Things are going really well. You're excited about your work and making things happen. You're meeting challenges head on and bringing your best as a leader.
And then it happens. You find out that someone else will be leading the high-visibility project you had expressed interest in. Or one of your big ideas gets knocked down in a meeting. Or your boss delivers some surprising feedback that came out of nowhere. Or someone else gets the promotion you thought you deserved.
Whatever happened, it leaves you rattled, questioning your capabilities and emotionally charged. That positive energy you brought to your work is nowhere to be found, and you no longer feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. So how can you regain your confidence when all you want to do is retreat?
Shrinking From the Pain
Your instinct may be to kick into self-preservation mode and lie low after something shakes your confidence. Just know that in the long run that approach will ultimately end up hurting you.
Take the scenarios above. Your boss's criticism might drive you to second-guess yourself. For example, instead of handling a presentation in the way you know is best, you take the path of least resistance. The memory of your colleagues quickly shooting down your idea keeps you from voicing other ideas. Being rejected from one project leadership position makes you reluctant to pursue other projects you care about.
The cumulative impact of experiences like these can lead to a phenomenon called silencing. If you get caught in a pattern of retreating when something shakes your confidence, you diminish yourself and your ability to contribute. The best parts of you go into hiding.
Noticing the Story You Are Telling Yourself
To regain your confidence, you have to first bring your stress level and emotions down a notch. With high performers, I often see them “stuffing” their feelings by pushing through. But the “suck-it-up” approach rarely works because it doesn’t address the underlying issues. Notice the story you are telling yourself and identify the emotions you are feeling about the situation, whether those emotions seem rational or not. Accepting how you feel will make it much easier to work through the situation. For example, how extreme are your conclusions from the situation? Did you extrapolate from one piece of negative feedback that your boss hates everything that you do? Are you ignoring evidence (like past positive feedback) that your story might not be true?
One safe way to notice your thoughts and feelings is to handwrite responses to these two questions: What am I thinking? What am I feeling? When you’re feeling less emotional, you can answer this question: What is the evidence to support and contradict this? Handwriting your responses will engage your brain differently and allow you to let your feelings out uncensored.
And remember to be kind to yourself. Most go-getters judge themselves harshly. You feel how you feel, and it’s OK. Direct some of that empathy that you freely give to others to yourself. Researchers on silencing say it can also be helpful to talk to other people who understand where you're coming from.
Whatever strategies you use, be deliberate about processing what you're going through so you can shift your focus from protecting yourself back to being “you” again.
Recovering Your Power
Now start stepping back into your authentic leadership. First, remind yourself that you don’t have to constantly prove that you deserve your job. You already earned it through your skills, experience, work ethic, and consistent ability to get results. Try this exercise: Carve out ten minutes to write down how you are uniquely qualified for your current role and the positive feedback you consistently hear. If you ever slip back to that place of self-doubt, pull your list out and read it.
Next, reconnect to your passion and purpose. What do you find meaningful about your work? What do you enjoy the most? How are you making a difference? Notice how you really feel when you answer these questions. I bet your whole energy changes. Remembering your “what” and “why” will help you more quickly move past lingering fear and uncertainty.
Your journey as a leader will include some painful experiences that make you question yourself. But you can bounce back. Trust me, I’ve been there before myself and have coached many leaders through these difficult situations. The strategies I’ve shared will help you get started on the path to remembering who you are and the value that you bring.
If you've been shrinking your presence at work after a painful experience, my award-winning WOW! Women On the Way to Peak Performance Program℠ is a great way to support yourself as you rebuild your confidence. Take it as a self-paced audio program or invest in the facilitated version for a group of you.