I was recently listening to British Peers Professor Robert Winston and Melvyn Bragg on a BBC Radio 2 programme. These are both much admired individuals who are hugely successful in their chosen fields and yet both of them confessed, during the show, to having moments of self-doubt.
Melvyn went so far as to say that he frequently expected a policeman to turn up at his elbow one day and say something along the lines of 'game over, you've been found out'.
Even the sublimely consummate and talented Robert Winston admitted to sometimes wondering how it had all come about and saying that there was an element of luck about some of his career moves that owed nothing to ability.
Of course, you could say that both these gentlemen are being slightly disingenuous about themselves and their success, but it got me to thinking about my own situation. I have to say that I was surprised to hear men, successful high profile men at that, expressing such feelings so readily.
I recognise the symptoms and have to admit that I thought it was a girl thing; this crisis of confidence. And I don't mean that in a sexist way either, it's just that I have never met a man who owned up to it, until I heard this radio show.
I was brought up in the 60's and 70's when women of my generation were still being encouraged to become a secretary or a teacher, that was the limit of the creative powers in my school's careers team at any rate. I did neither, as I shocked them and joined the Royal Navy; but not before I had gone and done a one year course in,,,,yep you guessed it, Secretarial Studies (with Business). Just to have something to fall back on, as my Mother suggested, in case I changed my mind. I am not sure she was that keen on me joining HM Forces, but I was 18 and had learned to tune out the extraneous stuff.
Throughout my career, I have changed direction very many times, working in a wide variety of industry sectors and carving out a role for myself working in my local business community, combining my professional life with a whole bunch of voluntary commitments. I seem to have been mildly successful in both arenas and I am content with my lot. I have a lovely husband, home, family and friends. I have a great social life; I know that there are millions of people out there who would swap places with me in a heartbeat..... and yet, every so often, I have a bit of a wobble. Those moments when you are sitting in a meeting and suddenly you feel like a complete fraud, and what if 'they' find out that you really don't know anything about the discussion and should not be there at all.
I know I am not the only one to have these occasional thoughts; I have had similar discussions with girlfriends and female colleagues over the years, many of whom have far more illustrious careers than my own, and yet they still sometimes wonder how they got there. What is it about our lives that makes them seem so fragile and temporary on occasion? I think about my own circumstances and try to fathom if I suffered some sort of early rejection; or conversely did I end up getting some reward or prize I didn't feel I deserved? I am sure this existential angst is not unusual and probably the subject for a PhD or something... but not for me, I am not nearly clever enough...!
I am just glad that it is not a purely female condition and I will look at some of these illustrious individuals in a new light in future.Suggest a correction