There's a surge in conversation about the challenge for women to claim confidence and counteract self-doubt. The newest book on the topic, The Confidence Gap, shows, yet again, that women are less self-assured than men, and to succeed in the work world, confidence matters as much as competence.
Let's dispel the mystery behind the scenes so that we are not so shocked by what the headlines tell us. Females, by and large, grow up playing the game of life with different rules than our male counterparts. I remember many years ago walking into my daughter's day-care center and noticing how the boys were active in parallel play -- one boy doing his thing while another boy was nearby doing his own thing. They weren't curious about each other and didn't particularly care what the other boys were doing. But this wasn't so for the little girls. They were extremely curious and interested in each other and busied themselves with figuring out how to play interactively.
When the foundation of one's social development depends upon getting along with others, it becomes adaptive to fine tune the inner antenna that enables success with peers. In middle school, the rules of the game of life for girls are again different, requiring girls to defend themselves against the people who are supposed to be their friends -- their girlfriends. Let's face it, middle-school boys aren't going around apologizing to each other and personalizing another person's moods and behaviors, they aren't assuming responsibility for things that they didn't do and they aren't dimming their lights out of fear that others will accuse them of being conceited. Middle-school boys are also not so worried about being scrutinized by others of their same gender for the clothes they wear, the food they eat or the size and shape of their body.
Sadly, the fear of being judged and rejected -- which seems to accelerate in pre-adolescence -- trains girls to inhibit themselves and practice self-doubt. It's no wonder that these emotional traits come back to bite us in the workplace and in the world of relationships. When we enter the work world, all of these developmental adaptations follow us. What at one point in the game of life helped us feel more secure, later on serves to inhibit our sense of courage and fortify our fear-based beliefs.
We aren't impostors. We are competent, capable and worthy. Our self-esteem has suffered along the way, and we do need to recover and reclaim it. How that's done isn't easy, but the directive is quite simple: The key to counteracting self-doubt and building greater degrees of confidence comes from strengthening our inner voice. It's the inner voice that scared us from being rejected, assumed that we'd be judged and predicted negative consequences if we were to act boldly. As the authors of The Confidence Gap say, "The good news is that with work, confidence can get acquired." It is done so by strengthening the voice of an inner coach to help us challenge negative assumptions, care less about others approval or disapproval of us and speak to ourselves and about ourselves with more positive language.