CareerSherpas: Climbing the Mountain

When you’re on the way, it helps to share the load

Archive for August, 2010

A Note on Self-Confidence

Friday, August 20th, 2010

There are lots of reasons why self-confidence is important. Libraries of books extole the virtues of being, showing, pretending to have and building self-confidence. I’ve been musing on what self-confidence actually is recently, as I consider the fact that I regularly see talented individuals doubting themselves.

In researching how the understanding of the concept has developed, I particularly liked the definition provided by MindTools.com in their article “Building Self-Confidence – Prepare yourself for success” which breaks the concept into two parts:

  • Self-efficacy which they describe as “when we see ourselves (and others similar to ourselves) mastering skills and achieving goals that matter in those skill areas. This is the confidence that, if we learn and work hard in a particular area, we’ll succeed; and it’s this type of confidence that leads people to accept difficult challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks” and the overlap with,
  • Self-esteem “which is a more general sense that we can cope with what’s going on in our lives, and that we have a right to be happy. Partly, this comes from a feeling that the people around us approve of us, which we may or may not be able to control. However, it also comes from the sense that we are behaving virtuously, that we’re competent at what we do, and that we can compete successfully when we put our minds to it.”

Something that alternately disturbs and confuses me is the number of individuals, including myself, who lose sight of their own worth and competency. This comes about through many factors, but most often comes down to two things:

  • The impact of negative perceptions from others
  • An inability to maintain visibility of accomplishments

Negative perceptions from others often aren’t within our immediate control. Small messages are transmitted all around us, perhaps more so in any environment where we are being assessed actively or passively. Sadly, that means any endeavor we engage in will be measured by someone’s reactions to our efforts. When this translates to messages to our managers, supervisors, tutors or clients, it is vital to be able to respond.

Maintaining communication is your only positive response. While the rumor mill is destructive, having an ear to how messages are being passed will give you the ability to respond and even communicate ahead of a problem surfacing. Make sure your successes, impediments and work are clear and maintain their visibility regularly. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it also provides an opening for negative messages to accumulate.

Keeping your accomplishments visible becomes more difficult when we are under stress, heavy workloads, or when the noise and distractions are drowning out the real messages about what we are doing. If everyone is in the same position, including your boss, it’s much easier for an immediate negative to outweigh a vast array of accomplishments. The more stress exists in your environment, the more bad behavior you and those around you will exhibit which reinforces the negative messages further.

Write down and update a list of your accomplishments regularly. Keep two lists if you can, one for major accomplishments and one for smaller accomplishments. The major accomplishments might not be something that changes regularly, but should be reviewed as a reminder frequently. The minor accomplishments on the other hand is something you’ll update, or create anew, frequently, but may not ever be something you review.

Make your accomplishments the first and last thing you bring to any conversation. The more you talk about them, and the more others retain what your past and current accomplishments are, the more those messages will start to drown out the detractors. Corroborating evidence will appear and reinforce your message both to those around you and, more importantly, to yourself.

Your self-confidence is not out of your control. Take the bull by the horns and show yourself how well you are doing.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of CareerSherpas.com and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Getting Your Message Heard

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

When you know you’re doing the right things, staying on the right path and delivering really great work. Somehow it doesn’t seem to register with the people who make determinations about your effectiveness. Continuous (and usually stressful) pressure to do more, better or be more responsive can follow.

Left unchecked, this can mark you as a “bad” or “ineffective” employee and even gnaw at your self-esteem. After a while your explanations fall on deaf ears and leave you feeling frustrated and unappreciated. This can expand into a vicious circle where your behavior deteriorates and the perception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, who would be motivated to perform with that kind of crushing negativity?

There are ways out! Not that they’re easy or that they don’t require seemingly herculean struggles against your own self-doubt (and likely negative attitude.) From personal experience, finding a positive way out can be worth it, but it requires some forethought, lots of self-control and self-discipline, some luck and an eye to a longer arc to success.

The steps are easy to describe, but very hard to follow.

  • Decide to be positive: If you’re caught up in the vicious cycle, you have to be the first change to break the cycle. Deciding to look for positive, constructive alternatives and to pursue them is not an easy step. It is crucial to be open to positive approaches to be able to see a way out when it presents itself.
  • Get fresh eyes on the problem: If you can take a step back from the problem and look at it from a different angle for yourself that’s great! Sometimes taking a vacation or finding something else to focus on can give new insights into your situation. If that isn’t an option or you can’t break free of it, find someone you trust to be a sounding board and explain the situation as well as how you’ve approached it. Get the other person to repeat back to you what you’ve said. Both of you are likely to find current opportunities that you’ve missed so far that you can grab, and if not you will probably hear something that changes the way you think about the issues.
  • Choose a goal: Pick a goal that gives you hope for a better tomorrow. When you’re in the vicious cycle it can be really hard not to give up or run away from the problem, but accepting either of those options won’t teach you how to solve the problem. The problem may not be you, but it is yours to solve. Find a new goal, refine an existing goal or remember a goal you had before you got sucked into the cycle. Hang onto that goal and look for opportunities.
  • Take action: Pick one, two or three things that you can record the outcome of and make a plan with your manager or a co-worker to try them for a week and see what happens. The important thing with the choices you make is that you have to be consistent with them. You have to manage your own reactions and set up whatever situations or reminders will help you stick with them. At the end of the week, consider what effect your new actions had on you and share them with your manager or co-worker.
  • Take a risk: Somewhere while you’re executing on your planned activities you’ll start to see opportunities that have some risk associated with them. Consider the risk and the reward to get a feel for how comfortable you are with the idea. Be honest and realistic with yourself about how well you can execute on the decision to take each risk, but be prepared to dive in and grab the opportunity that offers what you want.

Ultimately, these steps only work if you can take them one at a time. If you haven’t changed your attitude, you can’t get clear perspectives on the situation. If you can’t get clear and broader perspective, you can’t choose an attainable goal. Without a goal you can’t pick the right actions and without taking actions that you monitor you won’t see opportunities for what they are.

Grab the bull by the horns and hang in there! It’s not the easy road to confront your problems, but it’s the one that will lead you along the path to success and contentment. If you can face your own problems and solve them, you have a strong platform from which to follow and achieve your most ambitious goals.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of CareerSherpas.com and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Apologies for the Radio Silence

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Sadly chaotic life events, exceptional workloads and strange stresses have kept me from writing for a while. Thankfully things seem to be starting to balance out, giving me a chance to catch up where I left off!

New posts are right around the corner, including a new post shortly today!

As always, please keep the comments coming!