I’m lucky to love my job, which hasn’t always been the case. But, if you can make your meetings fun or lighthearted, do it! Work is often SO SERIOUS for no reason. Try to shake things up.

Yes, and?!

The journey to confidence, like any improv scene, is ongoing. There will be setbacks, moments of self-doubt, and unexpected twists. But like in improv, where "yes, and..." is key, we can learn to trust ourselves, build on ideas, and adapt to overcome challenges. Through my journey, I am still learning to trust myself more and encourage all women to do the same. In the spirit of Brene Brown, we need more collaboration, and courage in leadership and the world of work. I believe that self-belief and having the agency to make choices in our own interest can help us get there.

thank you so much for sharing your journey, YES to seeing all this growth !
Yes - To all of this! Thank you so much for saying this, sharing this, being an example of this. It is LIFE-giving! I love seeing the #collectiverisingenergy deepen. Continue leading by example and sharing your wisdom. I see you!
Absolutely you and the world aligns energetically.!