1. Embrace Your Inner Idiot
We’re often advised to focus attention on our strengths. However, there is a type of underconfidence that arises precisely when we grow too attached to our own dignity. We become anxious about any situation that might put it at risk. We might want to ask for a promotion for example, but hold back for fear of looking brash.
But this reflects a false picture of how dignified a person can really be. We sense that there is a viable option to lead a good life without making an idiot of ourselves on a regular basis. A better strategy is to accept in our hearts that we will always be very likely to say and do some pretty foolish things throughout our career.
It might be that asking for a raise or suggesting an alternative marketing strategy does result in our boss viewing us as a bit of an imbecile. But that shouldn’t be news to us. The road to confidence begins with the realisation that we are idiots now, and will no doubt be idiots again countless times in the future. That realisation can liberate us to take on new challenges with renewed enthusiasm.
2. Reject Imposter Syndrome
It’s very easy to feel like an imposter at work. Especially in a new role, it’s easy to imagine that those at the top of the corporate food chain are somehow as polished and confident on the inside as they appear on the outside.
The problem stems from something that, in philosophy, is known as the problem of other minds. We know ourselves from the inside, but others only from what they do or say – a far more carefully edited source of information. As a result, we’re painfully aware of our own anxieties and failings, but are left to imagine that our manager, with their ready smile and easy charisma has managed to shake off all the shackles of uncertainty.
The solution to feeling like an imposter lies in making a crucial leap of faith. We need to know that other people are equally beset by worries and concerns, just as we are. Perhaps not exactly the same frailties, but frailties nonetheless. Our manager, and everyone else we work with is not as alien as they might seem. If we were in their shoes, we must remind ourselves, we wouldn’t be imposters, we’d just be normal.
3. Don’t Fake It Till You Make It
We’re often advised that confidence is largely about putting on a front. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but eventually our facade will become accepted as the real deal. In short, our attitude, it’s often reported, is more important than our aptitude.
However, our feelings of confidence around any particular area at work can be surprisingly helpful because they reveal to us where we need to put more effort in. We might feel incredibly anxious about the idea of going to a networking drinks for example, but feel supremely assured about our ability to pull together a complex accounting spreadsheet in a matter of minutes. It’s not that we are, as individuals, inherently, either confident or underconfident. It’s rather that we are (painfully) aware that, in different situations, our abilities are different. We might know that we are a dab hand at Excel and, at the same time, that we aren’t so great at smoothly exchanging business cards.
The solution isn’t to fake confidence in certain situations and run the risk of appearing arrogant. It’s to embrace the harder task of improving our competence where we need to most.
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4. Learn to Be Ok With Success
It’s not unusual to find ourselves behaving at work in ways that can outwardly appear deeply self destructive. We might have just received a promotion and shortly afterwards find ourselves acting in an overly antagonistic way towards our new boss. Or we might have just been publicly praised – and immediately neutralise the compliment with an unnecessarily opinionated observation.
Why do we do this? We hear a lot about learning to be confident around failure, but for many of us, it’s equally hard to be ok with doing well. This feeling might be triggered by a sense that, from early childhood onwards, our caregivers or siblings were only able to tolerate us achieving a limited amount. Too much success and we might have been met with envious glances or a subliminal threat that love might be withdrawn should we get too big for our boots. These same psychological traces can follow us into our working life, even as we negotiate an international deal on oil futures in a glamorous boardroom in São Paulo.
The solution is to remind ourselves that, while we may not wholly merit all of our success at work, neither do we deserve to be accountable for everything that goes wrong. Though we might wish it weren’t like this, most workplaces are, inherently, rather random and amoral in terms of who succeeds and who doesn’t. We should, rather, with good grace, learn to come to terms with sometimes doing unexpectedly rather well.
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