Becoming Perfectly Confident in an Imperfect Body

Elly Aylwin-Foster avatar

by Elly Aylwin-Foster |

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Picture the scene: You’re standing in front of a sea of faces about to present something. You’re a woman who’s 5 feet, 2 inches (OK, 5 feet, 1½ inches) tall. Oh, and several of your major organs don’t work properly.

While a healthy person may rely on the timeless tactic of imagining their audience naked to ward off stage fright, a person with cystic fibrosis (CF) also may need to focus on making it through a speech without coughing or other distracting signs of illness.

You must project confidence while your insides are, truly, fighting a battle against you with every breath.

I am that 5-foot, 1½-inch woman. I often reflect on how CF can affect confidence, especially in a professional or work setting. When I feel fit and healthy I don’t have many hang-ups, but when I’m struggling with the effects of living with CF and CF-related diabetes, I often feel timid in professional situations. I’m fascinated that my condition not only affects me physically but also has such an obvious connection to how I see myself and my capabilities, thanks to the mind-body link.

Another layer of my discomfort may be attributed to my gender, as women are likely to face more confidence challenges in the workplace than men. Women are often seen to talk more than men in meetings, when in fact the opposite is typically true. Additionally, women leaders are twice as likely to be described as “bossy” than men despite displaying the same behaviors. It can be hard to strike the balance between projecting confidence and not straying into perceived arrogance or too far the other way into submissive behavior.

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However, this column is not just for women.

How does one learn to project confidence with an illness in the workplace? It’s a multistep process.

It sounds obvious, but it is hard to maintain confidence when feeling physically weak or sluggish. While exercise with CF can be especially hard at times, it is no less important. The good news is that exercise doesn’t just improve lung health but it also can provide a range of cognitive and mental benefits. When I feel strong physically, I see improvements in my well-being.

Secondly, embrace the value of a unique perspective. I’ve found that having a chronic illness can boost empathy, which is especially important if working in an industry that involves contact with customers and other human beings. Attuned empathy is not a gene that one is born with but rather a skill to be developed — a skill that many people with chronic illness find comes easily.

Prepare with prudence for a situation that requires “higher performance” than normal daily routines, such as speech preparation, a work trip, or a job interview. For example, if I’m worried about having a hypo when I want to make a good impression, I become more vigilant with blood sugar monitoring than usual.

My final piece of advice for the times when I’m unwell at work is to remember one thing: Not only is everyone else naked under their clothes, but each of them also struggles with insecurities, whether people have an imperfect pair of lungs or look the ideal picture of health.


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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