Surveys for workingmums.co.uk have found that confidence is one of the top three barriers to returning to work, along with availability of flexible work and childcare difficulties. There are many reasons why women lose their confidence during breaks from working and I’ll be talking about those reasons and what you can do to get your confidence back. You might find that one of these reasons is spot on for you or that your issues are a mixture of a few of them.
Reasons why confidence goes:
Loss of identity – You’ve gone from being a working person, achieving targets, working in teams with other adults, earning money to a focus on your child(ren)’s needs and schedule and no income. You might have experienced a loss of status, too, as well as changes in your relationship with your partner.
Your priorities have changed – Your family has become a higher priority for you than it was before you stopped working and you don’t know whether you’ll be able to manage to work while maintaining the family life you want to have.
You’ve forgotten what you used to know – This is especially true for technical skills and expert knowledge.
Technology has changed – During my maternity leave, the internet exploded and email replaced memos, letters and phone calls. I was not sure how well I could adapt and adjust.
Lack of feedback (especially positive!) – Children and partners are notoriously bad at telling you what a great job you’ve done, so it is easy to feel that you aren’t good at things any longer.
Becoming overly self-critical – It is easy, in the absence of positive messages from those closest to you, to create a negative picture of yourself. This can be very damaging to your confidence.
Regaining your confidence requires you to challenge the reason(s) that are affecting you. It is helpful if you can be really specific about the things you don’t feel confident about. Usually we don’t lack confidence in everything we do, so if you can pinpoint your area and admit it to yourself you will then able to start the process of rebuilding it.
Regaining identity – Find activities that express you as a person, rather than as a mother or partner. This could be joining a book club, volunteering your time, learning a new skill, meeting up with work colleagues.
Accept that your priorities have changed – You may not go back to the role or kind of work you were doing before, but you will find, in time, something satisfying that will fit your current needs.
Remembering knowledge and skills – There are lots of ways to brush up your knowledge and skills. Give time to exploring the internet, local library and local adult education college. Talking to previous work colleagues can be reassuring and they can guide you towards any new literature on your subject.
Exploring new technology – There are many ways to become more familiar with new technology. Your old employer may offer in-house training courses. Otherwise, computer shops, community centres and adult colleges all run courses or you could ask a local student for some tutorials in their holiday.
Ask for feedback – from the people who care about you. It is easy for them to assume that you don’t need feedback because you appear to them to be managing everything very well.
Ignore that critical voice – This is easier to say than to do, but it is important to recognise how unkind this voice can be. Would a friend talk to you this way? If they did, would they remain a friend? Be kinder to yourself.
Some other ways to start to build your confidence include:
Make a list of what you feel confident about – Re-read your list to keep reinforcing your strengths.
Carving out space for yourself – If you can spend some time doing things that make you feel good about yourself you will see immediate benefits. Things that have worked for others include taking regular exercise, spending time with people who make you feel good about yourself, learning something new.
Put yourself in the position of someone who believes in you – Think about how this person would describe you. What would they say were your strengths? What do they admire about you?
Rebuilding confidence can be a slow process, but every small step that you take will accumulate over time until you are ready for your return to work.
Katerina Gould is co-founder of Women Returners and a leading executive coach.