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A lesson on confidence - and how YOU can escape the comparison trap

December 13, 2020
December 14, 2020

We all get stuck in the comparison trap sometimes. It’s the hesitation we feel before giving a presentation, because the speaker before us wowed the audience like a TED star. It’s the doubt we feel heading into an interview, because we’re sure we’re not as experienced as other candidates. Or it’s the pang of envy when we see everyone else’s perfect lives on social media, even when we know it’s just a highlight reel.

As a teenager, I used to compare myself to my older sister. I saw her as the naturally smart, gorgeous one – the one who would get five Valentine’s Day cards and a fake diamond ring from Argos, while I got a big fat nothing. (I’m over it now, honest!)

I did pretty well at school but was never top of the class. Same in sports. Always a solid left wing, never a starring centre forward.

At work, I’d find myself trying to be just like my impressive business partner, Kate. We first met when I was 22, and she represented everything I wanted to be as a HR Business Partner: a strategic thinker and skilled public speaker with oodles of charisma and creativity.

I wouldn’t say I lacked confidence, but I definitely spent way too much of my early career wondering how I measured up. As I learned over time, if you shoot for someone else’s version of success, you’ll always fall short. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be brilliant in your own right. Success isn’t ‘for other people’.

Right now, I’m feeling on top of my game at work and realise that the last few years have been the best of my career. It’s not because of big clients or financial success, although there has been some of that. I’ve simply left the comparison mindset behind. I feel confident in myself and what I have to offer.

The power of ‘being enough’

For me, confidence is being comfortable doing my work, my way. To run programmes I have researched and designed myself and to work according to a schedule that makes sense for me. To know I’m in charge. To say no to things that aren’t a good fit. To stop comparing myself to what others are doing and to know I’m enough.

Brené Brown’s work has been instrumental in helping me figure this out. Her early books and TED talks showed me the possibility and power of being enough as I am.

Re-framing confidence in this way makes it easier to put yourself out there and take risks. We can practice expecting and embracing mistakes, because we know we’ve been true to ourselves and can handle the learning and the consequences.

How to cultivate your own confidence

If this resonates with you, here are four strategies that may help nurture your sense of being enough:

1. Let go of perfectionism

I used to see perfectionism as a positive trait. It was that classic strength-disguised-as-a-weakness response in interviews. But it didn’t serve me. It held me back from taking chances and moving forwards. I find it useful to adopt Brené Brown’s view of perfectionism as a “negative, evil belief system” and that makes it easier for me to wholeheartedly reject it.  

Rejecting perfectionism doesn’t mean we aren’t open to improving ourselves, but it does require us to keep watch for the negative comparisons that make us feel like we’re not enough.  

2. Know and accept yourself

Often, we feel that confidence means being loud and assertive. That’s not really true. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain calls out the social norms that reward gregariousness over originality, thoughtfulness and other ‘quiet’ characteristics. Whether introverted or extroverted (or somewhere in between), we all have something to offer.

Confidence is about knowing yourself so you can be the best version of yourself. I may not have Kate’s entrepreneurial spirit, but I’m calm, good at relationship based selling and bring an expert eye for detail to the design of our workshops and keynotes. Our different skills and strengths are what make our business partnership work so well. As Warren Buffet said "Surround yourself with people that push you to do better. No drama or jealousy. Just higher goals and higher motivation. Simply bringing out the absolute best in each other."

3. Let yourself be fully seen

The idea of avoiding comparisons and being yourself is especially important to groups that are often excluded or marginalised in public or business spaces. It can be hard to muster confidence if you feel like the odd one out. This is one reason why we offer women-only programmes and bespoke workshops for target groups - to overcome the comparison trap and build confidence at work. You don’t need to fit the mould to make your mark.

4. Saying no

Being able to stay in your integrity, manage your energy and protect your boundaries by saying no to requests that don’t fit with your values or priorities is extremely powerful.

Not only does learning to say no build your own resilience, it shows those around you that when you do say yes, you really mean it! In this way, your confidence is actually a service to others.

Confidence is the key to any kind of success. It allows you to follow and achieve your dreams, help others, get better commercial results and improve relationships.

We encourage people to focus on their strengths and be more of who they naturally are – not less. Our confidence coaching, confidence and speaking workshops help you rewrite your old stories and limiting beliefs, so you can drop the comparison habit, cultivate self-confidence and get on with thriving at work. If you’re interested in trying out one of our virtual confidence modules or exploring these ideas in more detail, contact us.

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