The Confidence Myth: How to Succeed Despite Low Self Esteem
We can describe confidence as a belief in oneself. Belief in one’s ability to figure things out and succeed, and acting in a way that conveys this belief.
It is great to have a high level of confidence. It generally makes life easier. A great news is that confidence is not an innate, fixed characteristic. You can build it.
But while you are still developing your confidence, remember that confidence should not stop you in achieving everything you set out to achieve.
You don’t need confidence to succeed in life. What do you need instead? Play the cards you were given NOW and get things done.
How Lack of Confidence Did Not Impact Career
“What the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.” — Napoleon Hill
Let me share a personal story that illustrates the confidence myth.
At the beginning of my career I was working in the research back office of a major consulting firm. At that time, I had recently transferred from my previous job where I was serving as a manager at a small defense company. (I actually started as a front desk receptionist at that defense company and the highest position available was that of a manager. There was no more place to grow.)
My day job in the back office was to do research to support consultants on projects. Yet, I joined the back office with the goal of becoming a management consultant.
Shortly after I was hired I volunteered in my free time to help on a strategy project, where a team of consultants was helping a major financial services client enter the Eastern European market.
At that time, while we were doing many things, one particular event demonstrates very well the confidence myth. When for an important decision, one consultant on the project insisted we should do x and I insisted we should do y. Obviously, the consultants were far more highly qualified. They had amazing degrees from great schools (which at that time I did not have), with much more experience than I had at that time. I was not even a consultant yet.
From an outsider’s perspective, I had no leg on which to stand. Yet, I still insisted that we do y.
Eventually, after much debate, everyone agreed with me and we went with my suggestion (and later everyone learned that my suggestion was correct).
If you look at this situation you will probably think to yourself, “Wow, Kris was so confident!” But the reality is that I was not that confident.
I would say that even when I was invited to join the strategy practice full time a few weeks after this event, which meant I reached my goal of becoming a management consultant, and even when I was promoted a few months later, my confidence did not go up that much.
When I was promoted again 5 months later, I did not slay all my confidence issues.
Later on when I did my MBA, graduated on the dean’s list and went into banking, and got promoted within six months, I still had some confidence problems.
And now, even though I am partner at Firmsconsulting, I am not 100% confident. But I get the job done and this is what counts. This is why the team went with my suggestion.
Succeeding Despite Lack of Confidence
We’re trained to believe that you need to be confident to succeed. We are taught to fix our confidence problems first before trying anything. This is what we learn from the media, our peers, MBA programs, training we attend in the corporate world, online courses and books.
And I don’t believe this is true.
It is not true based on my own experience and based on what I have seen working with executives when I was a management consultant and a banker, and now at Firmsconsulting working with executive clients.
You can be supremely confident but be very unproductive, lack crucial skills, have an inadequate work ethic and as a result be unsuccessful.
On the other hand, you can be very productive, do big important things and be very successful, but also lack confidence.
So we need to avoid getting caught in this enormous arms race where we focus on getting degrees from amazing schools and work experience at prestigious organizations before we feel we will be ready to even start thinking about doing our life’s work.
Because this results in losing years upon years of our life, and a lot of money, trying to get ready to go after our goals and dreams.
And if we wait until we are ready, it may be too late.
I went to a great MBA program but I did not wait for my MBA before I went out to pursue my professional dreams.
I made the transition to management consulting when I was working at a small defense company as a manager. People around me did not believe my goals were realistic. I went into a research role and worked my way into becoming a management consultant.
So I didn’t get caught up in the arms race. I focused on doing the best work I could in every role.
We need to trust in our abilities and get on with doing things.
Develop a Reputation for Getting Things Done
So focus on getting things done right now. Play the cards you were given without waiting to pile up enough accomplishments so you can feel you are READY to conquer the world.
When I was working at a defense company, it was a pretty horrible job if you think about it. It involved a lot of responsibilities such as managing and negotiating with suppliers, marketing and logistics, but it also involved very horrible tasks such as carrying heavy bags from the postal office, by foot, under the blazing tropical sun, in a little bit of high heels, not stilettos but high heels so I would look professional.
And this was not a role that a 25-year-old young woman with my credentials at the time should be doing. But I did it. I was new to the country and I took whatever job I could get, and made something out of it.
My philosophy then as my philosophy now is that when you take any role, you must do it to the very best of your abilities.
You cannot say, “Well, this is beneath me and I should not be doing this.”
You do any role as well as you can. And you transform the role into something important. You learn skills that are required for your current role and then you transition into another, more important, role.
I learned that from Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP, who started her career as a receptionist. In fact, at some point in her career, she was a temporary secretary at HP. How many people go all the way from a temporary secretary to a CEO of a huge corporation? She is one of a kind business woman, even if you do not agree with her political views!
If you develop that kind of mentality, you develop a reputation for getting things done.
And if you develop a reputation for getting things done, people will want to hire you, even if you lack confidence.
Every single minute you focus on building your confidence, you wasting a minute not focusing on getting the job done. And we are all busy. We are all tired. We are all making sacrifices every single day. You want to focus on getting the job done. Because you don’t have time to waste.
High Confidence Does Not Equal Success
And the reality is that while you may never be 100% confident, it’s more important to get things done than to focus on being confident.
Because you can end up being confident without achieving anything worthwhile.
I want you to remember that it does not matter where you begin. It matters how you approach what you have been given.
You cannot just accept your lot in life and say, “Well, the lottery of life means I am 25. I have no (recognized in this country) degree. I am working as a front desk receptionist and this is my life”. No, you cannot accept that.
You have to take responsibility by saying, “Look, all other things being equal I should not be successful but I am not willing to accept that.
I’m not going to allow a lack of confidence to hold me back.
I am not going to allow limited opportunity to hold me back.
I will take the opportunities given. Do the best possible job I can. And put myself into position so when the right opportunity comes up I can seize it and move forward.”
I believe that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter the circumstances you had. You can have the professional and personal life you want, and deserve.
During the next week I challenge you to do 1 thing that you feel you are not confident enough or ready enough to do. Just do one thing to get you closer to the career and results you want.
Play the cards you have been given right now. Don’t wait until you pile up enough credentials and develop higher confidence.
Take action towards your dreams today. Even if you don’t feel ready.
Remember that confidence is not an achievement. It is a feeling. So forget for a moment about how you are feeling. Just do it.
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