A good friend of mine recently lost her job. It was an unexpected move by her company to close her division in advance of a new CEO taking the helm at year-end. My friend, who I'll call Sara, had always prided herself on her diligent work ethic and loyalty. She told me, "I was always so proud that I could say I've never been fired. Now I can't say that anymore." The hardest part for me, a friend both coaching her through the toughest times and simply trying to just be there for her, is seeing her loss of confidence. She's a talented professional and other companies quickly lined up to interview her, but she found moving on difficult. She called me in tears after one interview and said, "I just don't think I'm qualified to do this." It was for a position that she is eminently qualified to hold, but her confidence struggles were preventing her from seeing that as a viable path.
As you reflect on your own career and life path, what are some of the things that you wish you would have said, done, or tried, but didn't? Something held you back. I was two years into my law career when my mentor recommended me for a board position at a local non-profit. I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded like something too lofty for a twenty-six year old. I joined the board and literally said nothing for six months. I attended every meeting, took notes, and had lots of things to say, but I held myself back and stayed quiet. I'm sure my fellow board members wondered more than once whether I could physically speak.
Whether you want to stand up to your annoying sister-in-law or just raise your hand more in meetings, here are five strategies to practice to close the confidence gap:
Take action. One of my favorite phrases is "action conquers fear." Action also conquers ruminating, inaction and feeling stuck. When Sara didn't hear back from one of her interviews by the stated deadline, she was sure she didn't advance to the next round. And then she got stuck, ruminating and catastrophizing about all of the potential scenarios that could result. I told her that in order to mentally move on, she needed to start exploring other companies and sending out more résumés. Nothing builds confidence like taking action.
Challenge self-doubt & setbacks with CORE thinking. Building confidence requires getting outside of your comfort zone and experiencing failure and setbacks (see more on that below). When a setback happens, how do you explain its cause? Based on the work of Dr. Martin Seligman, pessimistic thinkers often get stuck explaining failure in a personal way ("I'm all to blame"), a pervasive way ("this thing is going to impact lots of areas of my life"), and a permanent way ("this adversity is going to be around a long time - I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel"). To flip that, practice CORE thinking:
C (CONTROL): Ask yourself where you have a measure of control, influence or leverage in the situation.
O (OTHERS): What resources do you have that you can draw on - what people can help?
R (REACH): How can I limit the impact of this adversity so that it doesn't influence other areas of my life?
E (EVALUATE & EMBRACE): First evaluate the root causes of the challenge that's impacting you, then "embrace the suck." An adversity is there to teach you something, and it will end at some point. Figure out what this challenge is here to teach you.
Build a growth mindset. According to Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, people with growth mindsets feel that ability can be developed through effort and learning, and they see failure as an inevitable result of trying new things. One way to build a growth mindset is to give and get feedback in the right way. The type of feedback that builds a growth mindset is focused on effort ("You tried so hard at that presentation") rather than talent ("You're so smart"). In addition, make sure you're keeping track of your wins - what are the successes you have had, big and small?
Be authentic. Do you show up to work each day as the real you, or are you a version of you? When I talk about how I burned out at the end of my law career, one of the biggest realizations I had was that I was showing up to work as "Paula the lawyer" and leaving the best of who I was (including my strengths) at home. Interestingly, it took a group of drill sergeants to help me reconnect with the most authentic version of myself. They taught me that vulnerability is not weakness; rather, it is courage in its purest form.
Get comfortable with the failure/struggle/mastery loop. If you want to get better at something, you're likely going to fail. Actually, if you're pushing yourself hard enough, you should fail. When that happens, you need to process the failure in a way that allows you to get back up and try again - you need to have resilience. Taking good risks can be especially hard for women as it means allowing ourselves to be imperfect, facing potential displeasure from authority figures or loved ones, and it can be uncomfortable being the center of attention.
Confidence is what allows you to show up as you at work and in life. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Brené Brown is this: "Nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that you're standing on the outside of your life looking in and wondering what it would be like if you had the courage to show up and let yourself be seen."
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert. Having burned out at the end of her law practice, she now works with organizations and individuals to build stress resilience. You can connect with Paula and to learn more about her work here:
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