Working with a confidence coach29 Dec 2023
The number one feedback I get during my performance reviews is to “have more confidence”. Once a colleague even made me a diagram:
I try hard to fake the needed confidence but I also get frustrated sometimes. One of these times I posted a question to wearexena women community channel asking if there is anyone who struggled a lot with having the impostor syndrome, and after constantly being told to “have more confidence” and “take on bigger challenges’’ found a good way to deal with this? One of the people who responded was April Frazier. She shared this article: Overcoming feeling like an imposter. A Few things there resonated with me:
- The story of April herself: “I was a female technologist who wrote code for 18+ years and I suffered massively from feeling like an imposter as I began to step into leadership roles”. I was very excited to have a chance to talk about professional confidence with someone who had a similar experience + from a female perspective.
- “You probably have an idea, really a narrative in your head, about what is expected of you. <..> When you believe that you are supposed to know more than you do, have more than you do, show up differently from how you do – especially because of what you think others expect – that is where feeling like an imposter lives.” This sums up most of the times when I felt bad at my job. I even narrowed it down to a concrete thought ‘I should be doing everything on my own. I should be self-reliant and self-sufficient’.
We chatted a bit, had an intro call and I decided to use my learning budget at Vinted to buy access to her course + 6 coaching sessions. Here I want to reflect a bit on how it went.
What did our work together look like?
The course. The recommended way for going through the course is to dedicate at least an hour to it each week. So I tried (more about this below) to do that.
Coaching sessions.We had biweekly coaching sessions. The first ones were more oriented towards the course material e.g. discussing in more detail what my vision for myself could be. Later I shifted it more towards analyzing situations at work that I find stressful and discouraging.
Homework. Every coaching session also had a ‘homework’ that I was supposed to practice until the next session. The tasks were based on the issues I’ve raised. A few of these assignments really stood out for me were:
- Heavy breathing. A common advice from psychologists is ‘stay with the discomfort’. I never really understood what that means. April managed to give me a more actionable task: try to be mindful of the tension/ stress levels daily and when I feel them rising - switch to deep breaths. This helped me immensely: I was more aware about how I’m feeling and I also had a tool to deal with uncomfortable situations: sitting in an awkward meeting - remember to breathe deeply; stressing out about something in the future - remember to breathe deeply.
- Being bad. In my case that meant prioritizing what I want over what I assume others need. I often have these moments that feel like a needle vibrating between two values of a gauge - discomfort and resentment. And I need to choose to which side it should tip. My default choice is resentment: I’d rather feel bad (when doing something I don’t really want to do) than stay with the feeling that I’ve disappointed someone. Knowing that I have an assignment to prioritize what I want and that it is only until the next session helped me make some healthy decisions like actually taking a sick leave when having a cold.
Confidence: expectations vs reality. Whenever I get the feedback that I should have more confidence I imagine what that would look like: I would be always relaxed, energetic, cheerful and would take any task, lead any meeting without breaking a sweat. I also think about what the people who give me that feedback imagine: me taking up all the tasks, leading all the initiatives, saying ‘yes’ to everything. The definition that April suggests is a lot different - confidence is knowing what you want and what you don’t want. Saying no to things that clearly do not align with your goals or values. It might just be that the confident me would take on less tasks and opportunities in order to spend more time in nature or reading.
Active constructive reactions. The most amazing thing about working with April is her enthusiasm. She is always super excited about all the ‘homework’ she gives me or any ideas that I have. Recently I’ve listened to the ‘HBR’s 10 must reads on mental toughness’ audiobook and there was an article that made me understand why this is so important. The article talked about 4 types of reactions people can have to you sharing something (they are grouped in terms of the impact that it will have on you and your relationship with them):
April is a master of active constructive, so our sessions always feel very uplifting and inspiring.
That one molecule of Serotonin trying to keep me going through the day. You know this meme?
It tends to get shared among my friends during winters, when we seem to have a lot less energy for things than we are used to. It is also when I am taking the course and having the coaching sessions. I also decided to adopt a cat, which turned out to be a lot more taxing and complicated than anticipated. As a result I always felt like I’m not taking as much out of the experience as I could:
- I didn’t set aside time for the course every week. I mostly tried to watch what I could the day or two before the session.
- I didn’t make use of having the ability to engage with April and the community in between sessions. April always encouraged me to do that but I felt too swamped with other stuff to prioritize this.
- Like there is a difference between hearing and listening, there is a difference between doing coursework mechanically and really giving each question appropriate thought. I feel like I did most of the exercises mechanically and would like to re-do them more consciously.
This is why I decided to take a break on the course in December, relax and regroup during the holidays, and try harder in January. One could say that this means the course is already working as I manage to name and claim what I need.