How often do you find yourself hesitating or not speaking up at work for fear that you won't be taken seriously or you may be questioned or criticized? Are you scared to death that one of these days a colleague is going to stand up in a meeting and shout, "I knew it! You've been fooling us all this time and you really are incompetent!" Is there a creative pursuit or career change that you've been longing to explore, but there's a voice inside your head telling you that you don't have what it takes or that people will laugh at you?
Your Inner Critic
What you're hearing is the voice of your inner critic -- that persistent, pesky and irrational chatter of self-doubt that keeps brilliant ideas unshared, dreams unrealized, businesses un-started, gifts and talents unused and important questions unasked. It's also the voice that echoes loudly in our heads when we silently disparage other women who have had the courage to take the leap, go for the promotion, give the speech, push the envelope or write the book we always wanted to write.
This pervasive self-doubt rarely has anything to do with reality, actual ability or accomplishments, yet it plagues so many of us, including many of the successful, high-achieving women we admire as being exceptionally self-confident. It's that voice that says, "If you don't try, you can't fail," or "you don't have what it takes to pull that off."
The Confidence Crisis
All women struggle with self-doubt in one way or another, although it shows up differently for each of us. For some women, the voice is most vocal around appearance or body image. For others, it speaks most loudly in the professional context, rearing its head as the "impostor syndrome." Many women hear it piercingly around inadequacies as a parent or partner.
As it turns out, this confidence deficiency is predominantly a female issue. According to authors Russ Harris and Stephen Hayes, the issue isn't merely an annoyance, but instead a "particular crisis for women." While men are walking around saying "I'm awesome," women are repeatedly saying, "I'm not good enough." In their book, The Confidence Gap, the authors argue that this prevalence of self-doubt helps to explain why women continue to under-earn compared to men and why there remains a deficit of women leaders in so many organizations.
Quieting the Critic
The encouraging news in all of this is that it's reasonably simple to begin working with your inner critic as you heighten your awareness of its presence. The voice of your inner critic will never be silenced, but it can be managed and quieted, and its negative impacts in your life can be lessened.
The most important steps are learning to recognize what your inner critic sounds like and then consciously acknowledging your irrational self-doubt for what it truly is. The following list offers nine possibilities of how the inner critic may be showing up in your life:
- Articulates a harsh or cruel judgment you would NEVER say to a colleague, friend or loved one: "You are so stupid! I honestly can't believe that actually came out of your mouth."
- Echoes the voice of a negative, unsupportive or toxic person from your past or present -- authority figure, boss, partner, teacher, parent or sibling: "That's an interesting hobby to have, but there's no way you'll ever make a living doing that."
- Makes definitive pronouncements, rather than presenting reasonable alternatives: "Are you serious? That idea will never fly in a million years."
- Aims and hits you where it hurts the most: "A better mother would've done that differently." Or, "Nobody will ever take you seriously as a writer."
- Attempts to diminish or discount your qualifications, credentials or experiences: "They probably wouldn't even consider you for that position. Maybe after you get that degree or at least take a few more classes."
- Exhibits an anxious, repetitive and/or urgent tone: "You need to email her back right this minute or she's going to think you're a useless slacker."
- Questions your emotions, intellect or judgment, often at the same time: "What were you thinking agreeing to present at this conference? Pull yourself together! All of the other speakers are so calm and confident."
- Hones in on physical attributes: "I know you're looking forward to this, but you really shouldn't go to this event tonight without longsleeves or Spanx."
- Lashes out at the success of others: "Who does she think she is?"
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