“You are good enough, you’ve always been good enough, you didn’t – and still don’t – need to prove anything to anyone!”
That would be the message I would love to be able to send my younger self.
I would tell 21-year-old Clare Gledhill: “Believe in yourself because you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
I’m a firm believer that people are not a product of their past. I left school at 16 with just two O-levels and no clear direction, and I’m now educated with multiple degrees and qualifications.
Everything I have achieved to date – be it professional or personal – has been influenced by events in my childhood. They haven’t defined me, but they have driven me.
The process of learning this has been gradual for me, and there was no ‘ta-dah’ moment where everything suddenly fell into place.
In truth, I’m still working through ‘things’ now, decades on but that’s okay because none of us are the finished product.
I’ve got a great career, a solid friendship group, and I’m never one to sit still.
Life isn’t always easy. I’m also a single mum to nine-year-old twin boys and have raised them alone since they were 18 months old.
Like any parent, I want to give my children the grounding they need to build their own lives on, which means we often talk about what they might want to do or achieve when they’re older.
What I want them to remember, throughout their entire lives, is that it’s okay to change your mind – at any time.
What you achieve at school, college, or even university, is only the starting point – life begins when you open your mind to the possibilities and opportunities which cross your path.
I don’t pretend that this isn’t without challenges – I am living proof of that!! However I’m also a firm believer that experiencing hurdles – big or small – is a chance to build resilience and grow as a person.
When we’re growing and learning, particularly in our careers, it’s all-too-easy to live our lives striving for the next achievement, but we risk missing the small things that make us happy and make us human. I’ve learned that appreciating the now is important.
There’s this analogy that we’re all born as ‘a blank sheet of paper’, waiting to be filled with life experiences and ideas.
Some of us grow up to believe our futures are already mapped out for whatever reason. That’s why I wish I could tell the younger Clare and her friends, that we each have the ability to change, and not be a product of our experiences, our environment or childhood.
Be kinder to yourself
Something else I would tell my 21-year-old self would be to be kinder to myself, sooner.
In hindsight, I see that unless you’re kind to yourself, you experience the world with blinkers that stop you feeling real joy or the ability to simply live in the moment.
You can also rob yourself of a real understanding of your achievements and belief in yourself – and everyone deserves to be proud of who they are.
Of course, this is easy to say, but much harder to put into practice, so I live my life by the mantra: ‘I’m ok – you’re ok.’ It’s thought to mean that every person, without exception, is valuable, important, and to be taken fully into account.
Even when I get knocked back – and I’ve had some whopper moments – being able to shift my mindset to see that I have the power to change a situation or what feels like an inevitable result is something I’ve learnt over time.
The world isn’t always an empathic place, but we are living through a time of incredible change, particularly around attitudes and what is and isn’t acceptable in the way we treat others.
‘I wish I’d spoken about about sexual harassment and bullying’
I’ve been sexually harassed and bullied in my career. At the time not making a fuss felt like the right thing to do. After all, it was just ‘something that happened’. On reflection, I became a product of my environment and I wish I’d been more vocal.
I’m delighted to see the younger generation coming into the workplace and creating a sea change. They aren’t afraid to call out bad behaviour and are incredibly open when it comes to showing vulnerability.
What I’ve learnt, is that you never really know what’s happening in someone else’s life, and there’s real humanity and connection in sharing your fears and feelings with those you spend time with, either professionally or socially.
It’s possible to be vulnerable and still succeed – you don’t have to be tough all the time.
So, in short this is what I’d tell my 21-year-old self: “Clare, you aren’t a product of your environment or childhood. Remember that you have total personal power to change and make a difference in your life – and it’s okay to make mistakes if you learn from them. The most important thing is to love yourself no matter what. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Now go ahead and do it.”