I have been thinking a lot about confidence. I mentioned that I am “managing” three recent college graduates in a summer program and one of the biggest things I have found myself doing is.. rather than the managerial effort of guidance on the work they should be doing (i.e. cold calls), I am putting a lot of emotional mentor-like work into managing their sense of self esteem and confidence (i.e. so what if that person hung up on you, you pick up your metaphorical self and dial that next number).

I told them in week two that competence leads to confidence. This is especially true for recent college graduates / young professionals who are facing their first professional hurdles in “the real world.” Every failure seems like a big deal – but it’s not.

Competence leads to confidence.

I think back on my early career and remember fondly that I too felt the same way about professional obstacles and events I felt I “failed” at. Whether it was that failed conversation, failed first impression, or failed attempt at an excel analysis. I say all of these things and it’s actually difficult to remember a failure clearly, only that I know I experienced them.

I like interviewing for a new job. Interviewing is the biggest confidence boosting activity that I know of. It is in the interview process that I highlight all of my achievements and shine a positive, powerful light on my experiences. It’s funny because you are usually interviewing because you are unhappy with something in your current role, but while marketing yourself for future opportunities, you are forced to highlight all the great things in your current role. The process has always made me more grateful for what I currently have. It also helps me build confidence, because before I can convince someone else that I really have these skillsets and experience and competence to do the job they’re hiring for – I had to convince myself.

Going to a women’s college I am sensitive to the statistic that women apply to jobs when they feel 100% confidence that they match the job description, and men apply when they feel 70% like a fit for the role. Where does that 30% come from? I had stopped limiting myself for job opportunities, I will apply and network for opportunities with the mentality that I was the best person for the role. And perhaps by thinking I am, I empower myself to become so.

Even in my current role, there is a need for financial analysis and a lot of excel modeling. I used to shy away from anything financial because I thought I didn’t have the competency. I majored in liberal arts, my last math class was pre-calc in high school a decade ago, and I only learned excel because a really nice person in HR at my first job agreed to teach me the basics on a weekly basis in exchange for knowledge sharing (I was on the corporate strategy team as an analyst, probably shouldn’t have done that – but oh well. Lifelong excel skills > fleeting strategic corporate knowledge). Now I know better.

I think there are many instances where confidence can lead to competence. The lack of confidence or feeling like you can do it can hold you back from even making an attempt. That first step, and then another and then another. That’s why fake it until you make it is touted oftened.

Now that I know people don’t like financial analysis or “working with numbers,” it is something I happily run towards. I’ve shut down that part of myself that wants to say “ew numbers, calculations, excel” and instead I embrace it. Because the more you are willing to do the things others don’t want to… you are playing in a game with few competitors, and that helps your chance of success a lot.

If you are willing to do the things that other people don’t want to do, you are playing in a game with few competitors.

This is a little insight, a mind shift, and trick. If you are willing to do the things that other people don’t want to do – you are setting yourself up for success. Even if you aren’t very good, even if you SUCK at it – what will others do? Finding someone to do that work is already difficult because there are so few willing to take up the challenge, so your mediocrity isn’t even realized by others because there isn’t anyone to compare your work to. It’s either your work or nothing in most cases. Think about that.

You or nothing.

That’s an amazing pie to have. So I encouraged myself to run towards the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I encourage others to run towards the things they don’t like to do or are afraid of, because chances are, a lot of other people are afraid too. But when you get there, you’ll notice you have a whole lot less competition, a whole lot less distraction, and a whole lot more autonomy and space for growth.

I gave a pep talk to my summer associates. Making cold calls to strangers is uncomfortable, it’s not easy – but it’s not just this job, it’s any job. You are going to be uncomfortable in every job, many situations, most of your life. Discomfort is where growth happens. Stress builds strength. Think about what you want out of life – what are your dreams? What are your goals?

Are you willing to make 100 calls a day to get to your goals? Are you going to let a few uncomfortable calls stand in between where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow? I am using the cold calls as a stand in for any activity you find challenge/uncomfortable.

What is standing between you and the life you want to live? Are you going to hunt your dreams?