The Confident Woman

Image credit: Claire-Elizabeth

by Tiffany Gee Lewis

I consider myself a confident person. I don’t get ruffled in front of large crowds. I am a capable writer. I have some talent under my belt that makes me proud.

However, I’m terrible at selling myself professionally. In email correspondence, I put on a tone of apology. In conversation, I move quickly off the topic of my own creative pursuits. I dislike touting my accomplishments.

I know many capable women who struggle with professional confidence. They are elbow-deep in talent, yet they doubt themselves and their abilities when asked to deliver.

I recently attended a writing conference. The keynote speaker, a renowned illustrator, gave a presentation on saying “yes,” even to things we may feel incapable of doing. This illustrator tackled children’s books, TV commercials, float design for Disney, and an animated series for Nickelodeon, all without prior experience. This illustrator was also male.

I think we would be hard-pressed to find a female giving a similar presentation, and there’s something wrong with that. We second-guess ourselves. We worry about what people will think or say. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid that confidence will come off as arrogance.

We need to change the way we correspond and the way we approach new opportunities. This doesn’t require taking on some alter-ego, complete with a Katharine Hepburn swagger. (Although I do love me a good Katharine Hepburn swagger). It requires being ourselves, but refusing to be acted upon. It requires working without apology and without second-guessing.

It may not happen in a day, or a year, but little by little we can change the personal habits that hold us back from living up to our full potential.

I’m curious: What books or articles have you read on this subject that you would recommend here on AMW? And what confident choices have helped you in your schooling or profession?

5 Comments on “The Confident Woman

  1. I just read Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand, a book about communication differences between men and women. Her main point is that men see the world in terms of hierarchy, while women see the world in terms of community. According to Tannen, part of the reason women don’t publicly embrace their accomplishments is that they are conditioned, from a very early age, to be inclusive. Talking about your accomplishments is seen as boasting, which for women means that you’re setting yourself above instead of a part of the group. When a woman downplays or doesn’t highlight her accomplishments, men perceive the woman as weak and she loses credibility in their eyes.

    Obviously Tannen is making generalizations, but her statements are based on extensive research (she’s a sociolinguist), and many of her assertions rang true to my experience.

  2. “Talking about your accomplishments is seen as boasting, which for women means that you’re setting yourself above instead of a part of the group.”

    I caught myself in this very thinking this past week as a female acquaintance recounted to me about how she’s such a great employee in her line of work, and my immediate thought was “Wow, she’s such a braggart.” Later, I really did wonder, “Would I think that same thing if she was male?” Maybe not.

    And Tiffany, your post reminds me of this TED Talk (which I need to re-watch) http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html
    about dealing with impostor syndrome. A simple Google search pulls up article after article, particularly of high-achieving women, who deal with self-doubt–the feeling that any moment we’ll be seen for impostors. My best tactic for combatting these feelings is to pull out my curriculum vitae (or resume) and read all of the things that I have accomplished; it’s hard to refute actual proof of accomplishment

  3. This also explains, in part, why negotiated wages for women are often not as high as for men. You can’t get paid for accomplishments you don’t tout.

  4. Whats weird to me is that I don’t seem to have this problem in non-career related circumstances. For instance I have no problem admitting that I make amazing cupcakes or that I am great at dancing. But when it comes to my degree, I just graduated with a BS in Physics-Astronomy, for some reason I can’t feel proud of myself for that. It just feels really uncomfortable to say that I did an amazing job as a student. This is something I will definitely have to work on.

  5. I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In right now and she addresses this as well. In fact, I think she quotes Tannen’s research and others that show a women’s success and likability and inversely related. Meaning, the more success we have, the less liked we are. And since we all want to be liked, and are often taught from a young age how important this is, we downplay our success in favor of likability. Men’s success and likability are positively correlated so sharing accomplishments for men increase their likability. It’s a great read and I highly recommend the book.

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