Confidence. About a year ago, I saved an article. Just tucked it away in a file.
Written by Margie Warrell, the article is titled: The Confidence Gap: Six Ways Women Can Dismantle The Hurdles In Their Own Heads. Though her focus is on women, this may be a topic you have considered whatever your gender.
But it’s still true that women make up the majority of staffers in our sector yet lag in leadership roles at the largest organizations. We’re good enough for the community. But less so for the organizations with big profiles.
Confidence… something I wrestle with daily. You too? I want to share some of Margie Warrell’s thoughts and connect them to nonprofit life today. I also want to say that though her article focuses on women, I think it applies to BIPOC, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people, too. Really, to anyone who struggles with this.
“Confident” is not the opposite of “nice”. And if it seems that “nice” requires you to act with less confidence, you’re being asked to perform.
Here are the author’s suggestions. My thoughts follow. (I nearly said, “for what they’re worth.” I nearly said it. Daily. Struggle.)
Lower your bar to ‘good enough’
An internal report at Hewlett Packard found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
Perfectionism. It can make you feel righteous. You work for the very best in all you do. It may have become essential to how you see yourself – and the standards you set for yourself.
But what could happen if you give it up? What if good enough was really good enough? Especially if good enough means you can get more good done?
Challenge old ‘norms’ about what a woman ‘should’ do
Oh, I know this box, too. How about you? Are you old enough to remember the old perfume commercial where the celebrated women can “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan”? Yeah, the perfume wasn’t so great, either. But these ideas stick with us.
After my first child, I was back at work in weeks… one day a week, with the baby. I didn’t realize then, having nothing to compare it to, but I’d had a rough delivery. And yet, the job called. We had no maternity leave policy then. So there I was, lugging a newborn, a diaper bag, and a carriage across several city blocks, then up 3 flights of stairs.
I could have insisted on more time. I just didn’t think about it. My perfectionism insisted I could absolutely do it all. Yet I felt like a bad employee and a bad mom.
Margie Warrell’s suggestion is great:
Next time you catch yourself uttering the word should replace it with could and add in a second or third option that reflects what you really want to do. E.g. I could stay up until 1 a.m. making cupcakes for the kids’ bake sale tomorrow or I could pick some up at the grocer’s and call it a night. Warning: this could be life-changing.
You can forge your own path – the one that suits you and your needs.
Befriend your inner critic and don’t let self-doubt call the shots
If nothing you do is ever good enough, it might be time to have a chat with that inner critic. Maybe even befriend it. After all, it has only the best intentions for you. It’s trying to help you avoid any embarrassment or rejection.
But you can take it. And avoiding rejection will also mean you avoid so many good things. So treat the critic – and yourself – with compassion. Understand what it’s up to and choose to try anyway. Don’t tell yourself you’re not qualified for that position – apply and find out. That idea you immediately reject as half-baked? Try it. At worst you’ll learn something.
One of the most important lessons an actor has to learn has nothing to do with projecting or dialects or stage movement. It’s learning to handle rejection. Over and over and over again. The ones who stick with it are the ones who can handle it.
Rejection – and sometimes embarrassment – are just steps on the road to learning.
Embrace your feminine difference and let go pleasing
I’m going to say we can remove “feminine” and this still works. You are unique. That’s a strength, not a weakness. Only you can bring all that you-ness to what you do.
Pleasing people is easy – except for what it costs you. Being yourself is hard (rejection, potential embarrassment), but the benefits are huge.
And I’ve found that when working with people, especially donors, offering your true self is a huge benefit. Keep relationships on the surface to protect yourself, and there they’ll stay. Offer yourself (not every last thing, and not every deep level!) and people respond in kind. Vulnerability makes connections. Plus, you won’t spend all kinds of energy trying to play a role.
Celebrate and elevate (rather than compare and compete) with other women
Getting along in your career? Leadership position? Yay, you! It’s a wonderful thing. Now, look around you. Who can you help?
Think about some of the hard-won lessons you learned. Can you share them to ease the way for someone else? Can you shine the spotlight on some other people without worrying about what it will do to you?
It doesn’t have to be a dog-eat-dog world if we decide not to play along.
Do not wait for confidence… lean toward risk.
Still learning this lesson daily over here. You too?
If you’re getting stuck in safe and rote, you’re not allowing your creativity to grow. And you may miss out on opportunities to succeed. Try a new idea out. Step forward for a new leadership role.
Make decisions about strategy based on what you can learn. But then, give yourself some room to experiment. It’s the only way to learn!
The nonprofit sector has its own confidence problem
Our sector has something of a confidence problem, too. We’re often compared to business as if we’re the less-serious tag along.
We’re not. Your career, your profession, matters. A lot. We’re in the change the world business. Does it get any more important?