Genius is childhood recaptured

Our childhood has a massive impact on who we are as adults and with a huge range of factors from our early years impacting who we become. It’s worth reflecting on your childhood from time to time to take lessons into your life today whether that is how to live with passion, how to love with an open heart or on a more technical level how certain things influenced who you have become. In my book Defining You I explore some of those factors and in this blog post look at just two – self-esteem and social skills. 


What is self-esteem? Put simply it’s the belief that you can achieve whatever it is you set out to do. If you have high self-esteem, you think that nothing will derail you; if your self-esteem is low, you may be riddled with anxiety about your capabilities. Self-esteem is relatively fragile in childhood, meaning that it can be built or undermined quite significantly by people or events, and the effect can remain with you into adulthood. 

Research shows that if you were lucky enough to have high self- esteem as a child, it will have had a positive impact on your income as an adult.1 It will also have helped build better mental health,2 which is the foundation not only to living a happy life, but also to fulfilling your potential. However, if you reflect on your early life and see a child riddled with self-doubt, that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed or become more confident in your abilities as an adult. It’s never too late to bolster your self-esteem and have more optimism in your ability to achieve your goals, whatever they may be. Simply being able to pinpoint events or people that knocked or built your self-esteem as a child will help you overcome obstacles that had a negative effect, and reap further benefits from things that had a positive impact on you. 

Think about the following questions. Don’t worry if you can’t answer them right now, just reflect and come back if anything springs to mind: 

  • How much self-esteem did you have as a child? Were you self- confident? For instance, did you throw yourself headlong into activities or hold back? 
  • Why was that? 
  • How do you think this relates to your self-confidence now? Is there anything that really helped build your self-esteem as a child that you could build on? Was there anything that held you back that still affects the way you see the world today? 


Your environment when you were growing up also influenced the development of your social skills. These include a wide range of characteristics (e.g., empathy, kindness, and cooperativeness), but in a broader sense they refer to your interpersonal effectiveness and ability to forge friendships. Research shows that the social skills you developed as a child have an effect on your satisfaction with life, well-being, and mental health.6 Social skills are a critical foundation to being able to fulfill your potential and be successful.7 They are at the heart of all daily interactions, from deal making and engaging stakeholders to getting people to buy in to whatever it is you set out to achieve. 

When it comes to family influences on your social skills, research shows that if you had a close relationship with your father, you’re more likely to develop better relationships as an adult. If your mother left you to your own devices, you’re likely to be more effective at dealing with other people, whereas if you had a more demanding or critical mother, it may have had a negative impact on your ability to relate to others.8 The research has been carried out on these particular relationships, but most likely can be extrapolated to other situations. 

It’s important to point out that this is not about blaming your parents: most parents want the best for their child and that’s more likely than not to have been the case for you. Exploring how your parents influenced you is more about understanding yourself and the major influences on you than it is about pointing the finger at anyone. 

Although interpersonal skills are in part genetically influenced, they are modified by who we interact with and the situations we are exposed to, and this modification continues to happen throughout life. While profiling I’ve heard many stories of social skills altering as people grow up, such as those who were incredibly shy as children becoming outgoing as adults. If your interpersonal skills are not as fine-tuned as you’d like, don’t worry, this is something you can work on. It is worth investing time to think through when and how you developed your skills in order to build on what has worked, and to overcome or accept and move on from what hasn’t worked for you. We’ll be looking at this in more detail again later in the book. 

Think about the following questions, and if it helps take some notes. Don’t worry if you can’t answer them right now, just reflect and come back if anything springs to mind: 

  • What was your relationship with each of your parents (i.e., mother, father) or significant figures in your childhood? 
  • Was there anything that helped you become more sociable as a child that you could build on now? 

There’s so much to explore in who we have been and what we have learnt through life. Not so much through introspection and over analysis more from observation and curiosity. I hope you find some insights that are helpful. 

Extract taken from my book Defining You which I’ve been lucky enough to have won two awards for (Business Book Awards UK and Axiom Award USA). 

Defining You which is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK as well as Elsewhere it’s available on, and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

Image: by June Intharoek

Quote: Baudelaire


1 Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg, & Lindsey Macmillan (2006) Accounting for inter- generational income persistence: Non-cognitive skills, ability and education, CEE Discussion Paper, London: Centre for the Economics of Education, London School of Economics and Political Science.

2 A. Goodman, H. Joshi, B. Nasim, & C. Tyler (2015) Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life. London: Institute of Education.

3 T.E. Moffitt, L. Arseneault, D. Belsky, D., et al. (2011) A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(7): 2693–98.

4 Goodman et al., op. cit.

5 M.B. Rutherford (2009) Children’s autonomy and responsibility: An analysis

of childrearing advice, Qualitative Sociology 32(4): 337–53. J.M. Causadias, J.E. Salvatore, & L.A. Sroufe (2012) Early patterns of self-regulation as risk and promotive factors in development: A longitudinal study from childhood to adulthood in a high-risk sample, International Journal of Behavioral Development 36(4): 293–302.

6 Goodman et al., op. cit.

7 D. Goleman (2003) What makes a leader? In L.W. Porter, H.L. Angle, & R.W. Allen (eds), Organizational Influence Processes, 2nd ed., Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 229–41.

8 University of Haifa (2007) The quality of a father–child relationship affects intimate relationships in adulthood, releases/2007-02/uoh-tqo021907.php

Is social media destroying our mental health?

Earlier this year I was interviewed for a piece in DigitalSpy about about social media and our mental health. Following the publication of research by the BBC today showing the rising issue of self-harm I thought I’d share the thoughts that I prepared for my interview. 

Would you say that there needs to be more awareness around the potential effect that social media can have on a person’s mental health? 

Yes definitely. A few of the impacts include:

Normalising harmful behaviours– social media can also normalise dangerous behaviours such as self-harm and even suicide. This is something that has been brought up as an ever increasing issue with a report from the BBC today stating that there ‘has been an “alarming” rise in the rates of self-harm in England.’

Continued exposure to messages of any sort makes them seem far more ordinary and as a result such behaviours become incorporated into the everyday elements of how people live their lives. They are accepted as opposed to being seen as something harmful. Research also shows that self-harming behaviours are contagious. In a real-world setting this may mean that they spread to two or three people but online this contagion can quickly spread to thousands of youngsters. 

The cumulative effect – on mental health. A bit like filling up a glass of water a drop at a time. Each drop may seem inconsequential but eventually the glass will overflow. This is the way in which social media can, for some, eat away their well-being. For example, self-esteem is lowered through comparison – seeing other people living happier more connected lives than us can make us feel socially isolated in contrast (Shensa et al., 2016). Another example is the way in which stress iteratively adds up. Stress from remaining constantly alert for new social media messages triggers our fight or flight system releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Over time this leads to chronic stress which in turn can lead to anxiety and depression. Similar stress levels can also be triggered by the constant need to project an unrealistic image within our social network. Always trying to look like we’re having fun, doing interesting things, travelling etc as a result, ‘our profiles reflect how we want to be perceived, rather than showing an honest picture of who we truly are’ which eats away at self-worth and causes identity diffusion.  

Addictive nature– we all know how hard it can be to put down our phones once we start scrolling through twitter, Instagram or any other platform. This becomes similar fodder as for addictive behaviour as drinking, smoking or over eating. 

Advice from non-experts– while it’s great that everyone now has a voice, the issue is that people who have no real expertise are dishing out advise to anyone who will listen. We are swayed by number of followers rather than proficiency of who is delivering a message. The biggest problem when it comes to this is psychological advice being doled out by people who (however well-meaning) are not trained. This can lead to people going down completely the wrong track with their thinking and behaviour which can cause or exacerbate a whole range of mental health issues. 

Would you say that there are any links to social media behaviour and a rise in any particular mental health issues?

Yes, the research shows that there are links to both anxiety and depression. One study carried out in 2017, which looked at over 12,000 young people found a statistically significant correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms. Another study conducted by psychologist Dr. Mark Becker, of Michigan State University, found a 70% increase in self- reported depressive symptoms among a group using social media and a 42% increase in social anxiety. 

Research has also found that when we focus time on building social media networks it can negatively impact our ‘real life relationships’ with our close family and friends. Our time is spent with virtual connections which tend to be more superficial in nature. As a result we begin to lose the social support available to us in real terms and that social connection is essential to living a fulfilled and emotionally resilient life. A number of studies have shown that these virtual connections can even result in long-term emotional and psychological problems. Dr. Steven Strogatz, a professor at Cornell for example worries that social media is creating a growing confusion between our weak ties (e.g. people who might be useful in referring us to a good restaurant) and our strong ties (close family and friends).  Strogatz says “The distinction between genuine friends and acquaintances is becoming blurred. Users are spending more time maintaining relationships with people they don’t really care about.” 

In addition to all that’s been mentioned above other issues linked to social media include: use of devises close to bedtime resulting in poorer sleep quality (which impacts mental health), negative impact of body image creating poor self-esteem and anxiety and of course vicious bullying enabled by anonymity and a lack of social accountability. 

One study sums up the current situation up well by saying that ‘despite the positive benefit of rapid information sharing, social media can and does lead to increased issues with mental health’. With most large-scale empirical work in this area suggesting associations between social media use and increased symptoms of depression and anxietyand decline in subjective well-being (e.g. Andreassen et al., 2016; Block et al., 2014; Kross et al., 2013; L. Y. Lin et al., 2016; Woods & Scott, 2016). It’s unrealistic to suggest that we don’t use social media or that there are no benefits. We should however be mindful of how much time we (and our kids) spend on it, how we (and our kids) use it and make sure that we (and our kids) still invest time to building our real-life relationships.