How to start believing in yourself when life seems like just a struggle

How to start believing in yourself when life seems like just a struggle

2018 didn’t start well for me. I remember having created my 2018 Vision Board at a DrivenWoman session and thinking: how on Earth could any of that come true?

The truth was, I was in a bad place. Having just come back from maternity leave, I was facing a number of non-self-inflicted challenges at work that soon left me on a sick leave due to work related stress. Since the situation had started affecting all areas of my life, I sought support from a psychologist and during one of our discussions about life’s changes, I said that “I take all negative experiences as preparation for something even worse”.

In the context of what was going on back then, it felt obvious to assume that if I’d survived my job challenges I would be even better prepared to face any future problems that would surely be more serious. And even though on that day’s scale of -10 to 0 my struggle felt like a -10, that’s still ok, because when a -12 event eventually would come my way, surviving today would help me tackle it.

I realised I always expected bad outcomes

My psychologist seemed quite surprised by my grim approach and asked: “Why would you assume that something worse would happen? What if instead of expecting big trouble around the corner, you noticed the signs of it early on and prepared yourself there and then? Instead of reaching -10, maybe you’d only reach -4 and handle it from there. There’s no need to reach the bottom”.

Her words made me realise that yes, I always expected big trouble ahead and geared myself up for it in one way or another. But truth be told, there had been a recent exception to that rule that helped me start a different way of thinking.

While I was still on my maternity leave, our rental contract was coming to and end and I was getting ready for months of flat viewings with a 6-month-old baby in tow. Before the viewings started, my husband (who likes filling walls around the house with post-it reminders of his goals) suggested we made a list of everything we wanted from the new flat. Set our criteria for success, so to speak. And so we did – over 20 post-its covering our living room wall.

The next day, I went to our local agent and showed him the list. He said he had exactly that flat available, which initially sounded like a sales tactic but turned out to be true: within the following two hours, we visited the flat, paid the deposit and signed the contract. We still live there now and love our home, still slightly astonished by how quickly everything turned out on that day.

What if good outcomes were a real possibility?

Having realised that exceptions like these do happen, I thought to myself, in the middle of my work-related struggles, that I’d like to approach the search for a new job with a different attitude.

I prepared a list of everything I’d like my new job to offer, covering the most minute details. On the suggestion of my business coach I also created a list of everything I can offer to a new employer – from obvious things like professional experience, to less tangible ones like the ability to bring enthusiasm and genuine care for people to the workplace.

As it goes, soon after I received a phone call from a recruiter who saw my LinkedIn profile. Since I hadn’t spoken to any other recruiters yet, I thought it was timely to start getting myself in the mindset of being interviewed - so I chatted away.

The call went well and I was invited to a face to face meeting. The meeting went even better and I enjoyed our discussion on what they could offer and what I could bring to the table. Another interview took place, during which I met the hiring managers and again, more good news for all of us – they seemed keen to consider my role in the team, and I was surprised by how positive, caring, engaged and professional they both were.

Perhaps success doesn't have to be a struggle?

By this time, I was having conflicting thoughts as it all felt a bit too easy. I spoke to a couple of other headhunters to have a sense for what else is there, but my negotiations with the hiring managers were going in the right direction and I decided to accept their offer… The result? I’m now part of a fantastic company, with great people, I do what I love, I am paid well and I feel recognised for my work, which makes me want to use every minute of the day to be fully engaged. And since I don’t take these blessings for granted, I’m doing my best to show that my contribution to the job are what my employer expected.

Going from that very low point to where I am today made me think that just as my psychologist said, perhaps struggle doesn’t always have to be part of the process? And just as Miisa repeats over and over again… maybe if we stop accepting struggle as part of our daily life, everything does really change?

To me, deciding to stop accepting the struggle and beginning to find a sense of flow became my starting point. 2018 showed me that these elements also need to be present:

A clear vision of what you want and what you’re prepared to offer in exchange

We women tend to underestimate our contributions to the world. Seeing there’s always a balance between what you give and what you get changes the way you behave and consequently, it changes the way others perceive you.

A power team, because you won’t be able to do it all alone

Psychologists, colleagues, your spouse, GP, business coach, friends, other specialists in their professions, a women's network – surround yourself with people who will support different areas of your life. Think creatively: doctors can be covered by medical insurance, Citizen Advice Bureau can offer free legal advice, colleagues can coach you through professional challenges – free support is available.

DON'T BE ATTACHED TO ONE OUTCOME

Don't be attached to the result and make sure you do scenario planning in case you don’t get what you want the first time. Being attached to just one outcome creates anxiety. Instead of focusing, you become distracted by the stress and the ‘What ifs’. Have plans B, C and D in place to have a sense of control over all outcomes. The ‘Fear setting’ exercise by Tim Ferriss is always a good thing to do, too.

And believe that you don’t always need to reach the bottom in order for something good to emerge.

As we approach the end of 2018, I look at my Vision Board on my bedroom wall and I’m astonished to see that life has indeed turned around and everything I visioned has come true. And with 2019 around the corner and more exciting changes already being planned, I now know that with the right approach, I don’t just need to survive those changes – but use the transition to thrive.

Anna Pawlowicz is a DrivenWoman member in London, a Senior Account Manager at Gartner, an entrepreneur with a focus on personal productivity and a mum of a 2-year old boy. 

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