Houston, we have a problem

This week Dan Slee said something that has unnerved me

He was trying to persuade me to enter the Comms2point0 Unawards but couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t nominate myself. I gave him my usual self-effacing, Scottish Calvinist guff.  If I put myself forward that implies I think I’m better than everyone else – how very dare I.

And then there’s the fear of failure.

“You have issues,” he joked.

Stop sniggering at the back.

Those words keep rattling round my head and I would now like to stand up and say, “My name is Carolyne Mitchell and I have issues – about self-belief and confidence – and it’s been over 40 years since I believed in myself.”

Mind you when I was 6 I also believed in fairies.

But Dan’s comment has got me wondering. I went to college instead of university then spent the next 20-odd years thinking I would have been too thick to get a degree anyway. Then I surprised myself and got a Masters in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs – with merit, may I add – from Robert Gordon University. At the time I kicked myself that I hadn’t got a distinction.

So, not only do I underachieve due to lack of confidence, when I do something noteworthy I put myself down because I could have done better.

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In part I blame my Scottish Calvinist upbringing but now that I think about it I also blame the Scottish education system.

Our children take the subjects they are good at and enjoy. Nothing wrong with that, except how can you know at the age of 13 that one day you’ll want to be a UX specialist or a string theorist? By taking the subjects that come easily, kids remain in their comfort zone. But then who wants to risk failure? If they continue that subject at university the comfort zone gets comfier. Then BAM! – it’s out into the big world where if they want to keep it comfy they’ll get a job in the public sector or a big multi-national where they can fit in, follow the rules and not make waves.

But find a child who pushes against the comfort and breaks through the cushion fort to try something outside the zone and you’re likely to find a problem solver. Or a child who isn’t academic but wants to win at life – Richard Branson fits into this category.

Just today I was talking to Scott Sherwood of Dynamically Loaded. He wanted to be an astrophysicist so took physics at university. He quickly discovered this wasn’t for him and changed to maths, didn’t like that so moved to computing science where he discovered that coders look at the world differently – and he fitted right in.

And solving problems builds confidence and self-worth, not just sailing through exams without trying.

But one child who will definitely win at life is Danny Barbieri. Danny is the photogenic son of a colleague at North Lanarkshire Council. He practically lives in his Superman costume. Superman was a problem-solver as well as a life-saver and I hope when Danny grows up he’ll always remember how he felt when he was wearing his red cape.


And good things happen to superhero problem-solvers, even when they are four. Danny was snapped in his Superman costume during a Scottish Referendum rally and appeared on the front page of all the newspapers. Powerful stuff.
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I’m away to look out my Wonder Woman costume to boost my self-confidence. While I’m away, will you nominate me for an Unaward please?


  1. Dan Slee · November 7, 2014

    Oh, crikey, Carolyne. I didn’t realise that I’d caused a bout of soul-searching. I do apologise. Or I don’t if it’s a constructive thing.

    I remember a few months back. We were driving from your place to the venue of some training and you were explaining the Scottish Calvinist thing about not being good with praise.

    I’m amazed at that. Because you are one of the most talented people I know. There are very few people who make me re-think things or are doing things in different areas that make me sit up and take note. You, Carolyne, are one of them. Writing this is another reason why I admire you. Because it’s not straight forward. It would be easier not to.

    I could go on on this theme but I’m a bloke. I know that the bloke tactic is to try and fix things rather than listen. So I’ll listen.

    I do hope someone does nominate you for a comms2point0 unaward. It can’t be me because I’m helping organise the blimmin thing. And I couldn’t judge the category because I’d have to declare an interest that I know you.

    And if you add a self-deprocating comment under this comment, I’ll hire a radio ad and get them to play it so you can’t answer back.

    • carolynemitchell · November 7, 2014

      Val and I were thinking if a Wallflower Award where you have to be nominated by someone else – we’d nominate each other. Maybe we should also come up with a 12-step programme and support network 😉

  2. janetedavisart · November 9, 2014

    I am surprised that you are so lacking in self-belief (because, from what I see, you’re very good at what you do – and not least that you have an enviably great style of writing) but trust me, it’s not just a Scottish Calvinist upbringing that causes lack of self-belief, nor the Scottish education system.
    I’ve always struggled with self-belief and, most of the time during the past few years, have thought I’m a complete failure. I am trying to overcome this because it stops me from doing things. Incidentally, I’ve never found the public sector a comfortable place to work – but maybe that’s because I’ve tended to try to change things.
    Practise believing in yourself – you’ve succeeded at so many things and could succeed in this. I hope someone nominates you. I’ve always thought your blog great – and remain astonished at how much you can do in a day, and how much you’ve achieved so far.

    • carolynemitchell · November 9, 2014

      Janet, thanks so much for this. Until I wrote this I thought I was the only one but it turns out many of the people I admire gave doubts about themselves.
      I remember when I first met you being in awe of your energy and knowledge and I’ve always hoped we’d meet again. Maybe I’ll have to find an event down your way so we can get together 🙂

  3. janetedavisart · November 9, 2014

    Thanks, Carolyne! I had no idea that I could have come across like that at such an event – especially at that time. I would be delighted to see you again. Maybe one day I’ll be fit enough again to get up to Scotland again. As well as liking you, I do admire you immensely 🙂

  4. Michelle · December 3, 2014

    I’ve just joined the Comms group, so hope you don’t mind me having a look at your blog too! Your post rings true to me on so many levels. In my opinion, and studies bear this out, lack of self belief and self confidence is something which afflicts women much more than men. Males are encouraged from an early age to ‘man up’ whereas women are encouraged to nurture and conform. Perhaps that is why so many (clever, intelligent 😉 ) women gravitate towards comms. It uses lots of brain cells, but the nature of the work is collaborative and doesn’t often challenge in confrontational ways.
    I couldn’t help but notice that the faith you have in the next generation of youngsters was illustrated by two wee boys. I have started following the Might Girl postings on facebook, which hope to inspire the next generation of strong women. While it’s primarily a sales tool, their stories are inspirational in showing how strong brave women have shaped the world too.
    And off my soapbox now!
    Well done on the award nomination!

    • carolynemitchell · December 3, 2014

      Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for reading. I too follow Mighty Girls on Facebook and I believe my daughter is mighty. I’m trying to raise her with a sense of self-worth and an understanding of what she’s capable of. I think it’s working 🙂

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