This may seem like really weird advice, but trust me, it will make sense. I’m not talking about offering to make the key presentation for your team when you have a deathly fear of public speaking. That would be career suicide. No, what I’m talking about is adding in some measured doses of expected failure. If it’s fun and low-risk, hopefully they will be spectacular and memorable. Think really bad karaoke in a roomful of strangers, joining a baseball league when you have absolutely no intrinsic talent for the sport, or anything else you can think of. You see, Eleanor Roosevelt was spot on when she encouraged us to do one thing every day that scares us.
Where is this coming from? The Confidence Gap by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman. The article provides a brief summary of their research on why women aren’t truly shattering the glass ceiling. Kay and Shipman attribute part of women’s inequality to their “acute lack of confidence.” Whoa. Hold on there! I’m sure that many of you just had the same reaction I did when I read that line, and just as I was furiously devouring the article and preparing to have a nice indignant rant, something lousy happened – I saw myself in the examples they used. Women tend to attribute their success to external forces like luck, and internalize poor performance. Three times in the month of December, people asked me how I got my start in my profession, and each time I told the story I gave credit to everyone and everything else other than myself. Apparently I’m not alone in doing that, and that’s a shame.
According to research, women are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion if they don’t meet almost 100% of the criteria for the role, and men have a much lower threshold for considering themselves qualified. We also tend to judge ourselves more harshly when we aren’t good at something, placing the blame squarely on our intrinsic abilities. Oh, and we’re more likely not to play sports if we aren’t athletically inclined, despite the fact that team sports build confidence and morale. We underestimate not just our potential, but our performance, and yet we actually tend to perform equally with men. It would seem that we are our own worst enemy.
And so, for 2015 I am challenging everyone, men and women alike, to do something you think you suck at, but here’s the catch: you can’t go into it with negativity. Approach it as an experiment, regardless of how well or spectacularly horrible it goes. When it’s done, try asking other people for their thoughts on how you did. You might just be surprised to find that you’re harder on your own performance than others. The point of this challenge is to gain some confidence by doing something unexpected. Oh, and that painting that you see with this post? I painted that at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. I was going for the ocean at sunset, though one of my friends named it “Field of Blue Wheat on Fire.” Art, like failure, is in the eye of the beholder, and whatever you think of my artistic skills know that I had a blast painting that canvas.