I must tell you — I love being a woman. And I have long felt very fortunate to have been born in a time when women have so many opportunities and choices that even my own mother never had. Yet of all the barriers women still face, one of the biggest is a lack of confidence and belief in our own worth.
Yes, we are women. Hear us roar. Some days. But there are plenty of days we spend beating ourselves up, talking ourselves down and apologising for our opinions and questioning the value we bring to decision making tables.
We work hard to do a great job, to keep all the plates spinning and scale the high bars we often set for ourselves. Yet for many women, it’s still never enough. No matter how much we squeeze into any 24 hour block, we still feel like we’re falling short on some measure; that we’re just not “enough” in some way. If only we were more organised, more disciplined, more assertive, more strategic, more sure of our selves… maybe then we’d reach the top and make the mark we know, in our heart of hearts, we were born to make.
That little voice in our heads just doesn’t let up, continually critiquing what we didn’t do, what we haven’t yet done and what haven’t done “well enough.” Conduct your own mini-survey and you’ll hear so many women share their struggle with impostor syndrome, feeling unworthy or their success and unsure of their ability. It’s why I spend so much time writing and speaking to women about courage. Because in the end the only way to build the confidence we want is to step through our doubts and act as though we already have it.
We simply can’t wait until we feel brave to put our hand up for a bigger role, to ask for a promotion or voice an opinion others may disagree with. We have to take action, even amid our fears and misgivings that doing so may result in disapproval, rejection or outright failure.
Of course not only women struggle with doubt. Men do as well. However it’s my experience that we women tend to doubt ourselves more and back ourselves less than the men we live and work with . It’s why we must consciously decide to do step into our own power and dare to do more than we think we’re capable of doing. After all, all true leadership begins on the inside; changing the world around us starts with changing the world within us.
Closing the gender gap will require stepping up, leaning into discomfort and acting with the confidence we women often wish we had (or had more of!). So if you’re wondering what you can do to build your confidence, banish your doubt and make your mark, first look within and ask yourself this question:
What would I do today if I were being really brave? Below are nine ways to get started.
1. Ask for what you want
That’s right, it’s simple enough but let’s face it, too often we dilute what we ask for or we don’t ask at all for fear of appearing needy or being rejected. But how can you can’t expect to get what you want if you’re not willing to ask for it? There’s a direct correlation between getting what you want and asking for it. Ask big.
2. Say no
It’s a short little word but it’s one many women struggle to say because we know it’s not the answer people want to hear and let’s face it, we love keeping people happy! But if you’re ever going to make your biggest mark on the world, you’ve got to learn to say no to the “good” so you can create space for “great.”
3. Own your worth
Too often our fear of appearing boastful keeps us from talking about what we’re up to. Next time you’re talking about what you do, talk about it in a powerful way that lets people know you see the value in what you do (even if they have yet to realize it). To quote Sally Krawcheck, “It’s time to own it!”
4. Push back (and stop apologising for your opinion)
Yes, you’re a nice person and you’re loathe to be a trouble-maker, but if all you ever do is nod your head, smile politely and “go along to get along,” then you are selling yourself short. Way short. As social beings we are wired to belong to a “tribe,” but too often we let our fear of disapproval keep us from confidently expressing our opinion. Pushing back is not about being pushy. It’s simply owning your right to see things differently than others. Sure, women have been called bossy or even bitchy for simply speaking their truth, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up.
5. Be a daredevil
A research study by the University of California found that women are far less likely than men to engage in high risk activities than men because we are more sensitive to the potentially negative outcomes. While this clearly has its advantages (for instance women have a far lower likelihood of ever suffering a spinal injury), our lower “risk tolerance” also means we can be more reticent to take risks over all, including those which pose no physical danger at all and would ultimately benefit us. So if there’s is a goal you’d really love to achieve or something you want to change, embrace the discomfort of risk taking, dial up your inner daredevil and just do it.
6. Ditch the guilt
Some guilt is healthy. Like if you haven’t paid your taxes or you’ve done something that’s violated a core value. Very often though our guilt is driven by social norms and rules that we’ve unwittingly bought into. Like that good mothers bake cup cakes for their children’s school fair. If you’re a working mother, you’ll have had your own wrestling match with mothers guilt. But here’s the deal, how can you teach your kids to go out and pursue their dreams if you aren’t pursuing yours? You can’t! Not with any credibility, anyway.
So lay all the “shoulds” to the side and ask yourself, what is it that you would love to do so much that even if it pulls you away from your precious cherubs more often than you’d like, you know that they (as well as you) will ultimately be better off because you’ve done it?
7. Expand your circle
The more people who know who you are and what you want, the more people who can help you get there. So think about who it is that you’d love to build a relationship with and find a way to connect with them. As Debbie Kissire, former Vice Chairperson at Ernst Young shared with me in our conversation below, seize every opportunity you can get to connect with people outside your current social and professional circle who have influence, insight and networks that you don’t. Never underestimate the impact of your relationships to open doors, expand your thinking and fuel your courage to lean in and “take a leap” when it matters most. So don’t be shy, get out there and get connected!
8. Change your story
Every day you live with a little voice in your head continually telling you who you are, what you can do, and just as importantly, what you can’t. We all do. Yet while those stories you tell yourself are often a long way from the truth, they have the power to shape your life if you buy into them. So if you’ve been telling yourself a story that you’re too old, too young, too timid, too inexperienced, too pretty (yes, I’ve heard that one too!) or not enough of something to take your seat at the table and be a powerful force for change, try telling yourself another story and see what possibilities open up for you.
9. Risk more rejection
It’s not rejection you’re afraid of, it’s how you will feel because of what you make rejection mean… a personal inadequacy on your part; evidence that you are “less than worthy” in some way. But it doesn’t mean that at all. The truth is that you need to risk a lot of rejections if you want to get ahead in your business, career and any area of your life.