You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face Eleanor Roosevelt
In my coaching of women returning to work, the theme of confidence (or lack of it) is a common one. If someone is trying to build their confidence, I first ask some questions to understand where it is they want to be. Some typical responses are:
‘I want to put myself out there and network but I'm not sure people will want to meet me’
‘I want to go for that job but I don’t think they'll be interested in me’
‘I want to go for interviews without worrying about sounding stupid and out-of-touch’
Digging underneath these responses, it is very often fear that is making these talented women hesitate. Fear of ridicule, of others’ opinions, of failing, of judgement, of stupidity, of being found out. Simply trying to be more confident doesn’t address the underlying fear.
Confidence to Courage
I often work with women to reframe confidence as courage. Courage implies feeling some sort of fear but going for it anyway. I also find women perceive courage as something positive they can aspire to. Ask them to say, ‘I am a courageous woman’ and they sit up a little bit taller.
So, in your own returning to work journey, how can you overcome your fears and build up your courage? Here are a few exercises and ideas:
- Reframe fear as simply what happens when you are pushing your boundaries. I watched my 5 year old son stand on the steps of the swimming pool paralysed with fear. Yet he splashed in and took the first steps towards swimming. To become a better swimmer he will keep feeling fear but it’s a sign he’s trying something new, not of weakness.
- Think about a time when you have been courageous. How did you nourish your courage and starve your fear? Taking a moment to think about your strengths and achievements can help in building feelings of courage.
- Fear tends to grow if you don’t address it. Let’s say your fear relates to getting your opinions heard. On your return to work, you’re sitting in a meeting, time is ticking by, you haven’t said a word, and your throat is getting dry and your palms sweaty. Next time, get your voice in early. By doing something, anything, to move things forward you are demonstrating courage.
- Imagine an area of your life where you do feel courageous – maybe it’s experimenting with new recipes, running long distances, setting boundaries for your growing children (believe me, it takes courage!). Think about the preparation needed, the consistent planning, the bit-by-bit improvement. Courage at work is the same – preparation and practice are needed. There isn’t a quick fix for courage.
- Often, fear relates to others judging us – and in returning to work you’re likely to be hyper-sensitive to this. If someone does offer some critique, remember that they are commenting on your work and not you as a person. Often, we take ‘your views lack coherence’ to mean ‘you lack coherence’. Women, in particular, tend to internalise criticism ‘it’s my fault’ and externalise praise ‘it was good luck’. Try to separate one instance or piece of work from your overall view of yourself.
Remember, fear is a natural part of growth and progress. It takes courage and confidence to face your fears and move forward. It takes a big dose of courage to face some of the doubters and commit to making that return to the workforce. Sometimes, it can help to simply ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?’
Posted by Anna Johnstone, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners