Confidence is one of our most sought-after traits in life and in business. Confident people accomplish more and reach their goals, despite occasional doubt or rumination. An air of certainty attracts others to them even when their work is not perfect.
Out of the hundreds of women I’ve worked with as a coach and program facilitator, most expressed a deep desire for more confidence or shared a story in which their lack of it held them back. Research supports its importance: Confidence does more to build respect and influence in a group than actual competence.
Our Inner Mind, on over drive
When confidence depends too much upon others and not on our own internal state of mind, it flounders. Even the most confident among us can fall prey to a toxic environment in which we begin to second-guess ourselves. Individuals who have power over us is a factor in confidence zapping, especially when they levy criticism our way. Often, we collude with the toxic environments we are caught up in, creating a vicious cycle that undermines our belief in ourselves.
In my leadership development work, I have had the privilege to speak with many women in positions of power. I learned that many of them feel this same overwhelming fear of making a mistake. The fear often takes the form of overanalyzing a situation. Instead of moving forward on what they believe or know, women tend to second guess themselves, even if their knowledge and instincts prove right, repeatedly.
Time spent tweaking a presentation for the umpteenth time or crafting the perfect response to an email to a direct report are hours forever lost. Productivity and efficacy suffer. Women who overanalyze pay a price. They may be highly accomplished but not necessarily at peace because they allow their internal state to be in constant fear of what must be “fixed”. It can be an unsustainable way to live.
Why do women behave in these unproductive and self-sabotaging ways?
Science supports that as young girls, we were taught to be “good” and to follow “the rules”. This is the fastest path to a people-pleasing addiction. A vast body of research suggests that women tend to see the risks in a situation and hold back, while for men it’s “act now, think later” approach. This gender difference in behavior is particularly striking in the workplace because it increases under stress.
Another factor that erodes confidence in some women is their inability to accept their accomplishments, clearly. Too many women suffer from Imposter Syndrome, feeling like frauds. They often attribute their successes to external factors like luck, being liked or working harder than others do. “Imposters” have difficulty recognizing their own accomplishments. Instead of enjoying goals realized, the imposter waits anxiously for others to discover that she does not deserve them.
What we know for sure is that males and females were born with generally the same amount of confidence. Through early childhood training and societal conditioning, females lose confidence at or near the age of puberty. Growing through adolescence and its various stages of transition and awkwardness can be debilitating to a young woman’s confidence. And, she may struggle for many years until she realizes how much her life suffers.
The Good News
Despite adverse nature and nurture conditions that can upend a woman’s confidence, confidence can unequivocally be re-claimed.
Developing and building confidence requires overcoming our own fears. This can be a day-by-day commitment to taking action to stare down our gremlins. Having a supportive accountability partner can make this process easier and faster.
Confidence requires courage, operating more from our heart than our head, a willingness to pursue our dreams and moving forward for a purpose or a willingness to lead others. Confidence requires self-awareness, an understanding that “done is better than perfect” and the willingness to take calculated risks.
Make no mistake; navigating through our lives and careers with a steadfast confidence is our birthright. We must be willing to claim it, and then take actionable steps on a regular basis to create it for ourselves.