In theory, having a baby should make us feel great about our professional capabilities. The first year of a firstborn’s life must be the world’s steepest learning curve, and so many of the new skills are relevant to any 21st century workplace; time management, multi-tasking, resilience and stamina, not to mention dealing with unreasonable people. And yet, it seems that for many women the return from maternity leave is fraught with self doubt.
I’m a mum of two gorgeous daughters (now 8 and 4 years old), who bring me fun and fulfilment every day. I’m also a coach who has done tonnes of work with women in the workplace, helping them to, among other things, build their confidence and feel great about themselves and what they do.
How very ironic, then, that my own return to work post mat leaves (especially the first) was marked by the bizarre disappearance of my confidence. I often felt like an impostor who could barely remember her own name, let alone what she had to offer. I found myself stumbling through prospective client meetings that I once would have done in my sleep and getting horribly nervous in interviews.
As I had this strange and unsettling experience I was struck by how normal it is. Lots of my friends were at exactly the same point and we all just kept looking at each other and asking ‘what happened to us?!’ There’s something inexplicable about the return from maternity leave that makes us question our right to be in the workplace.
I’m happy to report that after the first six months, it did (gradually) get better. I have a few tips to share on what worked for me (see below). However, I’m conscious that it could probably have been a quicker ‘recovery’ for me – so I want to know more.
Will you tell me your post-baby-lost-confidence story?
If you’ve read this far it’s probably because you identify with my experiences. In which case, I’d love to hear from you. I’m on a mission to gather stories and experiences. Not just for my own selfish gain (although that is a big part of it!), but also because I’m motivated to help others who are in the weird state I was in those first few months back at work. Who knows, this may even become a book.
I’d love to know how you experienced the confidence dip, and critically, what helped you to get your groove back. What would you do differently if you had that return to work time over again? What could your boss or employer have done differently? What reassurances can you give others who are in that awful state of questioning-everything-knowing-nothing? Please get in touch with me if you’d be willing to answer these and other questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Four quick tips on regaining confidence – this is what helped me…
- Reconnect with your values. Remind yourself why you do what you do, what’s important to you about it, and focus on that. In my case, concentrating on helping my clients, and putting all my attention on them, their experience, their learning, helped me to forget my own insecurities.
- Accept the self doubt, be honest about it, and don’t judge yourself. Looking back, I now realise that I made the whole experience much more painful for myself by being so judgemental and beating myself up about it. I wish I’d been more gentle.
- Stay in your comfort zone and build up gradually. This is probably not the moment in your career to be launching into new challenges. In some weird urgent drive to prove to myself that I still ‘had it’, I pushed myself much too hard. I wish I’d stuck to what I do best for the first six months, and been firmer at saying no to stuff that felt a bit tricky or scary. Ah, the benefit of hindsight…
- Remember you don’t have to figure it all out alone. Talking to friends and a coach kept me sane. Having a safe space to talk it all through in, and get focused and structured support from a professional was a life-line. Being honest with friends and colleagues about how I felt is something I wish I’d done more of, and sooner.