My husband and I were chatting a while back about how he gets so much done. Not the day-to-day stuff you have to get done to make sure your children don’t implode and your house doesn’t get condemned, but big picture, visiony stuff. Life accomplishment stuff. He drives me a little crazy, actually. He has ideas and he ACTUALLY DOES THEM. I have lots of ideas. Lots of really great ideas if I do say so myself. I mean, if we are being totally honest here, I GIVE HIM MY GREAT IDEAS ALL THE TIME. Seriously, I can point to more than one thing on his list of accomplishments, his list of greatness, which was MY IDEA. Let’s be clear. I am not saying he doesn’t have any great ideas of his own or that he stole anything from me or usurped anything I was ever possibly going to do on my own. I’m just saying HE ACTUALLY GETS SHIT DONE. And I love him for that, and I HATE HIM for that. Because he makes me feel so damned inept sometimes.
One evening when I was feeling particularly slovenly, particularly lost and unfocused, I pestered him to give up his secrets. WHAT IS IN YOUR SECRET SAUCE, I demanded. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. If I want to do something, I just do it.” Oh please don’t go all Nike on me. “Seriously,” I said. “GIVE UP YOUR SECRETS.” “Really,” he said. “I just start doing it.”
I was flabbergasted. IT CAN’T BE THAT EASY.
“But don’t you worry that it won’t work out? Don’t you worry that someone won’t like it? Don’t you worry that someone else will do the same thing, only better? Don’t you worry that if you get through the first step, you won’t know what to do next? Don’t you worry that by the time you are finished whatever you are doing will be obsolete? Don’t you worry about what will happen if it’s not perfect?”
He looked at me like I had two heads and simply responded, “Nope.” I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until the truth came out. I DON’T BELIEVE YOU, my insides screamed. STOP HOGGING THE SECRET SAUCE.
“Do you worry about all those things,” he asked?
“Yes, every one of them. ALL THE FREAKING TIME.”
“Well no wonder you don’t get anything done,” he laughed.
Seeing that my sense of humor wasn’t picking up what he was putting down, he continued, “In all seriousness, I know what I am capable of and I’m pretty sure that whatever I put out will be good enough. I’m also pretty sure that even if I put out something that isn’t good, it won’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. One screw up isn’t the end of the world.”
As I took a few moments to process what he had laid out before me, it became clear to me what was in the secret sauce. It actually wasn’t much of a secret, it was more like an advertisement lit up on a billboard in the middle of Times Square. People talk about it all the time. There’s probably an entire self-help section at Barnes and Noble dedicated to the topic.
My husband is able to just do it, because he is confident he can just do it.
What I couldn’t understand is how he could have so much, if I had so little. We were both smarty pants book worms who excelled in high school and college. We met at our first post-graduate job after being recruited to the same finance firm. For the first 10 years of our relationship we worked together, both as employees and as partners in our own entrepreneurial ventures. But here’s the catch. With each promotion or accolade, he was able to pat himself on the back and bask in the glory of his accomplishment, fully confident it was well-deserved. I, on the other hand, felt like I was stuck in reverse. With every promotion, award or accolade, I worried it was only a matter of time before the jig was up, only a matter of time before everyone realized that I was a fraud who didn’t really belong and didn’t really know all that much. I could always see the bigger and better in everyone else. I could never see it in me.
I’d been mulling all of this over quite a bit recently in an attempt to figure out how I could get myself writing again. Writing was easy when I first started. When there was no expectation. When I didn’t even know if anyone was reading. When I just did it to do it. Not because I wanted to be a writer, but because I wanted to write something on paper to keep it from holding precious space in my head and my heart.
But then I decided I wanted to be a writer. A writer who is paid for her work. So I got serious about this whole blogging thing, and the more people started paying attention, the more likes and shares I got, the more followers who signed on, the more my confidence problem started to rear its ugly head again. Who am I to call myself a writer? What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? What if this piece doesn’t get as many views as the last piece? What if someone doesn’t like what I write or what I think? What if someone…wait for it…UNFOLLOWS me?
So I stopped writing. Ha. Take that potential naysayers and rejecters. I beat you to the punch. You can’t unfollow me, because there’s nothing there to unfollow.
THERE’S NOTHING THERE TO UNFOLLOW!!!
I did it again.
I took myself out of the running.
I’M MY OWN WORST ENEMY.
I started telling myself I am just built this way, and I am destined to a life of unfulfilled dreams and unmet expectations, and I tried to convince myself I am OK with that. I started telling myself I am OK if the rest of my days are spent simply being a wife to my husband and a mother to my boys and a daughter to my parents and a sister to my siblings and a friend to my friends. Because along with the monotony and isolation and smothering neediness and thanklessness that can come with choosing that path, there is beauty and wonder and laughter and love.
Problem is, my mind won’t stop thinking about writing, and everywhere I turn, opportunities to write, to refine my craft, to discover my voice, to gain more exposure for my work are being dropped in my lap. It’s like God is telling me, I gave you this gift and I expect you to use it. (I sometimes think He is telling me, I gave you the gift of financial acumen for a reason as well, but that’s a whole other story for another day.)
In the midst of my vascilating between my desire to write and my fear of not doing it well enough, I stumbled upon this month’s issue of The Atlantic while standing in line at the grocery store. It screamed at me with the headline “CLOSING THE CONFIDENCE GAP. Even successful women lack self-assurance at work.”, paired with a picture of Claire Shipman from ABC News and Katty Kay from BBC World News America, two women who, in my mind, could be nothing but confident. Intrigued, I threw the magazine on the conveyor belt and figured at the very least I had some reading material for a pending road trip.
As I delved into the eight page article, I was taken aback by stories from women who, by any external measuring stick of achievement, are considered competent, capable, and successful. Women like Sheryl Sandberg, queen of the #LeanIn revolution. I read words like “just lucky – in the right place at the right time”, “felt like an imposter”, “I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am” filled the pages.
You mean it’s not just me?
The realization that it isn’t just me felt like a gift. Sure the article painted a grim picture for women. In some ways, research shows maybe we are just built this way, it’s in our nature, our biochemical makeup. Other research shows that, not surprisingly, nurture and the formative experiences of girls and women and societal expectations play a role in building the confidence gap as well. But the research also showed the gap can be closed.
Study after study indicated that women are just as capable, just as able as men to do well. The only thing holding us back is our choice to not even try.
Our choice to not even try. Guilty as charged.
So when all was said and done, what was their prescription for building confidence? “Stop thinking so much and just act.” Because research also shows that “our brains can change over the course of our lives, in response to shifting thought patterns and behaviors.” And that is where the hope lies. Just like we can create new eating habits or new money management habits, we can create a confidence habit by just doing it.
I hate it when my husband is right.
P.S. In an effort to lay the foundation of a confidence habit, I posted a short piece last week for the first time in several weeks. I didn’t obsess about it. I let the words spill out onto the paper and hit publish after a quick proofread for major grammatical errors. And I lost a follower. But I gained four.
P.P.S. In another effort to lay the foundation of a confidence habit, I am participating in a blogger conversation with The MOMS on Sirius XM Channel 106 at 6pm EST tonight about what Moms really want for Mother’s Day. Be a part of the conversation by sharing your perfect Mother’s Day in the comments below.