A couple of weeks ago I was asked to be apart of an AGDA event – Dames & Dumplings. It’s an event that not only celebrates and highlights female talent in the Australian design industry , but also aims to foster the up and coming generations of creative women, by mentoring, inspiring and empowering them.
Why do we need to be talking about confidence?
According to the media, confidence is the biggest issue facing women at work today. And in the creative industry only 22% of women are in senior management positions in 2017 (Salary Survey, Communications Council, 2017)
A study done at Cornell University found that men overestimate their abilities and performance, while women underestimate both when in fact, their actual performance does not differ in quality or quantity.
This female confidence challenge was also described as the “imposter syndrome” by Pauline Claunce and Suzanne Imes. Women frequently express that they don’t feel they deserve their job and are “imposters” who could be found out at any moment. The study found that women worry more about being disliked, appearing unattractive, outshining others, or grabbing too much attention.
So why do we do this? And is it something that if we shine a light on it maybe we can start unravelling?
On the panel I was asked about what my “secret” to confidence is. Now I realise that it’s fairly easy to look at an extrovert like myself who has spent their life on stage, in front of cameras and is happy to stand up and present anytime and say “ Well it’s easy for you! You probably popped out of the womb mic in hand singing Whitney Houston tunes” but it’s not true.
Ask any of my friends or family and they will tell you I was an incredibly shy child who was terrified of being criticized or ridiculed. I was a long way from where I am today on this front right up in to my 20’s. And even in my 30’s I suffered terribly from anxiety (something a lot of people are surprised by as well). It’s been a constant evolution for me.
So what’s my secret to building confidence?
Confidence is like a muscle. It builds from repetition and stretching beyond your comfort zone. Like doing weights at the gym, you won’t build muscle unless you push the muscle into the zone where it hurts. But that zone is where the muscle builds. Yes it hurts. And there’s no way around it. So putting yourself knee deep in the things you feel unconfident about and doing them over and over is the only way to build that muscle.
At this point I’m guessing a few people are going “Damn – I was hoping she’d tell me to look in the mirror and tell myself I’m awesome 50 times a day” Sorry peeps – but there’s no way round this one. There are however some strategies that help you start moving in the right direction here.
- Acknowledge the fear – Instead of getting defensive or avoidant when you feel the lack of confidence around something, stop and acknowledge it. Naming the beast tames the beast. If you stop and admit that you feel a little anxious or out of your depth right at this moment then you’ve taken the first step towards conquering it.
- Set a goal – having a goal that you really feel passionate about gives you a reason to keep going when things get tough. For me in all of my professional and creative endevours I’ve always had a massive “why”. For instance that shy, buck toothed, lanky haired skinny 80s kid version of me wanted desperately to sing, write and perform. It was all I thought about (besides maybe New Kids on the Block and boys) But getting up and singing in front of people did not come at all naturally to me. I was an “OK” singer (no chairs would have turned on The Voice Kids for me though) The thought of singing on stage scared the hell out of me. Yet I would ask mum and dad to enter me in talent comps. The day of the competition I’d spend paralized with fear, claiming I was not going, crying and sick – but the time would come to walk on stage and somehow I’d do it. And every time I did my confidence muscle got stronger. I got better at dealing with the stress of it and more comfortable under the lights. Eventually as an adult I sang live and acoustic on The Panel – highest rating show on Australian TV in 2002. And while I was still pretty nervous (!) I did well and they featured us on their compliation CD for that year!
My fear was massive but my purpose was bigger!
- Repetition – Practice makes perfect. By putting courage before confidence, having some goals and then doing the thing you aren’t great at over and over and over again you can’t help but improve and get better. And getting better makes you more confident. Let yourself feel the fear and do it anyway.
- Give yourself permission to fail – It is OK to suck at something. Failure is feedback and reframing it in that way means regardless of the outcome you’ve moved in the right direction. The important bit is “Failing forward” – getting up and going at it again. Yes it hurts… but your goal and the knowledge that the magic happens outside your comfort zone can keep you going.
I was lucky enough to be on the AGDA Panel alongside two other insightful and accomplished women – both very different to each other and me and both with unique and yet similar insights on this topic.
Tanja Hall (the director of Jolt Studio here in Brisbane) has run her successful business now for 25 years. When asked how she had the courage in her early 20s to quit her safe job and start go out on her own her answer reinforced the “courage before confidence” concept. She didn’t know what she was doing and the idea was terrifying but the pain of not taking the leap was greater than the fear so she did. 25 years later that leap has certainly paid off with JOLT going strong and having worked with businesses such as Queensland Symphony Orchestra and BIGSOUND.
Also on the panel was my beautiful friend and client Kelley Sheenan, founder and editor in chief of Peppermint Magazine – the leading eco fashion and lifestyle magazine in Australia and beyond, showcasing sustainability, style and substance. Kelley describes herself as many things – Passionate, determined, stubborn and hardworking – but not confident. And again she reiterated the theme that bravery is where it’s at. That life is too short and if you wait until you’re fully confident that it’s the right time, or the right thing to do, you might be waiting a long time. And that none of us know what we are doing all of the time and that’s ok.
If you don’t have confidence, dig up some courage instead.