When considering an opportunity or new job or starting a business, too often we overestimate the risks and underestimate ourselves. Only by doing those very things we might be afraid of, can we come to realise how very little reason we had to fear. The only way to build confidence and courage is by acting with and in spite of it.
I was talking to a friend on a bush walk not too long ago and we speculating over education, and getting a job in the field you enjoy. My friend is amazing, highly qualified and very, very smart. During this conversation I found myself thinking how often I hear people tell me they’re not confident applying for this or that job or opportunity because they’ve never done it before. I asked, “Do you know if you can do it?” and she did! Her along with others I’ve spoken to have most often they’ve studied extensively or are passionately seeking an opportunity to get that experience and they totally have the smarts to ace the task/role.
So what does a lack of self-esteem, as I will simply refer to it “self-confidence” look like? Given confidence is defined “as our belief in our ability to succeed at a given task”, a lack of it drives risk aversion and makes people less willing to pursue new challenges and opportunities. Sticking with the safe status quo will not open new doors for you.
Once upon a time that was me. I wanted to manage a team by the time I was 30. It was the only goal or milestone I wanted to achieve by 30. Mainly because I think age related milestones are very reflective of the social and societal norms that I actively try not to subscribe to. Managing people was that milestone, where I was like – I’ve never done it before, but I knew I could and I knew I would be good at it. I’d watched my managers, learned so much about people psychology, communication styles and been “managing up” for years (as I like to call it) – but that’s another blog article all together.
Time and again, they saw the same self-doubt: bright women with ideas afraid to raise their hands, speak up, ask for a raise or a promotion; that inexplicable feeling that they don’t own the right to rule at the top.
I got an opportunity to start managing a team by putting myself out there. I volunteered to help with recruitment to grow the team I was in. I started thinking about strategy, and actively told my boss it was what I wanted to do, and showed him proof I was capable. I was very fortunate to have a busy boss who didn’t have time to manage another team and who listened to what I said and trusted me to grow into the responsibility.
Then a change of management came and only saw my lack of experience and “first-timer”ness in a company that had grown in size considerably since I started in that role. I was sat down and quizzed about managing a team, and I struggled to show confidence. I doubted myself, and it must have been apparent. Soon after I left that company feeling disillusioned, heart-broken about not having been trusted. It had ignited a fire within me, the powerful woman ju-ju that will never let myself get in the way of taking on an opportunity that I desire ever again.
When you study you build up “Career Capital”. You do the same when you learn something new or when you put yourself out there to do something you know you have the ability to do.
“Career capital are the skills you have that are both rare and valuable and that can be used as leverage in defining your career,” Newport said. It is crucial to developing a successful career, one that Newport describes as being marked by creativity, impact and control, or autonomy.
1: Believing in yourself. You will never succeed at doing something you, yourself don’t 100% believe you can, or have the capacity to achieve.
I 110% believe I have the ability to build my own business that can replace my work as an employee and afford me the lifestyle, creative outlet and freedom I desire. Because I believe it so completely I keep going, even when it is tough. Self doubt isn’t an option, but neither is having a fixed definition of success.
Women are more likely to be perfectionists, holding themselves back from asking for a new opportunity, applying for a new job, starting a business, asking for a raise, until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure they can predict the outcome.
For example: women may apply for a promotion only when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Men will apply when they meet 50 percent.
But even this statistic can have a heteronormative bias. This lack of confidence can also be found in the queer community driven from a fear of standing out or being different, more so than their queerness may already dictates.
2: Find ways of learning the skills you need to gain an opportunity, before that opportunity reaches you. The Scouts always say that “Prior preparation prevents poor performance” and as dorky as I thought that was when I first heard it as a kid, it’s stuck with me. I wanted to get out of a role as a facilitator into building online learning – so I volunteered and did a small project in my spare time and learned heaps. I wanted to start building websites for people as a freelancer, so I started with building one myself with some help and I’ve learned so much more than I’ve ever imagined. This allows me now to share those skills with others.
3. Access to learning is never an excuse not to learn. In this age of the internet there are tutorials everywhere. I’ve taught myself graphic design, animation, coding languages, and more recently film and video editing by watching YouTube tutorials. Find courses that teach you the specific skills you need and can put into practice straight away. Just-in-time learning is the best way to learn information and retain it. Learn something new, then DO it. Even if it is just for yourself, gives you the confidence to vehemently answers “YES, I can do that!
Consistently it seems that a fundamental lack of belief in our own value, worth and ability to achieve consistently tempers female ambition and holds us back. Age and Gender Differences in Self-Esteem—A Cross-Cultural Window: Samuel D. Gosling University of Texas at Austin and University of Melbourne: If you wish to read more and view some amazing but gender binary stats on self confidence on a global cross cultural study.
4. It’s never too late to start building confidence and your skills. Don’t freak out if you are only starting to build your confidence, hone your skills and become an expert starting now. Give something your full and intense attention. That state of intense attention your skill will start using your brain at its full power. To improve your skill the fastest you need to give it your full and intense attention NOW without distraction. You produce work that is much better and that’s the state that pushes your capability and makes you better.
Nothing builds confidence in any arena more than stepping right into the middle of it…palms sweating, stomach knotted, beside the others out their building their own opportunities and taking their own risks. This builds community and strength in knowing “if they can do it – so can I!”
5. Let your passion follow you. Don’t follow your passion. This is only a recent development or idea. Follow something you are good at, work hard, stick at it and hone your skill so you are the expert and the opportunities you want will start to be offered to you. Find the skills that are rare and valuable, you then gain more leverage to create autonomy for yourself. You can then steer your work towards the opportunities that really resonate with you. Overtime this will really become a source of real passion for you.
Don’t be afraid to ask and negotiate. Ball those palms into a fist, rehearse, and practice what you want to say and go for it. Don’t run away with the first opportunity that comes your way. Concentrate on how you could use that opportunity to negotiate in your current position for more favourable outcomes or conditions that you have currently. Be aware of what your negative self talk, that inner critic is telling you and work on a positive affirmation to replace it.
Maybe we have socialised from an early age not to promote our own interests and to focus instead on the needs of others. The messages we have and sometimes still do receive—from parents, the media, and society in general—can be so powerful that we may not realise that we’ve internalised this behaviour, or we may realise it but not understand how it affects our willingness and confidence to negotiate.
We need to stop doubting our opinions and stop beginning our sentences with “I don’t know if this is right, but—.” We need to stop being more prone to “rumination” – This only causes us to overthink and overanalyse. (Sound familiar?) We need to stop doing this right now NOW.
While being more confident won’t eliminate the unconscious bias or stop any more self-assured outspoken person being called bossy or bitchy (where other can simply be labeled assertive). However, it will however empower more people to call out bias when they see it, put themselves forward and take more risks than they would ordinarily do. This will see more women and queers, POC, and other minorities moving up the ladder which, in turn, will create the more much needed role models, mentors, sponsors and inspiration for the people of the future to follow after us.