When it comes to confidence, especially for ambitious women in business, there are a few things I wish I had known when I was still in the process of climbing the career ladder. First and foremost: at no point in my corporate life did I have the insight to understand that there are two types of confidence - professional confidence (competencies) and personal confidence. Secondly, one can never replace the other and finally, that you need both to become a truly impactful leader, especially in the 21st century.
As many fellow career women, I had spent over a decade at universities in three different countries, managing projects all over Europe and in countless training courses to expand my competencies. I see very clearly now that I believed that professional confidence would be the key to boardroom doors and my own executive office. Ironically, I had to quit corporate to realise that what held me back on my ascend towards the C-Suite was not a lack of ambition, intelligence or even competences but something much more fundamental: my unawareness and lack of personal confidence, what I now call Body-Confidence.
I never considered myself unattractive. Actually, I never gave much thought to my physical appearance other than making sure that my business attire was on par with the ones of my male counterparts. Certainly, there were parts of my body that I did not like very much but I simply accepted that as being normal for women nowadays - after all, the media is full of examples of gorgeous celebrities who hate (parts of) their body. Plus, since I did not have the urge to criticise my body in front of others, like most of my friends, I simply assumed that things weren't really that bad after all. Truth be told, I would have had no idea where to even start if I had ever attempted to 'boost my self-esteem' in an effective way. I have always been too rational for spiritual journeys and magic crystals, so I decided to just get on with it and focus on my career instead of complaining about such trivialities as my big thighs.
Never in a million years could I have imagined how wrong I was - about the connection of Body-Confidence and professional success, not about the crystals (I still don't believe in them). The truth of the matter is that regardless of whether we express or suppress our negative thoughts about our body, we are effectively raging war against ourselves. And how could such self-sabotage NOT have a detrimental impact on our lives, also in a professional aspect?
It wasn't you who openly, consciously declared that war though. It wasn't even your overly self-critical mother, the mean kids in school or your friends who constantly complain about their weight. All this, including your low Body-Confidence, is a tragic byproduct of a society where it is simply more profitable when we feel like we are just not good enough.
But none of the above is actually part of the immediate solution. While I agree that society must change (and I am hopeful that it will over time), career women do not have time to waste waiting around. We do not want anything or anyone to hold us back on our mission towards success. So what do we do?
Even Fortune 500 company CEOs have only a limited influence on the world around them. World leaders know though that change starts from within. You might not be able to control society's unattainable, unrealistic and narrow standards of beauty but you surely can learn how to control your own. Because what if the problem (and therefore its potential solution) was not the way you look, but how you think about the way you look? Thoughts are just habits of the brain and a career woman as driven and ambitious as you can most certainly learn how to effectively change her brain's habits.