At the beginning of my career, I seriously lacked confidence. It didn’t matter how smart I knew I was or how many degrees I had, I always felt that I was missing that plain ole work-your-way-up-the-ladder experience.
As a brand therapist and the founder of Side Hustle Business School, I counsel individuals and brands as they develop their enterprises. In doing so, I need to act as an authority on a wide range of projects across industries. I need to dive into new terrain regularly and counsel smart, accomplished people who have high expectations. And I need to be confident in my skills so my clients can be confident in their investment in me.
Before I started working for myself, I wasn’t on any steady career track for very long. I would do a few months here and a year or so there, but I never really became very comfortable in any of the roles. To make matters even more complicated, my jobs spanned multiple different industries. In a short period of time, I was a web developer, copywriter, designer, youth program director, and an operations manager.
Accordingly, the people who worked alongside me were almost always more experienced than I was; they were more committed to a clear career trajectory. There I was, time and time again: the fresh-faced girl who didn’t have a “traditional” background. This is a perfect recipe for feeling inadequate at work. So, I learned to be my own coach and my own cheerleader.
And, eventually, I realized that you can actually cultivate confidence. Sometimes the people you work with will say things that make you feel more confident, but there are times when you can build that confidence all by yourself. Even if you don’t have tons of experience, you have value; you just need to uncover it. Here’s how I’ve learned to build up my confidence and feel comfortable.
Pay attention to what’s happening in your industry, beyond what’s happening in your office. Read industry-related blogs, follow industry-related accounts on social media, go to talks and workshops that discuss pressing matters in your field. Be able to speak intelligently about trends, power players, and major news so that you’re the person in the office who’s always up to date on what’s happening in the industry. It’ll show that you’re committed to growing in your role.
Find something that your team really isn’t great at and learn everything there is to know about it. Hit the library and study up on how this thing is done now and also learn the theory behind it. Don’t just learn about specific tools, learn why those tools are so important and what methods people utilized in the past. This will help you predict trends and be more innovative. If your team is struggling with social media marketing, for example, learn about social media and about the principles of marketing and how marketing has been done in the past. Get the deepest possible understanding of this topic. You want to be the person they all come to for information — an indispensable guru.
Are you really organized? Do you plan great parties? Volunteer to help plan the company’s holiday party. Or maybe head up a company-wide community service event. Use your strengths to pour value into the company. Explore areas that aren’t directly related to your job description and, in the process, raise your profile at work and show your value (just don’t let your actual assigned work slip in the process).
It’s easy to just cross tasks off of our to-do lists, but truly keeping track of — and even celebrating — your wins will remind you of how much great work you’re doing. Keep a work journal and take note of how projects turned out and what you learned from each one. Keeping a log of what you’ve been able to achieve will be a good reminder on rough days and can help you negotiate a raise when the time comes.
It’s hard to know how well you’re performing if no one ever gives you any feedback. So ask for it. Request a short, casual meeting with your manager to discuss your performance on a recent project. During the meeting, ask for their feedback on the specific parts of the project that you worked on. Did they feel your client pitch was satisfactory? Do they think the research you did for the last project was robust enough? Is there anything they think you could have done to improve the last recruitment event? Be open and strive for improvement.
It’s important to reflect on your progress. Even if you have an entry level job, think about when you took your first 101 course on this subject or think back to when you got your first internship (and only made coffee every day). Remember the time when you were in a totally different industry and never dreamed you could get the job you have now. Look at where you were, where you are now, and where you can go from here. No matter how far along you are in your career, there was a time when you didn’t have this opportunity and couldn’t make of it what you’re able to make of it today.