Frontrunner

Over the past few days I’ve been on a course in Nottingham. It’s called Frontrunner and is sponsored by Santander. The focus of the course is on leadership and as part of it I had the chance to present to the President of Speedo which was pretty cool! (He’s actually really down to earth and absolutely lovely.)

On Monday, I set off on a bus, a train and a very short walk to the hotel I would call home for three nights. I’ve been worrying about everything too much lately, and it’s the first whiff of proper independence I’ve had since I moved out of uni back in June, so all in all it was a bit of a big deal.

The other thing is – I’ve spent my summer with two lovely boys, but they’re five and seven and the majority of our conversations are about Ninjago, Star Wars or Minecraft. I love this, it’s great fun and the kids are fab., but it does mean that my confidence in my ability to communicate effectively with those my own age was somewhat reduced.

I had no idea what to expect on the course and my first (of many) surprises came in the form of the diversity of the group. I don’t think you could actually get a more diverse group; we were all students but there were people of all ages, from a multitude of different backgrounds and a huge range of cultures. This was so intimidating at first, and I had to work hard to ‘tune in’ to some of the various accents around the room (people’s ability to learn English as an additional language will never fail to astound me), but as the week went on I began to appreciate it for the gift it was.

My confidence was fairly shot at the point of arrival. I’m pretty hard on myself generally, but never doubt my abilities more than when faced with having to wear ‘business attire’ (Mum informed me that this means no shoes £3 or below… which meant buying some new shoes) and meet a whole room full of people.

For the majority of the first day, I really struggled. I didn’t feel able to speak to anyone, didn’t really speak up or use my voice and each time I failed to speak, I got more annoyed with myself, which made it harder to speak… (oops!).

To add fuel to the fire, my exam result was due out that afternoon and after compulsively checking my phone every break, it came through about 3ish and it was lower than I expected, much lower than my other grades and brought my average for the year down. I text Mum to let her know, but felt so ashamed. I’ve spent all summer revising… and for what?! Before Mum replied, I rang the house phone, took myself off to a stairwell and just broke down on the phone to her for a good 15 minutes. I didn’t feel like I was fitting in on the course, I was tired, stressed, and felt so awfully ashamed and embarrassed of my grade. Mum kept trying to tell me it wasn’t a bad grade (it wasn’t bad by normal standards but was by me standards) but I didn’t believe her.

Staff members had popped by once or twice and once off the phone, I spoke to one of them for a while. She was lovely. She listened and took the time to understand me; why I wasn’t happy, but also what else was contributing to why I was feeling so crappy. She shared some of her experiences at uni with me and it really helped; just knowing that others have dealt with difficult things whilst studying and still achieved can be a comfort and an inspiration.

As the week went on, I got to know the staff and other participants better, but also got to know myself better. I began to learn some of my strengths and weaknesses, but probably one of the most important things that I learned was that it’s okay to have limitations. It’s okay to have some things that you struggle with more than others, because there are some things you will excel in compared to others. Recognising your limitations is the first step because it can help you to work with them, rather than trying to fight against them.

As the course drew to a close, I think we could all see how far we’d come, and we’re lucky enough to be leaving with 33 new friends. I think we’ve all learned not only valuable things about leadership (how to lead in different ways, when/where this can be appropriate, what we individually need to work on… I could go on), but also valuable things about ourselves and I just hope that we can learn to transfer these discoveries to the other areas of our lives.

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