There’s an old video tape, in a box, somewhere in the garage, with footage of five-year-old me eating an ice cream at a family picnic. It was Edwarde’s Lake in Reservoir, Victoria.
And if my memory serves me well, I’m wearing a yellow and white-striped frilly summer dress and the camera follows me as I frolic around enjoying a soft serve vanilla ice cream cone. Sounds are coming from a portable outdoor transistor radio and suddenly the DJ introduces the next song and then, the first few bars of Kylie Minogue’s ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ blast through the speakers.
Immediately, bursting with excitement, I ask Mum to hold my ice cream, so that I’d be completely free to dance around the park to the late eighties Kylie hit which so inspired a sense of joy in me.
Growing up, that footage often drummed up conversation in my family, reminiscing fondly of my lack of inhibitions at that age – how I simply could not control my response to music, even being willing to let go of one of my other favourite things, ice-cream, in order to go where the upbeat melodies would take me.
Fast forward 30 years and a bit more, I wonder where that carefree girl has gone...what she has experienced in this life that has seen her move through waves of confidence, but more recently, retreat into her shell where worry about the perception of others often becomes crippling in certain contexts and on certain occasions.
I reflect back to where my somewhat career crisis all began: 2016.
There was a series of events and incidents that took place that year which created great unease, frustration and confusion about how I saw myself in the corporate media world and how that world was impacting me. It became clear that I didn’t belong at the marketing job I working, and perhaps politeness and delusion masked the necessity for honest confrontation with my employer.
It hurt to hear the words, just before Christmas, that my position was being made redundant. I felt that I had brought it on myself, that I was solely responsible for the conflict, that things I said and did caused great upset to others, even if they meant I was standing up for myself.
To be told so simply that you’re no longer needed or wanted in a workplace or anywhere for that matter, compounded with the shame and guilt for causing your own demise – that’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
That afternoon, I left the office in tears all the way home, with Mum waiting to console me with words of encouragement about a fresh start and a positive outlook for the future.
Never did I expect this to happen in my professional life, especially where I was in my career at the time.
Things had in fact been looking up in the last few years, I relished in new promotions and opportunities, growing in confidence in my abilities and contributing to an industry I was truly passionate about and where I was thriving.
It’s amazing how a single moment can shatter it all in an instant – that promises for prosperity, abundance and a secure future, even on tough days, seemed so within reach, even guaranteed. It took me years to find a full-time job in the Media Industry, let alone build experience and earn respect once I was there.
To have something I was so sure of suddenly get taken away, eventually became about more than just losing a job, I had lost myself in the process too.
Just like when I graduated high school and then university, now in my 30s, I was starting all over again – contemplating what I really wanted out of life and what I needed to do to get there.
After working in the corporate world for so many years, I had to find a way to reconnect with my passions, reassessing what I actually enjoyed doing and what I was actually good at. The creative struggle once again rising to the surface.
I needed to find a new way to sustain myself whilst doing work that was meaningful and fulfilling.
I thought it would be easier this time around, that having built some solid years of experience and wisdom, I’d be better placed to take the next step into the unknown. But I was naive, because the truth was that despite my experience, my confidence, sense of identity and self-worth had taken a beating and I had to accept that as a creative, there is never really a sure-fire way to go up and forward – the path is always uncertain and unique to each one of us.
It got me thinking about the youth of today. What it must feel like for students and graduates of this generation, who don’t have clarity on their place in the world or the support to just start figuring it all out. In creative industries especially, where there is no guarantee for work or stability, how do young people go about navigating a career pathway and finding their purpose in a noisy world intensified by competition and saturated with choice?
I recognised myself as one such young, creative, now unemployed person, battling with self-doubt and fear which was crippling my ability to start afresh. I realised that whether you’re new to the workforce or whether you have years of experience, setbacks can happen at any given moment and you can never be one hundred percent prepared.
I’ve learned that it is your character – your resilience and courage that are the keys to help you build or re-build your life and career. Finding security in employment is about more than just a pay check – it’s about believing you are worthy enough, believing that you have something to contribute, acknowledging that your voice deserves to be heard.
What has also become apparent, is that the confidence I exuded throughout my media career was in many ways, only surface-level. My work in client service demanded it of me: a strong presence was crucial in front of important stakeholders and amidst professional networks – it’s how I was going to survive in such a fast-paced, cut-throat environment. So I learned to adapt in unpredictable situations through this superficial type of confidence, ‘turning it on’ if you will, whenever I needed to, to save face, to appease others and do my job well enough to ensure financial security.
That kind of confidence unfortunately made me fixate on visible, material things – the way that I dressed, the things that I owned and so many other shallow ways I could manufacture a personal brand that I believed made me likeable and worthy. Perhaps it wasn’t that I was completely inauthentic, but that I knew the right things to say to fit in with the crowd and draw less attention to what made me different.
It would be a lie to say that this confident skin didn’t serve me well, because it definitely helped me grow up in the industry. It helped me muster enough courage to take on challenging tasks, to put myself in front of intimidating people and confront problems and pressure with grit and determination.
The thing about outward-based confidence though, is that it doesn’t last.
It’s motivated only by the potential of external validation - where playing the ‘right cards’ and the ‘right role’ guarantees a response from others that affirms your place as someone acceptable or popular.
And I was deep into the game of it all, because even with my hidden insecurities, my success in the workforce seemed to be sustaining my confidence - people liked me because of what I could do for them, for being good at my job, diligent, reliable and consistent.
Little did I know what was to come...how finding my identity in my work was not a sustainable approach to my wellbeing.
I wasn’t prepared for God’s plan but these days, I’m grateful for it.
I was meant to lose that job so I could realise that a job doesn’t define me.
A job doesn’t define any of us.
It’s an important aspect of our lives no doubt, but our purpose goes beyond work.
And work can certainly help us build confidence, but confidence as I’m learning, really is an internal thing.
I don’t know who coined the phrase, but I often think about the question: “How do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know who you are?”
It’s a question I’m grappling with in this season of life and I know for sure now, that who I am is not solely found in the job I have, or don’t have.
Part of who I am is that carefree, five-year-old girl, enjoying her ice-cream and singing and dancing along to Kylie hits. I might not feel the way she did back then, but I know she’s there within me, somewhere.
I started this podcast to get to know her again, to rediscover what lights me up and start rebuilding the confidence to share all of who I am with others.
And this time, I want a real, lasting confidence that grows from inside of me.
That grows from having courage.
So here’s to more of the growing up that I still need to do.
© 2023 Eira Joy Aringay