My old school isn’t much like it was. The school building I once knew has been knocked down and a swanky, new university-like structure stands proudly in the grounds. There are few staff members I recognise. But then, it has been 12 years.
I’m queuing at reception amongst cold and impatient visitors to sign in on a little touch screen device and have my photo taken. It strikes me how terrified I would have been transitioning from the small primary school I attended in Ponsanooth, where I was the only girl in my year group, to this towering, high-tech, glass creation.
I’m here to help Future First show year 11 students that people like them can succeed and to help them in overcoming their challenges. We join the teenagers in their assembly, standing up and saying a few words about what we do and sharing messages about study and career.
We soon make ourselves comfortable in the library and I’m feeling quite at home, taking in the sweeping views over the countryside. Two waves of students join us, and looking around the room, I notice several girls who are keeping very quiet and staying small.
Chatting with some of these young ladies about their future aspirations and GCSE aims, I’m seeing some of their unique strengths shining through and classic gifts of introversion. Do you think they can see this too?
As one young lady explains that she doesn’t do well speaking up in groups, I’m reminded of my younger self. I was the shy and quiet one that rarely spoke. I would go bright red and I couldn’t get my words out if I had to speak up in front of people. Back then, I would have traded in everything I was to be outgoing. Confident. Popular. If someone had told me I would go on to do everything I’ve done in my career so far, I wouldn’t have believed them. “That’s not me” I would have told you, “I can’t do that”. But how could I possibly have thought I knew that for sure?
It took me a long time to learn that there are things you can do to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in social situations and feel more confident. This isn’t something that’s a part of who you really are, deep down, and that means you can learn to change it. If you ever feel that being “too quiet” holds you back in life, please reach out and ask for help. You’ll be surprised how many people have felt that way too.
I’ve achieved a lot of things in my life that I didn’t think would ever be possible when I was 16. I may never be entirely comfortable in the spotlight, but we can all stretch our comfort zones and grow our confidence and our social abilities, little by little.
At 16, we really have no idea what we are capable of. At 28, I’m still surprising myself. And you will surprise yourself too. Time and time again.