CJ Munn runs two creative businesses from her home studio in Kent, predominantly focusing on bespoke lifecast (body casting) sculpture
Q: How did lack of confidence show up for you? I.e. What did it stop you from doing
A: At it’s worst, my lack of confidence would prevent me leaving the house. I was absolutely fine with clients coming to my studio, because I’m confident in what I do work wise, and it’s my job to put people at ease quickly before they have their casting session so my focus is all on them rather than myself. But outside of my comfort zone I would often make excuses to avoid social interaction.
I originally visited Metis Women (local women’s business growth and support group) because two beloved friends pretty much bullied me into it. I think they both sensed it was my kind of place and that I would get the kind of support I needed there to heal old wounds and grow as a person and a business woman.
When I first joined, I found it tricky even to deal with the one minute introduction round where we just have to say our name and what we do for a job. I would get heart palpitations as it got closer to my turn to speak, putting all kinds of unnecessary pressure on myself to say something clever or witty as some people just naturally seem to. I wanted desperately to be liked, but I had always compared myself ill-favourably to other people. I kept looking at how well-dressed and groomed everyone was compared to me. How well-coordinated people were, how well-organised.
I was hard on myself in a way I would never be to anyone else. Lack of confidence affected my business too. Even though I have a great reputation in my field, and feel genuinely proud of my work, my nerves made me very uncomfortable discussing pricing with customers or potential clients, and even more hesitant approaching art galleries or other avenues of sales. I would just bury my head and wait for the work to come to me, and yet some months it just didn’t, and I simply went without things I needed until work came my way again. I never took control.
Q: What steps have you taken to increase your confidence / overcome the challenges?
A: Well I know people say that confidence comes from within, but I genuinely think it is a skill you can learn and particularly you can develop it in conjunction with working with the right people. Different things work for different people, but for me, finding the right group to work with was about finding genuine people who could be themselves with me, so that I in turn could be myself with them. I’m not interested in people who pretend to be happy, positive and fabulous every minute of the day. It’s great if you wake up feeling like that most of the time, but I just won’t trust people until I see that they have the days where they want to hide under a duvet or days when half their breakfast ends up down their best top just when they have to go out, or days when they’d rather eat their own handbag than make conversation.
When people show me their real self then I can relax with them. I was so lucky to find a group of women who could be like that – be open about all kinds of things from extreme health problems to bereavements to their own insecurities. And through sharing there became a real genuine sense of trust and belonging in the group and I sort of ‘unfurled’ one layer at a time.
One day I was meant to be giving a ten minute talk to the group about what I do and I was dead nervous, so I dared myself to just be myself – I wore my work dungarees for comfort/relaxation and then I topped it off with a tiara (for confidence/good humour). Nobody in the room batted an eyelid at my shitty dungarees and everyone admired my tiara – so after that I just knew that people liked me for me – the real me, whether I was blinded up with diamonds or dressed down in overalls. And I breathed out, and did my talk, and everyone clapped and clapped laughed at all my jokes some even shed a tear at the emotional bits of my story.
It was so encouraging just knowing that people didn’t mind that I was ‘different’ – because we are all different, and our uniqueness is what makes us beautiful and interesting and special to others. I can see that in other people, in fact it’s my job to see the beauty in others and reflect it back to them in art, but I could never see it in myself before.
These women taught me my worth. They respected my ideas as a business woman and for the first time I realised how much I had to give in that respect too. And before I knew it I had volunteered to help run the group and with a bit of an encouraging push from my lovely friends who believed in me, I found myself stepping more and more outside my comfort zone.
And that’s the key. Small, carefully prepared steps outside your comfort zone every day or at least every week if you can manage it – little by little the confidence grows, your self-respect grows, and when you realise how many other people believe in you then it becomes easier to believe in yourself.
Q: What can you do now that you couldn’t before?
A: Well, old me wouldn’t have believed it possible, but I actually started MC-ing (hosting) that business group for a couple of years! Standing at the front of a group of businesswomen, who had paid to come and see/hear what the group had to say is something I never thought I could do or would have wanted to do in a million years before, but I actually ended up loving it. It was just like chatting to a bunch of friends. And even when there were new people and visitors I didn’t feel self-conscious because the support was always so overwhelming. Even on bad days when I felt rough or tired or cranky, I would get understanding.
Surrounding myself with people I liked and respected who liked and respected me has made all the difference.
And after all this time I’ve finally got braver at sales too. This year I sold more sculptures than the whole of the rest of my life put together just because I dared to step outside my comfort zone. Having made one good sale from one daring deed gave me the confidence to try the same technique with another customer – I sold three more sculptures! Then I sold our most expensive sculpture of all a week later, because I was unafraid and believed that I could.
Fear gets in the way of so many things. I still get fearful, I still get anxious, but I try not to let it control and define me any more. I say yes to things I would have hidden from before but I have also learned to say no to things that bring me down and sap my energy. That’s just as precious.
Q: How does that make you feel? what differences have you noticed?
A: I have so much more self belief than I ever had before, and I see that I and my businesses have a lot of untapped potential and it’s up to me to do something with it. I don’t wait around for opportunities to come find me now, I try to make them happen. And that’s really exciting.
It also gives me more control as I can seek out the opportunities I want rather than being snowballed by them if they arrive when I’m not expecting them. It’s helped me make some truly precious friendships which mean the world to me. It’s made me like and respect myself more – I try to be kinder to myself and treat myself more as I would treat a friend. It still doesn’t come naturally always, but like with all aspects of confidence and self-esteem, practice makes perfect!
Q: What would you say to others who feel they lack confidence?
A: Surround yourself with good people and seek out your ‘tribe’, people you can be yourself with. Remember that if you try to be yourself and not what you think others want you to be then you will attract people to you who like you for you. If you fake positivity or perfection to try to impress people or to try to fit in then you’ll never truly feel relaxed with anyone, and no one will have the honour to get to know the real you. Everyone has layers, and everyone has issues, and if someone doesn’t like you with your complexities on show then they were never going to be your real friend anyway.
That’s not to say you should go into a business meeting wearing your pyjamas (unless you’re having one with me, in which case that’s perfectly fine) or should blurt out all your worst secrets to everyone, but you should certainly not feel you have to bottle up things you feel strongly about including when you are having a terrible week. You’d be amazed what a bonding experience and confidence boost it can be to show someone your flaws and have them want to work with you or hang out with you anyway.
So try to be yourself and remember that we’re all just making it up as we go along anyway.