On Having the Courage to Lifeshift
Said half grudgingly, half admiringly, a classmate told me I was “sooo confident” when I was 13. I’d never considered myself as confident at all (outspoken and opinionated, yes), but from that day I owned confidence as one of my traits. Years later, a run in with a male colleague I very much admired, left me questioning whether confidence had unwittingly mutated into a cold, alpha, arrogance.
My confidence in my professional abilities was high (as was my appreciation of my “development areas”), mostly because I was fortunate to start my career in a company that placed a high value on a robust and regular 360-degree feedback process and the annual appraisal and evaluation review was transparent and honest. However, I began to appreciate that outside of my objectively verifiable talents and skills, what I felt and believed about myself was largely dependent on what others thought of me. What I truly thought of myself outside of my job title? I hadn’t the foggiest and I hadn’t thought about that for a long time.
In researching self-confidence in high achieving women, I appreciated the subtle difference between self-confidence and self-esteem. Confidence coach Aaron Morton explains they are often used interchangeably:
Self-confidence and self-esteem are different but they tend to go hand in hand because rarely do you have one without the other. Self-esteem is all about how you feel about yourself, whereas self-confidence is the certainty you have about your ability to engage in the world. If you have low self-esteem it is unlikely you are going to be in the right mindset to confidently engage in a way that creates opportunities and possibilities for you. If you have low self-confidence it is likely that your mind will be littered with thoughts that demean your true worth that can bring a feeling of low mood and a lack of desire to pursue anything that carries any form of risk.
When it came to my career, I know I:
- Confidently engaged with the world in a way that created opportunities and possibilities
- Pursued opportunities regardless of the risk involved
Since rarely do you have one without the other I was self-confident and therefore had high self-esteem right? No, I had high confidence in my ability to do my job well and to progress my career accordingly. My self worth was high, having been gained through performance evaluations that stated I was well rated as evidenced by promotions. Work dominated my life to such an extent that I had no cause to think this confidence was domain specific. Until of course, life threw me one of those unpredictable, uncontrollable curve balls.
Life’s curve balls hit us out of the blue, at the core of who we think we are and what we think we believe in; they shake the cement. Applying our intellect, strategic thinking, analysis and problem solving skills don’t work on them – unfortunately the same model that drives our career success doesn’t work on the messy stuff (I’m talking the stuff that causes anxiety, sleepless nights, panic attacks and depression). We might wind up in the doctor’s surgery, on the therapists couch, or on a girlfriend’s shoulder (only after far too many glasses of sauvignon blanc). But more often than not, we feel alone, because the world has seen only a carefully constructed image of us, and marvels at how we do it all, and we have a duty and responsibility to our families, our teams, the women we mentor and the world that is expecting us to lean in. We hold it all together and we don’t fail. Ever.
Some, friends I’ve shared a glass or five of sauvignon blanc with, women I’ve coached, have come out the other side and have continued their stellar career paths, better and more authentic leaders. For me, high self-confidence in my professional abilities kept me on a treadmill – the constant pounding of which drowned out the inner voice telling me there was another path.
Thankfully life threw me a couple of curve balls that shook the cement hard. Living through them showed me that I was far more capable (and frankly, nicer) than that perfectionist, driven, brilliant woman who did it all, held it all together, never failed and but was pretty miserable.