It took years and a major career change for Jeanette to find the self-belief to truly thrive

When I was at school my ambition was to become a vet. Devouring the James Herriot All Creatures Great & Small books, by the age of nine I had my future all planned out. I carried this goal with unerring focus all through my school years, working hard to do well in exams. But in lower sixth a careers advisor came to the school and when I proudly shared my passionate ambitions, her face fell.

“Oh no, that’s no career for a female, you’ll have to do something more suitable”. Having been brought up to respect authority I instantly gave up on my dreams of being a vet, to my parents’ dismay.

“Oh no, that’s no career for a female, you’ll have to do something more suitable”

During the years to come, imposter syndrome was to rear its unhelpful head several times. Although I achieved a First in my university degree, when offered the chance to do a PhD at Oxford, incredibly I turned this amazing opportunity down, scared I would fail. Inside I felt I wasn’t good enough. I wish I could go back and tell that young woman to have more self-belief.

I went on to forge a career in IT, initially in retail. I never saw myself as someone who would be writing computer programmes, but by the time I was 23 I was managing a team of programmers. Still, I secretly fought back a lack of self-confidence, the nagging doubt that I wasn’t good enough. My career progressed and I was well paid, but it never truly set me on fire. I was unfulfilled and at times still felt inadequate despite being promoted.

It was when I went on a training course in London that I had a kind of epiphany. Sitting there in the seminar room, feeling inspired by the woman running the course, I found myself thinking, “I want to do what she’s doing – to help other people develop and progress”.

I wish I could go back and tell that young woman to have more self-belief.

As a single mum with a young child, retraining and shifting careers was tough. I enrolled myself with the CIPD to get qualified, studying alongside my work, and when a learning and development vacancy with my then employer came up, I got the job. I took a step back in seniority and a massive pay cut to do it, but I knew it was the right move for me – and my employer had faith in me.

That was a turning point for me as I went from going with the flow and lacking strong purpose to absolutely loving what I did, taking charge of my career and investing in my personal development. It was utterly thrilling to feel so sure. My confidence grew.

And as I continued working in a sector that really fires up my passion, my motivation and self-belief only got stronger. Eventually I became HR director, finding myself the only female on the executive team. Having spent most of my career in male dominated domains, I was used to being a woman in a macho environment where there can be a lot of unconscious bias. There was a strong driver in me to prove that I deserved my seat at that table. I found the confidence to use my voice even when it would have been easier to keep quiet, and it was a privilege to be part of a high functioning team, respected and acknowledged for what I brought.

Eventually I left to set up my own coaching business and it’s an absolute thrill to be in the driving seat. When I heard about Audrey, it was the ‘be audacious’ message that really captured my attention. Throughout my entire life I now know that if I’d just told myself to be more audacious at various steps along the way, I could have achieved so much and made more of a difference.

We are stronger, more effective and happier when we’re true to ourselves, in harmony with our values and living authentically.

Giving up a dream just because someone I respected told me to, looking back, that was ridiculous. I don’t regret the career path I chose because it’s led me to a brilliant place. But the real turning point for me was when I took control of my career and my learning.

It’s grown me as an individual, as well as leading me to professional choices that are aligned with my purpose and driven by my values. I feel fulfilled and somehow more alive. And that’s made a huge difference to me as a person.

My core purpose as a coach is helping people develop self-confidence and live an authentic life, both professionally and personally. We are stronger, more effective and happier when we’re true to ourselves, in harmony with our values and living authentically. That’s where we’re able to achieve our potential, where we’re most energised and best able to energise others.

Looking back, I’d have enjoyed the earlier years of my career more and found fulfilment sooner if I’d had a measure of the self-belief I have now. The biggest barriers are often within us, but once we shine a light on that we can dissolve those barriers. We start to realise that they are of our own thinking, of our own construct – and if we can construct the barriers, we can absolutely deconstruct them.

Once you know what’s right for you, do not be deterred by anybody or anything. Believe in yourself, know that you’re capable of more than you could ever imagine and then do what it takes to make it happen.

My advice for any woman who isn’t sure what her next career move should be is:

* Be authentic. Use your purpose and values to guide your choices – it’s the route to happiness.

* Be your biggest supporter. Invest in yourself, celebrate your successes, and cheer yourself on.

* Have courage and self-belief. Be audacious in reaching for your greatness.

With thanks to Jeanette Harris

Words: Marina Gask

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