noun: a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something
Is it really this simple, and if it is, then why do so many of us struggle with it?
Women often hear they must be “more confident,” but receive little, if any, direction. It is expected of us to know the precise time and place and the specific dose of confidence we should exude, as well as, but not limited to, how to recalibrate it for the ever-changing circumstances. For the exceptional few, this is a natural thing, for most- the forever balancing act between submission and aggression, and for others still, it’s the unknown, the “out of the comfort zone” feeling that leaves you breathless, speechless and utterly paralyzed.
As you may suspect, the internet and the library (yes it still exists!) offer a variety of wisdom on how to tackle this quandary. Amongst it all, a definition emerged, that came close to how I see it. According to Dr. Richard Petty, a professor at Ohio State University, “confidence is essentially the stuff that turns our thoughts into action.” It happens to be my belief that if we can understand the essence of something and how it works, it can help replace fear with curiosity. As curiosity starts to take over, we care less about appearances and perceptions, and dive deeper into the desire to learn and the sense of adventure. Confidence is the magic that results from embracing the adventure and believing we can come out, perhaps a bit scathed, but much bolder and closer to our best selves at the other end.
According to research, confidence is one of the most essential catalysts for success, especially in the workplace. We want it so bad. We want to know what it looks like, what it talks like, what it acts like. In our efforts to master the latest technique, we forget it isn’t about what it looks like and how we can emulate it, but rather about what it feels like and its impact. And it feels like purpose. A determination to accomplish our goal, our end game – to leave a legacy. What makes confidence graceful and contagious is one’s ability to affect others positively along the way. It isn’t only about meeting our own expectations, but about sharing our unique value with everyone that’s connected to us. It is about focusing on giving, not receiving. Giving is directly correlated to confidence. The more we create value for others, the easier it is to see our own. Think about the tremendous impact we can have on our peers, leaders, and even culture! We get to be a part of defining it all and if we have the ability to do it, then we have the responsibility to apply ourselves to it.
One of the biggest challenges in mastering confidence is lack of purpose. If we don’t know where we are headed in the first place, how can we confidently go about it? Here is one suggestion: instead of endlessly floating around at the whim of unpredictability, let’s figure out what we are supposed to contribute and let’s do it with passion, grit, and sense of humor. Knowing this is a daunting task, perhaps we should focus on our immediate space. Whatever you are doing at this precise moment, give 100% of yourself to it, while you are searching for your purpose. As Maria Shriver put it during the 2018 Prudential Health Summit: “our purpose is usually right in front of us.”
A significant culprit to cultivating the coveted state of mind is the fear of failure. Failure is the big scary monster lurking right around your cubicle. At least that’s what the status quo has taught us. But what we didn’t know is that it’s our ally. Failure is a sure-fire shortcut to achievement. By means of unveiling what doesn’t work it lights up the way to success. Can we agree to scrap the word “failure” with its ugly nuance and call it a learning curve, or a creative attempt? We don’t associate failure with learning, but in my book, they are synonymous.
Another obstacle to confidence is comparing. The sooner we understand this next statement, the easier and faster we can get on living our best lives. Our grass is the greenest! No matter how we look at other people’s lives we never have the full picture. In my experience, those whom we envy the most have the least perfect existence. It isn’t our business what others say or do, or even if, and when they judge us. It is, however, our business whether we are giving 100% of ourselves to our purpose. We spend copious amounts of time observing, judging and solving other people’s lives, but we should be selfish with that time, as it’s sunk cost- it’s lost forever and there is no return on investment. The opportunity cost is the time we should have been doing this work for ourselves. Learning to live as our wholehearted selves is the definition of authenticity and that is valuable currency in the world of confidence.
It’s hard to be confident when we live in a culture of scarcity, where everyone is struggling with some (potentially imaginary) deficiency. There will always be some standard that we are not going to meet. I bet many of us, if not all, can look at the next statement and without much thought fill in the blank: I am not ____________ enough.” Here is the deal- we fall trap to other people’s standards. Whomever these standard-makers are, they can’t possibly put everyone under the same denominator. I’d like to make one thing clear right away: whomever you are, you are enough! Make your own standards and measure your success in happiness and inspiration.
We frequently hear about the confidence gap. Not only do we have to worry about our own confidence, but also how we stack up against the opposite gender. So, what is the confidence gap exactly and how do we bridge it? Brenda Major, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, began studying the issue of self-perception decades ago. She found that men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that women routinely underestimated both. The actual performances did not differ in quality. Do men doubt themselves? Absolutely! The difference is that they don’t let that get to them as often as women do. The solution- stop the negative self-talk. Let’s embrace ourselves, we are special. There is something exceptional about each of us, and it’s our responsibility to find it. The world with our existence is a grandiose and complex puzzle and we each are a perfectly unique piece of it.
Did you know the odds of you being born as you are, are about 1 in 400 trillion? And did you know the odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 14 million? If being born isn’t a miracle, then what is?! So, I urge you to reframe your story- I am a miracle, and confidence is my birthright. It is the tool that will allow me to achieve the best version of myself and I will use it to share my unique value with the world. We are given a finite amount of time, so let’s optimize on experiences, meaningful connections with others and sharing ourselves.
About the Author
Sonnya Kourteva is a GAAP Reporting Specialist at Prudential’s PGIM. She is also the co-chair and programming director for the company’s Women Business Resource Group (WINGS), as well as an influencer on several internal newsletters and the National Diversity Council newsletter. Sonnya is inspired and passionate about initiatives, ideas and programs that bring people closer to each other. She strongly believes that building meaningful connections enables us to become our best selves.
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