How I Built my Confidence by Tapping into My Own Experiences. You can Too!

How I Built My Confidence by Tapping into My Own Experiences. You Can Too!

Sebastien Le Derout by Unsplash.

Media's impact on my confidence. 

Media has played a major role in how people tend to view themselves and their place in society. I was not an exception. 

Fake it until you make it. Never let them see you sweat. You have to be twice as good to go half as far.” These are the things that I and many of my friends were taught growing up in a black home. The same statements were told to many black children in 1970’s and 1980’s. I grew up at a time where most girls were taught to be a secretary or a nurse; never a doctor or any profession that were (at that time seemingly) reserved for males. The Cosby show was one of the first black show that broke through the stereotypes and was the epitome of the American family. Mom was a fierce attorney and Dad was a doctor. There were five children who seemed pretty “normal” by television standards. I adored the show and the possibilities it presented. While the show didn’t mirror my experience, it still provided hope that I could accomplish those same things.  

Unfortunately, when reality set in, achieving those things posed a great challenge. The thought of college at first seemed unreachable. My high school counselor at the "suburban" school I attended as a product of school desegregation, vocational college was the only option I was offered. Though my grades supported college entry, I was too intimidated to challenge the counselor. I reasoned that she would know better as she was the counselor. At the time, it seemed that intimidation still ruled the roost for those who were unlike the Cosby family.

Social media and other media have the same effect today. How has media shaped your perception?  

No Revisions on Unsplash.
The early days: Trying to figure things out. 

Have you ever been intimidated?  Have you been intimidated by a leader at your company or someone who appears a lot smarter than most?  You know them. They have all of the answers and because you are not completely sure or really the issue is confident of your ability, everyone seems to hang on their word. The difference is they took a risk and spoke up.

Early in my career until about 10 years ago, I used to be very intimidated by people who held senior level titles within an organization. In meetings, they would confidently discuss their views that seemed very wise. Honestly, I paid more attention to their confidence then what they were actually saying, especially if it was a topic that I had little interest or had limited knowledge. Many times, the limited knowledge was due to my position as I wasn’t privy to specific information.  With that being said, I listened and believed that If this person was the leader and made it to the Director, Vice President or CEO title, it was because he (usually white male) was smarter and more talented.  

Then one day I had an epiphany.

I had been promoted to Director and knew that I had to up my game to be respected by my peers. I studied, leveraged my professional experience and knowledge to run a large 600K sf facility with 300+ employees who depended on me to make good decisions. The pressure was definitely on. I attended a meeting at our corporate headquarters in the Midwest. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t disappoint my expectations.  The company had little diversity and had a traditional hierarchy, middle age to senior white males.  I was the youngest (in my early 30’s), only female and minority in the senior ranks at this company.  As I walked the halls with offices that had mahogany desks and matching furniture, I entered a conference room with a large round thick walnut table surrounded by large leather chairs. When I first entered the conference room and strategically chose my seat (as I wanted to take in everything around me), I had to admit I was nervous and intimidated.  I remembered the phrase “fake it until you make it.” I silently prayed to The Most High that my hours of preparation were enough and that I wouldn’t completely embarrass myself in this meeting.  We all had to discuss our areas, plans, progress made and challenges.  We also had to provide strategic insight on growth initiatives.

Realizing the importance and relevance of confidence.

As I sat around the table listening to my peers and leaders, I realized that some of them didn’t know what they were talking about! They were faking it! Now, I made sure I knew the information to nauseum. With the combination of my knowledge, research and experience I knew the information very intimately and knew that many of them was blowing smoke.

Photo: Alysha Rosly on Unsplash
The truth will make you free.

Exposed to the truth, I went through several emotions. The first was anger as some of the people in the room would often challenge my knowledge to the point of disrespect despite the results my building and team produced. The second emotion I experienced was disappointment in myself that I would allow myself to be intimidated by these people. The third emotion I felt was I realized that people are just people. They in fact, were “faking it until they made it.” Isn’t that what I was just doing? Not to their fraudulent extent, but nevertheless that was my rationale. They were human and they survived with what they knew to do and their intrinsic privilege of being accepted. Unfortunately for them, it was being less than authentic. Don’t get me wrong. I was also disappointed about the fa├žade they were perpetuating. One of the key lessons I took from the experience was to be confident in my knowledge, trust my instincts and pay more attention to what the person is saying versus being captivated by someone’s confidence.  

I still have moments of insecurity, but it’s not due to intimidation of someone else, after all they are just human. From that day, I committed to myself to always recognize that who I am is good enough and to own and walk in my own experiences that form who I am.

Draw confidence from your own experiences. 

  1. Think about an early experience that influenced how you saw yourself. It can be positive or negative. The key is to think about the experience and explore why it shaped the way you viewed yourself. Did it strengthen your confidence, or did it challenge it? Why or why not? 
  2. What was your epiphany moment? When did you first realize that you were okay the way you are? 
  3. What decision can you make today to improve your confidence based on the lesson learned from your past experience? Remind yourself during times of low confidence.

More questions to ponder:

What similar story do you have?

Does this story resonate?

What will you do differently to walk in your confidence?

Imagine what you could accomplish and the benefit to those assigned to you.

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