“Think less. Take action. Be authentic.”

That’s the takeaway from The Confidence Code, which I recently finished reading. I’m going to start giving this book as a graduation gift to every young woman like me — perfectionists who are good at doing school and following the rules and receiving awards for doing so.

“Think less” makes good thinkers turn their noses up in disdain. What it really means, in my opinion, is “trust your instincts.” To some extent, that comes with time, as you learn that your instincts really are pretty good. There’s been a few times that I did not trust my instincts, only to find out that I really was right.

“Take action.” We always want to weigh every factor before making a decision, but so often that leads to no decision at all. Make your decisions more quickly

“Be authentic.” Another difficult phrase. A teacher who is really laid back cannot be that sort of authentic in the classroom or all hell will break loose. There are concrete ways to convey presence and confidence, so those factors can be consciously manipulated. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In website, for example,¬† has some quality videos on the topic. Those techniques are vital to people for whom confidence presence does not come naturally.

So how can you be authentic? I think it starts with knowing your stuff and believing that others will benefit from it. During my fourth year of teaching, I had a much better handle on my subject matter, and I also therefore believed that was worth asserting in the classroom, despite the normal resistance and questioning that happens in any classroom.

The authors discovered that women can’t just “act like men” and come off confident, because it lacks authenticity. They point out the stereotypical male qualities we’re all familiar with: aggression, assertiveness, and confidence. The typical strengths of women in the workplace? Collaboration, process orientation, persuasion, and humility — qualities we either don’t notice, or don’t value. The authors cite a study showing that women who exhibit a combination of the two groups of traits tend to be the most successful.

There’s quite a bit of “nature vs. nurture” discussion in the book that I found enlightening. If a person tends genetically toward less efficient management of serotonin, e.g., they will tend to exude less confidence. But the good news is that nurture does win out over nature, and people who aren’t naturally confident can learn to be so.

Getting back to the topic of perfectionist young women, this quote was revealing for me:

…somewhere between the classroom and the cubicle, the rules change and they don’t understand it. They slam into a world of work that doesn’t reward them for perfect spelling and exquisite manners. The requirements for success are different, and their confidence takes a beating.

Furthermore, these young women will not volunteer for a new assignment or ask for a promotion if they aren’t 100% sure they can do it. (Wow, it’s like they KNOW me!) They also assume their bosses will see that they are doing great work and offer them a promotion. Men, on the other hand, tend to sign up if they’re 60% sure of themselves, and they are willing to ask for a promotion. (“That’s so… rude!”) Women also tend to overthink and to place too much value on others’ opinions.

Here’s the rub, though, and it’s a fact that was becoming clear to me when I started the book:

“When a man walks into a room, they’re assumed to be competent until they prove otherwise.” For women… it’s the other way around.

That, right there, is one of the reasons I struggled so badly in my first years of teaching. It wasn’t until I started researching the issue that I even became aware of it. I had never been “intentional about presenting myself forcefully.”

So women, be intentional.¬†Trust your gut. Believe you are capable of learning anything, including confidence. Stop worrying about screwing up. If you come across too forcefully and are not authentic in an encounter, fix it and move on. Do not brood over it! Step out into those things that you’re only 60% sure of, and “fail fast,” as the new catchphrase says. As the authors point it, failure is weirdly essential to building confidence.

Think less. Take action. Be authentic. That is all.

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