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Confidence: was she born with it?

An extraordinary, almost unimaginable belief that you can succeed, even when the odds are stacked against you. The sense that you can achieve what you set out to do; that you have what it takes. You just know it. That’s confidence.

Why is it that women seem to struggle with confidence? It turns out that question comes with a rather complex set of answers. Many factors like life events and societal norms contribute to and detract from our level of confidence. For both men and women. And for the record, I’m not talking about ego or arrogance. Confidence is much quieter than those obnoxious twins and runs far deeper.

I believe in part that it's a matter of absolutes; we are seeking a definitive black or white answer. Either we are confident, or we are not. But remember, confidence is quieter than ego, so it may be harder to recognize in ourselves.

I took this question about confidence to thirty successful women leaders over the past several months. Their answers might surprise you. Perhaps you will recognize yourself among them. What you will see is the spectrum of insights illustrating the complexity and depth of the topic.

She was born with it

“My mom used to say ‘I didn’t raise you this way!’ She thought I was a bit over-confident. They did raise me to think independently. I took that and ran with it.” Jana E.

“I’ve always been confident. I was the youngest of five children and played a lot of sports. It’s my personality type to be competitive. My need for freedom is high.” Susan M.

“I’ve always been rebellious. If someone says I can’t do something, it just means I can’t do it with them. My decision making has grown over time, and I trust my gut a lot more.” Brenda S.

“I see my confidence as more of a blind craziness; a high tolerance for risk that compensates for any lack of confidence. I don’t want to admit to a lack of confidence, so it’s important to power through that.” Paula C.

“I have an inherent belief; I don’t care what you say, I know I am awesome. I just show up with truth and the courage to speak truth in a caring way.” Chris B.

“I have nothing to lose, and I think that notion is leverage. I think women simply don’t realize their value. We also have to be confident enough to say when we are scared to death.” Beth C.

“Not sure I’d call it confidence, I think of it as fearless. I don’t get scared easily. I’ll try anything.” Lori B.

She wasn’t born with it

“I have not always had this level of confidence. But I always wanted to be something more, something impactful. Curiosity led me to take chances and learn more. I didn’t know how at first but I took baby steps. I believe action leads to confidence.” Grace F.

“When I was young I wasn’t overly confident. My default style was more ‘go with the flow.’ As a small stature person bullying was more pervasive. I realized early on that I had to be more forceful. I had to work harder to overcome that disadvantage. Once I embraced that, my confidence took off.” Crystal G.

“When it comes to confidence, I am self-taught. I’ve learned how to take anything and break it down into something I can understand and run with it.” Sheri A.

“My confidence developed over time. I think I was provoked! I believe success builds confidence, allows you to grow. But I also think fear is a component. I began to think ‘Why not me? Why shouldn’t it be me?’ who is experiencing the success.” Sally H.

“Confidence is something I work on every day. It’s learning to avoid imposter syndrome and avoid becoming corporate roadkill. I have to override myself because fear destroys my confidence and creativity. I’ve learned to take smart risks.” Julie K.

“Confidence has always been challenging for me. It comes from trying to be accommodating as a woman, and it can be a hindrance. I realize it’s about knowing when to draw the line and having strong boundaries. Know when it’s time to just make a decision and go.” Shannon K.

“I wish I had more confidence overall. I’ve had to learn to publicly brag about the good stuff. I think most of us are aware of things that sabotage us. I’ve learned to lead every conversation with strength.” Fran M.

“I always have fear at some level, but I’m an adrenaline junkie and risk taker. At least once a day I confront some kind of fear. But defining those obstacles is about walking through that fear. I’ve learned to trust my instincts, my intuition and myself.” Diana R.

What she thinks will help

“Constantly being curious and looking at what’s happening in the world. The more women realize the power that we have then nothing should hold us back now.” Jennifer B.

“It’s difficult for women to break past that closed door. We are just not given the opportunity. I proved my value and worth to the point that they could no longer ignore me.” Laura B.

“I believe in transparency and not being afraid to ask for help. I feel like I always wait too long until things are on fire before I ask for help. I’m deliberate about it now.” Hope H.

“As women, we’ve needed to make a lot of tradeoffs. I’ve spent a lot of my time second guessing myself. Beating myself up about things after the fact. It’s a confidence killer for sure. We just need to be aware and stop the habit.” Paula L.

“I think you have to show that you believe in yourself, in the product you created. If I believe, then I have no problem with confidence. My experience gives me the swagger. And that swagger commands respect.” June M.

“Men are coached from a very young age to show themselves in a more confident way. Women are far more tentative. We need to change that mindset.” Cheryl M.

“Women just don’t think big. We’ve spent our entire lives thinking small. We weren’t taught to think big. It’s social conditioning that we need to change. It’s about practicing better behaviors despite our beliefs. That’s when we will stop talking about a lack of confidence.” Judy S.

“My brother pushed me to take more risks and not be afraid to ask for help. I think we need to stop being so distracted by being a woman. Just get to it. Move on, kick ass at what you do because that’s what really matters.” Pamela K.

A favorite resource on this topic is The Confidence Code by Katy Kay and Claire Shipman. The authors take a thorough look at women’s confidence from a multitude of angles to provide some deeper answers. It’s a great read for women of any age and background.

So just get to it - move on and kick ass.

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