It’s not uncommon for high-achieving women to feel stuck sometimes or unsure of their career trajectory. Over my 11 years of coaching high achievers worldwide, I’ve met some really smart people, but that’s not a ticket to success. You already know that, and whether you settle in your career or attract excellence, everything ties back to one major soft skill — confidence.
After interviewing numerous “highly successful women,” authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman of the book, Womenomics, hoped to find “instructive examples of raw, flourishing female confidence,” but their studies led them to find evidence of a shortage instead. Kay and Shipman discovered, “compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities.”
Psychology Today defines confidence as “a belief in oneself, the conviction that one has the ability to meet life’s challenges and to succeed—and the willingness to act accordingly.” I always remind my coaching clients that building confidence is an act of courage as it requires you to dig deep and interact with emotions and thoughts that may feel uncomfortable at first.
Confidence paves the way for an engaging, enabling and energizing career. It’s the, “hey, I can do that!” self-talk in the face of challenging circumstances women often face in the workplace. If you are struggling with shaky confidence, don’t worry, all hope isn’t lost. Here are a few ways to begin cultivating it:
1. Be in It for the Journey
Confidence is not something we arrive at and then just stay there. It’s a journey with unplanned detours, ups and downs. This makes remaining mentally grounded even more important. When you approach your journey with a mindset that values progress over perfection, you will likely increase your confidence as you begin focusing on your growth instead of external factors you have little to no control over.
Things will never be picture perfect, and conditions aren’t set in stone. It’s easy to become tied to your expectations as a high achiever, but trying to have every single detail of your career and life figured out will only set you up for disappointment. All you can do is your part.
2. Deal With Your Doubt
The best way to deal with doubt is to act. To cultivate confidence, you need to take action — the more you do, the more your negative thoughts will be silenced as you build momentum. Most of the time, we’re not afraid of the actual action; we’re fearful of the uncertain results that come with action: being disappointed or being elated. Let’s use the case of networking; it may seem daunting to step out and reach out, but the more you do, the less concerned you are about not getting your ideal outcome. My clients see far more success with value-based networking than when they hit “apply” to dozens of job postings.
Most times, our doubts aren’t based on complete realism; they are based on the worst-case scenario we have created in our minds. Have you ever stopped and wondered what triggered that doubt in the first place? The next time you experience doubt, grab a pen and paper and ask yourself, “why am I doubting?” Then ask yourself if your doubt is even realistic.
The natural result of low confidence is inaction. So if you’re not going after your career goals, then it could be because of a lack of confidence.
3. Get the Right Support
I like to see confidence as a state of “being” regardless of what is going on. At any stage of cultivating your confidence, you may find it beneficial to seek an expert’s advice to help you along the way. Let’s look at three examples of professional support:
Therapists are often clinically trained, so if your lack of confidence is clinical, related to past trauma, undiagnosed depression or deep-rooted beliefs, then a therapist could be your best starting point.
Coaches are often professionally trained, and in the capacity of a career coach, their role is to help you develop self-awareness to overcome your career challenges. Coaches draw on insights, frameworks and strategies to walk you through your career plateau to the finish line.
A mentor typically has another profession, and they offer insights and guidance based on their experiences and knowledge. If you know where you want to go and you know you only need a little help getting there, then a mentor may be a good option.
When you’re choosing the best form of support for you, consider things like whether you feel the coach is truly content and confident themselves, where their confidence has taken their clients, and where it has taken them in their career. Do your vetting!
4. Silence Your Inner Critic
I remember recently reading a question that asked if I see myself as a success, and my response was “150 percent, I am successful.” Is everything I do a success? Absolutely not, but overall, I am content with my journey. Even so, I do have days that I need to silence my inner critic. And regardless of how confident you become, there will still be days where you, too, will need to silence your inner critic. You know, the voice that tries to convince you to give up before you get started or to downplay your success. But when you focus on upgrading your beliefs, you’ll slowly but surely go from stuck and settling to experiencing contented career joy.
One way to do this is to create personalized affirmations you can repeat throughout the day using words like “I” that reinforce definitive action. For example, if you struggle with perfectionism and you find yourself continually second-guessing your strengths, never feeling good enough or fearing that you may mess up, you might create an affirmation like, “I am capable. I am worthy of success. I trust that I can handle the challenges ahead.” Just because you may struggle in some areas doesn’t make you any less of a success. Celebrate how far you have come and prepare for the journey ahead.
The road to cultivating confidence isn’t a straight line, and it requires intentional work. I’ve heard from many individuals who feel their confidence has taken a hit during the pandemic, a time of political unrest and a rise in social injustice. You’re not alone. Whether you need help loving the journey, loving yourself, getting the right support or dealing with doubt, by developing your confidence — you’ll be one step closer to fulfilling your career dreams and reaching a place where you don’t settle for less.
If you’d like support with building your confidence, check out my Inner Work Guide.
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