Mostly everyone I know wrestles with fear and doubt on their personal and professional paths. In fact, it seems that the higher we climb on the career ladder, the higher the stakes become and the shakier our confidence gets. Instead of attaining greater calm and comfort, we have more people to please, more judgment to endure, more on the line and more to lose. So how do we, in the face of all this, achieve a sense of sureness* in order to share our talent, maximize our potential and enjoy our life’s work?
Last week I introduced my approach to answering this very question in a series of interviews with professionals, so we may learn from each other’s strategies and tactics. I had the pleasure of speaking with Attorney Aimee Haynes, whose clients include innovative companies. Below is the edited transcript of our candid conversation, and in each response to my questions, Aimee shares genuine wisdom that we could adopt and adapt to develop confidence.
Lee: When do you experience care-free confidence?
Aimee: When I’m under the most pressure and I need to make a decision about getting something done and move on to the next thing. I’m most confident when I’m plowing my way through one thing after another, after another; when time doesn’t allow for second guessing. Then I make a decision based on instinct and experience.
Tool: Participate in the process rather than observe it as an outsider.
Lee: How do you stay in that space of certainty?
Aimee: When I was younger I started saying to myself, “don’t think, just do” to keep present and in the moment. Instead of thinking about all the things that could go wrong, I make a decision and do something because then it keeps me engaged instead of worrying. I certainly have a lot of backward and forward looking, but using the phrase “don’t think, just do” really keeps me in the moment.
Tool: Be present to what’s in front of you and focus on the steps you’re taking.
Lee: How do you ward off fear and doubt?
Aimee: There’s always some of that. When I decided to move to China I started getting migraines a few weeks before I left and didn’t connect it, but then realized I had worries about making a giant leap and that’s how it was coming out. For me, warding off fear and doubt is understanding what I’m going to do. I wasn’t worried about studying for the bar exam or passing it, I knew I could do those things. Instead, I was worried about what I could put in my plastic baggie that wouldn’t get me thrown out of the exam. If you don’t know something, it doesn’t mean you can’t know it. You go and ask the questions, or talk to someone, or read a book about it. Fear and doubt come from the unknown – if you make the unknown knowable, you reduce the uncertainty.
Tool: Ask yourself – “What do I know that I don’t know?” and find the answers.
Lee: How do you embody confidence and calm?
Aimee: This is something that’s developed as I’ve gotten older. I have much more control of my emotions than I ever did in the past. I’m in greater control of my space and what people see on my face. It’s a fake-it-till-you-make-it situation almost. You may not feel comfortable in a situation, but when you go in and do whatever is making you feel nervous, you’ll probably find you can do it.
Tool: To get over your fear of driving, you have to get behind the wheel, not stay in the passenger’s seat. It’s counter-intuitive to practice what scares us, but it’s the only way we discover our ability and build our confidence.
Lee: How do you make decisions that don’t raise your own or others’ doubts?
Aimee: I made some decisions before opening up my own practice, and my family didn’t know if they were the right decisions. I moved myself into a community of people who were telling me to go for it, rather than encouraging me stay in a safer, more traditional path. It’s been about having a community of people who aren’t doubting, and being with a lot of people who believe in their ability to do xyz.
Tool: Surround yourself with supportive people who believe in themselves and empower you. Share your ideas and goals with those who will cheer you on.
Lee: How do you remove worry about pleasing others and being judged?
Aimee: This is a tougher one for me; I’m a real pleaser. As I get older, I realize that for me the standard of pleasing others is less about the person I’m worried about pleasing and more about the internal standard I set for myself. It’s almost about not looking outward but looking inward about what your idea of something needs to be and that’s probably what you’re projecting onto everybody else. As much as we start to become more aware of what others are thinking, there’s still so much we don’t realize about how much people aren’t paying attention to us at all — they’re paying attention to themselves. I taught middle school for four years and I remember a few of my students here and there. But at the time I was teaching, people I met would say “I was so this or that in middle school,” and, “my teacher will remember how much I talked in class,” or, “if I ran into my teacher she’ll remember how bad I was.” At that cognitive age, you begin to realize you’re not the center of the universe, but even as an adult, people don’t realize they weren’t the center of the universe when they were 12 — there’s a part of us still back there thinking everybody is looking at us, when they’re not.
Tool: Remove self-judgment and unrealistic expectations from your own thinking. Be kind to yourself. Know that others are consumed with their own negative self talk, and less focused on judging you.
*Sureness (noun) : A state of mind in which one is free from doubt.
Synonyms: certainty, confidence, conviction, positiveness, satisfaction.
Related words: decisiveness, determination, firmness, purposefulness, resoluteness.
Lee Broekman is a communication coach and trainer. Her company Organic Communication, brings interactive, never boring, always edifying presentations and programs — focused on communication, collaboration and innovation — to your firm or organization.
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