Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to be more confident at work

A colleague recently complimented me on how confident I currently am compared to when she first met me over 15 years ago. She attributes this gain in confidence to my marriage; I was single when we were first introduced. I was a little taken aback by her comment. She gives my husband, though a tremendous support, more credit for my confidence than 15 years of hard work and additional experience. In response, I’d like to share my thoughts as to what I believe attributed to my increase in confidence.

Inspiration from Mary Matalin:
Around the time I met my above colleague, I jotted the down the following advice from Mary Matalin:
My father used to remind me constantly that only one thing separates successful and unsuccessful people. It isn’t money or brains. It’s confidence. What creates confidence?
1. Being prepared
2. Having experience
3. Never giving up
Over the years I have referred to this advice often, especially when going through a rough patch. Here are examples of how I applied Matalin’s father’s advice to my work:

I put in long days learning my job:
While working for the engineering company, one of the company's managers talked favorably about his energetic new hire. He was impressed with the young engineer’s habit of spending a couple of hours at the end of the work day learning everything he could about his job, even reviewing engineering textbooks. The manager felt this engineer was going to go far. After accepting my current position, I was overwhelmed with piles of paper and strict deadlines. I couldn’t help but think of that young engineer as I too spent many long days learning everything I could to prepare myself for my new position.

I gained experience by taking advantage of leadership opportunities:
I joined and became involved in a professional organization. Over my 14 year membership, I’ve held almost every board position including President. I placed cold calls, spoke in public, made decisions and received feedback that would not have been available to me in my job. By volunteering for these positions I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and had the opportunity to develop leadership skills in a safe environment.

I didn’t give up when I initially did not pass the CPA exam:
Studying for and passing the CPA exam is probably the hardest, yet most important, thing I have ever done. When I did not pass the exam the first or second time I sat for it, it would have been easy to just give up. I was under quite a bit of pressure to pass though. I was still at the engineering company and many of the engineers had their P.E.’s plus my predecessor had been a CPA. So I persevered until I finally passed all four parts. Having earned that little piece of paper and those initials behind my name has given me more credibility, respect and confidence than anything else I’ve ever done.

Anyone who has ever been though a failed relationship can certainly appreciate the positive frame of mind that comes from being in a supportive relationship and can attest to a loss of confidence that comes from a relationship that does not work out. I firmly believe though my increase in confidence came more from being prepared, additional experience and not giving up than from being married.

Susan Marshall says it best when she wrote:
Increased confidence comes from true learning – getting the wrong answer and having someone who knows the right one explain it to you. Sharpening a skill creates energy and a desire to do more. Naturally, this requires commitment, patience, a great deal of practice and a willingness to persist when you encounter setbacks.

For more information on how to be more confident in your work please see this post on Alison Green’s blog Ask a Manager. Also, be sure to read the comments which include additional suggestions and a recommendation to read Larina Kase's book Anxious 9 to 5: How to Beat Worry, Stop Second-Guessing Yourself, and Work with Confidence.

Have you become more confident at work? If so, what has worked for you?


  1. I hate it when women under-rate other women. It's bad enough that men do it, but if we can't see the strength in our sisters, who's going to? I hope you shared some of this insight with her.

    Congrats on the CPA - that's a tough, tough exam! Working in that professional environment, you absolutely needed to have it. When I worked for lawyers, I always hung my Masters degree on the wall - a sort of "I'll show you mine" that seemed silly, but was necessary.

  2. I know someone who failed the CPA seven times and passed on the eighth! And yes, I do know the difference between a supportive relationship and one that holds you down. Like, one year ago today I was in my car following a moving van and this year I'm in five international magazines with a brand-new product. The difference? I'm down one person that deliberately undermined my confidence. It's good to be back.

  3. Webb,
    I didn’t enlighten my colleague at the time, I was so taken aback by her comment I changed the subject. I don’t regard her as malicious (I know a few who are much worse), but she is into appearances. Perhaps for her getting married would be a huge confidence builder.
    I know what you mean about displaying our accomplishments. I include the initials CPA after my name on my business cards. I can literally see the change in demeanor on a new acquaintance’s face when he (it’s usually a he) is given my business card.

    Kitty (I like referring to you as Kitty),
    I am glad your friend stuck with it and passed the CPA. It is so worth it.
    And I am glad you recognized your friend was undermining your confidence and removed him from your life. He was holding you back. From what I’ve read you have now surrounded yourself with supportive friends. I look forward to continuing to watch you grow into your old self.