While confidence seems to come naturally to some people, for others it is a source of frustration and something that can seem to limit what's possible. However, if we think of confidence as a 'natural' trait, then we limit what we can achieve, and we don't need to. Confidence is a skill that we can develop and which we can use to progress our careers in the direction that we want.
The question is how do we develop career confidence?
Like any skill, confidence doesn't happen over night. It is something that is worked at, where little steps gradually take you closer to your goal.
When we lack confidence, as we approach a situation we begin to picture how we're likely to fail with our task. We'll mess up the conversation with our boss, we'll make a fool of ourselves in the presentation, or we'll make errors in our report.
Why we do think so badly of ourselves?
Evolution! Our bodies are trained to be on high alert to danger, and with this comes the production of cortisol, which is a hormone we produce which warns us about the risk to us. This was immensely useful when we might be attacked by animals, and continues to be when we drive down the highway, but is less useful in a work scenario.
What we actually need to do is curb our cortisol creation by bringing some reality to the situation. We are not likely to be attacked by animals, and in reality we mostly don't get hit by cars on a daily basis.
Doing this in a work environment means we need to remind ourselves of what is really likely to happen.
Take the time to remind ourselves about the reality of what will happen.
To help us change from negative thoughts to positive ones, we can tap into our past experiences.
Thinking back to a time of success will bring forth the emotions you had at the time of the success, raising the production of dopamine, the positive hormone that fights with cortisol to get attention.
Some tricks for doing this include creating cues at the time of success: tap your fingers; clench your fist; save the image in your mind.
You can then use these cues at the time when you need a confidence boost, recreating the feelings you had and stimulating your body to feel success.
We've all seen people walk into a room and have immediately identified that they are nervous. Their head might be down, they move with stiff movements, they give off the idea that they're trying to appear smaller than they actually are in an attempt to not be spotted. Again, this is good to avoid detection by lions, but not so good for professional performance.
If your body acts without confidence, then so will you, so another step we can take to improve our confidence is make a conscious effort to change how our body behaves.
Raise our heads. Calm our breathing. Sit or stand tall. Do it now and see how different you feel. These small adjustments allow you the opportunity to put all the other steps to work.
The first time we do something, whether that is riding a bike or presenting to a room full of people, we don't feel confident. We actually have no frame of reference for what the outcome will be and we're stepping into the dark.
Of course, the way to address this is do what you are trying to do, and then do it some more. The more we do something the better we get at it, even if it's not our standout skill. The second time you present will be better than the first, and the third even better.
What we're doing by repeating these actions is building up our knowledge of what may happen and thus how we're able to respond to it. How to respond to questions, how to handle your presentation laptop failing, how to cope with a coughing fit in the middle of a sentence.
And its the same with knowledge based scenarios. The more we know about a subject, the more we're able to deal with the things that might be asked of us, and the better we're able to respond.
If you can up your skills in the area you feel less confident, then you'll be in a better position to handle whatever is thrown at you.
We won't go from nervous wallflower to pushy career climber overnight. It's a process. It takes steps and you can learn and develop from each one. Accept this and embrace it.
Set yourself some small goals and address them one-by-one and soon you'll be able to look back and see the lengths you've travelled and the progress you've made.
These steps all relate to confidence in general, but in reality, that's what we're talking about when it comes to career confidence. You having the confidence to take control of your career and making the decisions that you need to make to get you where you want to go.
Be confident in discussions with your boss about career development.
Be confident in following a new career path.
Be confident in finding the opportunity that's going to make you happy (and at the same time pay the bills!).
Good luck. You can do it!