I recently read an article in The Atlantic titled “The Confidence Gap,” which touched upon a lot of issues that I’ve been thinking about as I prepare to leave school and head into the “real world” in June. The main point of the article is to explore reasons for why women are lagging behind men in leadership positions. The writers, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, explain “there is a particular crisis for women—a vast confidence gap that separates the sexes. Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology.”
Women are more likely to attribute their success to luck (being at the right place at the right time) rather than to their own abilities. Women not only underestimate their abilities, but they only feel qualified and confident enough for opportunities “when they are perfect…or practically perfect.” It is this lack of confidence and the desire for perfectionism that prevents women from getting as far as they can in life. However, the article acknowledges that if a woman is confident and assertive, “she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch. The more a woman succeeds, the worse the vitriol seems to get.” Thus, women are often stuck in a Catch-22 in which they aren’t succeeding as much as men because they lack confidence, but when they do gain confidence, they are viewed in a negative light.
The words of The Atlantic article are highly pertinent to my own life; often times I don’t take risks or hold off on opportunities because I’m afraid of not being good enough. I’m incredibly beaten up when I fail or when I make a mistake. Additionally, I attribute failures and mistakes to my own capabilities; it is rare that I will blame my failure on an external factor even though there very well may be one. Even outside of the realm of personal disappointments, I find that I often lack confidence in daily situations, such as having extended conversations with strangers or answering questions in class. I’ve had numerous conversations with my husband about this because he’s the confident and social one in our relationship.
He’s given me many tips but the one I find myself most using is a fairly simple one: just count to three. In graduate school and now in client meetings, my husband often just counts to three before answering a question or making a comment because if he waits too long, he will start to overthink and doubt his response. I’m slowly adopting this strategy and I must say that the payoff is tremendous; sure sometimes I may not have anything brilliant to contribute to a conversation but there is a certain pleasure that comes from speaking up.
I think one thing I’ve taken away from the article and my husband’s advice is hesitation does not lead to success and being smart is not enough. You need the confidence to take risks, go with your gut and simply be undeniable. Plainly said, “women need to stop thinking so much and just act.”