Have you seen that Dove ad where they have the women describe themselves to a FBI sketch artist and someone else describes them to the same artist and the two pictures look shockingly different? And the self-described picture always looks like some Hobbit/Wicked Witch hybrid creature? I hate that. But I’m not surprised.
Every woman I know is her own harshest critic regarding her physical appearance, and I think it’s also true professionally. We have to stop the madness! We are not Hobbits and we are not bumbling idiots who can’t learn a new software program. Remember that. It’s a lesson for us all. Sheryl Sandberg talks about this in Lean In and I’ve seen it happen among friends and colleagues for far too long.
I’ve had many lapses in confidence in my professional skills over the years. Right out of college, I was hired by a big insurance company to train to be a sales rep or an account manager. We don’t need to talk about how I applied thinking the job was selling medical devices and it ended up being the insurance biz. We don’t need to talk about that. Anyway, after 6 months of training and working hard learning the ropes from the best and brightest, I was offered a sales role. I turned it down to take an account manager role because I told myself I didn’t want to be that dingbat sales rep that doesn’t know what she’s talking about. However, if I’m being really honest, I turned it down because I didn’t KNOW I could do it. I didn’t have a proven track record that would guarantee that I would do a great job. So I chickened out.
That kind of fear, that lack of confidence in my ability to learn held me back from a job with huge potential. We can’t do that. It is critical to trust yourself enough to stick your neck out, try something new and be willing to risk failure.
So how to do you build that confidence in yourself? Well, here are some things that have helped me:
- Get advice from a support network. The secret is to know that sometimes, others see us more clearly than we see ourselves. I’ll suggest a Lean In Circle, but a solid friend who you can count on to see you in the best possible light will work great too.
- Make a list! I would sleep on a glorious bed of to-do lists if I could, but even if you’re not a maniac like me, keeping a detailed list of accomplishments can help you remember why you’re competent and can take on new challenging projects, even with a steep learning curve. Argue with yourself. When you have a reason that you can’t do it, find a way to counter that point with a win from your accomplishments list.
- Say Yes to the Stretch. These are projects you have no idea how to do. Trust in your abilities to learn a new skill. What’s the worst that can happen? You screw up royally, somehow your screw up goes viral, and then you have to walk through a hallway lined with teenagers shouting “Lo-ser! Lo-ser!”? (Ugh, that’s from some brat-pack inspired movie dream I once had. Gross). But honestly, no that won’t happen. It may be super hard and frustrating, but with every work-around you try, every bit of failure, you’re piling things in the “well, now I know that” file. For example- creating this website…I’d never done that before. I didn’t know that I had to get a domain name, pick a host server, buy a theme, and put it all on WordPress. I learned it through YouTube (Dr. Efficiency’s tutorial was a lifesaver, by the way). And now I know I can do it! And you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be putting “web design” on my LinkedIn profile.
Constantly reminding yourself why you can take on new challenges is key. It’s what gives you the guts to take action. And succeeding in those accomplishments is the only way you can prove to yourself that you are smarter, stronger, and more resourceful than you realized. The confidence builds on itself… after you’ve shown yourself you can do it once, you’ll know you can do it again.
Now, here’s your action item:
Take on a project you’ve NEVER done before. You have no experience in that area, no skills, nothing. A low risk place to do this might be in your personal life or for an organization where you volunteer. Build a website, sell something online, or do some fundraising. As long as it stretches you and teaches you a skill you’d like to have in your arsenal, do it! You’ll be proud of the results and you’ll be one step closer to knowing in your heart that you are capable of taking on and succeeding in new challenges!