Background: confidence is an invisible skill, but a large part of success in any domain. I haven’t always been particularly confident myself and didn’t quite realise how important it was until I saw its fruits in my own life. Learning to be confident is one of the most useful things I have done since leaving university and one of the best things that has happened to me as a person – honestly!
About a year ago, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and realised this might not just be a personal issue. Her thesis is that the gender gap in the higher ranks of corporate America is partly down to women holding themselves back due to lack of confidence in their abilities. It seems it’s in everyone’s interests to have confidence.
So I decided to put together The Confidence ManifestoTM (read Part 1 here!) about how I increased my confidence and how it improved my life. It’s the advice I would have benefited from a few years ago, and if it’s useful to you too, then 👍 If it’s not, there are better resources out there: Google will provide.
Step 2: Fight your demons
1. Simple lack of self-worth
You can see people succeeding all around you – older siblings and friends, university classmates, people you met once and added on Facebook. You know that success is out there: that there must be interesting jobs, occupations in which one can make an impact, steer a country, help others.
But you can’t picture yourself in them. You might be picturing yourself alone, sad, resigned to a mediocre 9-to-5 in a grey industrial park, and destined to die at forty. Your cats have left you and it’s probably raining, too.
I’ve been there, propelled I think by a temporary dip in self-worth. I’m writing this so you can recognise the symptoms and, hopefully, take steps to climb back up (with help if you need it!)
You are worth fighting for. Your life is worth more than this dreary vision.
When you work in an office, you create a sort of mental map of the people and activities around you, how they interact, what the power dynamics are, who makes the decisions, who to go to for help, what each team does, who the experts are, how each team’s activities contributes to the organisation’s aims – right?
Much of this might happen subconsciously, but if you inspect what you know of your working environment, you’ll start to see that the map is far from complete. There are little niches of opportunity everywhere: perhaps a task isn’t being done, a process is ungainly or you’ve spotted a structural weakness that needs underpinning.
Seeing these opportunities around you is the first step towards exploiting them.
Are you taking those opportunities? If not, why not?
- I don’t have time
- I don’t have the knowledge required (like me in the previous post)
- It’s not my place
- That’s someone else’s job
In many cases, these are excuses. 1. You might have time if you managed your time better, or optimised your working practices. 2. You can probably obtain the required knowledge. 3. A good manager will welcome novel ideas and will be glad if you can take their execution off their plate. 4. It’s possible to offer help and expertise without patronising or stepping on others’ toes.
And in many cases, I suspect these excuses obscure the real reason for our inertia, which is lack of confidence, lack of belief that we can make good those opportunities and fear of (public) failure. We don’t always know we don’t have confidence (as per previous post) and so we tack on a pretend, but convincing, reason not to act instead.
3. Moral scruples
This is an interesting one. Some people feel like bigging themselves up is just lying. And some people are reluctant to improve their confidence because they confuse low confidence with not blowing one’s own trumpet (= good), and high confidence with arrogance (= bad). But the two don’t match up. Here is an example (take this as a common sense principle, rather than a pro tip to be taken literally):
“I don’t want to write that I have excellent commercial awareness on an application form because I don’t know that that is true and so I feel like I’m lying.”
Wrong! It would be silly to assert that you have a skill without demonstrating it – otherwise how will the reader know it’s true? But if you can give a supporting example, then you’re showing that you have the skill. So you’re not lying when you say that you have the skill.
“Well, if it’s not lying, it’s definitely boasting!”
Wrong! When you fill in application forms, you’re responding to questions or prompts in order to give the company useful information about yourself. Boasting, by contrast, involves unsolicited reports of one’s achievements and characteristics with self-aggrandising intent. The reason you’re asserting something, and the intention with which you do it, are relevantly different.
To put it more generally:
Confidence is being in touch with the truth about your potential – it is realistic, not idealistic.
Whatever you achieve as a result of confidence is a realisation of your potential.
So being confident does not mean saying you’re better than you are, or than others; it just means recognising the abilities you already have.