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“My confidence needed work and I realised that fear of failure was holding me back”: Caroline Foran

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A breakdown in her twenties proved to be a catalyst for Caroline Foran. Her experience of that time, and how she managed her way through it, became the subject of her best selling book, ‘Owning It: Your Bullshit Free Guide to Living with Anxiety’.
Dealing with the fame and expectation that followed, Caroline knew her next book needed to address confidence, or lack of it.
The Confidence Kit, published this summer, tackles our struggles with the fear of failure, the confidence gap between men and women, and that seemingly fine line between confidence and arrogance.

 

What prompted you to explore the area of fear of failure? Was there something within your own working life that led you to the topic? 

Exploring confidence and the fear of failure was a very organic thing for me to do as it was exactly what I was going through after publishing my first book. I was at a good place in terms of managing my anxiety but I wasn’t yet thriving or feeling confident about all of these new opportunities – such as being asked to come and talk to a group of staff about managing their anxiety.

My confidence needed work and I realised that the fear of failure was holding me back quite a lot. I also realised that for me, failure in professional circumstances was heavily wrapped up in my self-esteem so I wanted to work on that.

I wanted to take the road block which is the fear of failure and turn it into a building block (working with fear) and develop a series of tools that would help myself and others build lasting true confidence.

 

Women are less likely to put themselves in a scenario where failure could happen until they know they are fully equipped to handle it

 

From your research for the book, did you see a confidence gap between men and women? Is there a noticeable difference in how the genders handle failure? 

Absolutely. Confidence issues are not exclusive to women, and the same goes for imposter syndrome, but women do seem, statistically, to struggle with it more.

From my learnings, it’s a mixture of nature and nurture. I delve into this subject a lot in the imposter syndrome chapter but it really wasn’t that long ago when men worked and women didn’t. Women only really began to enter the workforce in the 1960s and not just to fill in for men who were off at war.

So it’s long been said that a woman has to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously as a man, and we’ve had a lot to prove in roles outside of the home that traditionally would have been assumed by men. I think that cultural context and history has a huge part to play in women’s confidence issues and there are still a lot of problems with gender pay gaps that are linked to the same subject.

I’m not so sure that men handle failure better than women, when it happens to them, but I do know that women are less likely to put themselves in a scenario where failure could happen until they know they are fully equipped to handle it, while men will go for it based on confidence rather than competence.

 

Women are afraid to appear confident because it’s associated with rudeness – or being ‘a bitch’ – so we default to a self deprecating, overly apologetic way of carrying ourselves.

 

However frustrating and misguided, research has shown that women in senior leadership positions who appear ‘overly’ confident are assumed to be arrogant, which can be detrimental to their careers. In your view, how can men and women work to address this gender bias around confidence? 

Yes! This is so incredibly frustrating and it’s something I want to explore in my next book.

Women are afraid to appear confident because it’s associated with rudeness – or being ‘a bitch’ – so we default to a self deprecating, overly apologetic way of carrying ourselves.

We need to work on it from two perspectives. We – men and women – need to all work on our perceptions around confidence and stop seeing it as a negative or that someone, whether they are male or female is arrogant, and we also need to work on our own behaviours and language and become more confident with the idea of embracing our inner confidence.

I find that even when I am confident about something, I play it down, because I don’t want people to say ‘who does she think she is?’, so this is something I’m trying to work on right now. I’ll come back to you when I have more answers!

 

The stress hormones had gone overboard in my body to the point that I had a breakdown that would take me over a year to fully recover from

 

Your first book, Owning It: Your Bullshit Free Guide to Living With Anxiety explored anxiety, its triggers and how it manifested itself in your life – can you explain how you first recognised the symptoms and how you manage those feelings now?

At first my anxiety presented itself entirely through digestive issues and I was chronically ill, physically. I wasn’t connecting the dots with anxiety and my gut and so I failed to make things better (I was focusing only on foods I may have been allergic to rather than addressing the stress that was the problem).

Eventually I began to suffer really bad panic attacks – the stress hormones had gone overboard in my body to the point that I had a breakdown that would take me over a year to fully recover from.

I manage it today with cumulative mix of understanding anxiety and how it works, accepting that it’s sometimes a part of life, not taking on too much work wise, listening to my gut and practising self care. I dip in and out of cognitive behavioural therapy as well and I avoid caffeine and too much sugar.

 

Caroline Foran Owning It The Confidence Kit

 

You work now as an author, journalist and a branded content specialist, as well as running your own interiors website, Gaff Interiors – all businesses where you need to put yourself and your work out there for review. From where do you draw your own confidence? 

My confidence has slowly built from experience and repetition – it’s hard to feel confident doing something new for the first time, and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be that way – but I also draw it from what psychotherapist Mark Tyrrell refers to in my book as ‘comfortable neutrality’, which is all about being okay with whatever the outcome is and being more sure of yourself and your abilities than the outcome (which we can never be sure of unless we can predict the future!).

I lean into what I know I am good at and I know I will only improve if I keep at it, always being willing to learn.

 

What are the tactics you use to to get yourself back on track when you have a wobble?

When my confidence has a wobble – and it does on occasion – I try to understand why it has happened, I remind myself that things not working out is only ever a learning opportunity, and I get back on the saddle to ensure I have a better experience the next time.

I accept that confidence isn’t a fixed thing and it will ebb and flow and I have the humility to accept that I don’t have all the answers or know everything and that I am still very much learning as I go.

 

Confidence, from everyone I spoke to, is often on the other side of fear

 

Can confidence be learned or is it something that, from your research, seems to be ingrained? 

Confidence is a skill that’s always learned, if it appears to be ingrained that’s more to do with their personality type, such as being extrovert.

Confidence, from everyone I spoke to, is often on the other side of fear, so people who’ve felt fear and faced it, and made mistakes and failed but learned from it – these seem to have the best perspective on confidence. They’re confident in their abilities, but they know that it might not always work out.

Elon Musk of Tesla fame (who I read about but unfortunately didn’t meet) was a great inspiration in that he admits that he feels fear greatly – the goal is not to be fearless – but proceeds anyway. He has comfortable neutrality plus experience and so he arrives at confidence.

 

Caroline Foran The Confidence Kit

Caroline is currently planning a series of Confidence Kit workshops which will run this Autumn/Winter. Follow her @CarolineForan or at www.carolineforan.com

 

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