Release Yourself from the Confidence-Perfection Trap

This is the first of my confidence series. Also watch out for the webinar coming in January: The Confidence Toolkit – How to Know What to Say in Every Situation, From Navigating Your Career to Inspiring Your Team

Every semester in the public speaking team I work with we ask students on stage, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being a bumbling fool and 10 being a polished professional, please rate yourself as a speaker and tell us why.”

Phew!  You can see the pounds of tension on their shoulders. What’s interesting is that over the years I’ve watched men consistently give themselves a score of 7-9 whether they perform well or poorly, and women give themselves a 5 or 6 even when they perform well. One semester I watched one of the men, knowing he had done a terrible job, scan the room then give himself a 7.5. He knew they were expecting a show of confidence, so that’s what he did. I was stunned. But the lesson I took away was not about a double standard; it was this: just because you feel a lack of confidence, doesn’t mean you have to listen to it.

Every day I see professionals wanting to feel that things are perfect or to feel confident before they take action. A small part of us is afraid to be the guy above, who’s not actually that good. This is so normal — it’s easy to say that we should take risks, but you don’t want to get criticized by your boss or even feel that your job is at risk. Maybe presenting to a big client or the board of directors would be a great experience, but it’s just too scary. Maybe you want to give some difficult feedback to your team but can’t risk their taking it badly and going to HR or worse, finding another job. The problem is that so much learning lies on the other side of action.

This week think of something you keep pushing off. Between you and me, I’ve been procrastinating this series on confidence. The topic is so vast that I wonder if I can do it justice. Here’s what you do. Take the thing you want to do. Schedule time to think it through and ask yourself what’s actually involved (hint: it’s almost never as big as you imagine). Break it down into steps or pieces. See if there are guidelines or someone who can help. Then, just do it. You will feel the weight melt off your shoulders, and you will have so much learning available to you.

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