From our Ask The Experts Co-Host Dr. Merry Lin
I sat in the office, looking at my boss, my heart racing and my palms sweating. Thoughts were racing through my mind, but I found myself stuttering, struggling to articulate myself fully. Before the meeting, I had carefully thought through what I was going to say about my ambitious ideas, yet in his presence, I suddenly found myself holding back, fearful of what he would think. What was going on? This was so unlike me.
And yet my experience is not unique. Countless women – many of whom are highly successful in their industry – report this gnawing sense of inadequacy to own their place at the top, that somehow they will be unmasked as posers. Across all industries, even those who command the respect of many, women struggle with this sense of insecurity.
Why are most women – as incredibly talented and gifted as they are – holding themselves back in self-doubt? Why do our talents fail to be fully realized on all levels? There seems to be a disconnect between our objectively demonstrated capabilities and our sense of confidence in ourselves.
And this seems unique to women in particular. Studies1 show a large gap between women’s and men’s confidence. In fact, men tend to over-estimate their abilities, while women tend to under-estimate their abilities and their likelihood of success. Women tend to personalize failures and mistakes as a personal flaw, whereas men will more often point to an external attribute as playing a role in their failure. Men tend to jump into opportunities even if they don’t have all the skills needed, whereas women will hold back unless they are absolutely certain they fit every criteria competently. In team settings where men are in the majority, women speak up 75% less. And this difference is even more profound in conservative Christian circles where patriarchy has dominated.
But unfortunately, success is linked more to confidence than it is to competence.
So what underlies this gender difference? While there are many exceptions, by and large, women tend to struggle with a greater degree of perfectionism. Many times, as young girls, they are more socially tuned in to approval cues; when they are affirmed for their “good behaviour” or strong academic performances, it can lead to their sense of worth tied to their performance or socially acceptable behaviours.
The good news is that confidence is something that can be developed! Many people think that confidence is an in-born trait that some of us just have, but actually it’s a muscle all of us can develop. Current science proves that all of us can rewire our brains, even as adults. Regardless of our inborn temperaments or our early childhood experiences – when we change our thinking and develop new mental habits, that effort creates new pathways in our brains.
Confidence is gained through mastery, and mastery is gained through the process of developing our skills and a growth mindset. Mastery is not an end goal, but more a concept of learning through process and progress. What’s important is how you respond to hurdles, and your mindset towards trying and learning. So, it’s in the process of mastery that you gain confidence, not the mastery itself.
When we couple this with our true identity as beloved daughters of the Most High King – in which our worth is in who we are and whose we are – our sense of confidence grows. And it becomes a self-perpetuating, improving cycle, leading to a growing sense of freedom to experiment, learn from our failures and mistakes, and come out of that with greater wisdom, self-insight and mastery.
So how do we build our confidence? Consider the pathway of T.R.E.K.S:
T – Take action! When in doubt, act! There is nothing like taking action to build our confidence and our resilience to failure. We begin to enjoy taking that leap of faith when our goals for trying something is growth, rather than perfection. And we need to repeat, repeat, repeat!
R – Risk! You have to be willing to take some risks, be willing to fail, and be willing to learn from those failures quickly, to then put that learning back into action. Bogging down in the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” does not serve your confidence. Learn to fail fast!
E – Experiment! I often say to clients, “you don’t know what you don’t know” (I know, profound). We don’t know if we’ll enjoy something or if we’ll be good at something unless we try. Too many women wait to “hear from God” (which can mean we are spiritualizing passivity and the fear of uncertainty) rather than try a bunch of different things. You’ll learn so much more about yourself, your passions and your calling by experimenting than by waiting.
K – Kill the ANTs! ANTs means “automatic negative thinking”. Our internal dialogue and the narrative we tell ourselves can encourage us forward or hold us back. Make an effort to stop self-blaming and over-personalizing challenges, failures and foibles. Instead of beating ourselves up, we need to see setbacks as an opportunity to learn. And learn to accept “good enough”!
S – Speak up! This statistic was sobering, that I’m 75% less likely to speak up when men are in the room. Listen, some of the smartest, most insightful people I know are women. When we fail to speak up, the team – and the world! – loses out. Often, women have a perspective that adds balance to the ideas put forward by men. And when we speak up, say it like we mean it! Research shows that listeners are biased to believe those who speak with confidence.
Remember, confidence requires hard work, risk, persistence, and sometimes bitter setbacks. Building our confidence demands regular exposure to all of these things. Genuinely confident women are beautifully transparent and bravely show up as their imperfect, human self. They don’t feel like they have to hide anything: they are who they are, warts and all, and if you don’t like it, or think it is weak to show vulnerability, that’s your loss. These women take risks in exposing their weaknesses, but they’ve discovered the secret of truly confident women: vulnerability hasn’t kept them from succeeding. In fact, it may well be part of the reason for their success: They are brave enough to be not only different, but to be their true selves.
For more insight and other free resources, sign up for Dr. Merry’s VIP page here.
Dr. Merry C. Lin is a psychologist, podcaster, and speaker with over 25 years of clinical expertise. She is the Executive Director of Dr. Lin & Associates, where she leads a team of psychotherapists, life coaches, and leadership experts. A wise counsellor and respected speaker, she can be heard on her popular podcast, The Fully Lived Life, with her friend, Coach Gillian, where they speak about life, love and purpose through the lens of faith and science. She is an advocate for social justice and works globally to equip and support leaders who serve human trafficking and abuse survivors. Dr. Merry is the author of The Fully Lived Life: Rescuing Our Souls from All that Holds Us Back, and her teaching videos are available on her website, YouTube and RightNow Media (https://linktr.ee/Drmerry)