A topic we women don't talk about enough is feeling unqualified. The mental burden we carry by self-imposing impossible standards keeps us stuck in the status quo and limits our potential to grow. We talked about this issue recently at the Power to Exhale brunch, and you can catch that conversation on our podcast.
One of the most challenging projects of my professional career was rooted in the area of workforce development. While the program we were developing was based on a model and research, there was no step-by-step guide for how to customize an approach to the unique needs of our community. As someone with degrees in agriculture and library science who stumbled into the nonprofit field, I was initially filled with self-doubt. What could I possibly add to this project? Who was I to tell people what we should do? I didn't feel qualified or experienced enough to consider myself the ideal champion for the initiative, but we needed someone to step up and make it happen so I got to work. Here are a few of the lessons I learned in overcoming my own self-limiting mindsets, which I hope you'll remember next time you feel unqualified:
Impactful projects level the playing field.
The biggest and most rewarding projects don't usually come with a clear to-do list. For the most part, everyone is figuring out next steps as they go. When approaching this workforce issue, for example, I thought about the fact that it's not possible to major in workforce development in college. It's one of those areas people find their way into from a variety of paths. Everyone had to start somewhere to learn. We often think people were born experts, but at some point they started out as unqualified.
If your definition of success is to get experience rather than be perfect, failure becomes impossible and not something to waste energy worrying about. Even if things don't go entirely your way and you make mistakes, you will have learned something you can apply to the next challenge. The first blog post you write won't go viral. The first keynote speech you give may be a flop. Your first sales pitch may not get you anywhere. But that means the second time will be a little bit easier, and you'll have some insight to bring to your next attempt. When success becomes about the process and not the product, you can free yourself from the anxiety that paralyzes action.
Surround yourself with people who will push you.
If you're not feeling out of your element on a regular basis because you're working on tasks that challenge you, re-evaluate whether you are growing to the extent you're capable. This is a great topic to discuss with a mentor! We all need people to believe in us even when we don't see strengths in ourselves. What can you learn from the high performers around you? Use the opportunity to ask questions and ask others for advice. I'm very candid that my goal in life is to be the weakest link in any group. While that may sound embarrassing to admit, I know that the chance to work alongside people who are more capable, more intelligent, and more experienced than I am can teach me something valuable if I'm humble enough to learn. People who are more talented aren't a threat to me, they present an opportunity for me to rise to their level if I'm willing to put in the work.
Get used to showing up until you're invited.
Unfortunately most transformative opportunities don't fall into your lap. If you wait for your expertise to be recognized or acknowledged, you may be missing out on valuable chances to learn. I started going to any workforce development meeting I could find just to gain a better understanding of the field, the issues, and the players involved. After months of showing up consistently as a guest, I ended up involved on committees and leadership roles. While I'll never call myself an expert, I went from complete newbie to someone who could engage others in projects that I never would have imagined I'd be leading. The work you'll find most rewarding doesn't usually start with being asked to do it. Don't wait for someone to give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair. Then keep showing up, being persistent, and improving until you're so good you can't be ignored!
What are your tips for pushing through feelings of self-doubt? We'd love to hear your ideas and share them with fellow Boss Ladies! Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.