I have always been a quiet and sensitive soul. When I first went to school, I couldn’t even talk in class and had to whisper into my teacher’s ear to communicate.
I also grew up with a huge love for pop music. ABBA were my biggest idols. My parents were teenagers during the rock 'n' roll era so I also listened to a lot of Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
One day when I was six years old I asked my mum if I could take organ lessons. I have no idea where that came from but it led to me learning to play pop songs on an instrument with two keyboards and a set of pedals I wasn’t even tall enough to reach.
I played my first ‘gig’ when I was 9 at my nan and grandad’s over-60s club. I remember feeling truly confident and in my element. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was an indicator that I loved being in the spotlight if I was doing something I truly loved.
I continued to learn my craft as a musician and started writing pop songs as I reached my teenage years. Around this time I joined the local Grammar School, a selective school for kids who passed the ’11 plus' entrance exam.
I went from being one of the brightest kids in my class at primary school to somewhere between average and slightly struggling. It really knocked my confidence and, being relatively quiet and skinny too, some of the other kids latched onto my growing insecurities and started bullying me.
Mostly it was verbal taunting and teasing, but there was also some physical abuse.
After a couple of years, the bullying stopped but it left a long lasting mental scar. It sent a message that it wasn’t safe for me to stand out in a crowd. Instead, it was better to blend in and stay out of the spotlight.
When I got to University I started playing in pop bands as a keyboard player. I loved being on stage but when it came to sharing my ideas and thoughts, I was still incredibly shy and closed off. This continued into my early career and it held me back from selling myself and putting myself forward.
After a few years, I joined the accounting firm PwC and began studying to become a Chartered Accountant. Very soon after qualifying I started helping out on training courses for new joiners. I felt a great sense of purpose helping these new graduates develop their technical knowledge, more than at any other point in my career. I wanted to do more of it.
After a year or so, I decided to move on from teaching one-to-one and volunteer to give a training presentation. I was really nervous about it and, to be honest, it didn’t go well. I rushed through it, I stumbled over my words and finished way too early. But the important thing was that I had done it and I was hungry to do more.
The opportunity came for me to take on a year-long secondment to the firm’s training department which I grasped with both hands. My role meant that I was giving training presentations nearly every week and so I quickly developed my skills and my confidence as a technical presenter.
By the end of the secondment I was totally comfortable giving presentations to a hundred people or more. I found ways to manage the anxieties I felt around giving a talk. I developed a practice routine that worked for me and memory joggers (eg cue cards) that I could use if I forgot my train of thought (though I began to rely on these less and less as time went on).
Throughout my adult life I continued to play in bands and in 2009 I also started taking singing lessons which led to me performing my own songs as a singer at open mic nights and small gigs around London. Presenting also continued to form a part of my role in the accountancy and tax profession and continues to do so to this day.
One thing that still scared me, though, was sharing my feelings and ideas from the stage. This felt incredibly vulnerable, but I knew that if I wanted to make a difference by offering up my wisdom and experience to a bigger audience. I would need to face that feeling of vulnerability.
I joined my local speakers’ club and started talking about things that matter to me. At first, I felt exposed, but thanks to the support of an encouraging audience, I continued to open up. I then started sharing stories at storytelling events around London and began running my own speaking and storytelling groups.
I also faced head-on my experiences of being bulled as a teenager. With the help of a supportive coach, I was able to make peace in my mind with the kids who had hurt me and this experience helped me to grow my capacity to be with difficult emotions in myself and others.
I have come a long way from that scared teenager who would avoid ridicule at all cost. In my talks and social media posts, I am totally frank and open about my thoughts and feelings. I share my ideas and insights and most of all, it has become my mission to help others do the same.