Friday 14 October 2022

Thought Picnic: Self-doubt, a teacher of humility

The humbling of the present

The unfortunate sacking of Kwasi Kwarteng, the erstwhile Chancellor of the Exchequer gave me something to ponder about my situation. I wrote in a tweet, “Sometimes, a dramatic humbling can be quite life-affirming, do not take every setback as the end of purpose, ambition, or prospect.”

The reason why I can relate is I was invited for an interview on Monday and just before we had the meeting, the agency called to say that the client had realised they had a budget shortfall and whether I would consider lobbing off about 40% from what we had agreed on Friday.

I politely declined as I reflected on the disrespectfulness and insult apart from the unprofessionalism that enabled that kind of feedback that should have been better relayed as the position had been filled by other personnel. You see a lot in 27 years of dealing with contract agencies, and then some.

Beyond the travails we see

Soon afterwards, I got a phone call from another agency offering the prospect of a re-engagement with a client I had worked with before. I was keen and so my details were put forward and they expressed an interest in offering an opportunity.

However, I was to attend an interview on Microsoft Teams scheduled for Friday and I had only hours before reserved to collect my new passport in Liverpool. I did not want to postpone the interview and so that meant planning to be in Liverpool to both attend the interview and collect my passport.

Meanwhile, I was also to give a presentation as part of the interview process with the choice from 5 topics that looked quite distinct yet from my experience were intricately interrelated. I found myself in a similar brain fog as I was 5 years ago, trying to decide which topic to present, though then I chose one and wrapped the considerations of the other 3 topics into how they relate with the one I chose.

In doubt and unsure

It would have been easy and lazy to rehash the old document, but I had to do better, and I gathered the material and began to construct the elements of my presentation. In my head, I had a good idea of what I wanted to say, but how to fit that into an acceptable presentation became a challenge.

For all the expertise and experience I do have, others probably do believe in my abilities more than I dare to believe I am. There are jobs I should apply for that reticence and doubt persuades me otherwise. My friends constantly urge me to step up, their perspective of me way ahead of my apparent insecurities.

My presentation almost became existential in its import, for it would have been the crux upon which the decision to hire me would have been based amongst other considerations. I found myself wondering how I could quite easily scupper my chances given what might be a golden opportunity. Then I would whisper to myself, that everything would be fine, take breathing exercises and try to calm myself down.

The trial of adequacy

My friends would suggest I am not lacking in confidence, I have my doubts about that assessment, and then maybe I am beating myself up too hard. My presentation was only about 75% finished by the time I went to bed, and I was so sleep-deprived thinking about how I had not closed the activity. Something was missing from giving the presentation the necessary feel of a proposal made to a C-suite executive.

A few ideas wandered into my mind overnight and on getting up, I showered and went for breakfast that I could hardly finish before giving Brian a call. My best friend had sent me a message of encouragement during the night too, which I acknowledged. I went for a walk to the River Mersey and returned to complete my presentation with just an hour left to the interview.

Things seemed to fall into place and with just about 20 minutes to spare, there was nothing more I could do about what I was about to present. Unsure and nervous, we began a discussion when I realised that my 9 slides of PowerPoint presentation were to be delivered in 10 minutes, there was no point panicking, I went for it with mannerisms and tics, all forgiven with the verdict that it was a good presentation.

Self-doubt, the measure of strength

This was something I would never have been able to pull off without the support of my friend, and my partner, they were constantly encouraging me even as it was increasingly difficult to believe them. Then I need to find the positive in my ordeal, maybe self-doubt is a good check on hubris too, it works for me even if it stresses me out too.

There is a humbling that teaches you the truth of your vulnerability not to strip you of agency but to equip you with the human need to seek support and encouragement to empower you through when your strength appears to fail.

It is like what Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 1v9-11“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.”

It speaks for itself, that our vulnerabilities or the humbling of the present only allows us to appreciate that we can do a lot more in the context of our humanity by relying on others.

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