Last week I took a yoga class in which the instructor led us in a forearm stand. Some people easily raised their feet high in the air while balancing on their arms at this improbable 90 degree angle, while I kept falling over and flailing about. I started thinking “I did a headstand last week, do I really need to try the forearm stand this week? Maybe I’ll just go put my legs up the wall or go into child’s pose…” The instructor told those of us who were still trying to get vertical to lift with confidence. The only way to do it is to think you can. And suddenly it clicked. I was up! Even if it was only for a few moments, it felt great.
This reminded me of a problem many of us face as women in business, in the yoga studio and in our personal lives. We don’t really want to do something unless we are absolutely sure we can get it right. In our minds we are running through all the reasons we might not succeed and as a result, often we don’t even try. It’s also known as the confidence gap. To write Million Dollar Women I had to tame some of those voices in my own head, the ones saying “You didn’t even go to business school, how can you write a business book?” and “You have never written anything longer than a blog post, how are you going to crank out 260 pages of content? Are you sure you can do this?”
In their book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman report that in numerous studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance while women underestimate both. They also point out that “women have “30% more neurons firing in their brain at any given moment than men.” The book explains how this extra 30% helps women with multi-tasking, intuition, and collaborations. But more is not always more. That 30% also causes more worrying and negative thinking. “Simply put, a woman’s brain is not her friend when it comes to confidence. We think too much and we think about the wrong things. Thinking harder and harder and harder won’t solve our issues, it won’t make us more confident, and it most certainly freezes decision making, not to mention action…Ruminating drains the confidence from us.”
As part of my mission of helping more of us to build multi-million dollar companies, I want us to discuss the “elephants in the room” for women entrepreneurs and this confidence gap is one of them. When we don’t identify the confidence gap we may fall into it. I know when I set out to raise Venture Capital I didn’t think I could do it, so I didn’t. I spent nine months doing research before even talking to one VC. We may feel we can only make bold moves we need to make to succeed – including raising capital, negotiating hard on a deal, approaching a new mentor or advisor – if we feel 100% certain we can ace it. Some of this comes from how we were socialized. Broadly speaking, girls are socialized to please adults by looking pretty and having the right answers. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to play sports, get dirty, and learn to contend with repeated failure. Even though these norms are shifting as we become more more aware of how limiting these roles are, these stereotypes are still engrained in our culture. The result is the confidence gap, and women who take fewer risks then men do.
When trying to push through your own confidence gap remember that it’s okay to fail. You can get right back up again. Just take a look around the yoga studio and you’ll see that a lot of people failing over and over again. My first business, a screen writers guide, failed, and I learned valuable lessons from that experience that helped me start my second business Big Mouth Productions and turn my third business, Little Pim, into a multimillion-dollar company. Part of running a business is constantly trying things, sometimes finding great new ideas and moving on quickly when they are not.
Rather than focusing on the end goal — the perfect forearm stand, or being a perfect CEO —try looking at smaller steps you can take. Accomplishing small goals like sending an email you were afraid to write, or asking for a better deal from a manufacturer can help you gain confidence, and make it easier to do the next daunting thing. Many women have also found joining or forming an Accountability Group helps them set new ambitious goals each month and stay on track to meeting them. You can find free Accountability Group instructions and templates here.
When you tackle your own confidence gap it’s a good time to keep one of my favorite #MillionDollarWomen Mantras close at hand: “Have the fear. Do it anyway.” The important thing is not to let those over-active neurons take over. As my yoga teacher would say during a class meditation “acknowledge the thoughts, and gently set them aside.” Once you do, you’ll find yourself doing more incredible, gravity-defying things than you could ever imagine, and it will feel great. Write and tell me about what hard things you have tackled recently, and how you found the confidence to do it!
Until next time,