Is Our Desire for Confidence Getting in the Way?

It has been estimated that, at the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in key leadership roles in the United States. I’m scared to even look at the numbers that include the breakdown by race. The best way to characterize the underrepresentation of women at the highest levels of business, education, entertainment and government is through the realization that it is complicated and nuanced. While it may take a lifetime to fully see and influence this dynamic, let’s tackle one small part of the problem that is secretly sabotaging our progress: the desire to feel confident.

Lack of confidence is without a doubt a key variable in the sad equation that is the women’s leadership gap. In a comprehensive study by KPMG on the advancement of women’s leadership, the confidence conversation stole the show. It found that the top two pieces of advice leaders would give future generations of women coming into the workforce are:

1 | “Be confident in your capabilities.”

2 | “Be confident to ask for what you deserve.”  

I’m guessing this advice is not coming from a place of “This is how I did it,” but rather, “This is what I wish I had done more of.” My hunch is supported by the authors of the book, The Confidence Code. When they went in search of instructive examples of raw, flourishing female confidence, they found evidence of its shortage.

As a coach to emerging female leaders, I have witnessed the heartbreak that lies underneath all the broad-stroke statistics.

I have seen my own experience reflected in the stories of countless women as they share the devastation of what a lifetime battle with confidence does to our relationships with ourselves and how it influences how we show up in the world.

We feel like frauds. We regret not signing ourselves up for opportunities that we know we are qualified for. We ruminate about not speaking up in that important meeting. We feel utterly uncomfortable in our own skin anytime we dare to stretch outside of our comfort zones. We worry about the example we are setting for those who look up to us and so we “fake confidence” — which ends up feeling a lot like self betrayal.  

So my question is this: If even highly successful women (by the traditional standards of title, income and influence) aren’t confident, then why are we all being encouraged to run towards this unattainable nirvana?

If I was given a megaphone that was loud enough to deliver a single message to every woman/female-identified person on the planet, the message would be this:

Screw confidence. Stop waiting for it. Stop faking it. Stop beating yourself up over it. Stop holding it up as the golden ticket to your success. There is a better way.

Instead of fighting to conjure up confidence, let’s create some powerful substitutions.

What if we focused on getting ourselves centered before we walked into the office so we at least start the day remembering that our inner critic doesn’t speak the truth? What if we practiced taking fast-action when we intrinsically feel compelled to speak up before our fear kicks in? What if we connected more deeply to our fiery commitment to the change we are working to create, and used that as our fuel? What if we cultivated the belief that we know how to do hard things by reminding ourselves of all the fires we have already walked through? What if we gave ourselves permission to be imperfect leaders who make mistakes sometimes? What if we embraced the feeling of fear as a positive signal that we are about to grow? What if we remembered we are innately worthy of success because we already believe our sisters are?  

What would become possible if we embraced these new standards that allow for our imperfection and make space for the fear that will always be present as we push for growth? Let’s all take a collective deep breath and finally give each other permission to let go of the desire to feel confident, to lean into the discomfort and to take empowered action. We’ve got this, together.

Sarah Anassori is a Holistic Executive Coach on a mission to guide the next generation of heart-centered leaders to step into the work [and way of working] they were made for. Sarah seamlessly unites her years of traditional business experience with her passion for mindful living, personal innovation and authentic leadership to bring a strategic and spiritual approach to career transitions. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook and at sarahanassori.com.

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