In the past few years, I’ve gotten great performance-related feedback in my job, but the single biggest area for development my managers and colleagues have expressed is that I don’t come off as “confident.”
I’ve always struggled when it comes to confidence. My parents raised me to be soft-spoken and reserved, and I was taught that women should showcase shyness and be compliant. In other words, my husband “should provide for me” while I take on domestic duties.
Before you react, my mom and dad are both immigrants from Bangladesh, where that’s the norm. Of course, having grown up in New York (a little different from village life in Bangladesh), I took my their rules with a grain of salt. To their disdain, I went on to get a college degree and build a career.
But it wasn’t easy. I didn’t have a lot of resources or the backbone of a supportive family throughout most of my major endeavors in life, and for every accomplishment, I experienced a ton of guilt for pursuing my goals and faced a ton of failures. For example, I transferred into the college from which I graduated from a local commuter college, and I failed miserably at first in adjusting to campus life and keeping up with the demands of my professors – who each seemingly expected much more from me than all of my professors in my previous university combined.
I had a way below average GPA, and was rejected from almost every internship for which I applied. As a transfer student, I had to take about 20% more credits in three years than an average student would in their entire four year education to ensure I completed the school’s rigorous curriculum (still not sure how I managed to do that). Not to mention, my college was not at all socioeconomically diverse – I couldn’t related to a lot of the shared experiences the students on campus had and rarely felt I could be my authentic self.
It wasn’t just college – I had experienced blows to my confidence throughout my entire life. I was relentlessly bullied as a child, experienced a lot of turmoil in my upbringing, survived nearly losing my mother in my teen years, and battled societal and cultural expectations around who I needed to be and what I needed to do to fulfill my duties as a daughter, sister, and generally as a Bangladeshi woman.
None of this was good for my confidence in my abilities. Regardless, I made it through it all, and continue to push forward no matter what comes my way. While I’m working to show it better, I am confident in my abilities. And as I reflect on my past, I realize that there’s one attribute that is equally important to being confident : courage.
Merriam-Webster defines courage as the following:
- the ability to do something that frightens one.
- strength in the face of pain or grief.
I’m glad such a word exists so I don’t have to describe my approach to life as “I just do what terrifies me.” Instead, I can describe it to being “courageous,” which sounds way more eloquent. Since this blog is all about bringing out your excellence, here are two actionable things (no “tips and tricks” here) to do to build more courage:
Write down the worst possible scenario that could possibly happen. What is the worst outcome of standing up to your demons or pursuing something you’ve been meaning to do, or better yet, something you’ve been aching to do? Reflect on how you can work backwards from that worst case scenario.
It took six months from when I first seriously considered having a blog for me to get started. I was worried that my content wouldn’t be interesting, that people in my network would see my work and laugh, or that I simply would fail at being consistent. It wasn’t until I clearly wrote all of that out, that I realized that I could proactively work to prevent my worst case scenario. I can be intentional about producing (hopefully) useful content that people would want to read and create schedules to be consistent. And if I fail, it doesn’t mean it’s over – I just need to try something else.
Build on a skill you care about. I’m not talking about a classic workplace skill here, I’m sure you already have plenty of those. Think of something you really want to be excellent at, no matter how far it is from what you think is in your realm of capabilities. It could be flying planes, videography, hostage negotiation (like this guy), or whatever helps you live the highest and truest version of yourself.
Overcoming the fear of pursuing something you really aspire to become will give you greater courage to take on other challenges in life, and will give you a boost of confidence to develop in a way that serves you, and the people around you, in the most impactful way. And you don’t have to quit your job and ditch every responsibility you have in life to do it. Just a small step, like signing up for an interest group or a class, can take you a long way (baby steps!).
Showcasing confidence, and more importantly, developing courage takes ample time and experience to build. It’s important to affirm that you’re doing great already, and are simply striving to excel on all your endeavors. Whether you’re on a journey to figuring out what you want to do with your life, starting a business, or just want to eat more vegetables, I’m confident that you’ll find the courage (see what I did there?) to take steps toward success.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”― E.E. Cummings