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I was horrified the day I discovered I was the limiting factor in my career. I was working at my employer of choice. I had been promoted on pace. I worked hard to meet or exceed expectations.
Then my dream job was posted in an adjacent department. It sounded amazing. It included all the things I loved to do. I secretly hoped they would add additional positions, or it would somehow become available again in a few years when I had the needed experience for it.
The horror came the day they announced the name of the person who got the job. To my shock, she had less experience than me. The key trait she had that I didn’t was the confidence to apply for the job. I hadn’t even asked questions of the people doing the hiring to learn more. I will never know if I would have gotten the position. The fact that I didn’t apply guaranteed I wasn’t even considered for the job.
The lesson that confidence is more important than competence is one I have encountered many times in my career. Sadly, I take some comfort in the fact that it is not just me. Research shows women tend to have less confidence than our male counterparts. That doesn’t mean men don’t suffer from self-doubt. It just means women need to be more intentional about cultivating confidence in themselves and the girls and women around us.
Few will be surprised that researcher Philip Tetlock found, “[P]eople trust more confident financial advisers over those who are less confident even when their track records are identical.” [1.] Success in the insurance and financial industry requires both competence and confidence, yet we rarely spend time intentionally working to increase our confidence. Doing so would not only serve us well, but will provide an example and encourage those around us to do the same. Women are great at picking up trends from each other. So, let’s start a confidence trend where we all encourage and support each other’s efforts to gain and show confidence.
A great place to start is the book, The Confidence Code written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Kay and Shipman did the research, looked at every angle and share the brutal truth about confidence. It can’t be learned by reading a book or taking a test. It is one of the hard-earned traits only gained from actual repeated attempts, real applied effort and surviving the inevitable imperfections that come with those attempts.
When I wanted to improve my public speaking, I read the books and took classes, but the real growth and associated confidence came from the nerve-racking speeches in front of real audiences. Regardless of the area we want to be more confident in, the process is the same.
Identify an area or skill where you want more confidence. It doesn’t matter if it is cooking, delegating, pitching an idea, or creating a financial plan.
Practice whatever it is.
Attempt it in a real-world setting.
Assess opportunities for improvement.
The key to this cycle is understanding it is, in fact, a cycle. Stepping-up to do it again is where we gain the grit that only comes from doing something over and over again, no matter what happened last time. The real winners shake off the last play and get back in the game.
It doesn’t have to be a daily grind. It can be fun if we surround ourselves with others who challenge us to be our best and encourage us even when it doesn’t go as planned. Like most things in life, the more you encourage others the more encouragement you receive. Women in Insurance and Financial Services is a great place for those in the industry to find others who will encourage you to be your best and support you along the way.
To make the world what we want it to be, we must put in the hard and often scary effort. Hiding behind our self-doubts not only limits us but makes more room for those who may not have as much experience but have the confidence to apply for the job anyway.
Have a hype song playlist. Listen to it regularly and twice on days when needed.
Remind yourself of your successes. Literally sit down and make a list of your successes. It could be what you’ve accomplished or overcome over your lifetime or over the past few days. Before a big presentation or annual review is a great time to make or update your list of successes.
When you do compare yourself to others, instead of worrying about measuring up, remember you are part of setting the bar for others to rise to.
Remember, “Confidence isn’t walking into a room thinking you’re better than everyone, it’s walking in not having to compare yourself to anyone at all.” Unknown
[1.] Tetlock, Philip E., and Gardner, Dan, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (Crown, 2015), p. 138.