I sat a law exam last Friday. I had absolutely no faith in myself to do well, thoroughly believed I'd bolloxed it up and felt quite disappointed in myself.
This isn't a humble brag, false modesty or a tactic designed to encourage others to puff me up.
This was a genuine, "Well, that didn't go so well" feeling and I was annoyed because I knew that had I had a little more time, I'd have been able to do better.
But all the worry and stress were for nought. We got our results back over the weekend and somehow, I managed to do fairly well. I was genuinely dumbfounded. There was no coyness or faked "oh gosh, I'm so surprised" - I was absolutely gobsmacked.
When I shared the news, most of the responses involved something along the lines of, "Told you, you didn't need to worry!" and "Told you, you'd smash it!" and I as a result, I actually started to feel a bit stupid.
Had I really over-deflated my sense of self-belief so much that almost-strangers on the internet had more faith in me than I did?
So, I did what any self-respecting university student would do, and googled "self-belief".
I learned that 85 per cent of us suffer from low self-esteem. And yet self-confidence is not a "talent" per se, it's a skill, and as such, we can all master it with a little dedication, practice and persistence. So it's not something that we have to just "deal with"; we can actually "do" something about it.
This got me thinking about how I actually felt about self-confidence in general, and I realised that I was equating high self-confidence with arrogance and ego, when in actual fact, they're quite different.
Self-confidence is an attitude about our skills and abilities, and speaks to the trust and faith that we have in ourselves to achieve our goals. While arrogance and egotism are also attitudes about personal skills and abilities, it involves an exaggerated, overinflated sense of not only their abilities, but also their self-importance.
The key seems to be self-awareness. If you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, if you recognise what you are good at and what needs work, then your sense of confidence should align with a truer sense of your actual capabilities.
If you know where your strengths lie, you will likely be more productive in the workplace as you will be confident in your ability to do your work well, share ideas with colleagues and contribute to team discussions. This cannot be mistaken for arrogance if your self-perception doesn't rely on an exaggerated sense of personal importance and ability.
So if arrogance and self-confidence are definitely two different things, why are so many of us struggling with believing in ourselves?
On a psychological level, we often want to be a part of a group, thus having qualities that potentially make us stand out is not conducive to appearing the same as our peers, and we are often finding ourselves downplaying our skills to make others feel comfortable.
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Appearing arrogant also breaches the trust and camaraderie of group interactions and can threaten your security in the group.
It is easy enough to become trapped in a cycle of constantly minimising your own capacity in an effort to avoid appearing to be arrogant or egotistical.
As with most things, it's about communication. Presenting your skills/abilities as a tool for the team to tap into is one way to overcome this challenge.
Investing in your performance management plan with your boss is another way to outline the areas that you feel you need to further develop and then work towards those goals under their supervision, can also be a positive thing for you and your team relationships; as can seeking advice from others with strengths in areas that you are less experienced in. Like most things, self-awareness, and specifically an ability to recognise what you are truly good at and the value that offers others, are all key to overcoming low self-esteem at work.
That said, I still stand by my shock over my exam. I mean, I'll gladly take the mark, but I'm utterly gobsmacked. Perhaps sometimes, we know more than we realise, and listening to those who can see it in us is a vital part of our own self-development and personal growth.
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