THE BLOG
05/28/2014 10:45 am ET | Updated Jul 28, 2014

The Confidence Conundrum

Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

As women, we can have a unique ability for making things happen. I am endlessly inspired by this, so I was intrigued by the May cover story of The Atlantic, called "The Confidence Gap," which shares that a mystifying lack of confidence is the dominating factor that holds women back. The research shared further explained the point. In one study, "Women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the listed qualifications; men would apply when they met 60 percent." Self-belief dictates the opportunities we create for ourselves! Even when women perform at the same levels as men, women underestimate their competence and ability while men overestimate, and although, both are miscalculations, men are rewarded for their confidence.

There is a desire for perfectionism that plagues women uniquely, and we all too quickly get caught up in comparing ourselves against unrealistic measures. The comparison game and perfectionism do not lead us to anything helpful. We think they are about improvement, but they're really about approval. The Atlantic article references many studies that indicate that women feel confident only when they are perfect (or "practically perfect") in the eyes of others, and anything short of that finds us often slinking into a downward spiral that starts with hesitancy and lands in inactivity. The problem is that if we hold back until we have all the answers, or are fully prepared, or are "practically perfect," or we feel approval, we will never step out into the very things that could lead to greater confidence.

Resolving this conundrum isn't as simple as just choosing to think and act with greater confidence. It goes far deeper than positive self-talk. As a teenager, my mom used a different method to instill confidence. Rather than words of affirmation, she admonished us towards a focus on others. I remember hearing many times, "Your confidence in yourself will grow as you give more of yourself to others."

I didn't fully understand this until well into my adult years, but her words stayed with me. It is why I'm so passionate about finding a purpose bigger than one's self... about being "Women on Purpose." When we choose to live for something bigger than ourselves... when we believe that showing up for others imperfectly is more valuable than not showing up at all... when we choose progress over perfection, we gain freedom from that which holds us back. After all, a stagnant life is the greatest risk of all.

As women, we have a unique ability to impact and transform the lives around us. Because by nature, we are intentional. It is our uniquely feminine quality. We have saved marriages, kids, communities, and countries. We have strength of will, yet a willingness to bend for the good of others. We will fight for justice, yet give undeserved grace as we believe in one's potential for redemption. We use our intellect for the job at hand, but in concert with intuition for those involved. We will go at it alone if we have to, but would much rather do it with others.

It takes courage, time, and intentionality to live imperfectly... but we can make a true difference -- a transformational difference -- in the lives of others if we dare to show up short of even practically perfect.