During my first week in halls, I introduced myself to all my flatmates. I created a poster for the kitchen door with everyone’s names, door numbers, degrees, birthdays, and a fun fact. I travelled back and forth from University to my home in London. On the train, I would talk to the people around me. Unabashed and curious, I’d ask people about their dreams, desires, whether they got on with their family. At lectures, I would sit in the front row, hand always raised answering or asking a question. If I needed participants for research – a never-ending problem in psychology! – I would wander around campus and in the process of asking someone to fill in a survey for me, I’d make new friends. Soon enough, I couldn’t walk around campus without bumping into someone every five minutes!
So, I am sure that you have gathered that I am a bubbly, extremely extroverted and probably confident person? Or at least, seem to be so.
Actually, during my first couple of years at University, I struggled with pervasive and all-encompassing anxiety. Though, my behaviour was somewhat paradoxical. I have always just stood out. I am big and tall, so physically, I am not hard to miss! I am brown with a hard to pronounce Nigerian name and not archetypically British; on top of that, I am ridiculously clumsy, bubbly, and accidentally loud. Yet, I have always wanted to be a wallflower, just another obscure face in the crowd. At some point, I gave into being seen but focused on controlling what other people saw. I had to appear smart, happy, kind, confident, and hardworking. I could not, would not let my guard down. So, in many respects, my confidence was both monolithic and fragile at the same time.
I took part in the SPRINT programme at my personal tutor’s recommendation. I resented the fact that she thought I needed to work on confidence and assertiveness. However, it was another extra-curricular activity to collect for my CV. On my application, I spewed out all the right things without conviction, “I could do with being more confident, blah, blah, blah!”. I thought I’d sail through the four days not actually engaging with the content. The certificate at least would make up for attending.
It was an interesting experience!
During the SPRINT programme, we talked about boundaries. I was told that I could say no without apologising and that an excuse in many respects is a courtesy. Hmmm… I had never considered that. It did not occur to me that instead of going clubbing when I hated loud noises and drinking, I could have said no… The power of no was subtle. I thought about myself and my behaviour. I considered many of the feeble excuses that I gave people to get out of stuff. I was introspective about the shame of not being able to do anything, the anxiety, sadness and anger and plenty of stickier negative emotions that came with a no. For months, I still said yes but three and a half years on, and I have become better at reinforcing my boundaries. However, in the years to follow, I would find myself protecting my time, speaking my mind more and cutting out friendships where my boundaries or feelings were not being respected.
During SPRINT, we also talked about goals and planning. It was especially interesting for me as I had a lot of drive but no direction. Alongside this, my anxiety meant that I would overthink EVERYTHING. This brilliant combination meant that I had many aspirations, but many were underdeveloped or abandoned before I gave it a fair shot. One of these goals was taking part in the Undergraduate Research Summer Scheme. There were many barriers such as how to go about finding a supervisor and how to write a good application. However, during the programme, I was guided to make a plan about how I could go about achieving my goals, and we discussed barriers. After SPRINT, I felt confident enough to approach an academic in my department and ask her to supervise me. We submitted the application, and I got the bursary for the URSS. During the project, there were many points where I felt incompetent or anxious. However, I could look back and see how far I had come along with my goal already. It propelled me forward and eventually, I was presenting my research at the URSS poster presentation (November 2018). Two and a half years on, I still see this as a significant milestone. It was my first experience of seeing what I could do if I stopped holding myself back. I am not saying it was easy – some days I’d have panic attacks thinking about what I needed to do next. However, I would ride the wave and be fine again and ready to continue. Fear, whilst paralytic at times was not permanent. I try and remember this every time I am pursuing something and setting goals and it has given me the courage to pursue many opportunities and jobs.
Additionally, I heard all the amazing women invited to speak about their careers and lives. Everyone was so honest talking about how actually, they didn’t know what they wanted to do and sometimes there were barriers and difficulties. I recognised from their experience that it was not easy for adults like I had thought. Alongside learning about confidence and assertiveness, and in thinking about what I want out of life and my goals, I had to have to cast light on myself and actually see myself. I spent a lot of time delving past all the deflection, distraction, and misdirection. And what I saw was that really and truly, I was not happy. Drawing on the planning skills that I learnt, I decided that I would make goals that focused on my wellbeing and me unapologetically being my more authentic self.
I would certainly recommend taking part in the SPRINT programme!