During my first year in advertising, it was rough. While I was really fortunate to be given the opportunity to join the strategy department and had a great mentor, the overall experience nearly resulted in me quitting! The title ‘planner’ or ‘strategist’ came with strange expectations that I should have all the answers (and quickly!). The pressures came not only from clients, but from internal interactions as well. While there weren’t many, some people were outright dismissive and territorial with ideas, or even worse, passive aggressive.
Over time, with the help of my boss and a thankful majority of good colleagues that supported me, I grew more confident in my craft and with people. In the course of that journey there were many ups and downs that eventually led to another revelation about the difference between self confidence and self esteem.
While the distinction isn’t as clear as black and white, it mattered to know what set them apart and why they both played a role in helping me survive my initial years and eventually thrive.
How are they different?
There’s much written about each of these aspects, but I found the clearest summary written by Justin Ho of Uplab. Building upon his perspective, here’s my take on it.
It’s self-judgement of our total person and how it matches up with our beliefs on how we, or people should be. It’s impacted by what happens externally, but relies heavily on how you’ve chosen to interpret the events, and your overall outlook in life. It reminds me that I’m okay, regardless of whatever happens externally. If self-esteem is a fuel source, you can think of it as coal, which is longer and harder to get burning, but once it’s going, it lasts.
It’s the feeling of competence and assurance that you can perform well at a certain task or situation. Its more heavily reliant on external feedback, and results. A strong self confidence is often easily seen as it arises during moments when there’s something to be done. As you can imagine, the most common place we see this display is at work. As fuel, it’s the necessary spark that ignites you to perform.
But how do they help us in the ideas industry?
1. It helps us to persevere and not fall into despair.
Higher self esteem helps people persevere through difficulty. In the business of ideas and creativity, perseverance and a high tolerance for failure is necessary. After all, we go through rejection so often! It also helps when it comes to persevering in helping solve a problem. If despair takes over, it’s easy to become too quickly frustrated and lose focus.
2. It helps us take action in order to improve.
A great perspective came from a commenter in this post on the importance of self confidence. There’s a virtuous cycle that happens when you’re building self confidence because it encourages you to participate. When you participate, you get results, which help build your self confidence. It becomes a spark that ignites bigger and bigger flames for your personal bonfire.
3. It helps us connect with our audience.
Most people don’t realise how easily we are judged. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, has found that during first impressions, people are forming 2 judgements; ‘Is this person trustworthy?’ and ‘Is this person strong and competent’. In our business of ideas, the confidence when we communicate and sell impacts whether or not the audience believes not only in the idea, but in whether or not you’re able to execute.
How to build Self Confidence
1. Choose to become good
Most people approach work and the tasks they’re given by wanting to ‘grind through it’. However, by consciously approaching work as a means to develop competency in the areas you CHOOSE, you can turn it into a strategy for developing or setting yourself apart.
Seek a mentor
It’s common advice, but what some might not consider is that when we know exactly what we want to get better in, we can seek out different people to help us improve those skills. In the event it’s not possible, you can just be your own mentor!
Embrace the inner rookie
We’re smart enough to know intellectually that we will suck at a new task, but it’s the emotional acceptance and grit that will allow that eventual growth of confidence. The founder of ModCloth, Susan Gregg Koger has a great story on how being a rookie helped her succeed.
2. Borrow confidence
There’s an old saying that we can ‘fake it till we make it’. A variation of that is that we can ‘borrow confidence’ as we work towards developing it for real.
Use your body language
Amy Cuddy (mentioned above) has interesting findings on body language that she spoke of in this TED talk. We often think of our body’s physiology being affected by how we feel, but her findings show that it’s possible to achieve the opposite. By modifying our body language, we can affect the way we feel about things, thus allowing us to take action! So in her words, just ‘fake it till you BECOME IT’.
What your hero would do?
Another way to borrow confidence is to use role models. By channelling your heroes, be it Steve Jobs for his visionary confidence, perseverance of Chris Gardner, or even the determination of Arnold Schwarzenegger, you find the strength (and sometimes even new perspectives) to power through a situation. Just find someone that inspires you in a specific way, and ask ‘What would that person do?’.
How to build Self Esteem
1. Learn about and accept yourself
The approach toward increasing self esteem usually begins with reflection. The first key area is to develop enough self awareness and acceptance for who you are as a person.
Use a psychometric tool
By using a personality tool like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Gallup Strengths Finder, you might find it useful in helping you see a clearer picture of yourself. It’s unlikely to unveil something completely new or foreign, but it helped me explain some of my own beliefs and tendencies, which allowed me to better focus my efforts.
Keeping a journal
As a disclaimer, I don’t keep one religiously, but over the years, thanks to Evernote and the occasional log of my thoughts on big things in my life, I realised that I had created my own time machine! When rough patches inevitably arise, it’s reassuring to revisit your old-self, and realise or relearn things you might have forgotten. If you’ve overcome those challenges before, you’ll be able to do it again.
2. Find YOUR bigger purpose
What has worked for me over time is to have a philosophical or bigger purpose to what you’re doing. Instead of getting weighed down emotionally in the moment, this strategy helps make the weight a little lighter.
Define your ‘role’
Early in my career, I held in my mind that I was an ‘Idea Architect’. It meant to me that my role was to build as strong a foundation as possible for the idea to flourish. Eventually, it evolved to me thinking of myself as a ‘Coach’ whose role it was to get the best out of the team AND the client.
This approach is really personal, and works only if you yourself find meaning in that role you embody. Taking the time to work on this helped me learn to put aside my ego, and focus on the team’s output. I believe it also helped me be more patient and understanding with colleagues and clients alike.
Why they both matter
Regardless of industry we’re in, it’s increasingly challenging given the amount of competition, and the fast changing pace of technology. With so many things to learn and hopefully master, working on strengthening both self confidence and self esteem helps us weather the changes effectively.
As we develop confidence in one area, we use it to help build strengths and competence in others. As we invest in forming newer and stronger perspectives of ourselves and career path, we nurture our self esteem, which will benefit us across all areas in life.
What about you? Are there any useful strategies or tactics you’ve used to help you develop either?