How many times have you wished you had more confidence? If only you’d asked for a better salary at that career negotiation? Or been braver to pursue your idea for starting a business? Read almost any interview with a successful female leader or an entrepreneur and the first tip she’ll give you is that ‘you just need confidence to succeed’ and that ‘you should just believe in yourself’.
Oh great! What hope do I have if I’m not that confident?
I believe that the message of confidence can do a real disservice to women. Telling women they need confidence to succeed can be counter productive and can stop us from pursuing meaningful goals. Let me explain.
If you work in a very masculine environment confidence is often seen as the number one quality for success and tends to be equated with competence. When unconscious bias and old structures prevail and only externally confident people are promoted it’s easy to see how the pressure mounts on women to project confidence at all times and at all cost.
But does the pressure to appear confident lead to fake confidence?
It is possible that having confidence becomes more important than striving for authentic goals.
If you spend all your energy protecting that confident image (because that’s the way to survive in your current environment) then there’s little room for vulnerability or errors. But if perfectionism takes over from authenticity you may be walking down a path of perceived success never actually feeling successful or fulfilled as you are achieving what other people define as success.
There’s some truth in the phrase “Fake it until you make” as it encourages action before you know all the details, but I believe it can also lead to fake confidence. Perhaps our focus on competing with men in their game and following their rules has lead us forgetting what we actually want and how? What is your own feminine way to do things and what are your own authentic goals?
If the only way to survive in a male dominated environment is to have confidence, are you then more focused on building that confidence than pursuing your own dreams?
I ask because I see so many women chasing other people’s dreams trapped in that ‘confidence as success’ myth. It’s a confidence trap.
I recently met Mary at one of our DrivenWoman Introduction evenings. After a long and successful career in a leading financial firm she had come to a point where what she did no longer resonated with her and she had started yearning for something that would feel meaningful on a personal level. This left her feeling confused. As a confident woman of competence she was now facing a brick wall and no idea what she could do and where she could start. And it was the lack of confidence that was holding her back. She had always equated confidence with success so she could not see beyond the starting blocks in her new path.
I see a lot of women like Mary at DrivenWoman and I was also one of them when we started. There was not a single confident bone in my body! I had no idea what I was doing yet I was doing it.
A confident identity can put up a wall and create a mask.
It may shield you from other people and their ideas and from their help and support. There are no cracks in confidence. And it’s those cracks that are so vital for new ideas and the new way of doing things to emerge.
Vulnerability is the key to success as it opens doors and creates connections. And through overcoming obstacles and moving towards your own authentic vision you build confidence that is unprecedented and extraordinary. Confidence that stems from walking down your own path doesn’t have to boast to others, it’s approachable and genuine.
True confidence can be built by pursuing something you enjoy and is meaningful to you.
So next time someone tells you all you need is confidence, think about the following steps instead:
1) Accept imperfections and be vulnerable
The requirement for women to appear confident may be contributing to the chronic perfectionism many of us suffer from. Don’t fall into that trap. Vulnerability is not the same as weakness. It means you are brave enough to go ‘all in’ on a project you believe in without any guarantees of the outcome. You are open to vulnerability because of your strength of knowing you can overcome obstacles. Vulnerability opens the road to true success.
2) Step outside of your comfort zone
The only way to success is to keep learning and pushing yourself outside the tasks and responsibilities you are comfortable and confident with. So out goes confidence but don’t worry, nobody is confident when they start new things. Pushing pass the fear and doing it anyway (and surviving!) will build your true confidence like nothing else. You don’t need more confidence to do things, you need more kindness towards yourself when you face a situation where you don’t know all the answers!
3) Ask for help
Give up fake confidence and ask for help instead. How many times you stopped yourself from asking a question because it felt like you would have been exposed? These are the moments that keep you away from following your heart. It’s time to open up and become more comfortable with not knowing everything.
4) Be more compassionate
“If we spend our days criticizing and ranking ourselves and others, no wonder we feel insecure.” writes Jesssica Stillman. When you give up judging others for their lack of confidence you can shift your own mindset and give up negative self-talk. It’s time to give yourself a break and be kinder to yourself.
5) Allow your dreams to emerge
When you feel insecure in a situation try to see what is happening inside. The moments of discomfort hold a secret to our authentic path, if you are willing to listen. And remember that what is important to you is much more valuable than playing someone else’s confidence game.
And as for me, now after years of building DrivenWoman I’m feeling confident, and looking back it was these five steps that got me here.