It’s a funny thing about confidence.
If you don’t possess it naturally, you can’t just sign up for it, or attend a class. You can identify it in others and try to emulate what they do, but even that will only get you so far.
The only way to exude self-confidence is to practice it.
Self-confidence is as self-confidence does, to paraphrase Forrest Gump.
All successful people appear to possess this desirable quality, since confidence makes an individual memorable and magnetic. Even if you’re wrong most of the time, if you exude confidence, people will be attracted to you and listen to what you have to say. Just look around you and see who gets the most airtime. It’s those who are dripping with confidence.
We started the week with National Boss’ Day, celebrating bosses who have made an impact on the lives of those they manage. Genuine leaders in the workplace and in the community have an aura of confidence, certainly. But have you ever noticed the quiet self-confidence of women who have something to give from a more personal level?
For women in the western world, all the stepping stones for success appear to be in place. We stand on the shoulders of giants whose stories teach us to overcome fear and try new things. Laws prevent discrimination based on gender. Each of us can personally name a few women who make their own choices and thrive.
We’ve collectively earned our place at the table, and yet, we’re still talking about how to pull out a chair and sit down.
For the woman whose stomach ties in knots every time you flex your confidence muscle, fear feels like the invisible hair on your face that you can’t see, can’t find, and can’t brush off. No one can see it or feel it but you. But you know it’s there.
Nellie Borrero, Managing Director of Global Inclusion and Diversity at Accenture urges women to keep pushing on the gas. In a Huffington Post article, she wrote,
My main message these days is confidence. I can’t overemphasize how important confidence is for women to move solidly into senior leadership. Much of the structural work regarding diversity has been done - laws against discrimination; increasing numbers of women, including Latina women, going to college; companies creating diversity programs and putting inclusion on the CEO agenda.
Now we must have more confidence than we’ve ever had before.
That was a full six years ago, proof that this confidence torch is one we must keep lit for each other, and for future generations.
[By the way, Borrero will be speaking at the Texas Conference for Women on Nov. 2 in Austin, and we're interested to hear her insights this year!]
Degrees of Confidence
Women who have walked through fire in their personal lives are often the most confident of all because they learn how to withstand disappointment and loss. Is it any wonder then that as women mature, they come into their own in a way they could not have imagined as young women?
Reluctant confidence still counts.
- The one who ends up divorced after relying on a husband for 20 years, learns to manage the house and her finances, so that no one ever needs to “take care” of her.
- The one who is railroaded out of a job where the C-suite is comprised of only men, starts her own business and competes within her industry on the playing field she designates.
- The one who struggles to earn her position on a board becomes the one who teaches other women and boards to embrace diversity and their rightful place at the table.
- The one who loses someone she loves winds up sharing her story with others to help them navigate similar emotions and circumstances.
Indeed, the best use of confidence in women is the kind that pays forward. And that brand of confidence is almost invariably earned through failure and survival.
Confidence Earned is Confidence Owned
Do you remember the eye-rolling disclaimers during discourse surrounding Sheryl Sandberg’s first book, Lean In? Before I actually read it, I’d heard a review of the book, asserting that leaning in could only really be accomplished if you started from a position of privilege. Women who were interested in raising their own kids, and those who did not have an ivy league network need not apply. (Ironically, critical book reviews test the mettle of even the most opinionated authors, so kudos to Sandberg for holding her ground.)
Then came the death of Sandberg’s husband, the heartbreak that followed, and the second book, Option B. In it, she recounts how she picked up the broken pieces and assembled an authentic reiteration of the confidence she once possessed, lost, and then reclaimed.
And women across the board are embracing this new facet of confidence. Why?
Sandberg herself admits that she has always struggled with confidence:
I had spent a lot of time thinking about self-confidence. I struggled with it all my life. Then I gave my TED talk, I wrote Lean In, and trying to help other women build their self-confidence I built mine up too. But then when Dave died my confidence crumbled overnight.
Confidence forged through hardship rings truer for more women because it comes from a place of learning and earning. We see the humanity behind the successful career woman who seemingly has it all. We can all finally identify with her because she shared the ugly crying scene.
There has to be a trick to it, right?
For some reason, natural confidence – especially in women – is suspect. The truth (for both men and women) is rarely that you're born with it. So we search for the secrets behind confident people.
We want to see the tricks, the actual maneuvers you make in order to fake it till you make it; the trials other women went through to get where they are now. We want to see something good come out of the ashes, like the triumphant raised-arm poses Amy Cuddy taught us to do in the bathroom stall before the big interview or speech, tricking our endocrine system into actually BEING confident.
The real angle on confidence – having it, earning it, displaying it, etc. – is to push yourself there, taking bold, but minor, uncomfortable steps in a cold flash of sweat if necessary.
In the book The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write,
We need to fail again and again so that it becomes part of our DNA. If we get busy failing in little ways, we will stop ruminating on our possible shortcomings and imagining worst-case scenarios. We'll be taking action instead of analyzing every possible nook and crevice of a potential plan. If we can embrace failure as forward progress, then we can spend time on the other critical confidence skill: mastery.
That humble pie is getting stale anyway, isn’t it?
If you’ve ever assumed that a powerful, confident, successful woman sits on some imaginary throne, you’re right! She actually created it out of thin air, from a lifetime of audacious, elegant, and cringe worthy feats; and over time, it finally starts to feel comfortable. It’s time for all women to step up and assume their places one thrones they fashion for themselves.
Are you naturally confident or have you earned it by trial and error?