Success E-Letter Vol. 5/1 Early Spring '05
Finding the Confidence to Pursue Your Career Goals... Self Confidence and Unicorns
Nina Ham, CPCC, LCSW
My inbox has been peppered recently with notes from frustrated or stuck career searchers asking how to go about getting more self confidence. It's clear from their notes that they attribute being stuck and discouraged to a lack of self confidence and hope that if they can somehow boost their self confidence they'll be able to move forward with their career goals. They're full of longing about finding more self expression and satisfaction in their work and may even have an idea of how to achieve it, but they're stopped by fear.
Fear and lack of self confidence seem equally paralyzing to those who have achieved a certain level of success and to those who feel their potential is as yet largely unrealized.
The Elusive Unicorn
As I read these email messages I recognize a common misconception about self confidence, one that likens it to the unicorn. The ethereal perfection of the unicorn, magnified by its elusiveness, is irresistible. We keep pursuing it, and it continues to elude us. “It's there, I can see it! How do I capture it? How do I make it mine?”
I'd like to suggest that, like the pursuit of the unicorn, the wistful search for self confidence is based on several myths:
#1 You can't move ahead on something challenging until you have captured the unicorn, i.e. until you have self confidence.
#2 Self confidence is something you're born with or acquire in early childhood.
#3 Self confidence depends on outcome: success builds it; failure destroys it.
Let's identify the fallacy in each of these.
Self confidence has to precede undertaking something new, a challenge or goal that stretches you.
Research: Think of the two or three accomplishments in your life that you take the greatest pride in. What are they? How confident were you before undertaking them that you would succeed?
Truth: Self confidence is built by stretching to accomplish new feats. Repeating over and over what you already know you can do does not increase self confidence.
If you don't have self confidence, you'll never have it. Self confidence and lack of self confidence are inherent personality traits.
Research: Ask 5 people who appear self confident if they have always been that way.
Truth: While receiving encouragement and praise at an early age are helpful for establishing self confidence, challenging yourself and meeting the challenge throughout life are far more important.
Self confidence is determined by how something turns out rather than by what you put into it.
Research: Ask the people (above) who weren't always self confident how they made the change.
Truth: Resilience – knowing you can bounce back – is an essential ingredient of self confidence. Avoiding challenges is far more damaging to self confidence than trying your best and failing.
Three Simple Steps for Building Self Confidence:
Note that while these steps are simple, they're not easy. Like anything relating to building self confidence, going for "easy" isn't going to get the job done!
Challenge yourself realistically. Set goals that require a 30% stretch.
For example, if you're considering submitting a proposal to a top-tier business, start with a middle-tier business.
Put yourself in a position to succeed
This requires that you know what that is, for you, so some research may
be necessary. Here are some questions to consider:
What setting will allow you to use skills and abilities you already have to their best advantage?
What support do you need and where will you get it?
What will allow you to approach a new challenge with optimal confidence?
Possible answers: Developing a relevant skill? Doing a dress rehearsal with a smaller scale challenge? Modifying your expectations?
Coaching story: A woman who was blocked from pursuing a fabulous solo business idea because of major stage fright when talking in front of groups realized that her fears were manageable when she was telling a story. She saw that beginning her presentations with a story gave her just enough confidence to proceed with the presentation.
Give it your best
Not confusing “simple” with “easy” is particularly relevant here. Giving it your best means banishing any self-defeating voices, not permitting yourself to hold back. You've taken great care with preparation, preparing both yourself and the situation. Regardless of the outcome, you will have given the world the greatest gift any of us has to give: your best.
Here's where the unicorn myth returns. Though there is absolutely no logic to this, and some would say you're chasing a phantom, I absolutely guarantee that if you repeat the above three steps, incorporating with each repetition anything new you learned from the previous try, you will develop more self confidence. Guaranteed!