I don’t know how long my confidence was lost, but I realized it was missing a few summers ago, while I was driving home from a kickball game. I had done pretty well that night, by rec league standards, and as I walked away from the field under those stadium lights, I felt a flash of self-assurance inspired by my two RBIs. And then, I realized that I hadn’t felt that in a long time. A very long time.
Up until I graduated college, I had gleaned my confidence from my success in school and sports. The goals I scored in soccer games and the A’s I earned on tests helped me to validate myself. While I was still in school, those achievements served as my confidence boosters. But then I graduated, and with that life change came a new job in the “real world.” I thought I was prepared. I thought I was ready. I thought I’d knock it out of the park.
I was wrong. That first job shot down my confidence, not because of the company itself (my coworkers and employers were great people, and I liked the work I did), but because after years of being one of the smartest people in the room, I had been thrown back to the bottom of the totem pole. I felt like even after years of studying, I didn’t know anything. Granted, it was mainly due to not having years of experience under my belt like my coworkers, but I still felt like the “fraud” that so many other women have admitted to identifying themselves as in the workplace. I started to question my intelligence. “Am I really as smart as my grades made me look?” “Did I do well in school because of my work ethic, not my intellect?” I sat there and watched my confidence deflate like a balloon.
Five years later, that balloon was still sitting on the floor. It wasn’t until the night after the two RBI kickball game that I truly grasped all the self-assurance that I had lost. That confident girl whom I had known back in high school and college had been replaced by a woman who questioned her every move. And I didn’t want to be that woman anymore.
I believe it was Stephen Colbert who once said that once you embrace the fall, you lose your fear of failure. So, I decided to embrace the fall. I started gathering inspiration from books like Sheryl Sander’s Lean In and Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please. When I wasn’t 100% sure about something at work, I asked questions. I no longer pretended to understand everything, and I wasn’t afraid to admit that sometimes I simply didn’t know. I spoke up in meetings. I led projects even when I felt I wasn’t qualified. Outside of my 9-to-5, I finally launched a blog about personal finance aimed at women; I had longed to write on this subject for so long, but I had put it off because I felt I wasn’t enough of an “expert” to give others advice.
In a nutshell, I took risks. And guess what? I got smacked down a couple of times along the way. But in the end, my risk-taking paid off.
I’m now enjoying opportunities at my company that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. My personal finance blog continues to be an enriching side project that I am still emphatically passionate about. I walk with more confidence, talk with more confidence, and conduct myself with more confidence. Best of all, though, my risks have helped me validate who I am and given me the opportunity to succeed in the face of failure. I embraced my fall, and instead of tumbling down the hill, I proved to myself that I could climb a mountain.
I believe we all hit this confidence wall at some point in our lives: when the world pushes us down a rung or two on the ladder, we struggle to find our way back up. Coming from someone who has been there, it’s not a walk in the park trying to regain your self-esteem, but as Maya Angelou once said: “No one can dim the light that shines from within.” We all need to be our own biggest proponents in allowing that light to shine as brightly as possible. To help with that, I want to share the five steps that helped me to regain my confidence.
1. Be Your Own Cheerleader.
You have accomplished some amazing things thus far in your life, even if you don’t think so yourself. Heck, just being alive is a major accomplishment –- think of all the car accidents, bike wrecks, and natural disasters you’ve avoided. Go you!
It’s easy to forget all that you’ve achieved, especially in the face of others’ successes; it’s up to you to be your own cheerleader. I was inspired by this Ted Talk to be my number-one advocate, and I hope you do the same for yourself. Here’s how:
Right this moment, take out a pen and a piece of paper (or two) and write yourself a letter that details what makes you awesome/fabulous/the best person on this planet. I’m serious. Do it. It could be as small as making a killer guacamole or as large as running a business that supports the livelihood of 100 employees –- just make sure you list anything and everything. Then, read that letter each day with your morning coffee (or smoothie, in my case). I did this, and within a few weeks, I could already feel a difference in how I carried myself. I listed this as Step One for a reason, so even if you ignore everything else I say, at least do this!
2. Stop The Comparisons.
Someone else’s strengths may not be your strengths, just as their weaknesses may not be your weaknesses. The key to confidence is to stop trying to be someone else and start being the best version of you. The only person you should be competing against is yourself.
In Shonda Rhimes’ book Year of Yes, she mentions how after graduating college, all she wanted was to be Toni Morrison, a Nobel Prize winner in Literature. While she was pining for this achievement, she was just sitting in her sister’s basement. Day after day. Getting nowhere. It wasn’t until she saw a statistic that it was harder to get into USC film school than Harvard Law that she decided to pursue a different path. Now, she runs Thursday nights on NBC, writing not only Grey’s Anatomy, but also Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. If she hadn’t defined her own individuality to herself, she may not have given us a world where Meredith, Olivia, and Annalise exist. Just the thought is frightening!
My point? Stop envying and pining after someone else’s success: create your own. There is enough of it to go around, and the ability of one person to succeed does not negate your own. And you know what? Your real-life achievements just might end up being more remarkable than the successes you were imagining while sitting in your sister’s basement.
3. Do Something Scary Once A Day.
This one is hard. Not only to remember, but to actually do. Like the rule promises, this step is scary. We are ingrained from childhood onwards that failure is a no-good, horrible, very bad thing, and the best possible solution to failure is to avoid it at all costs. But is that really the best thing for us?
I don’t think so. By getting out of your comfort zone each day, you’re slowly teaching yourself that the world doesn’t end, even if you fail (or look like an idiot by twisting an ankle while trying to do barre classes). Life will go on, and those little failures won’t amount to much. They will teach you, though, that you are capable of doing even the most frightening of things. And if you can do the scariest of the scary, why would you be able to do the less-scary things, too?
4. Strive Towards A Goal.
Nothing gives you confidence like setting a goal and then accomplishing it. Nothing. Nada. Zip. When you work towards something that seems slightly out of your reach and then eventually grasp it, the achievement not only reinforces your idea that difficult things are possible (with a little willpower and determination), but it also empowers you to go after something even bigger and better. From there, your path to success snowballs –- with all these achievements under your belt, how could you not feel confident?
To get started, spend some time meditating on what you really want. Write it down and create actionable steps with specific time frames. Before you know it, you’ll have oodles of achievements to add to that letter you wrote to yourself, back in Step One.
5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It.
Your confidence won’t come back overnight. It may take awhile for you to start recognizing your inner rockstar. Until then, you just have to fake it. That’s right: put a smile on your face and channel that Inner Child who was so good at believing in herself. Strike a power pose. Think, “What would Tina Fey do?” and do that. Until you feel like you can tackle this world in all your radiant glory, just pretend to. Honestly, no one will know the difference, besides you.
I hope that if you’re stuck in a place in life where you’re constantly questioning yourself, you take the time to go through these steps. They’re not the easiest or the most comfortable (let’s just say taking a risk and playing a game of flag football is not my thing), but these five steps will teach you some important lessons about yourself and your worth. My confidence balloon sat withering on the ground for way too long. Don’t let yours do the same.
Brittney is a CPA in Indianapolis who loves any & all carbs and in her spare time runs the blog Britt & the Benjamins, which is focused on helping people, especially women, achieve financial independence and kill it in their careers.
Image via Picjumbo