Cultivating Confidence

September 21, 2016

“Confidence and leadership are muscles. You learn to use them, or you learn not to.” — Sheryl Sandberg

It may surprise you to know that the woman quoted above, one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley, has struggled with confidence. And not just in her young and tender 20s, but recently.

According to countless studies and articles on women in the workplace, women at all levels struggle with confidence. And I’m one of them.

When I started at a worldwide PR firm in my 20s, I had the world by the balls. Or so I thought. Strutting down the hallways, double gunning it in client meetings. Okay, not really, but you get the picture. I was confident, hands-down sure that I had so much to offer and so much to contribute. The world was just waiting on pins and needles to get the nuggets from my brain, right?

Then something along the way changed that. Suddenly, I started to second-guess myself. Was this good enough? Did I say that the right way? Why would they want advice from someone my age? Is that what so-and-so would have recommended? It was like a little nag in my brain that I couldn’t get rid of. And man, she was annoying.

I knew I needed to nip it in the bud, but how? The change didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.

Here are some of the things I learned along the way.

Stop trying to be perfect 
There is a big difference between “doing your best” and being “perfect.” Perfection is tiring. And many times trying to be perfect at everything makes you feel like you’re good at nothing. So stop. I promise you’ll feel so much better about what you do and don’t accomplish.

Take constructive criticism for what it is — constructive
I think people often shut down when faced with criticism. There is something to be said for someone who takes the time to view your work and give you feedback. Don’t take critical feedback personally — take it professionally. Spend time with it, incorporate it into your work in a way that makes sense for you and use it to create future kickassery.

Find and celebrate your strengths and let others find and celebrate theirs
You’re great in more areas than you think. Recognize those strengths. Use them, flaunt them, and be a big enough person to let others do the same. I know I’m great at a lot of things and just so-so at others. But I know a lot of people are are amazing in the areas I need to develop. So I surround myself with them, I pick their brains, I learn from them and as a team, we create a lot of amazing work.

Find a mentor
Mentors are awesome. They add perspective, a good ear and fantastic advice. If you don’t have a mentor, find one. Or even two. I’ve had one of my mentors for nearly 20 years. She has been there for me when I was searching for internship, questioning my career path, struggling with the juggle of being a working woman/motherhood, and, of course, in the front row celebrating my successes along the way.

BE a mentor
Be someone’s awesome. Not only will you be helping someone else build and grow in their career, but you’ll also learn a lot about yourself along the way.

Look back at your day with an emphasis on what you did well
It’s always good to think back on what went well and what didn’t – it helps us learn. But try spending more time focusing on what you did well. One of the things Sandberg did before she went to bed was to write down three great things she did that day versus focusing on the one thing she didn’t do well. It helps you end things on a positive note and get back in the saddle the next day.

Find the humor
About eight years ago, I was giving a new business pitch to a potential client, and spent the entire time pronouncing the word “fury” like it was spelled “furry.” During that same presentation, I had a minor panic attack, which I believe was brought on by a lack of sleep and too many energy drinks. I ended up leaving the presentation mid-sentence while I was trying to explain an idea, leaving my colleagues to pick up the pieces. Was I mortified? Hell yes. Do I giggle about it now? Let’s just say, they still call me furry. YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES. Plain and simple. So try to learn from them and look at things with some perspective. Oh and if you’re wondering, we won that pitch hands down. Furry and all.

Never stop learning
You gotta try new things. Sure, it may be scary, but if you don’t, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. Be a student of your craft and interests. You’ll find you have new strengths and you’ll also learn where you need to pull in people to prop you up.

And, last but not least, accept compliments, graciously.