Claire Shipman: Most of the time people tend to think confidence is important because it helps us with success and that is certainly true. We’ve certainly seen that confidence is critical for success. I think though one of the most profound things we learned in our research for this book is that confidence is a wonderful thing for all of our lives, not just our professional lives. One of the most interesting women we talked to is a Buddha scholar, Sharon Salzberg, and she described confidence to us as a kind of energy. It’s an ability to move toward things wholeheartedly. To move toward challenges wholeheartedly without holding back. And that stuck with me first of all because I thought do I ever do that? Do I ever move toward anything wholeheartedly without holding back? And how wonderful that sounds in all parts of your life. The ability to be able to just take that risk and jump into things and benefit from what it feels like to just leave your comfort zone and just do something and learn is, I think that’s incredibly important for women.
But for most women our confidence is not calibrated in the right way. We consistently underestimate what we’re capable of. And that leads to some consequences that you can imagine and are obvious, but it leads to just missed opportunities in many cases that we can’t even imagine because we are holding back and because we tend to say, "I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready to turn in that assignment. That paper’s not ready. I’m not qualified for this." Where it’s kind of mind-boggling when you think about the compounded missed opportunities over the course of a lifetime if you really don’t get your confidence in working order.
From the research we’ve seen, what women need to do is act more. And if we can start to get it into our system that, in general, every time we’re looking at a situation, and especially, I’ll say, a situation that involves us and our careers, we need to be biased in favor of acting instead of holding back. That’s not going to be easy because we’re naturally biased in favor of holding back. Our confidence barometer is stuck this way and what we really want to do is just inch it that way so that we say to ourselves, “I can do that. I am capable of doing that." Each time you act you are building more confidence. So you’re building and replenishing your store of confidence for the next challenge when you’re taking action. Whether you succeed or fail, right, because you’re having these experiences that are necessary — some failure is necessary and then the ability to recover from failure is necessary. But we don’t ever learn the ability to have grit and determination unless we’re recovering from failure. So really when in doubt, act.