Emma Gannon on women, confidence and success

Emma Gannon hosts the hugely popular Ctrl, Alt, Delete podcast (2m downloads), was one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 this year and is about to publish her second book. We discuss what it’s like to be successful, as a woman…

This article was first published on The Early Hour in 2018.

Emma Gannon is a writer, broadcaster, podcast host and has been a guest digital lecturer at Condé Nast College since 2014. Her podcast CTRL, ALT, DELETE – discussing online life – has had 2 million downloads to date. She was selected in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list 2018 in media and marketing and is a regular on BBC Woman’s Hour. She has written two books: Ctrl Alt Delete and The Multi-Hyphen Method.

In July 2016, your first book was published: Ctrl, Alt; Delete: How I Grew Up Online. Had it always been a dream, to become a published author?
Yes, 100%. It definitely stills feels like my biggest achievement to date, even though on paper my podcast has probably been more successful in terms of numbers and award nominations. I love writing and to get a book deal with Penguin Random House was the dream I had growing up. I started my blog in 2009 and my aim was to get my writing out there, so the book deal felt like the exciting proof that this had worked.

How did it feel to realise this dream?
It felt great! I realised that being an author really does open doors when it comes to your career. The book launch was honestly one of the best nights of my life. I did a speech and everyone got drunk. I guess it must be similar to how people might feel on their wedding day? Haha. All my best friends, amazing family and boyfriend were there cheering me on.

It led to a TEDx talk – did this also feel like a big box was being ticked?
Yes it was definitely on my list of ‘career things I want to do’. I had a great time speaking about a topic I care about to a friendly welcoming audience, and I met some incredible people backstage in the speaker’s green room. We all bonded over our shared nerves!

How did you feel, on stage?
Weirdly, I actually wasn’t nervous on stage. I was nervous beforehand, waiting in the wings, but once I was up there I was fine! Instead of ‘imagining the audience naked’ I just imagine that the audience are nice and on my side. Fear mainly comes from fear of judgement but I’ve learned how to momentarily put negative illogical thoughts to the back of your mind. It’s possible that people aren’t there to judge or hurl abuse at you, most of the time people just want to listen to what you have to say. Also, another speaker taught me the ‘Wonder Woman Pose’ which is where you stand with feet apart, hands on hips for two minutes and gets rid of nerves. I think it tricks your body into thinking you are a powerful super hero, or something.


If you compare your self-esteem now to when you were starting out, career-wise, what do you notice?
I suppose my self-esteem is higher now because I feel I have more ‘proof’ under my belt of knowing my stuff. I don’t really have Imposter Syndrome anymore. Well, maybe fleeting moments! But I think getting your head down and doing the work eliminates some of those early imposter feelings.

Do you remember having a moment where you felt like you were becoming ‘successful’?
I don’t know if I believe in this one definition of ‘success’. Of course when I got on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list I felt “successful” by “traditional” standards, but there are so other ways I feel successful. It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve been making serious money for example. I feel successful when I get to collaborate with talented people. That feels good. But also, when I am balanced in my life – seeing friends, family, planning holidays, enjoying time off and also working well, those are the moments I feel successful.

How does it feel to be successful?
I don’t feel like I’m there yet. I have so much more I want to do!

And how do others respond to you, as you becoming increasingly well-known (as a personality, successful career woman and with an impressive online following)?
I don’t think anything has changed as my following/work has grown quite organically over the last however many years. I’m friends with many former colleagues including people who knew me during my first internship. I think it might be different if I literally became successful over night!


What stops women from owning – and being open about – their success?
I still think there is a fear of not being liked. Self-promoting or saying “I’m good at this!” Is still seen as a bit vulgar in British culture I think. When I was in America earlier this year I noticed my female peers were way happier to own their talents and successes. They just say it how it is. Over here, we tend to think someone is ‘blowing their trumpet’ which then scares us into being confident about our achievements. It’s OK to think you’re good at something. It’s ok to make money. It’s ok to take up space. It’s ok to ask for more.

It feels as if men become increasingly attractive as they achieve success (money, fame etc) but for women it’s not always the same. Why do you think this is?
I think that’s changing. There used to be so many stereotypes about the “bitch boss” or “spinster female CEO”. Being rich has often be seen to be a masculine trait but we are changing that. I loved the book BETA by Rebecca Holman about how quiet woman can still rule the world and workplace. I also love the Starling Bank campaign #MakeMoneyEqual which is all about highlighting the discrepancies between the way male and female magazines talk to their readers about money. I love that Instagram consultant Sara Tasker shared that she earned £250,000 last year. We should all have the equal opportunity to earn lots of money and have the tools to manage, save and invest it.

Have you lost friends as you’ve become more successful?
I’ve only had one example of this, a friend who suddenly got fiercely competitive with me and I realised it had become a toxic friendship. You can’t have a friendship with someone who can’t be happy for you.

You wrote a tweet recently that caught my attention:

‘the more truly confident I get, the more I assume I’m probably more unlikeable.’

Where did this thought stem from, and what did you mean by this?
Haha, good old Twitter! So I did an event for a tech app recently all about redefining my career path and I was interviewed on stage about the future of work, my journey and how to build a side-hustle. I spoke about a load of different practical things, but one thing I said was that I was good at quite a niche job, so it enabled me to pitch myself around and also be a bit more in demand (I was poached by another company) because my expertise was quite niche. This is the power of ‘new jobs’ that haven’t been around for that long! The point being: don’t be afraid of having a niche job!

Anyway, a member of the audience put her hand up at the end and asked: “but what makes you think you are good at your job?” It was really disheartening, because this young woman couldn’t get her head around why I felt confident enough to say it. I think deep down she was of course showing her own insecurities which made me sad. Or perhaps it was the first time she’d seen a confident woman owning her success and felt repelled by it.

What advice would you give to your younger self, in terms of confidence and success?
To keep hustling and working away, because confidence comes from the doing, not the saying.

How do you feel about other women achieving with their careers?
Very happy! A rising tide lifts all boats. This is why I love doing my podcast, I get to shout loudly about what other people are doing, and lift them up.

As women, how can we better support each other in the workplace?
Sharing compliments is lovely, but sharing resources is even better.

How should you respond if another woman is clearly uncomfortable about your success?
You can’t control other people’s reactions or perspectives of you. You have to stay in your own lane and keep doing what feels right. Not everything or everyone needs a response. Have good boundaries and keep your friends and supporters close, they are the ones that matter.

The Multi-Hyphen Method: Work less, create more, and design a career that works for you by Emma Gannon is out 31 May 2018.

Twitter: @emmagannon
Instagram: @emmagannonuk

Photo credit: Holly McGlynn