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Is lack of confidence stopping your career (change)?

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

'I'm not confident I can make this happen'. 'I believe I have Impostor Syndrome'. 'Oh yeah, and then there is of course the fact that I'm lacking confidence'. (Note the 'of course' here.)

Confidence. It must be the number one show-stopper for your career change.

What I've noticed though is that we use the word confidence very loosely. Matter of fact. As if to say 'well, OF COURSE I'm not confident'. As if to say 'I'm NEVER confident anyway. Why should it be any different now that I want to change my career'.

Whilst, actually, if we become really clear how we are lacking in confidence, we can take little steps to help us overcome what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle to creating your version of career happiness.

What confidence is

Let's start there. Because the number of labels and names for things is absolutely staggering. Confidence. Self-confidence. Impostor Syndrome. Self belief. Self esteem. Ideally all used interchangeably.

The most helpful definition that I've found of confidence is in the book How Confidence Works, by the clinical psychologist and neuro-scientist Ian Davidson. He describes confidence as a prediction device.

Confidence predicts if you are going to be successful in an endeavour based on your beliefs in if you 'Can do' something and if something 'Can happen'.

In other words, confidence is forward-looking, whilst - in contrast - self-esteem is backward looking and is based on your previous experiences. You may have high self-esteem based on what you've done and achieved in the past. That doesn't necessarily mean that you have high confidence in doing something different in the future (although it is a good starting point).

Impostor Syndrome is an altogether different beast. If you have Impostor Syndrome you know you can do things (you've proven that in the past) but somehow your thinking and feeling about your accomplishments are out of sync. You KNOW you can do things, but somehow you FEEL that you can't and feel like a fraud.

Your starting point

I probably don't need to tell you this. But generally women have lower confidence than men. Why? For a number of reasons. One of them is stereotype. If we all believe that women are less competent than men (which is not true, by the way!) and tell everyone, then that will inevitably come true.

If society tells us that women are at a disadvantage it will make women lose confidence. Especially if women believe that this is genetic or in any other way unchangeable.

Other factors are bias - when society (including women) believes that men are more competent than women - and doing less well when in competition.

It has been proven that, if conditions are so that these stereotypes and biases do not come into it, women are just as capable as men.

With all this you may be thinking that it's all looking pretty bleak. It's not.

Because you can become more confident.

Confidence in your ability to make it happen (Can do)

If you've done something before you're more likely to be able to do it again. That's the bottom line. And even if you haven't done exactly the same thing before, you're able to imagine that what you did before might be applicable elsewhere.

But what if you're embarking on something completely new? Something you've never done before?

  • Learning

If you've never done something before you're likely to be not (very) confident. This is normal. You're suffering from 'conscious incompetence'.

The anti-dote of course is to go and learn. And allow yourself the time to learn, and to fail, and to pick yourself up again.

Because learning a new thing, and failing, and picking yourself up again, is how you go from conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence.

  • Fake it till you make it

Or - as the psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan says - it's 'easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling, then it is to feel yourself into a new way of acting'.

No, that doesn't mean that you should just - you know - face the fear and do it anyway. Meaning you now have to throw yourself into something that scares the living daylights out of you (when has that ever worked?)!

Instead it means choosing actions that gradually help you move toward your goal. Choosing those actions that - by the sheer act of achieving them alone - are going to boost your confidence.

Confidence in something changing as a result (Can happen)

You know how some people can never loose weight, even if they live on nothing? Turns out that there is a complicated scientific reason behind that, to do with bacteria in your gut.

But imagine you being that person. Who never can shed even an ounce of weight, no matter what diet you try. No matter what you do.

You start to think that it is hopeless. That whatever you do will not bring about any change. You may be great at following a diet. But if there is no change of anything happening as a result you'll soon lose confidence.

  • Changing the story

With the above example in mind, now that you know that the fact that you can't lose any weight may well have to do with the different type of bacteria in your gut, you can choose to change the narrative. Change the story.

Because now there is a glimmer of hope. It's not you and your efforts. It's not that it's hopeless. It's the fact that you don't know what the make-up of your gut biome is, nor what you should eat and drink to change that. And THAT you can fix!

Well, this doesn't only apply to diets. Changing the story helps for other situations too!

  • Widening your horizons

How do you know if something can be done (Can happen) if you've never seen it done before? If in your immediate family or circle of friends you don't know of anyone who has done what you want to do. Or who are scared for your or not supportive when it comes to the change you want to make.

All of that will not help you to see the possibilities. Which means that you're going to have to do work. To deliberately widen your horizon. To find out about possibilities. To get curious.

Eight practical things you can do to become more confident in your career change

1. Understand why you're not confident

You may have this vague sense of unease. You call it lack of confidence. You may even call it 'Impostor Syndrome'. But what is it?

Just a reminder:

If you believe you are not good enough, based on past experiences: you could well have a lack of self-esteem.

You KNOW you're good enough, but you don't FEEL it: This imbalance between what you know to be true - based on your accomplishments and the skills you know you have - and what you're feeling is called Impostor Syndrome. When you feel that you're about to be found out. Any. Moment. Now.

Forward looking: If you don't feel confident in what you're about to embark on. Because of reasons of 'Can do' or 'Can happen'.

Whatever it is, identify what is holding you back. So that you can take active steps to improve.

2. Adopt a growth mindset

The best way to improve your belief in 'Can do' is to believe that - even if you can't do something now - you will be able to learn. All of us started not being able to do something. We learned along the way. And throughout our lives we will continue to be able to learn.

Adopting a growth mindset, understanding that there is always more to learn, and that you're capable of learning something new, is the first step on embracing your 'Can do'.

3. Learn by doing

You know how you learned to ride a bike? That's right, NOT by reading the manual! But by trial and error.

Sometimes we get too scared by this great big CAREER CHANGE thing. Whilst actually getting to our goal - a happy career - is made up of small steps, made every day.

What is the smallest little ACTIVE step that you can take to move yourself forward to your goal?

5. Get support

And if we stay with the 'learning to ride your bike' analogy, do you remember in detail the steps you took? Yes, you didn't wake up one morning, stepped on your bike and drove off into the sunset (well, sunrise, obviously, as you only just got up, but you get my drift).

No, as a kid you had side wheels on your bike. Or even a tricycle first. Your dad spent endless hours running up and down in the lane behind your house to ensure that - if you fell (or rather, when) - you would be picked up, dusted down and put back on the bike.

Until, one day, you just drove off and became the little tearaway who scared little old ladies by racing down the pavement on your bike (or, in my case, stayed away for hours, with my grandmother running around the neighbourhood in a panic).

In other words, you had support.

It's no different in career change. You need support. From people around you. From friends, family, your partner (not necessarily in that order).

Or you can hire yourself a coach who is clear on the next steps to take and who has done career change herself. So that you feel comfortable in the safe hands of someone who can help you take step after step to make your career change happen. (You KNEW I was going to say that, am I right?).

6. Suspend your belief

Sometimes we have wound ourselves up in a story. A story of what is possible. What is 'realistic'.

But what if that story is not correct?

What if ... people DO make a living out of corporate? What if people CAN do what they love and still earn money? What if you DON'T have to use your sensible law/business/ management degree only because you've spent so much time gaining it?

Write down the story that's playing over and over in your head. Suspend your belief, just for a moment. And say 'What if?' (it may well be my favourite question).

7. Find proof of the opposite

I've worked with IT people for a long time. When a new software is being tested they love nothing better than breaking it. Push your hand down on the keyboard and see if it still works. Do something really quickly.

In other words, prove the opposite from what you believe.

Unlike in IT though (where - of course - the idea is NOT to break the new software), it is your goal to break your story.

If you want to change the story you need to know that there is an alternative. Which means that you need to go out and find that alternative story.

It means you've got to get curious. Talk to real people. People who have done what you've always dreamed of doing. People who can tell you that what you have been dreaming of IS a realistic alternative story. A story that can come true to you.

8. Change the story

If you believe that something is possible, it is more likely to come true. Now that you have the evidence of an alternative to your own belief, you are more likely to be confident to make those next steps happen.

That's my take on confidence and how it's impacting your career change!

What are YOU going to do next?


Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful career transitions into work they love! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.

Follow her on LinkedIn, or better still, why not book a free Introduction Call?

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