Your return-to-work confidence primer (including 11 practical tips)

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A few years ago I found myself at a crossroad. My team and I had grown the business I worked for almost 300% — but I’d sacrificed my health, relationships and time with the people I love to get that growth. Completely burnt out, I knew I needed to exit the business and spend some time getting my health and sanity back. My confidence had also taken a beating.

By implementing the strategies I’ve outlined below I found myself again, and returned to work happier, calmer and more in control of my life. I also started ThriveU, to help other people who have reached a similar point.

Although people take career breaks for many reasons — having children and raising a family, taking time out to study or retrain, redundancy, health concerns, travel, just pressing pause for a while — almost everyone finds the the prospect of returning to work or finding a new job unnerving. And where there’s uncertainty and apprehension, there’s fear. Fear that we’re not good enough, fear that the culture may have changed and we’ll have to find our place in it again. Fear that we’re a fraud. The list is endless.

Fear is a tricky beast, telling us all sorts of stories that in most cases aren’t true. It can keep us stuck in a fixed mind-set, avoiding challenges or situations we’re afraid of.  It can make us give up when things start to get a bit difficult, or feel like we need to accept the first job that comes along, even when it undermines our value (both from a capability and monetary perspective).

So how do we combat this unhelpful fear? With trust. By trusting in ourselves and our capabilities, we put ourselves back in the driver’s seat. By taking time to reflect on what we want from our career and the company we work for, we regain control. This is the first step to regaining confidence.

When you’re confident, you operate from a position of strength. And when you’re looking for work, that’s very powerful. You will be amazed at how many opportunities present themselves when you believe in yourself. Be open to it — it might not look like you expected it to, but it could be amazing.

Here are 11 practical things you can do to build your confidence at work and in life:

  1. Start with where you are today

Be honest with yourself. Identify any gaps that may be holding you back. Start working on a plan that will move you in the direction of your goals. This is about taking control of your destiny and deciding what you want your life and career to look like.


  1. Know that it is difficult, you’re not imagining it.

When we undermine our value we also undermine our confidence. We feel like we constantly need to prove ourselves, particularly when we face both conscious and unconscious bias at work. Acknowledge the bias is real, and call it out when you see it.

This is particularly important when it comes to negotiating your salary. Back yourself. Know your worth. Ask for what you want. Negotiate on your own terms. Whether that’s more money or flexible work, ask for what you want.


  1. List your skills and achievements

Spend some time reflecting on your accomplishments. This can be a powerful reminder of how much we bring to an organisation. (And from a practical point of view, this will also help prepare you for CV writing and interviews! So it is incredibly valuable to spend time on this.)

List 15 things you are great at. What do people often compliment you on? How have you handled challenges in the past? How have you overcome adversity? (These don’t need to be skills from work experiences; they could be your approach to parenthood or how you deal with new environments while travelling.)

If you are struggling, reach out to a previous boss, team member or mentor. Buy them a coffee and ask them to share what they most loved about working with you.


  1.  Identify your strengths

There are several free, online Strengths Finder tests you can take like this Via Institute one or the High 5 Test.

By understanding your strengths you will quickly realise how much you bring to an organisation, where you can have the most impact and where to focus your energy.


  1. Re-engage your community or network

An extended period away from work can be isolating. Make time to reach out to your community. Cultivate your relationships and spend real time with other people. A simple coffee catch-up can make the world of difference to our mental health and wellbeing.


  1. Be patient

Returning to work takes time. Finding the right job takes time. Be patient and kind to yourself through this process. Ignore the self doubt and the internal criticism. Acknowledge what you are afraid of and if it all gets too much – go back and read this article from the beginning. Anything worthwhile takes time.


  1. Accept change

If you are returning to the same workplace, acknowledge that things have probably changed. Acknowledge that you have likely changed. Be honest with yourself about how much change you can accept and if the fit is no longer right, start working on a plan to move on.


  1. Flex your growth mind-set

Earlier I spoke about the challenges of a fear-based fixed mindset. As much as possible, cultivate a growth mindset instead. A growth mindset means we:

  • Believe intelligence can be developed
  • Have a desire to learn and are not afraid of making mistakes
  • Embrace challenges
  • See effort as the path to mastery
  • Learn from criticism
  • Find inspiration in others’ success 
  1. Don’t fake it til you make it

This is actually one of my most loathed sayings! Be authentically you and take action toward the things that you want. Own the things you are good at. They are enough. You are enough.

  1. Focus on what you can control

Let go of everything outside your control. We can’t control what others think of us, we can only control how we think about ourselves. We can be in control of our own career by reflecting on what we want, identifying our strengths, setting achievable goals with a positive mind-set and creating a plan of action to achieve them.


  1. Engage a coach

It can be challenging doing this work alone. A coach can support you to identify your goals and make those dreams a reality, and how confident would you feel if you could do that?

Claire Harrison is an executive coach, writer and facilitator. She holds a Diploma in Positive Psychology and has over 15 years’ experience leading teams and developing workplace culture. She is passionate about supporting women’s wellbeing, developing leadership capability and equipping women with the tools they need to flourish at work and in life. You can find her at

Image by Katya Austin via Unsplash