I recently spoke at a conference about starting change, about making ideas become a reality—in other words, about acting on dreams. The crowd of young career women was energized and enthusiastic. Hallway conversations were animated and full of big plans. On the surface, the possibilities seemed endless as their careers and lives were unfolding.
But under the surface, the story changed. When I talked to them individually and in small groups, more than half of their questions had a hidden element of self-doubt. They had doubts about being the only female on the team, the youngest person in the room or trying to influence co-workers old enough to be their parents and with very different views.
How did you handle these situations?
How can I be more assertive when I am still learning… and I clearly don’t have all of the answers?
How can you have influence when you are fill in the blank (the youngest, the least experienced, different from everyone else)?
As I listened, I thought back to my own experiences and remembered feeling the same way too many times to count. These accomplished, amazing young women were letting self-doubt star in their play.
While there isn’t one simple answer, here are the things I know can work:
1. Fake it.
Now, I believe in authenticity. However, if you take it so far as to reveal every fear or sign of self-doubt, you will undermine yourself. Displaying confidence matters.
No matter how you may feel on a given day, believe that you are a professional with a contribution to make. You may be the youngest, the least experienced or different than others in the room. Carry on and believe that you are there for a reason. And it’s not to get everyone else’s approval—it’s to contribute.
2. Change your thoughts.
Change your thoughts and you change your world—it’s true. Thoughts control how you feel, and your feelings control your actions. Internalizing and acting on this simple concept is the most fundamental change you can make today.
If you want to feel strong and confident, thoughts like Do I belong? Do I know enough? and What if I don’t sound smart enough? must be left behind.
Stay laser focused on the contribution you want to make. If your thoughts are immersed in I want to contribute then you show up differently than if you’re driven by I hope they like me or I hope I am good enough.
3. Don’t use language that undermines you.
There are words and phrases that unintentionally minimize and diminish you—and they have to go. Remove words like these from your vocabulary:
• “Just”—I just wanted to ask you about that report
• “Sorry”—Sorry to bother you, but…
• “Not sure”—I’m not sure if this is a good idea or not, but…
Someone on my team had a habit of speaking indirectly. In a lengthy set up, she would offer options, reference others’ views and then, finally, get to the punch line. Her points were unclear and, as a result, undervalued. So she worked to speak more directly, and it greatly impacted her influence.
Related: 9 Tips to Say It Better
4. Find the triggers that trip you up.
Think about situations when you have lost your confidence. Was there a common trigger? It could be things like being interrupted, being rushed before a meeting or making a suggestion that is ignored.
What causes you to shut down or feel inadequate? If you know your triggers you can de-personalize them and have a strategy for recovering quickly.
5. Stop aiming for perfect.
Perfect keeps you from jumping into the conversation, trying something new and stepping out. So aim for excellence, but scrap perfect. A search for perfection will keep you one step behind where and what you should be—because (spoiler alert!) you will never get there. And then comes self-doubt.
Again, focus on the contribution you want to make—not your own internal report card.
6. Know this: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my all-time favorites and essential for the times that we feel inadequate or full of self-doubt.
Others will treat you as you expect to be treated. We make the decision to give our power away. And we often give it away to others we may not respect that much anyway. Don’t do it.
Self-doubt is complicated, a problem without an easy answer. You have to solve it for yourself—no one can do it for you. So take control of your head, get out of your own way and believe that you deserve to be at the party.
Related: 8 Ways to Be a More Confident Person
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.