An UPFRONT conversation with Ashley Middleton
Meet Ashley Middleton: project manager, educator and personal chef.
As someone who struggled with social exclusion at a young age, she works, volunteers and collaborates with youth and marginalized communities in Europe to help advance mental health and confidence through skills and training.
We spoke to Ashley about her challenges with confidence as a woman, the influence travel has had on her life, and the creative initiatives she’s working on to push her confidence to new levels. Here’s her story.
What does confidence mean to you?
To me confidence is an energy, it’s something that exists inside yourself and is displayed in how you communicate and present yourself to the world. Confidence is linked to good self esteem and good self image, and I think Roald Dahl said it best in his book ‘The Twits’:
”A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?
I had a few traumatic experiences growing up, particularly my mother dying when I was 20. Building confidence and self esteem has been challenging and a life long project, even without a difficult personal history.
Just being a woman in the world is a challenge sometimes! Learning to be assertive rather than aggressive has been one of the toughest lessons, while fighting the ‘bossy woman’ stereotype.
I’m often challenged by new experiences, and simple fears or anxieties. Traveling alone was one of the biggest challenges, but once I started at 24, I was hooked.
How did you overcome these challenges?
In my thirties, I’ve had to learn to accept that perfect is the opposite of good. I’m human and ‘in process’ like everybody else. Travelling solo was profound for me; you’re never really alone when travelling, just in a new place with an opportunity to make new friends.
My daily strategies are breathing exercises and the superwoman pose! It’s from a fabulous TED talk by Amy Cuddy. You basically find a quiet space and stand for a couple of minutes like Wonder Woman, hands on hips.
This physical link between our bodies and mind is not to be underestimated. Exercise has changed my outlook on life many times. Ten minutes on a yoga mat in the morning makes a big difference to my day overall.
Like many before me, I’ve also overcome challenges through psychology; a little therapy, and a lot of self help information from the internet and books. Lastly, I’m learning about non-violent communication. This is a great tool and one of the most useful to remember when under stress in professional situations.
What are some things you have on the horizon for building or challenging your confidence?
As a teenager, I was at risk of social exclusion. Through a youth project, I developed skills and confidence I can now share with others who are experiencing something similar. I have recently started to coach a young team who are planning on opening a social kitchen that will be a base for the homeless charity I volunteer with called Esperança, or ‘hope’ in English.
Our kitchen will assist young people who are at risk, not in school or working, with the goal to remove barriers to access for work related skills training in cooking, entrepreneurship and the hospitality industry.
I also have a new creative project that involves writing recipes imbued with travel stories for @SaltyGalChef. I love cooking, have had odd jobs as a chef and enjoy reading recipe books and literature that focusses on food and kitchens. Publishing my own work will be a wonderful leap.
Other things on the horizon include trying stand-up comedy, as it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. A lot of empowerment can be found in getting on stage, be it through acting, dancing, comedy or public speaking. I feel very motivated as it will be part of a fundraiser for a charity that supports women who are survivors of gender based violence.
Last but not least, I’m looking forward to taking part in #UPFRONT’s course!
What would your advice be to people reading who want to be more UPFRONT?
Confidence comes from within.
If you’re low and feeling like you’ll never be confident, show yourself some kindness. Give yourself the respect you deserve and the rest will follow.
Stand up, smile, put one foot in front of the other and remember to breathe!
Why do you think organisations like UPFRONT are important?
All people in the world, female, male, trans or other, are going through one of the most challenging periods in socio-political history. The education of women and girls cannot be underestimated in these times. While the 1960s brought feminism to the forefront of people’s minds, the story didn’t end there. We now face a global environmental crisis, and one of the most effective ways to solve this is through a more balanced society.
We have a huge opportunity to shape our world through the education of women and girls.
Thank you Ashley for sharing your thoughts on confidence with us at UPFRONT. If you’d like to learn more about her, make sure to follow her on LinkedIn.
UPFRONT is on a mission to change confidence. Our tailored workshops and programs for businesses are meant to help build more confident, stage-ready organizations. See us in action here!