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Wellbeing

Published January 28th 2022

Surena Chande On How To Rebuild Your Confidence At Work

We all struggle with our self-confidence to some extent. Taking a look at BuzzSumo, engagement around "Imposter syndrome" content has grown by over a 1000% in the last 5 years!

Surena Chande knows what it feels like to have low self-confidence at work. Bad experiences left her confidence in tatters, but she tells us how she has rebuilt her strength and resilience to get her where she is today.

Listen to the full podcast below 🎧. Or read on for the transcript 📖

Louise: Do you ever have those days where you can't quite make out of your pajamas? Or the ones where you mark your entire inbox as read? Even the ones where you find yourself Googling, how do you do marketing? I'm Louise Content Manager at BuzzSumo, the world's best content marketing tool, and this is Marketing IRL, where we peel away the glossy veneer and chat about the realities of working in marketing.

This podcast is an extension of a project we started recently at BuzzSumo called The Wellbeing Hub. It's a place for you to go for advice, real life experience, and lessons learned by marketers throughout their career. Check it out at buzzsumo.com/wellbeing-hub.

So today we're talking about how to build your confidence at work.

And I'm super excited to be joined by Surena Chande. Hi, Surena. Welcome to the podcast.

Surena: Hello, thank you for having me!

Louise: How are you?

Surena: I'm good thanks! How are you doing?

Louise: Yeah. Great. Thank you. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Surena is the SEO editor at The Mirror and The Daily Star. She's also worked as a freelance journalist, a Digital PR for SEO agencies, Verve Search, and Re:Signal. And on top of all of that, she's written and edited for some big publications, including BBC Good Food Middle East, and Okay! Magazine. Got to take a breath. That's an impressive resume.

So, Surena is going to be talking about her experience with building her self confidence in the workplace, which I think is something we've all struggled with to some extent. And the term that comes to mind when you're talking about self-confidence is "imposter syndrome". It's something we've all been talking about recently.

And in fact, I did a bit digging into BuzzSumo around the term "imposter syndrome' and found that engagement around the topic has grown, from December 2016 to December 2021 today, by a thousand percent and that is mind blowing. So there's definitely a clear need for support and Frank discussion around this topic.

So Surena, can you tell us a bit more about your own experience and what made you want to talk about this topic today?

Surena: So there's so many things through my career that I've sort of made me now feel quite passionate about improving confidence in the workplace and building your confidence. I have been a journalist for, coming up to 10 years, and it's quite a tough industry. It was a notoriously tough industry. The devil wears Prada isn't too much of an exaggeration. Um, and over the years, I think I've experienced a lot of highs and lows. And with those, my confidence gradually got quite eroded, as brutal and cutthroat as journalism sometimes can be. I've now returned to the industry and things have changed significantly from my experiences, but it has taken a long time for me to rebuild my own confidence. And I think only now after a lot of hard work I've put into myself, and that other managers have put into me and other people I've worked with have put into me, I feel like I'm now in a place to talk about it and to maybe help other people who are struggling. So yeah, it's something I'm really passionate about .

Louise: I mean, I think we've all kind of struggled to some extent with self-confidence in the workplace. Unless you think you're like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And I just don't think anyone's going to feel like that, to be honest.

When it came to addressing your own confidence, was it a breakthrough realization you had, or did you gradually come to understand why you were feeling the way you were?

Surena: It was quite bleak in all honesty. I had been in journalism since gosh, 2012. Over the years, I'd had editors who had just sort of lashed out at me, who had been quite abrupt and rude with feedback, rather than constructive and helpful. And I was working on an online publication, and I had an editor who didn't mince their words. Now I'd just moved back from Dubai, with my family. I was not in the best place, mental health wise, and thought this job was everything I dreamed off. Like I was so excited to be doing this job. And gradually as the feedback got harsher and, every day you were sort of living in fear of what sort of outburst you were going to be on the receiving end off, that combined with other factors that I was going through at the time, I just realized I can't do this to myself anymore.

Eventually got to the point where I was like, I will do any job for any industry, but this, I cannot keep going through this.

It's not healthy. And I probably can't do it for much longer, like without having a break down or something. So I eventually built up the courage to resign. And that was terrifying because when you are in a place where you think you've ticked every box – you're working in London, you're working for a big publication, you think?

"Right. Well, things can't get in any better." The reality was so different, so yeah. Decided to resign and change industries. And I think the moment where I truly realized that this was something that I desperately needed to work on, was when I actually started working in digital PR, under a supportive manager.

And he would just sometimes praise my work. And that was the most baffling thing to me. I just couldn't fathom it. And I felt so grateful and it just meant so much. I'm not a person who needs praise all the time, but it'd been so long that I had experienced someone saying something positive about my work, that I was like, oh my God. Okay. Right. This isn't normal. I shouldn't be so surprised by positive feedback, or so taken aback by it. And just slowly started working from there, and I think he sort of let me know as well, you know, you're really putting yourself down or you're really doubting yourself. And you're good at what you do.

You're a smart person. So I think that's where the journey sort of began for me in 2017.

Louise: Yeah, I think the point that you made there about getting positive feedback and like any form of positivity. I think sometimes you can kind of get it into your own head as well that you shouldn't seek that out. For me, I'm like, oh God, I probably seem so needy right now.

But I think it is really important. You do need it. Everyone needs it to some extent, maybe some people more than others, but I thrive off compliments. But yeah, I think it is so important and I've been in similar situation to you before.

And just that small bit of positivity every day, it can do wonders for your confidence.

Surena: So true. You just want to work so – I worked so hard for that agency. I loved coming into work everyday. I never had the feeling where I woke up in the morning and I was like, oh, I don't want to go to work. I was like, oh, I can't wait to speak to everyone, oh, I can't wait to do well. Like doing well for the agency became something I became passionate about and something I enjoyed because I knew it was a supportive environment and everyone was kind, so why wouldn't I want to do well for them?

Louise: Yeah, exactly.

And Where did it go from there? in relation to your self-confidence?

Surena: When I started working for another agency I'd left Verve Search and I sort of landed in the deep end. I was brought in to sort of implement a whole digital PR structure. I hadn't done my research and I didn't know what I was walking into.

And. That's quite heavily my fault, I suppose, but I just didn't realize, I thought it's an established agency. I'll just be tweaking bits or adding my touch. And I was terrified. I was like, oh my God, how am I about to do this? And basically implement an entire digital PR strategy. Um, Quickly realized because it was also when the pandemic started and we all suddenly started working from home.

So I had to hit the ground running and do it from my bedroom and, um, I also had been suffering with and have always had anxiety from as far back as I can remember. So I started getting therapy, but, my work confidence with beginning to deteriorate and after Verve Search where I'd spent so long having it nurtured, building it up myself, growing, putting myself forward for new opportunities and stuff.

I think I was just so scared to lose all of that and end up back feeling like I wasn't good at anything, I didn't know what I was doing, and I was going to be a failure and whatever. And therapy really, really helps me. Like I was constantly starting to put myself down and be like, you don't know what you're doing.

You're going to make them lose clients. You're are gonna, you know, you're gonna let everyone down. I was so scared of letting everyone down, not realizing that I've been brought in because the boss who hired me, had faith in me to do well. And oh, by the way, we were all starting from scratch. It was, yeah, of course I was brought in to bring in results, but we were all starting from the ground up.

There was one other person on the team and I was gradually learning through my therapist, you know? You wouldn't ever treat someone else the way you're treating yourself in your head at the time. You wouldn't ever speak to a new colleague and be like, why haven't you achieved this? Why haven't you achieved that already?

The amount of pressure I put on myself within a month was terrifying. And, um, I have been doing that in my new role that I'm doing now, but I'm learning to sort of shut those voices down and be like, you're learning. It's going to take a bit of time. Not everything can be done instantly, because I'm quite a perfectionist as well so when I have my mind to something I'm like, it has to be perfect now - I want it to look like this. Whereas in my head, what this is would probably take six to 12 months. I've learned to sort of have patience with myself. My therapist told me to be nicer to myself. She also forced me to recognize the things I'd done well. There were things that I was so stuck on in months one to three. And, you know, I was really putting myself down for it, and she was right look back to that thing that happened last month that you were worrying about, she was like, look at that, you overcame it. It went better than you thought. Now it's about retraining your mind and like not constantly expecting the worst possible outcome.

Because that's what my mind would instantly go to. It would be like, this is going to fail. You're going to get no coverage. The client's going to leave and they're going to want X thousand pounds a month refunded to them.

Louise: Once you get into the pattern of thinking like that, it's so easy to just go down that slippery slope and then repeat and repeat those kinds of mantras in your head. But also they're not necessarily even conscious thoughts. You're not thinking about thinking them, but they're, so cyclical, and if you've already been in that pattern for so long, you just instantly go straight back into that kind of mentality. So it is so hard getting distance from your own thoughts.

Surena: It really is like, that's where a lot of the inspiration from my post came from, because I was like well, at Verve, I was constantly battling myself and going to my boss. And saying, you know, am I okay? I'm I haven't hit my coverage target yet. Am I going to be fine? Whatever. And it was like, well look at all these other things that you have achieved in that time and all the other things you're doing day to day and the ways you're helping other teams. So, I had to create that Trello board for myself, where I had to write down all the things I was achieving, whenever I was doing them, because otherwise the voice, the little cyclical voices that keep going round would have just carried on. So this was my one way of sort of shielding myself from being like, look, no there's factual evidence there that I did this, that I helped come up with this concept, that this helped.

And it's things like that, that are the only sort of ways I could really factually tell my mind, look, you are actually lying to me right now, and I'm doing ok. Stop sending me spiraling, because it's not going to happen.

Louise: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of, I listened to the podcast, I think his name is Mo Gowdat. I'm not a hundred percent sure. And I know that he's got a name for his brain and then he has conversations with it. Like, is that true, John?

Is that really true? What you're saying? Which sounds kind of unusual to do, but it is a good way of kind of questioning your own thoughts and questioning yourself.

Surena: My therapist taught me as well. She was like, yeah. You've got to learn to separate those thoughts from reality. So sometimes when I am being silly, like say a messaging, friends about something really trivial or like worrying and overthinking, I'll be, I've now learned to say like, oh my brains, just being silly and telling me X, Y, Z.

Whereas before I'd be like, oh, I'm just being an idiot and blah, blah, blah, and be really nasty about myself. So I've just learned to separate. No, it's actually my brain, which is coming up with these thoughts. And they're obviously not true. So I'm going to separate the two right now. And I think, yeah, I think maybe I need to give it a name.

Louise: Yeah. I wonder what mine could be? That's a fun exercise!

Surena: This evening's gone!

Louise: Cool.

So, if there was another realization you had about your confidence. What would you say that would be? Is it a result of therapy, or is it something else that you've kind of explored?

Surena: I think going freelance was a major moment for me in that you're telling someone who has notoriously told themselves they're not good enough that they now suddenly are good enough and have to go out there and survive on their own without a safety net and hope that people come to me. To what, for me and vice or like want to work with me independently. And the week before I went, freelance probably had the biggest meltdown. It was November, 2020, obviously we're in the pandemic. And, um, I'd quit this job where I was getting a really decent salary.

And I was like, okay, Nope, don't want to go freelance. I'm not enjoying digital PR anymore. My brain says I want it to, right. So it did. And I had this melt down the week before. And I was like, I'm absolutely gonna fall flat on my face. Like this is going to be really embarrassing, but I will say after I go freelance, I get my first client really well paying and it just sparked from there, like there was three weeks.

Where I didn't have work. And in those three weeks, I tweeted about it once and asked people what their suggestions were for freelancers, because it's so easy to compare self-worth with a quiet period. So am I no good because I'm not getting work at the moment, Todd, over in hindsight, um, And from that tweet, I ended up getting this job because this girl messaged me and she was like, there were shifts on SEO desks that there is places if you need help.

Um, but I think going freelance improved my confidence more than so many things in my entire career, I realized people the way this thing was, people came to. I didn't pitch for work once, weirdly in that year. And I think from what I've been told, that is quite rare for a freelancer, but finds to be unintentional work I'd done on Twitter and just networking with people.

But without realizing it, just having nice chats with people, I think I was like, well, Yeah. Okay. You could be a laugh on Twitter or you could get on well with people, but it's a whole different story when people are trusting you with X thousand pounds a month of budget. So you're obviously good at what you do.

And yes, again, brain, this is something you can't argue with. And can't try, maybe me feel rubbish about because otherwise, why am I getting retained clients and why are people coming to me? So that really, really helped with improving my confidence. Um, and I think. Yeah. Also getting this job. It's something I've, I've dreamt of a role like this for such a long time.

And there were times in the past where I thought, well, for various reasons, um, I wouldn't get a job like this because journalism, you know, there is a heavy leaning towards. White journalists. And there's a real lack of people of color within the industry. There's also so much competition and the fear was in me still that, you know, am I good enough as a journalist?

Cause the last time I was in journalism, I had a rough ride and was told I was rubbish. Um, at times find my old editors and stuff. So I think challenging myself to do it and to actually put myself through this again. Has really been what has been tough and already, I still feel like I'm healing from some of the things I was told in the past.

And I'm so lucky that I've got an editor currently, who is so supportive and he reminds me, he's like, I don't know who you've worked with before, but. Honestly, you need to have faith in yourself. You need to trust yourself and just remember that. Not everyone's like that. Like you're going to be fine. No, one's going to kill you. Everyone makes mistakes. It's fine. Mistakes will be made like it happens across all news desks. Um, it's just something you've got to fix, but it's not the end of the world. And I've also taken it as a chances. When I was in the early stages of journalism, I always said to myself, when I was being treated badly, that I never ever wanted to treat junior journalists that way. And it's something I'm able to implement every day now. And even if I have got feedback for the journalists, I'll never do it, that the I manage. I'll never do it in a way that makes them feel the way I was made to feel about myself. And it's amazing that I've got myself to that position when 18, 19, 25 year old me would have just looked at that and been like, what, you're your sat with that title?

Like. Impossible. Isn't it? So I think now hopefully my confidence learning continue to grow because it is terrifying. I am working with a living moving beast. News is always happening and it's about making those calls and getting those page views and hitting those targets. I've got to just, I'm forcing myself to trust myself every step of the way and be like, you've got this.

You were hired for a reason, and you're a smart cookie. Like you are, you'll know what to do in the moment. Stop panicking before every terrible outcome. You know, like the chances are things could go, right? Because you have been hired for that reason. If that makes sense?

Louise: Yeah, no, definitely. I was going to say, do you think you find yourself putting yourself outside of your comfort zone a bit more to try and test your confidence and those kinds of like confidence boundaries, because it sounds like you're doing so much and you have done so much.

Um, I'm kind of sitting here, like in awe. I mean, no one can see me at the moment, but I'm bright red just from talking on this podcast. So, yeah it sounds like you were definitely testing your own abilities and things like that.

Surena: Yeah,

I'm definitely pushing myself. I think, I think to be honest, Initially sticking out each, each day in this job was pushing myself out of my comfort. So my frame was like, you can't do this. You're not going to do well. There are targets. There are things you need to hit. Um, you know, there are people you need to impress, you can't do it.

And, uh, combined measure. I'm doing the best I can. That's one really important thing. I think we need to keep telling ourselves daily as well, you did the best you could in a day. And there are days where you're not going to be the best you, you could have been for whatever reason, whether you're ill or you're just exhausted or something like, you know, you've got things going on behind the scenes that are affecting you.

You've still got like on the days where you feel like you have done your best, give yourself a pat on the back for it because. Yeah. Sometimes your bosses will tell you, but in things like me's environment, you boss, doesn't always have time to be like, oh, good job on this day. Good job on that today. I'm very lucky in that.

My boss tries to tell us that a lot of the time, but I think, yeah, just getting through the first month, which I have now was the biggest push out of my comfort zone that I've dealt with in a long time. Has helped me to grow in confidence because from the sheer fact that I know I wouldn't have been able to do it a few years ago with where my confidence was that I would have run them all and I would have constantly more comfortable or I would have said no to the job because I didn't think I was capable of it.

Like in the past I've turned down, talks that I've literally been contacted to do because I've gone and told myself nothing I have to say is important or interesting. So yeah, it's, it's a slow process, but I feel like I'm getting there!

Louise: Yeah, no, definitely. You definitely are. I was gonna ask one last thing. If you had just one tip, it could be something you've already said or something completely different, to give somebody who's really struggling with their confidence in their job. What would you say to

Surena: Oh, so hard! Um, I would say keep note of all the things that you're achieving. Day-to-day whether it's writing it down on a post-it note, if your days are as crazy as mine. I know it's hard to get anything down on like a note pad, even like it to do less, but try and write down like, uh, I don't know whether you finished an article that you didn't think you were going to finish on time, or if you're in PR like you, um, got a piece of coverage or whatever, like write these things down as you go along and keep screenshot or take note of all the praise you get as well.

And look back on that when you're starting to really doubt yourself, because you've got to fight. Sort of what are they? I don't want to say unreasonable thoughts, but those intrusive thoughts in the most factual way possible. Um, it's so easy to be like, read those inspirational things when you're like, look in the mirror and tell yourself you're amazing.

And it's like, yeah, my brain's not listening to that at the moment. So back your. Like negative thoughts up and your like low self-confidence up with fact that you are good because it's the proof is there from yourself, your results of your work under the people.

Louise: Yeah, that's a really good tip. I need to go and start that Trello board. Cool. Thank you so much for joining us today. It's been really, really great. And if we wanted to find you online, where can we go and how do we get in touch?

Surena: Well, yeah, thank you for having me. And, um, yeah, I think Twitter's probably the best place. So that's @surenachande. Alternatively I'm on LinkedIn and yeah, those are probably the best places you'll find me.

Louise: Thanks for listening to Marketing IRL brought to you by BuzzSumo. You can share your own experiences with us on Twitter, just tweet @buzzsumo, and you can find us on our website buzzsumo.com. Bye!

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