If you’ve never met me, I suppose you could say one of the last things people think about me is “Wow, this woman really lacks confidence’. I teach confidence. I speak in front of hundreds of people regularly about confidence. I try to exude strength and confidence in everything I do.
I FEEL confident most of the time. But, there are also times when I don’t. During those moments of obvious uncertainty, I’ve learned to put into play some skills to snap out of it.
And yet through all my talks and lectures, even I need a reminder. Even I need to make sure my confidence is coming through in all I do because, during one notable season of my life, it wasn’t.
HOW IT HAPPENED
I was playing professional basketball. At first I was excited to share the news, but quickly grew tired of the onslaught of attention I received when I revealed my chosen profession.
So I stopped telling people.
Instead, I’d say I was in “fitness” or “athletics” and try to leave it at that. Basically, I started downplaying who I was and what I do.
The habit of downplaying continued even after I was no longer playing professional basketball. I found myself being really vague and sort of shrinking behind the words, “I own my own business.”
It’s not that I wasn’t proud of my business or my accomplishments. I just didn’t like feeling the burden of attention every time I said it.
THE MOMENT IT CHANGED
But then I started taking notice of the people in my field. I saw people (men mostly if you want to know the truth) boldly telling their stories. Even ones who hadn’t done what I’d done and weren’t doing what I was doing were telling their stories—some even making it sound as if they were curing cancer.
And, to be honest, it sort of pissed me off.
But then I thought, “Yeah, but at least they’re telling their STORY!” So, good for them for having the balls to do it. (Excuse the pun.)
Besides, it wasn’t really them that I was pissed off at.
I was angry at myself.
What I learned is that we—women and men, playing business or ball—are always selling ourselves, our stories, our calling. And, while talking about yourself too much sounds like (and is) a really bad idea, it’s important to realize there’s a difference between choking people with your accomplishments and simply being honest about what you do and who you are.
In other words:
DON’T KEEP YOUR AWESOMENESS A SECRET
Because, if you do, I can guarantee someone else will be shouting theirs from the rooftop while you’re whispering in the corner. And when you aren’t being heard by the world, that means your message, your vision, your calling, isn’t getting heard by the world.
And that doesn’t do anyone any good.
But this scenario begs the question:
WHY DO WOMEN APOLOGIZE FOR BEING GOOD AT SOMETHING?
About a year ago, during an interview with a young female sales person, I asked, “What do you like about sales?”
She responded, “Sorry if this sounds bad, but I like it because I’m pretty good at it.”
Always the life coach, I asked, “Why are you apologizing? You’re either good at sales or you aren’t. Which is it?”
She said that in fact she was good at sales, but only admitted it because I forced to her to choose between two options, good or bad.
I get this a lot in the work I do with athletes. I’ll ask an entire room of female athletes, “Who’s the best athlete in the room?” Guess who raises their hand? Not the best player, but all the other women who do so and point at her. (Either that, or it’s the male assistant coach raising his hand!)
DO MEN DOWNPLAY?
Of course they do, but not nearly as often as women. I’ve found some research to back that statement up, but I’ll save most of it for another article.
Suffice to say, while I think this is a message for everyone, I think it’s especially important for young women to hear.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
According to Christopher Peterson, a professor at University of Michigan, women tend to use language that creates room for doubt more often than men. He calls this tendency ‘up speak’ and it basically means that women tend to raise their voice at the end of sentences when they say something.
This tiny inflection comes across like a verbal question mark; in other words, it gives the listener room to argue and gives the speaker the ability to say something that isn’t threatening.
The problem with up-speak is that it creates a sense that the statement or opinion being expressed isn’t worthy, that the speaker doesn’t mean it, or that it’s altogether invalid. It’s the inflection version of saying,
“Well, I sort of think x, but if you think y, it’s like, totally fine. I mean, whatever you think is great. I don’t really know what I’m talking about, anyway, so we should just go with whatever you think because you probably know better.”
Not a particularly powerful way to communicate, is it?
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?
Women and men both need to do a few things to stop this bad habit of up speaking. Here’s a list of five to get you started:
1. LADIES, GET YOUR SALES PITCH DOWN…
Like many things, it’s easier if you have a plan ahead of time of what you’re going to say and how you’re going to respond so you aren’t caught off guard. Whether it’s the response to ‘What do you do?’, ‘What are you good at?’, ‘What makes you you?’, have a response ready.
Talking about my accomplishments is something that is neither fun nor comes particularly naturally to me. So how do you go about making something unnatural become natural? That brings us to our next point:
2. …THEN PRACTICE IT
Everything that’s scripted ahead of time sounds weird coming out of your mouth at first. Practice until it sounds natural and normal. Also, this helps ensure that it’s YOUR voice and not an automation of you trying to remember some paragraph you wrote down X-number of days ago.
Personally, I think my answer to “What do you do?” looks weird when I write it out, but when I actually say it, it sounds like me because I’ve practiced it and made it my own.
So, now I practice saying:
I’m a mental training coach and entrepreneur with a company that focuses on teaching athletes how to be more mentally tough in all they do.
A lot better than: “Uh, I own my own business…?”
3. CHEER FOR (OTHER) WOMEN
Why are women so bad at boosting each other up? It’s because there are some biological reasons for this looking back into human history, but, regardless, it’s not cool. Yet it’s a habit that most women adopt early on.
The good news is that it is a breakable habit. And the really good news? The better you feel about yourself, the easier it becomes to cheer for others.
4. CALL WOMEN OUT ON IT
Do you notice ‘up speak’? Do you hear women around you apologize for their awesomeness? Do you do it yourself?
Many women do and yet few are truly aware they are actually doing it. After all, it’s hard if not impossible to really listen and analyze what you are saying and how you are saying it. We need mirrors around us to let us know how we are doing.
Be that mirror for a woman in your life and let her know it’s okay to talk and act and sound confident!
5. TALK ABOUT IT
Insecurity is not the easiest topic to ask others about, but it helps a lot if you can.
I have some pretty bad ass women in my life circles—head coaches at big universities, women who run entire departments at Amazon, business owners, Olympic athletes—and every time I bring up the fact that I’m working on being more bold in my personal story they identify with it, too.
These are strong, accomplished, bad ass chicks, and they have to work on telling their awesome story? Wow! Just knowing that it’s something they struggle with as well and that I’m not alone helps me to fight through it, too.
What’s YOUR story? What makes you unique? How do you tell it with strength and conviction? How do you present the true, authentic you to the rest of the world?