How my parents and role models influenced me

The following is an excerpt from Episode 1 of the “Raising Girl Shaped Flames” podcast. If you’d like to hear the full episode, you can catch it here and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasting goodness!

Some of the other forces at play in my own development were my parents and role models, who all really influenced my confidence along the way. And I think when we look at any teenage girls and we look at the people in their lives that surround them, you can see how those people influence how the girl feels about herself or feels about challenges or feels about setbacks. There’s a really direct correlation there.

There are four key things I reflected on regarding role models and my parents. 

My parents were really big on the encouragement to try. Now I think there’s one thing to just be an individual who goes and tries things, and it’s another thing to actually have the people in your life being the people to encourage you to do that. And so any new thing – it could have been a new food or a new person we were meeting or a new task or a place we were going – we were really encouraged and sometimes, ahem, made to go and do these things that are outside of our comfort zone, and that just played a huge role in becoming less afraid of new things. 

When you get very used to the act of being around new things and doing new things, it becomes familiar to do to you and it’s not scary anymore. And I think the real secret was that we would make a commitment. We would stick with something for a certain period of time, regardless of our success or natural ability and – let’s be honest, whether we actually enjoyed it or not – and that again, that really taught me to just put up with things that I’m not good at and less than ideal outcomes, so it wasn’t a shock to me when I got older and those things happened for regularly.

The second thing is really around problem solving and this one, for me, is huge. So my father was a civil engineer and my mum is a physiotherapist, and both of them have very, very problem solving minds and that seeped into mine and my sister’s childhoods – and continues to this day – where, basically, whenever we would come across a problem or a challenge, it was our family’s natural response to try to figure it out, to try to find a solution. To look at how do you get over it, under it, around it;   whatever the barrier or the problem is. 

And so ultimately that was bred into us as an instinctive behaviour was that if we came up against something that was a problem, or a barrier, that we would tussle with it for as long as we possibly could to find a solution. And my dad in particular took great joy and shoving me out the way if I was struggling over some sort of a problem or issue and sitting there trying to figure it out.  My mum to this day is also such a problem solver. Whenever I have a challenge I need to work through I call her up and we sit there and we throw ideas around and we sort of determine what may or may not be possible. That is an incredibly valuable skill that, if you can get that ingrained when you are young, pays off incredible dividends as you get older, from a mindset perspective, from a confidence perspective, the idea of having the gumption and the commitment to try to problem solve your way out of things is incredibly powerful.

The third point was being given the freedom to be dramatic and expressed myself. So I was born fairly naturally confident, but people who are naturally confident can still have their confidence eroded if they’re not supported, and I just feel incredibly lucky to look back on my childhood and really believe that I was allowed to be me and I was allowed to entertain at the dinner table when we had guests and tell them Irish jokes and long-winded stories – and not be shushed and told to sort of be quiet and behave. 

Now manners are a big thing in our household. But I was given the stage and the floor whenever I wanted to express myself and it was encouraged. And I just think that that really fed into this development of self-worth and this development of the acceptance that a really cornerstone elements of confidence development, to not feel that you are being judged or shushed, or that the version of you that you are it is not acceptable to someone. 

To be valued and encouraged is so powerful as an experience and very formative as you move forward through life. To then have the confidence to continue to be yourself so truly.

The final point is really around role models, the power in people speaking up when they witness a young girl’s potential. It’s one thing to mention to the person next to you “Oh, gosh, she’s so good at that thing. Oh, wow, isn’t she amazing?”, and it’s another thing to go up to that person and say “You are very good at that” or “I believe in you, and in fact, I believe in you so much I am now going to help and support you”. And I had people in my life that did that. 

I remember one of my gymnastics coaches – after I broke my arm quite badly and I couldn’t do gymnastics anymore, and I’d done it for about eight years – she said to me, “Why don’t you come and coach the juniors?”. And I said, “I don’t know how to coach gymnastics”. She said, “It’s fine, I’ll teach you. I know that you know how to do gymnastics and I can teach you how to coach”.

Then when I was in school my drama teacher, Ms Owens was a huge advocate of my potential in the creative space, which really cemented itself, so that when I went into filmmaking I remembered that belief and encouragement from her. 

But really the person who probably sets most fondly in my mind as far as a transformative belief in me was my physics teacher, Mr Mullane. Now I am the daughter of a civil engineer, as we’ve covered, and I did advanced math and I did IT and I went and took physics because I decided I was just like my dad – I also had drama on the side for a bit of creative release – and I did not do well at physics. In fact, I’m gonna blame physics for that OP4, I don’t know why it just didn’t click with me, and Mr Mullane knew how much I struggled through it, but he’s still really believed in me. 

We had a conversation one afternoon when I was telling him how I had found this amazing degree at Bond I wanted to do, in business communications, but we were a single parent family, there’s no way we’d be able to afford to go.  I’d have to be able to get a scholarship, but I can’t possibly apply for a scholarship. I’m a small beach town, girl. There’s got to be all these people out there – girls who live in the metro areas – who must have some significantly enhanced education that I didn’t have or something that would make them far more likely to get scholarships! 

And he just looked at me and just said, “There is no reason. There is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t qualify for a scholarship as much as they. Your grades are there, your attitude is there. There is no reason”. He also left me with my life motto that very same afternoon, where he basically as he was leaving, turned to look to me and said, “At the end of the day, if you don’t ask, the answer is ‘no’”. 

And so I went on to ask, got the scholarship, went to Bond.

So you can see the impact that it has when people really do believe in you and actively go out and try to support you, which is what I hope for our girls who are growing and developing with their confidence.

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