How life shapes you (and how bosses can have a huge impact on your self-confidence)

How life shapes you (and how bosses can have a huge impact on your self-confidence)

I can safely say that now I am in my 40s I am a lot more confident than I was in my 20s. Life experience, becoming a parent, moving countries, and setting up a number of businesses from scratch have all helped me become the woman I am today. I am a lot braver these days. Gosh, I even gave a talk in Spanish last week, in front of a bunch of students. But I do remember some of the bosses I used to have when I was a young girl, starting out on the career ladder. You probably all have examples of those types: authoritarian, snobbish, with terrible social skills, and just making you feel like shit.

It’s funny how, when you least expect it, these memories can suddenly pop up again years later. Here’s a story that I remembered again last weekend, out of the blue.

When I was 23, I landed myself a pretty decent job in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I got hired as one of the grants advisors for a Dutch organisation that was the portal to a whole host of subsidies for people needing money for research, books, exhibitions and other projects in the field of architecture and design. It was very enjoyable helping all these creatives with their projects. I worked hard to make sure their applications were well written and ticked all the boxes, so they were successful in receiving the money.

In a way, the coaching of entrepreneurs was already inside me somehow, even then. We also had a great team of people, and there was never a day when we didn’t have a good old laugh.

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Not worthy enough

After two years my contract was not being renewed. It was already on the cards, as it was a temporary post, but to be told that my time was up, was still a bit of a bummer. As a token, I was offered to do a career orientation session with an agency. The result? Communication and Culture. I loved it! It was so accurate. I am a prolific writer, a true creative, and I love the communications and marketing aspect of the cultural sector. I had a meeting with my boss in her glass office, to talk about my experience and test results, and what she then said to me, was a slap in the face.

“Ah yes”, she said, when peering at the papers over her black designer glasses, “That figures. You are not someone who goes into a lot of depth.”

Just 25 I was. Still at the start of my career. Sitting in front of a 50-something-year-old female boss, who tells me that basically, I am a shallow person.

When she then asked me how my job hunting was going, I told her that I had been interviewed somewhere, but that they had chosen someone else because I was ‘more expensive’ (based on my salary back then). “Yes,” she then replied. “We did hire you for too much money”.

You brush it off but it always sticks

It is funny how these comments never leave you. To be told as a young person you are not worth the salary you were hired for, is hugely damaging. I had never had any negative comments about the work I delivered. To use your power as a senior boss over a young employee to crush them like that is so bad. I have no idea whether my boss at the time even had the slightest idea what impact her words would have on me, and that nearly 20 years later, I still remember them so clearly.

Especially as another woman, twice as old as myself at the time, wouldn’t you try and give your young female employee the self-esteem to go out into the world and do beautiful things?

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on

Do I suffer from imposter syndrome? Of course, I do, at times. Especially when launching something new, or making myself visible online. And in particular on LinkedIn, where many of my contacts from twenty years ago are still in my network. And everything on LinkedIn always looks so shiny, professional, and business-like. I am no longer the young girl I was twenty years ago and have so much more experience and knowledge. I really shouldn’t care about what old colleagues, bosses or even ex-boyfriends think. But still, those words from long ago creep in at the weirdest times, and I have to remind myself that I am no less than someone with an impressive profile picture and a huge following. I have a lot of goodness to share.

Forgiveness is the only way

I have helped so many creatives in my life. My support lifted them up, gave them the confidence to grow and have a positive impact on the world. I know I can motivate and inspire people with my talents and gifts, and my eternal optimism. I have written so many strong promotional words to help attract the audience my clients and their work deserved. And I have become a fearless entrepreneur, who emigrated twice, now speaks three languages pretty fluently, and is able to create a whole new life from scratch, no problem.

Perhaps those harsh words from my old boss, so many years ago, fired me up to prove her wrong. I went into the world and waved my magic wand. And perhaps she had her own hurt, sadness and struggles to carry, that made her so blunt. Everybody has their own story, and everyone has their own internal battles to fight. So today I will forgive you, dear boss from 2004, for saying the things you said to me in that swanky glass Dutch office. They made me stronger, but not bitter. And we are all human. And we can all be better tomorrow. I hope you found some softness in your heart and smile a bit more.

Are you trying to overcome mindset blocks or confidence issues in your business? Book a free 30-minute call with me to see if and how I can help you as a coach.

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