Insecurities, Self-Doubt and Getting to Where We Are Now
As it’s World Mental Health Day today, I thought now was a good time to publish some of my thoughts on reality versus social media, and the insecurities that we all have.
Naturally, I’m a real introvert, and I’m happiest and most comfortable in a small group of people that I know well in a familiar environment. I’ve never been a very confident or outgoing person, I never wanted a part in the school play, would rarely raise my hand in class and wouldn’t dream of going over and introducing myself to someone that I didn’t know. Truth be told, none of this has changed much, which I know might surprise some of you as I now spend so much of my life talking to hundreds of people and communicating with millions everyday. That’s why I wanted to talk about this topic today, as we spend so much of our time looking at others, thinking that they’re doing something that we can’t or that they’re succeeding in ways that we’re not, but in reality we never know what’s going on underneath the surface.
When I first started Deliciously Ella, I shared my health story and the struggles that I’d been through with my illness on my blog. Up until that point, I’d kept pretty silent about it and had felt really embarrassed and alienated, seeing myself as so different to everyone around me. I’d gone from being a normal student, spending my time going out with friends, to months in and out of hospital that revolved around blood tests, scans and general poking and prodding, to time in bed on my own wondering whether I’d ever feel well enough to go back to my life before. I’d told a few friends over Facebook when I got my initial diagnosis and their reaction wasn’t great, in retrospect I’m not sure I explained it that well and didn’t really give much understanding as to why I’d disappeared. Nonetheless, the reaction compounded the insecurities and alienation that I was feeling and I’d been too scared to really talk about it up until I clicked share on Deliciously Ella. It was a liberating feeling in so many ways and the response to that was much more positive, but that year or so up until that point had done real damage to my mental health and the way that I saw myself, and truth be told I’ve been working on getting that back ever since. In many ways I was much more successful at restoring my physical health, but I quickly realised that I was going to have to find a way to push through my insecurities if I wanted to take Deliciously Ella to where I wanted to.
The thing that has consistently held me back the most, both personally and professionally, is fear. Fear of not being liked, fear of not fitting in, fear of people talking about or judging me, fear of being laughed at and fear of failing. I spend far too much of my time second guessing what people are thinking every time I say anything and all too often assume that their thoughts are negative. I decline too many invitations for fear that people will think ‘why was she invited’ or that I hadn’t earned my place to be there. There have been so many times where Matt has had to talk me into something, and even moments where he had to force me to stay in the room when I really wanted to retreat back into our office. I remember sitting in the interview round of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards earlier this year with Matt and realising that I was the only girl in the room and that I was probably half the age of everyone there. I was suddenly so embarrassed and felt so out of place, I thought that everyone would be laughing at me and thinking how ridiculous it was that I was there. I told Matt that I thought we should just go, as there was no way that we would ever win or even be taken seriously, he laughed at me and told me that we weren’t going anywhere and I spent the rest of the day absolutely terrified. The ridiculous thing was that we won the award, so not everyone thought we were as out of place as I felt we were, which is what got me thinking about addressing these insecurities and finding a better way of moving past them.
Last year I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ and I was struck by how much she talked about ‘imposter syndrome’ (for those who haven’t read about this, it’s a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”) There I was reading her book, marvelling at her confidence and success only to learn that she too was scared to put herself forward and had such similar feelings of inadequacy. The more I understand this concept, the more common it seems, especially with women, but it’s not something that we talk about that much and as we live so much of our lives through a screen these days, watching others through the skewed lens of social media, I felt it was something that was really important to address.
I’ve talked a lot about social media in the past, so I won’t go into that in too much detail here, only to note that it really is a highlights reel and a snapshot into reality. It’s there to inspire and to share, and for that it is an amazing tool, but as soon as we start to take it as stark reality we’re in trouble, because lets be honest – how many instagrams have you seen about people feeling lonely, being crammed on their commute to work, feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, breaking up with someone and everything else in between? Mostly it’s friends holidays, happy couple snaps and some delicious meals in between. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, as I believe the platforms are there for a little escapism and to act as positive, pick-me-up places, as well as tools and idea generators for everything from food to fashion, but it is important to acknowledge them for what they are and that we don’t always see the full picture there. I know from my end this is definitely true, I started Deliciously Ella to share my recipes and healthy lifestyle inspiration with you all, but somedays there are really difficult things happening behind the scenes of a beautiful porridge snap, but either they’re personal and not for sharing in a public space or they’re too boring/negative and I don’t believe that’s what people come to Deliciously for. There are also photos where it all looks perfect, but really I feel quite nervous or insecure at that moment. Last week, for example, we were invited to Italy with Itimissimi for a big event they were hosting in Verona. I was quite nervous about going in the first place, as a fashion event is definitely quite a long way out of my comfort zone, only to find out that I would be sitting on their front row alongside super stars like Katie Holmes and Irina Shayk. I honestly completely froze and just couldn’t stop thinking how ridiculous it was to have me sitting near them. The event was amazing and I had the most incredible time, but the photo I shared of Matt and I on the red carpet was taken when I was so scared that all I wanted to do was run home and hide in our room! I say this, because I think it’s really important to acknowledge the difference between the external impression of who we are and how we all feel sometimes. I truly believe that this is a really important conversation to have if we want to deal with our insecurities and find ways to push past our fears, as we all have them. As far as I can see, feeling insecure and nervous is about as normal as it comes. It always makes me laugh when we have a new member of the team join us and I know that they’re nervous, but little do they know that I’m terrified too and am sitting there praying that they like us and want to be a part of what we do.
I had no idea how far out of my comfort zone I was going to have to push myself to get to where we are now, or how much damage I had to repair from the few years that I spent on my own when I was ill, but I’ve learnt a huge amount on the journey. The biggest learning I’ve had is that making yourself vulnerable is terrifying and accepting that those fears will come to fruition every now and again is hard to do, but both are essential. There is no way for everyone to like everything you do but if you don’t put yourself out there then there’s no way to go forward. One of the things that Matt has taught me is that you won’t gain anything by not trying. He’s incredibly fearless and never hesitates when it comes to asking for something or putting himself forward, he talks to anyone and everyone and extends more warmth and compassion to the people around him than anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve spent the last few years watching him in disbelief, having no idea how anyone could be so brave only to realise that he isn’t really any different, he still feels nervous, just as we all do, he’s just found a way to push past that and live outside of his comfort zone. To move forward, you’ve got to take the situation for what it is, realise that accepting your vulnerability is empowering, and embrace the people who encourage you, support you and push you to be the best you can be.