Today I want to talk about confidence!
It’s not something careers advisors say much about, but it’s crucial for a successful career; it’s not something employers ask for, when they list core competencies, but it’s something they will pick up on. You may not even be aware you don’t have it – it’s an invisible skill. And yet confidence is a large part of success in any domain, and success in the right domain is part of fulfilling every person’s potential – so it’s also a vital part of the puzzle.
However, 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, 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 1: Learn to Back Yourself
Don’t balk at a good opportunity
Here is a little personal story, but you can cut and paste the relevant details to generalise.
I went to a good university, but when it came to job application time, it turned out I genuinely didn’t believe that I was good enough to be a lawyer, investment banker, or beneficiary of another grad scheme with a prestigious company. It seems odd, now, that I had this problem.
It was partly just my problem; but I don’t think many people could be blamed for thinking something similar when faced with many companies’ recruiting materials. Look at the levels of perfection they expect of their successful candidates – it’s hard to see how anyone could possibly measure up:
- Genuine passion for Super Niche Area of Our Business
- Initiative to think outside the box in order to solve the world’s most intractable problems
- Pro-active and driven
- Outstanding teamwork, excellent communication skills, exceptional commercial awareness
- Sterling ability not to take a lunch break
- Peerless recall of your boss’s coffee order
Now, companies are right to big up their ideal candidates. They want to hire excellent people to gel with and exceed the excellent people they already have working for them. But here’s a tip: they are doing the assessing, not you. You don’t have to self-assess as literally the most competent person to ever walk the planet in order to seize a good opportunity.
Remember I said earlier that confidence was an invisible skill? I suspect that bigging up the ideal candidate acts as a form of ‘hidden selection’, which filters out the unconfident even before they can fill out the application form: by deterring them from applying in the first place. An unconfident person will discount such opportunities, not believing herself to be ‘exceptional this, outstanding that’, even where she really is. A confident person gives herself a fair whack at a claim to such characteristics, and goes for it. You should too. Don’t prescreen yourself out of a good opportunity.
Don’t limit yourself
Here’s another personal story, if you’ve the stomach for it.
A colleague once asked me if I had ambition, and I wasn’t honestly able to answer yes. (This should have been a red flag. Whyever not?)
He then asked why I wasn’t taking X initiative, why I wasn’t doing X task.
Let’s say X is a task that is interesting and fun; it’s skills-developing; it’s career-enhancing; it’s public-profile-building; it permits one to travel; it’s considered important to the business; it’s related to your role, but it typically requires a degree you don’t have; and as far as you can see, only people with ten years’ plus experience are doing it.
My answer was, ‘But I can’t!’
It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could be capable of X task. I simply didn’t place myself anywhere near that bucket or next to those more experienced, better-paid, better-qualified (I thought) colleagues who were doing it. I thought they were much more knowledgeable than me, because I’d heard them use words I didn’t understand (I obviously forgot that knowledge could be acquired). And I failed to see that, ignoring this domain-specific knowledge, I had skills that could benefit X.
My colleague’s perspective was just so different. I thought it was definitely impossible; he thought it was definitely possible. He was bewildered by my response and emphasised that I was doing myself a disservice by not being involved in X.
After this, everything changed.
Six months later, I was doing X. I was even doing it well. Better opportunities, X++, were coming my way as a result – all down to positive thinking. Of course, I had put some hard work into advocating for myself and pursuing this change. But the biggest obstacle was already overcome.
If, when you look around the office at what peers, managers, subject matter experts are doing, and a small voice in your head says ‘Oh, I could never do that’, then something’s wrong. You’re doing yourself down, or you don’t have the right people in your life, or you’re making excuses.
And you’re shooting yourself in the foot, because the limit of your ambition is probably the limit of your achievement.
To sum up: #BackYourself before you wreck yourself.
If any of this is familiar to you, the good news is that it’s all within your power to change! Next up: Step 2: how you might inadvertently be holding yourself back.