I admit it. I’m a huge Disney Pixar fan. I love every one of them. We pulled out the original Toy Story movie and I was both immersed and amused by the emboldened character Buzz Lightyear. His saying “to infinity and beyond” has become my theme.
Despite our desire to be confident, it’s come to my attention that there’s a natural disaster looming – particularly with women. Just read LeanIn.Org’s 2016 Women in the Workplace study for some sobering statistics.
Women, where is the confidence to get to infinity and beyond?
It isn’t enough to just go through the motions. Our employers need the very best of us.
In this blog, I’m sharing the 15 most impactful gems I’ve learned in my going-on-thirty years in the workforce. My hope is that even one of these will spark a new choice for the women (and men) reading this. Write to me, tell me what caught your attention and what you’re going to try.
So, here they are. 15 things that helped me build my confidence, change the trajectory of my career, and ultimately shaped how I give back.
- Learning to say ‘No’. For me, this was one of the biggest revelations in life. I was taught to be a good girl, and good girls do what they’re asked, at the highest quality, and without talking back, thank you very much. I have yoga pioneer Baron Baptiste to thank for my awakening. He says ‘in every No there is a Yes’. Saying no is a choice that honors what you value. If you are the project dumping ground at work, and suffering a quiet misery because of it, say no. Remember that saying No to the extra project is saying Yes to being more balanced, more influential, more confident.
- Separating who I am from what I do. It wasn’t until I left my incredible-but-demanding corporate career that I got this. I was so mentally merged with being a high performing leader at Microsoft that there was no space to even consider that I could choose a different role or a different career. I was living in the DO-HAVE-BE mentality (read more about this here). When I took time to understand who I am, what I need, what I value, where I’m strong I could see my options. When you know who you are, what you do becomes an expression. It’s effortless. It flows.
- Realizing that friends are like elevators. The saying goes like this: Friends are like elevators. There are some who bring you up, and there are some who bring you down. Who do you want to ride with? This one was sticky for me. I realized that I was still hanging out with some friends who were simply in a different place in life (or growth) than me. I was spending time with them more out of obligation than choice. My confidence was chipped due to constant comparison. Or negativity, complaining, drama, bitching, living in the past. Making the choice to spend time with people who empower me, are inspiring, courageous, funny, positive was huge. But the real boost was de-friending without ill will, without judgement, without expectation. One of my dear friends has a saying that I’ve adopted and it fits well here. “Bless and release”.
- Internalizing this fact: taking care of yourself is not selfish. I used to think that it was selfish to take time for myself. But this is an outdated perspective that was tied my identity as a ‘good girl’. It was making me and everyone close to me miserable. I ended up judgy and resentful. Not a good mix as a mother or wife or manager. Truly honoring what you need is life changing. Heck, taking time to actually identify what you need is eye opening. When you do this, you are in a better mental, physiological and emotional state. You are happier. You approach everything in your life from a more energized place. You are, in essence, a better person for yourself and everyone else around you.
- Swapping “fear of failure” for a ‘test and learn’ approach. This is paradigm shift. Fear paralyzes far too many grand ambitions. This was true for me and it’s what holds many of us back from taking risks and realizing our potential. If you find yourself afraid to take on a big goal, take the scientific ‘test and learn’ approach. It’s been said that Edison failed 10,000 times when inventing the light bulb. In his words, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. Failure is success in progress.” Enough said.
- Taking action. It’s not enough to just learn something. You have to take action on it. It’s important to first have the mindset of #5 above. I used hesitate instead of taking action. Overanalyze. Procrastinate. Worry about doing the “right” thing. If you want more confidence, hear this: It does not matter what the exact action is. Just move, take steps, in the direction of what you want, and the confidence will come. I once played a game that was called the 90-Day Money Game. (thank you, Rich Litvin) The concept is that you set a huge goal. Then you take action, massive action. What you learn is that confidence grows from stepping out, being in motion. As Neale Donald Walsch wisely said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
- Listening to my intuition (aka my heart). One of the most powerful questions I’ve ever been asked was from my coach trainer, Patty Burgin. I was facing a choice of ramping up on my new coaching business or taking the summer off to spend with my then 6 and 8-year-old children. The old me (aka Drive harder! Achieve more! Take charge now!) was ready to hire a nanny, and jump into the coaching world full force. But I was having a hard time with this decision. As I fidgeted, over-analyzed, and rambled in this conversation, she listened patiently. Then she asked me “What would your heart say?” I will spare you the details of my emotional gush. Suffice to say that I had my answer. My intuition had known the right answer all along. I just wasn’t listening to it. From this point forward, whenever I have a big decision to make, I always check in with my intuition. Sometimes I have to be very quiet to hear it, but it’s always there. And it has never been wrong.
- Surfacing (and replacing) Limiting Beliefs. If there’s only one gem to take away, it would be this one. All of us have outdated operating instructions running our subconscious. It is the root of all our actions (or inactions as the case may be), our behavior, our emotional triggers, our relationships, our growth. When I stumbled onto this concept it utterly transformed me in an instant. I promise to blog on this topic in the future, but for now, you can start to get at this by reflecting back on the message you internalized about yourself somewhere between the ages of 5-12. The most common one is “not good enough” but there are plenty of others. During this period, whatever message you believed about yourself got uploaded into your subconscious “operating system”. Unfortunately, it never got updated. Which means that as an adult, you are still operating based on the instructions of a, oh 7-year-old. Not ideal. The key to transformation is updating your subconscious software. What is true about you now? What assumptions would you correct that your 7-year-old-self made?
- Quit comparing. Comparison is to confidence like kryptonite is to Superman. Utterly draining. Comparing yourself to others creates momentary amnesia. Amnesia of what is unique, amazing, awesome about you. It diminishes your greatness and erodes your self-esteem. Social media has not made this any easier for us. If you catch yourself in the comparison rat race, recognize that it is rooted in a limiting belief (see #8). What if Superman wanted to be Spiderman? Thankfully for humankind, he did not. Comparison does not serve us – or our confidence.
- Being in the process, not focused on the outcome. My husband used to compete in Ironman triathlons. I am simultaneously awestruck and humbled by anyone who would swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then wrap this up with a 26.2 mile marathon. Whoa. A few years back, I was with my husband prior to the start of one of his races. Understandably, he had the jitters. And I shared with him the wisdom I’ll share with you now: be present in the process. The reason people get nervous before races or presentations or interviews is because they are thinking about the outcome – the future. But the future is unknown. It’s unpredictable. No wonder we get the jitters. We have no control over future state. When you can bring your thoughts back in the moment, when you are in the process, you are in the flow. You can control right now. And this is the only place you are alive, not to mention where you are most effective.
- Learning Myers-Briggs. I never liked personality assessments. I used to think that they put me in a box. They all used different words, colors, symbols to describe basically the same thing. I used to dismiss them all. But when I learned and became certified in the Myers-Briggs model I realized it’s a tool, a framework, for understanding self and others. And how I thought about communication changed. I now have language to put to how I do things. I understand why I was often misunderstood in my family. I know why certain tasks are more challenging, and others flow seamlessly. I no longer get frustrated with the way others think or how they show up. I finally ‘get’ my mother-in-law. This was a total gamechanger for me, my relationships, and my confidence.
- Identifying, naming, thanking, and releasing my limiting personas. I once did an exercise where we had to name the chorus of personas that fill our brains. I named ten. This exercise did three things: 1) it helped me to recognize the many parts of my personality, 2) it required disassociation from them, and 3) it made me laugh – further helping to disassociate. We all have these voices. There’s usually one who is the naysayer. “Hello stupid! What were you thinking?” Or the inner cheerleader, “Yes! Go for it!” The thing about these personas is that they all serve a purpose. My alter ego, Connie Control, rose front and center under stress. (more on Connie in a future blog) She was my coping behavior. Once named, these personas hold less power over you. You can notice them when they show up and address the root cause rather than letting any individual persona run the show.
- Getting a coach. Or, in my case, actually becoming one. I took a coaching class when I was consulting just to be a better consultant. I fell hook, line and sinker. Coaching has taught me more about myself, has released me from behaviors and thinking holding me back, and holds me accountable when I may have hesitated. If you want more confidence, get a coach. If you want to go farther faster, get a coach. If you want to overcome stress and gain balance, get a coach. If you want to take on that stretch assignment, but you’re not quite sure you can go it alone, get a coach. If you don’t know where to start, ask me. Or ask around. Those who have had good coaching experiences are happy to refer.
- Finding out that worry, doubt, guilt, and even stress are just patterns of thought or emotion. People can become crippled by repeated thoughts or emotions. The sad part is when we start to adopt them as an identity. “Oh, she’s just a worrier” or “He’s Mr. Cranky”. But the reality is that thoughts and emotions, just like behaviors or habits are just patterns. And the brain loves patterns. My emotions used to completely hijack me. For a period of two years, I was lost in anxiety. I never knew that I had a choice in this matter, much less could change it. Realizing that worry, for example, was just a thought pattern, not a way of being, was absolutely freeing. It decommissions any power of thought or emotion. It releases the you from an inner prison. And this, my friends, is a very good thing.
- Deciding to show up. Most people have setbacks. And that’s putting it politely. Some people would describe their life as a shit storm. It’s not what life throws at you, it’s how you choose to show up that matters. It’s common practice to blame, complain and react when things don’t go your way. Or my favorite, the personal pity party. But being a victim is disempowering. How you show up is a choice. There is strength and conviction in it. It’s about being intentional despite the circumstances. As the great Steven R Covey said, “you must begin with the end in mind”. That’s showing up intentionally.
In coaching, we see the full potential in each person. Coaching is a process of uncovering what is true and removing what is not. It’s no different in building confidence. If even one of these gems clicked for you, you have a responsibility. Take action. Any action. Little by little you will be happier and more confident because of it.
As our friend Buzz Lightyear says, let’s (grow) “to infinity and beyond!”
Julie Schaller is co-founder of M-Power Coaching. Join her for the upcoming Mastering Leadership for Women Program, kicking off June 1st. Mastering Leadership for Women is a group coaching program entirely focused on the needs and challenges women face in the workplace, building unwavering confidence and developing leadership presence. You can find out more by contacting Julie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or scheduling a time to talk HERE.