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

What’s Your Story?

A couple of hours ago I stood waiting to get off a flight, trapped in the no mans land of disembarking the plane, waiting impatiently for the “Cabin crew prepare doors for arrival”. I looked out at the sea of faces and wondered who all these people were. Perhaps a default position of being a psychologist – I look and wonder what’s that person’s story? Where did they grow up, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, do they have a family, what are they passionate about, what do they do every day, do they like what they do? It always amazes me to see how many people there are in any given space and time, each with their own unique pattern.

Everyone has their own story, each one of us has experienced different things and lived life in a unique and personal way. Even though there are 7.4 billion people on the planet, by nature of our genes and individual interactions, the neuronal pathways in our brains – only you are you and only I am me.

So, what?

Everyone deserves respect. We know this – I mean we’re all good people with good intentions at the end of the day, right? But we can also easily forget. Caught up in our own world of busyness, of getting on to the next thing – our more primitive brain takes over and sees the faces around us as strangers and indicative of this word’s meaning as ‘strange’. (This incidentally is a natural human response that makes me feel defensive, annoyed, protective).

On my way to Zambia, in Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport I went to the bathroom. I walked past the toilet attendant and thought about how it must feel to be in that room with no windows all day: flushing loos, cleaning seats, seeing people rush in and out again on their exciting adventures. And I wondered how that lady got there, what was her life story, did she even have a choice of what job she did or was it anything that would pay enough to live? Did she ever have opportunities, prospects? How did she see the world? On my fleeting trip in and out of the bathroom all I could offer was a big smile, no time to sit and ask her about who she was and how she got there.

While we are all human and unique, we also by nature of our biology and default all too quickly forget. So, what should we do with these people all around us – in a world crowded with faces?

Try not to stereotype

I say try, because our brain works quickly to categorise and simplify as a survival mechanism still with us from our ancient ancestors. Friend or foe, like me or not like me, opportunity or threat. We have to consciously make the decision not to let the more basic and primitive areas of our brain take over. While it may be beneficial to use our survival instincts when we’re walking home alone in the dead of night that only makes up a small fraction of time in our daily lives.

Try not to make assumptions

Once we’ve got past the point of stereotyping, the next rabbit hole our brain takes us down is stereotyping. We speak to someone at a party and find out that they’re a banker, our assumption could be that they are money and status driven and that could be the lens we then see everything they say through. For example they talk about when they were in Africa and we assume it was on some luxury safari. In actual fact it was as a volunteer helping children orphaned as a result of AIDS, and why? Because they care deeply about giving back. Even as a psychologist trained to step back from these assumptions, I can be as guilty as the next person once I’m out of work mode.

Ask questions and really really listen.

Try (again I say try because it’s not the way your brain will lead you) to remain completely open-minded, to listen with intent, to understand not to judge or think about what you are going to say next, listen to hear what that person has experienced, what they believe in, what nuances of their experience and perception makes them as unique as you and I.

What’s your experience of jumping to the wrong conclusion or being surprised by someone’s story? What have you learnt about people as you’ve gone through life? Do you have any tips on how to stop yourself from judging too quickly? I’d love to know because I really do think we can all learn from one another.


Explore your own story using:

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at, Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g.,,

Defining You gives unique access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

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