Lean in. Lean out. Work harder. Work smarter. Negotiate for a raise, but do it in a non-threatening way. Women are bombarded with conflicting information and advice about how to get it right in the workplace and beyond. Feeling confused and discouraged? You’re not alone. For even the most talented and hard-working professional women, confidence can be a bear to cultivate and sustain.
Here are a few ways to get moving on that front:
1. Practice your elevator pitch. Everywhere.
Can you sum up what you do and who you are in 30 seconds? Me neither, but being able to give someone else a strong sense of those things in a short window of time is a powerful tool – one that can open a lot of doors with the right timing.
To start, try reciting your current elevator pitch for a close friend or family member. Don’t prepare much. The point is to give yourself a clear “before” picture of where you stand, and I don’t just mean identifying weaknesses. We women can be awfully hard on ourselves, so while it’s important to know what you need to improve, those close to you can also tell you what is already working. Maybe you tend to slouch, but your delivery is clear and smooth. Maybe you rely too much on fillers like “um” or “uh”, but your body language communicates confidence.
Finally, practice daily – preferably at times when you’re not at your best, like right after you’ve woken up or after a long day. (Think of it as adversity training.) When the time finally comes to deliver your pitch in a professional setting, you’ll have it down pat.
2. Learn a new skill.
We’ve heard this one before, and it can be easier said than done. So before you buy a whole knitting set, or sign up for an expensive art class, consider what will motivate you to keep learning (and the barriers that will discourage it). If you’re worried about staying disciplined, look for a class or group that can provide structure and help you set goals. Can’t build in the travel time for an in-person class? Look into free online courses. (One of my favorites is SkilledUp.)
Another important question ask yourself is whether you’re more interested in building your professional skill set, such as earning a certification, or trying something completely unrelated, like a physical activity. Whatever you decide, try to settle on something that you really want to do, not something you feel you should do.
3. Make time for (women) mentors.
One great way to feel more confident about where you’re headed is to observe and spend time with other women whose career paths, personal lives, or work habits you’d like to emulate. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a job or perfectly happy in your current position – the pay-off here isn’t just “networking potential,” it’s the immediate experience of being inspired by someone who is really, really great at what they do and willing to share that with you. (No matter how casual or upbeat the conversation, however, never forget to cross your Ts and dot your Is. Send that written thank-you note within 24 hours.)
On a related note, don’t feel as though you have to limit yourself to people who work in your field, or even someone who holds a more advanced position than you. If you admire an aspect of how someone does her job, try to arrange some face time – maybe she’s a tenacious entrepreneur or an excellent manager who communicates seamlessly with her employees. Maybe she’s someone on your team. Maybe she’s younger than you. You never know how her knowledge or experiences could apply or what you might learn. When you’re in the position to pay it forward to another woman, you’ll understand why it’s so important.
4. Change one bad habit.
Everyone’s got them. Some of us chew our nails, or (in my case) stay up way too late regardless of how early we have to get up the next morning. Some of us drink more soda than we’d like, or we’re chronically late. Even worse than all these habits, though, is feeling as though you need to fix them all at once. In 2015, take a step back and pick just one to address.
The point here isn’t to “fix” yourself or to completely omit all your guilty pleasures; it’s to determine and accomplish a manageable goal. This is also a chance to pinpoint the little activities that don’t actually bring you pleasure in the long run, keep you from feeling productive, and always, in retrospect, make you feel as though you’ve wasted time. Don’t stress too much about whether you’ve picked the “right” habit to tackle first; just do it!
5. Learn from good days.
Some of the things that make you tick, confidence-wise, are deeply personal. You won’t find them on this or any list. So when you have a great day – one where you’re productive and charming – take note. What was different? What went well? How did you contribute to that? How did others contribute to that? Maybe you prepared for a meeting in a particular fashion or tried a new time management technique. Maybe you worked out in the morning instead of the evening or wore your hair a certain way.
These examples sound small, but they’re your secret weapons. They’re the things that only you can recognize and replicate. A lot of us are harsh critics when we’ve had a bad day; it pays to be incredibly self-aware when we’ve had a good one.
Lastly, you might have an overwhelming feeling that you must do everything right now, or you’ve failed. That’s just not true. It’s fine to have bad days, even at times when you feel as though you’ve done everything correctly. The important thing to remember is that building confidence isn’t a one-off. It’s a life-long process, and a pretty intangible one at that. So above all else, treat yourself and the ladies around you kindly in the coming year – we’ll all be better off for it.