The Problem with Fake Eyelashes
Con.fi.dence (n) freedom from doubt; belief in yourself and your abilities.
Confidence. What a word. We hear it used often, tossed off like a pair of pantyhose with a run in it. It sounds good. We all know that it is important. But what does it really mean? This first chapter is the most extensive because it forms the foundation of everything else in the book. More importantly, confidence forms the foundation of everything in your life.
Confidence is like hairpins. Yes, hairpins. If you are from the South, like me, you might refer to these life-saving gems as bobby pins. Now, when you pick up a bobby pin, you can feel that it is pretty solid, although small. If you have ever used bobby pins, you know they pack a lot of potential! With just a little strategy and know-how, you can instantly obtain the look you want. But only if you position them in the right place.
I remember going to the hairdresser as a teenager to get ready for the prom. Of course, I wanted to look "mature," so I asked the stylist to put my hair in an "up-do." I have really thick hair! Whenever I tried to put up my own hair, I would use too many bobby pins and you could see them sticking out. However, my hairdresser knew exactly where to position each pin to give my hair the right amount of support.
It was not about how many pins she used-it was about how she used them. She used her teeth to change the shape of the pin depending on the type of reinforcement necessary. She had the uncanny ability to place them so that they were virtually invisible. And you know how important that is!
When I left the salon, my football-playing brother, Corey, asked how I managed to get my hair to stay up. The finished product really amazed him! He could see it, but he couldn't explain it. I responded with my pat answer for Corey: "None of your business!" First, he really did not care. Second, because it really wasn't his business!
When you have the perfect hairstyle, no one else needs to know how it got that way. In the same way that women have their own beauty secrets, it is also okay to have a silent sense of confidence. No one has the time or patience to hear about how many bobby pins you used, or how many times you tried before getting it right. Instead, they only see and care about the end result.
In our professional lives, obtaining and demonstrating confidence is very similar. Like a hairpin, it need not be very big or even noticeably visible to be effective. It is really not very important that others know how you got "it"-what is important is that you have it. Though it's not visible, you must know that it is there. That it provides you with the proper amount of support and reinforcement to give you the look-a.k.a., the self-assurance-that you desire. Without it you will be out of place-especially in the business world.
Confidence drives business. To be in the driver's seat, you must believe in your ability to make things happen. Otherwise, you are just along for the ride. You must also know that you have the ability to shape your confidence. My hairdresser used her teeth. You must use what you have. Use your gifts, your wisdom, and your talent.
Confidence is like hair. It grows stronger with proper conditioning. -Marshawn Evans
A Cure for the Common Cold: Insecurity
Confidence is not optional-especially for women. We cannot succeed in a dog-eat-dog, cutthroat business world without it. The only way to climb the corporate ladder is to first have the confidence to take a step-then another step, and then another step.
The opposite of confidence, being secure, is insecurity. I know all about that. I have always been a fairly confident person-even as a kid. However, there were areas in which I was certainly less than confident. When I was in elementary school, I remember that every week a group of students would leave class to participate in a special program called REACH. Well, the REACH kids were known as the smart kids. At least, that's how I saw them.
They had taken a special aptitude test, one that I don't remember taking, which enabled them to go to this mysterious place-a place that I knew absolutely nothing about. (At the time I called it "Never, Never Land" because I never got to go there!) All I knew was that I was not a part of the school's designated "smart-kid" clique. Being excluded had a tremendous impact on my academic self-esteem. From that point onward, I did not see myself as smart-at least not as smart as the other kids. I did fine in school, but not great. I never challenged myself, and I did just enough to get by.
As I entered junior high and high school, my leadership qualities began to flourish, and I started my first real business as the host of several dance and modeling camps. I was a freshman cheerleader, the high school band's featured baton twirler, first runner-up in the Miss Teen Texas pageant, and an officer in over a dozen student groups. I was making straight A's, but year after year, my teachers would encourage me to take honors and advanced placement courses. I was sure they were mistaken.
I understand how they might be confused. After all, I was making really high grades, but they did not understand. My thinking was that I made good grades because I worked hard, not because I was smart. No matter how hard I worked, certain areas were still out of my reach. When asked to take the advanced courses, I reverted back to being the elementary school girl left at her desk while the smart kids went off to Never, Never Land.
Thankfully, my high school teachers' persistence paid off. In my senior year, I made myself take all honors and advanced placement classes. What a way to spend senior year! However, I learned that stretching your confidence is not about how you feel. It's about how you focus. Stepping outside of your comfort zone will rarely feel good. It actually feels unnatural, which can be intimidating. That is when you defer to your head, and not your heart.
The "stretch" of the academic challenges changed my shape for the better. I ended up graduating with honors in the top 5 percent of my high school class and was accepted by almost every school to which I applied.
I wish I could say that was the end of the story. That fall I went off to college. During the middle of my first semester, I received a letter in the mail. It was a beautiful invitation on fancy paper from the Honor's Department at Texas Christian University. I read it, but had no intentions of responding. Again, they must have been mistaken, too.
High school honor courses were one thing, but college was a completely different story. Or so I thought. For some reason, I mentioned the letter to my father. Between the two of us, he was easily more enthusiastic. I was content with getting the invitation. I tried to explain to him why I was not fit for the program. In my view, I was not the type of person for this program. Only the really "smart" ones could keep up and do well in a collegiate honors curriculum. I mean, hey, the reality is that some people can shop at S, and others can only afford Sack 'n' Save. There's nothing wrong with either store. I just wasn't the type, and that's all there was to it. (Sigh!) While my father heard me, he would not listen.
Dad tried to encourage me, but nothing he said would change my mind. So, he upped the ante! He agreed to pay the expenses for me to have my own dorm room for the next semester. (I had a messy roommate-bless her heart-sweet, but messy.) And, that's all she wrote!
I enrolled in the honors program. The honors classes were challenging, but I was able to pull A's in those classes, too. I finished magna cum laude with honors and distinction. I became a Truman Scholar, one of Glamour magazine's Top Ten College Women, and a USA Today Academic First Team member. Plus, I received nearly $200,000 in academic scholarships. Ha! Yes, me-the same girl who was not in the REACH classes.
I learned that another person's opinion about you is never as important as your opinion about you. I also learned that I could rise to any challenge if I had the right frame of mind. Beauty industry pioneer Mary Kay Ash once taught that whether you think you can or can't, you are right either way. Confidence is not just about how you feel about yourself. It is also about your focus-how you think. It's amazing what you can see when you choose what not to look at. As the saying goes, some can't see the forest for the trees.
Today, it is hard to believe that I once had a case of academic insecurity. Insecurity is a common ailment that many women deal with. It is a condition that can go undiagnosed for far too long if you are not careful. On my journey to the Miss America competition, I was constantly under the microscope. There was no shortage of people who were eager to be the movie critic for my personal life story. I was too tall, too thin, eyes too big, hair too thick, or my suit was the wrong color. The list goes on and on.
I learned that opinions are just that-opinions are based on one person's point of view. Nothing more, nothing less. Opinions are not facts. Just as people can be right, they can also be wrong. One of the keys to professional success is learning to place the opinions, doubts, and comments expressed by others in perspective.
During my first semester at Georgetown University Law Center, I considered enrolling in Georgetown's joint degree program. I wanted to obtain my law degree and my MBA at the same time. So, I went to an information meeting about the school's joint degree offerings. Before law school, I had a pretty extensive background in politics and youth development. I had been the national spokesperson for the Invest in Youth Campaign, named by the Texas governor to the state's Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, and co-founder of the National Youth Network under the U.S. Justice Department. I went to law school, in part, to diversify my experiences. I always wanted to be an attorney, but I still had a passion and a knack for business.
After the presentation, I was even more interested in the JD-MBA. I approached the law center's dean of admissions and told him about my interests. I was expecting him to match my enthusiasm with words of encouragement. Instead, he paused for a moment, wrinkled his face like he had just eaten a piece of bad fruit, titled his head, and said something that still sticks with me to this day: "Well, you might want to think about that. I mean, the business school is for people who have been in the business world operating at pretty high levels for quite some time. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, but the principles-especially the accounting-are extremely complex. These guys are some heavy hitters." He went on to say that maybe I should enroll in the joint MPA-Masters in Public Administration. Humph.
Like that, with only a few short (and really discouraging!) words, this man caused me to doubt my ability. It was very clear from his body language and his statements that he didn't think I was suited for a Georgetown MBA. Now, I don't know whether he had any bad intentions or realized the impact of his words, but, because he was a part of the recruitment team, I valued his opinion. My mistake was in placing too much value in-overvaluing-his opinion. Looking back at it now, I now see that it was a dumb opinion. You see, before law school, I had already operated my own consulting company and had done more before the age of 21 than many in business school had done by the age of 30.
I don't regret not enrolling in business school. I do regret listening to one man's dumb opinion. (I'll explain why I keep calling his opinion dumb.) I've now learned to place the opinions of others in perspective. No matter what phase you're experiencing in your life, and no matter how much you've accomplished (I was already a Georgetown law student, for heaven's sake!), people will still tell you that you cannot or should not attempt something-that you are striving or reaching too high. (Is that even possible?) Remember, no one knows your potential the way you do. They don't know your visions, your passion, and your purpose. So they are making uninformed-a.k.a. "dumb"-statements.
The reality is that women are rarely encouraged to go into business. We have to make that choice for ourselves. Thankfully, I had enough drive to press onward and achieve some pretty neat things in spite of Dean Dumbo (I've changed the dean's name to protect his identity; it's just between us girls, anyway). In my world, I deal with professional athletes and sports agents. As an attorney, I represented Fortune 500 companies at my law firm. I deal with heavy hitters and the big boys every day.
There is an important lesson here: Another person's opinion of you cannot define you without your permission. Regardless of the type of insecurity you may be dealing with, or not dealing with, there is a cure. Confidence. In order for it to work, you have to be willing to write your own prescription.
It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes. -Sally Field
Behind the Mascara
Empty confidence is like a pair of cheap pantyhose. You buy them expecting to wear them one or two times. If they snag right away, you are not surprised. The quality was poor in the first place. What is worse is if you are at a business meeting and you get a run. You know, a snag that starts small but by the end of the day grows as big as a convention hall. You cannot concentrate because all you can think about is your run.
If you are resourceful, you can use hairspray or clear nail polish to stop the run. Hopefully it will buy you some time, but not much. You have to watch every step you take and all your movements to make sure the run does not get any worse. After all, you do not want the whole world to see that unsightly tear.
The same is true for empty confidence. When we lack confidence, we become obsessed with what others think. We don't want others to see the "run" in our self-esteem, so we cover it up and try to distract people in hopes that they will not notice. More plainly, as women we tend to hide behind designer suits, false eyelashes, advanced degrees, a big check, and a nice car.
All can become disguises for true confidence-concealers that hide our imperfections. These things may bolster your self-esteem for a while, but they will never give you fulfillment or sustained self-assurance. You may even try to distract others with the way you talk or by being boastful. Confidence is not always spoken. The real deal is usually silent.
Most successful women have a magnetic quality about them. You do not see their confidence, you sense it. You cannot put your finger on it, but you know it is there. Think about a woman whom you admire, someone who epitomizes strength and assurance.
If I were a betting woman, I would bet that she never boasts about her accomplishments. There is a reason for that. She knows who she is and that's that. Others naturally see and are drawn to her confidence. Why? Confidence is a magnet. Insecurity, on the other hand, demagnetizes attraction. What energy are you giving?
From the Inside Out
To be the cream that rises to the top of the corporate ladder, you have to standout. One of the things that we emphasize at the S.K.I.R.T.S. in the Boardroom: Set No Limits Summit is that there is too much competition for you to expect to excel if you always blend in. There has to be something different about you that enables you to get different opportunities. That something begins with confidence. Your confidence will attract new opportunities.
Confidence and conceit are not one and the same. A conceited person is arrogant, which is offensive. It demagnetizes right away because conceit is a sign of low self-esteem. Conceited people have something to prove-or at least they think they do. They are actually trying to hide insecurity.