Last night I went to an event in London. I finished work, drove to the train station and jumped on a train, spent just over two hours in the capital and then came straight home again. On the journey there, I ate too many breadsticks and felt a bit sick, then thought a Milky Way might solve matters (it didn’t). But on the way back, my brain was a lot busier. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d come across to people I’d spoken to at the event.
A while back, my friend Amrit told me about the elevator pitch – as in, selling yourself in the time it takes to get from the ground floor to the third floor, or whatever floor the object of your pitch happens to be travelling to. He told me I should give it a go in a mirror and I was like “Amrit, you’re very sweet but I could never do that.” He said “No, you could – I thought I couldn’t but I get better at them all the time. You just have to practise.”
It seemed really odd to me that I could ever impress anybody in the time it takes to boil a kettle. I mean, if I think about it then I’m pretty sure I could maybe do it via email or Twitter (like, tell me why you don’t suck in 140 characters or less) because I can be a tenacious little pain in the ass via my laptop, but achieving the same thing in person feels weird and scary and very THIS COULD GO BADLY WRONG BECAUSE THERE IS NO BACKSPACE KEY IN REAL LIFE!!!-ish.
I think a lot of it comes down to confidence and the elusive terror that is SELF-BELIEF. I hate self-belief. I don’t really, but what I mean is that I am beyond bored of being told I need to have more of it. Whenever my mum and dad turned up to parents’ evening in the ‘90s, it was always “Sophie’s really smart but she needs more self-belief.” In pretty much every job I’ve had, my managers have been like “You’re pretty good but you need more self-belief – you’re doing better than you think!” And deep down I whole-heartedly agree with all points, but it’s frustrating. It’s like someone saying “You know what you need to do? You need to love your body!” WELL OKAY, that’s all very well and good, and I’m sure I don’t dispute it, BUT HOW DO I GO ABOUT DOING SO? I am convinced that there isn’t a person in the world who woke up one day cured of all body hang-ups and leapt out the door singing a song called I Adore You, Stomach Rolls, Sorry For All The Harsh Words.
(Coincidentally, Daisy Buchanan, whose book launch last night was the event I’m talking about, wrote a piece on this very topic. The love-your-body stuff, not the new musical I just invented. It’s amazing and you should read it. You should also read her new book, because it’s like a big sister reassuring you with every page-turn.)
But self-belief is tricky and elusive. I sat on the train home and over-analysed every single thing that came out my mouth between the hours of 7 and 9pm, as well as every single thing that didn’t come out my mouth but should have done. My brain was buzzing with excitement for Daisy and for fellow author Grace Victory, who is SUCH a delight and absolutely everyone’s dream BFF, and I felt such a rush of admiration and pride for both of them. Then I thought “I should have been proud of myself tonight, too.” Not in a sad way, because it is impossible to be sad after attending an evening like that and being in such magical company. And not because I even did anything particularly worth being proud of yesterday, but just because there’s nothing positive about selling yourself short.
And that’s what so many of us do, don’t you think? We make less of ourselves and we get nervous to say “Actually, I’m… I’m NOT HALF BAD. I’M NOT BAD AT ALL.” (I said that out loud with a male-character-from-The-Archers voice for some reason, feel free to do the same.) At IRL events, when other people seem to be perfectly happy to talk about themselves and their work and their strengths, I’m prepared to bet that there are lots of us there thinking “Oh my god. I can’t do this. I can’t talk about myself. I feel ridiculous.”
Last night, at least three people asked me what I did and I replied “I’m a Communications Officer” while my friend said “She’s a writer” over me. I loved her for it. But I felt like saying “I’m a writer” would be pretentious, like someone would emerge from under a table and shout “NO SHE’S NOT! I’VE SEEN HER GOING TO WORK EVERY MORNING! IF YOU DON’T DO IT FULL TIME THEN YOU DON’T DO IT AT ALL! CAN I GET A ‘SOPHIE IS A FRAUD’?”
I mean, I AM a Communications Officer. There’s nothing wrong with saying I am. But in this scenario it’s kind of like saying “I used to do gymnastics as a kid and not many people know that about me” or “I am a very big fan of burritos” – like, THAT’S GREAT SOPHIE, but also not really relevant here. People here are writers and publishers and bloggers and readers and they care about your passion in a way that a lot of other people won’t. This is THE PLACE to be proud of what you do, instead of shuffling around a bit, saying “Well, I do a bit of work for Cosmo sometimes” hopefully and forgetting the name of every other site you’ve written for.
And sure, there are always bound to be plenty of other people who do the same thing as you but seem Very Impressive And Accomplished And Worldly while you feel like A Beginner At Best. When that happens, I feel like it’s a bit of a ‘fight or flight’ scenario. Like, do you stay and talk and hold eye contact and feel like you are worth being part of the conversation? Or do you think “Nah, I’m not the best here, time to head off”? You might not be the best, but ‘the best’ is a dumb concept anyway. One of my Twitter pals, Cara, tweeted the other day and said something along the lines of “No-one is better, just different.” No-one is better, just different. What a freaking revelation.
The last time I went to my aunt’s house, she started talking about Jamie Oliver. I’m not sure how we got onto this particular topic, but we did, and she said “He’s normally very confident, isn’t he, but we saw him on a chat show a few weeks ago and among all these other celebrities he floundered a bit. He wasn’t very talkative and you could tell he felt out of his league.” No matter your view on all things Jamie Oliver, it’s kind of impossible not to feel a bit sad when you picture him in the Green Room on Graham Norton or whatever, thinking “Oh wow. It’s just me and some Hollywood A-listers. Who will even CARE about my chain of restaurants and hatred for sugar?” Poor Jamie Oliver. I can relate.
But the thing is, I’m sure people there did care about Jamie Oliver. He’s good at what he does and even though his 15-minute meals have never EVER taken anyone less than an hour and a lot of swearing to make, we’d all sit and listen to him if we were talk show audience members. We’d just be relying on him to talk.
So I think we kind of have to rely on ourselves to talk, too. And to think “We’re enough to be here.” No-one is ever going to push for us to tell them our life story, because everyone is busy and thinking about their own. No-one is ever going to say to me “Oh, you must be a WRITER! Don’t ask me how I know, but you’ve just got that look about you. I can tell there’s a lot going on in that head of yours. Come over and sit with me and tell me all about your work, which I’m sure is fantastic.” I mean, as a fairly shy person that is sort of my dream, but that is never going to happen.
And I guess really, I shouldn’t want it to happen. If you always wait to be asked and you only rely on other people to say “You’re good” so you can blush and say “Oh gosh, I guess so” you’ll always be waiting. You’ll always be basing that self-belief (UGH!) on what other people think, sitting in the corner waiting for a kind stranger to say “Hey! You’re not awful!” I know I’m not awful. I know you know you’re not awful. IN FACT, said Sophie, putting on the man-from-The-Archers voice once more, WE’RE PRETTY BLOODY GOOD, ACTUALLY.
We’re pretty good. We’re really good. We’re ready to go.
A full list of the songs from my forthcoming body-positive musical, And Now I Wear Crop Tops:
- Opening: I Shouldn’t Wear Crop Tops – I Wish I Was Dead
- I Adore You, Stomach Rolls, Sorry For All The Harsh Words
- Hey, My Butt Is Actually Pretty Nice
- Leggings CAN Be Worn As Trousers, You Jackass
- Cellulite, Schmellulite
- I Didn’t Shave My Legs Today And I Don’t Even Care
- Wow, My Body Does A Lot Of Cool Stuff I Didn’t Really Give It Credit For Until Now
- I Adore You, Stomach Rolls (Reprise)
- Shopping Trip (My Topshop Anxiety Feels Lessened)
- Finale: And Now I Wear Crop Tops