how to cultivate more professional confidence.

Real confidence.

There’s no question it’s one of the most important qualities to cultivate and strengthen within yourself. Because without it, you’ll always be on the brink of self-abandonment, second-guessing your worthiness, your capabilities, your qualities, and your voice. Not to mention, everyone else will second-guess you too.

I remember back in my early 20’s, I really struggled with this. In fact, I was always afraid to speak up and tell a colleague or my boss what I really thought about something. Because of past embarrassments, I didn’t want any kind of negative attention, so I played it safe instead and just kept quiet. When I look back, it’s no wonder I wasn’t the all-star employee I wanted to be; I didn’t believe I could be that person.

Once I shifted into a different work environment—one that was more aligned with my interests and strengths and where fear-based management was not commonplace, I was finally able to see my value. Slowly, I realized that I had talent and integrity and creativity to offer and that was reflected back to me by everyone I worked with.

I started to feel comfortable in my skin, to believe in myself, and to dream bigger about what I really wanted to accomplish in my career. Being in this state empowered me to stop playing small and step into leadership positions that had me speaking on stages, managing teams, working closely with founders and CEOs, and eventually becoming my own boss with a thriving business.

Recently, I was reminded of how important self-confidence is while volunteering at Dress for Success, an international non-profit that supports disadvantaged women in getting proper professional attire and job retention programs. This organization is close to my heart because I worked there fulltime for 2 years when my professional self-esteem was still gaining traction.

I had just finished helping a sweet, very shy lady find a suit and a few professional separates for her upcoming interview. As we wrapped up, I brought her to a table to sit down and talk about interview prep. We walked through which outfit to wear, how to answer interview questions, what to bring, etc.

But as we chatted, I couldn’t help but feel her deep, deep lack of confidence; something that would be incredibly obvious to a potential employer too. She spoke so softly that I had to ask her to repeat herself often. She struggled to answer the typical interview questions as we did a mock interview. And she sat with her shoulders hunched and her head tiled down.

Truly, she needed more support than I could offer in just one conversation, and not gonna lie, I really wanted to take her under my wing. Because building true confidence not only takes time, but it’s an inside job. One that requires the active pursuit of taking risks, questioning the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and finding a true love and acceptance of who we really are.

It took me many years to cultivate this within myself professionally—probably 6-7 to give you an idea. And it’s still a work in progress to move past self-doubt, fear, and feelings of unworthiness. But if I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s that strengthening your confidence muscle and mindset should be at the top of your list.

The inner beliefs you carry about yourself, the vision you hold for your life and your business, and everything in between—it’s all up to YOU. So you best be taking a look at where you feel uncomfortable, where you question your value, and where you’re the most afraid in order to transform those things, become a full expression of who you really are, and reach your next level of success.

Below I’ve included some tips on how to start cultivating more confidence now and through 2018.

Forgive Yourself Every Single Day.
There will forever be moments where you’re triggered to berate yourself for a mistake or misstep. This is the perfect opportunity to practice self-compassion and forgiveness. Instead of saying to yourself, “Ugh, I suck. I’m the worst. Everyone hates me” say “Ok, I messed up. It feels crappy. But I’ve learned my lesson and did the best I could in that moment. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m not perfect and that’s ok.”

Letting yourself acknowledge and feel the feelings that come along with a misstep, having a kinder inner dialogue, and then making peace with the situation and moving on is the very best way to start building towards more resilience and confidence. For me, I let myself sit with the uncomfortable feelings, take deep breaths, and give myself a motherly pep talk that it’s all going to be ok. From there, I write out what my fears are and counter them with real life of examples of the complete opposite.

Put Yourself in Uncomfortable Situations.
I’m not talking about questionable or dangerous ones; I’m talking about growth-provoking ones like networking, taking on a really major client, going on a solo adventure, or speaking in front of an audience. Being in situations that make you uncomfortable are opportunities to strengthen your confidence because they empower you to push past the scary ideas and live the real thing in real life.

For me, public speaking was terrifying to me for the longest time. It makes sense for someone who used to hide her voice, right? So when I had to get on stage to speak in front of over 1000 people, I instinctively wanted to run and hide. But I walked out there anyway with sweaty palms, heart pounding, and doubts flying through my mind. I spoke my heavily memorized speech out loud with a microphone with tons of eyeballs looking at me. When I finished, I was so proud, so exhilarated, and in such disbelief that I had actually done it! It was a game changer for me.

Use Meditation to Build Self-Awareness.
If there’s one thing that can hold us all back from building confidence, it’s our limiting beliefs. The beliefs like, “I’ll never make enough money” or “I’ll always struggle in my career” or “I’m can’t charge that much” or “No one will want to buy what I’m selling” or “Making money will always feel hard” or “I can’t public speak” or “I’m terrible at networking” or “I’m not good enough.” Whether we realize it or not, we all have little beliefs like this flying around in our brains every single day. They make us feel bad about ourselves and keep us playing it safe.

One limiting belief that’s come up for me over the years is this: “In order to be successful, I have to be liked by everyone.” Yep. For as long as I can remember, being well liked has been incredibly important to me. From friendships to work relationships and beyond, I’ve always been a bit of people pleaser. So when I feel like someone is upset with me, or someone unsubscribes from my email list, or someone writes a negative comment on my social media post, the tendency is to try to fix it, to change something about my behavior or my approach. And it leads me to overthink and overanalyze my Instagram posts, emails, blog posts, etc. In reality, owning my voice, my perspective, and my expertise is much more powerful, and it’s a daily practice to embrace that fully.

As you can see building self-confidence is a gradual process and we have to be patient with ourselves. But the more often we make it a priority to practice strengthening it within ourselves, the freer we’ll feel to chase our dreams. In the comments below, I’d love to hear what you struggle with from a confidence perspective. What are you currently working on?