Many people have a fear of failure which originates from their childhood experiences, but Robert Kelsey, author of a best-selling book on how to reach your potential, says he estimates 60 per cent of the people he meets who have lost their confidence are working mums.
Kelsey, author of What's Stopping You? Why Smart People Don't Always Reach Their Potential And How You Can, the second edition of which is out in August, feels that the fact that the majority of the parenthood burden still falls on women wears away at women's confidence.
While he feels that there are clearly things that can be done policy and business wise to help support these women, he says his interest is in what the individual can do to help themselves.
He says many self-help confidence gurus often talk about the need to focus on what you should be addressing in order to rebuild your confidence. “How can you do this when you are bringing up kids and keeping a job on the go?” he asks. “You can see that women immediately get alienated by some of this guru speak.”
His book draws on what he has found to be the best of the self-help gurus' ideas. For instance, he cites Stephen Covey, author of The 8th Habit, who talks about the importance of timetabling and of sifting every action for what is urgent, important and not important. “He speaks of using time very carefully and being aware of how you use it,” says Kelsey. The problem, says Covey, is that everyone is controlled by what is urgent so they never get round to the important things. This includes planning. “What happens,” says Kelsey, “is that fatigue tends to take over and that bit gets neglected and that is where all the good stuff occurs and where fulfillment lies.”
He says working mums really understand the timetabling model. “They are naturally efficient with time, but it's very understandable that they get tired and the important long-term stuff goes by the wayside. However, if they could plan a bit they might not get so tired and they might be able to focus a bit more on their own goals.”
He talks to people who have confidence issues and says the first sessions he does are the bulk of the work, questioning what people really want and what their values are. “The whole issue of becoming a parent is one of the most disruptive things for your value system,” he says.
He adds that the following sessions are about refining what you want and he recommends an annual review to ensure you are achieving your goals. “You should always be 10 years from achieving your goals,” he says.
His book draws a lot on MBA techniques, such as SWOT analyses of a company's strengths and weaknesses, but transfers them to a personal level. He also gives a detailed guide to how to perform well at interviews and how to climb the career ladder.
Kelsey's background is in the financial sector and he details his own personal struggles with fear of failure, due to childhood issues, through financial journalism, banking and entrepreneurism.
Kelsey, who runs his own PR company as well as writing books, says many of the mums he meets in the course of his work appeared to have been previously confident, whether or not they had some fear of failure issues from their past.
“What had happened was that after having children they found themselves without the armoury to deal with their fear of failure,” he says. “After the first edition of the book, what I noticed with women was that many had been far more successful than I am and had shown enormous confidence before, yet now they were flummoxed by their doubts and fears.
"Many seem traumatised by the loss of their career because they took a hiatus to have children. They don't know how to get back and they may also have lost motivation because their values have changed. It's like they have hit a brick wall that they did not expect to be there. Some reach back to their childhood to try and explain it, but for others it's their first experience. Fear of failure can occur at any time.”
What these women need, he says, is a new vision. “They had a strong vision in the past and perhaps their values have changed. They are trying to get back on track, but the track has changed. They need to get a new track and a new vision,” he says. That might include everything from doing something allied to the skills they already have to setting up their own business. Kelsey thinks entrepreneurialism and motherhood “suit each other really well”.
He also believes that, although fear of failure can stop you fulfilling your potential, coming to terms with it and being aware of how and why you feel that way can have some benefits at a management level because you can understand much of the behaviour of the people who work for you. “The attributes you need to become a leader – such as drive and ambition - are not the same as those you need to be a good leader,” he states. He adds that to climb the career ladder you need an awareness of how business operates, but to be a good leader you need to be aware of how people operate. That begins with being self aware.
*The second edition of What's Stopping You? Why Smart People Don't Always Reach Their Potential And How You Can is published in August by John Wiley & Sons, price £10.99, hardback. For more information, click here.