“How could I have anything to add that hasn’t been said already?”
There are still many gaps in our societies to be cracked, or better yet, to be closed for women and minorities, e.g. pay gap, gender gap, and diversity gap, all of which require great amount of confidence, courage, and above all, resilience.
A while back I was asked by WE SHAPE TECH, Swiss network for women in tech and innovation, to share my experiences and thoughts on how women can boost confidence in their professional lives. Despite the many keynotes, interviews, and panels I’ve done, for a split second, the following thought ran through my mind when asked to record a message: “How could I have anything to add that hasn’t been said already?” Here’s the thing: When offered a task or a position, it means that you’re already considered as qualified. There’s no need to question the decision, or worse, think that you’re a fraud by accepting it. This is also something that Hillary Clinton pointed out at the recent Code Conference. She could see how differently men and women in her staff reacted to more responsibility and promotions. While female staffers usually said: “Are you sure that I can do it?”, men responded with: “When do I start?”, and “What took so long?”
Note: I recorded my message prior the many brave women in technology and venture capital showed extraordinary confidence and courage by speaking up on the record about sexual harassment and discrimination in the industry. All of their courageous stories have deeply moved me. I’ll get back to that later.
“Trust me, there will be plenty of time to freak out afterwards.”
HOW To Say YES
Every time you instinctively want to blurt out NO, in your head say STOP, and quickly ask yourself these two questions:
1: Are you asked to perform a surgery or fly a plane even though you’re neither a doctor, nor a pilot?
2: Does the offer sound challenging?
If you answered no to first, meaning that the task isn’t completely out of your skill set, and yes to second, your answer should be YES. This will help you become more comfortable to both speak up in a group and reach for new challenges. Challenges that you know you’re most certainly qualified for. Trust me, there will be plenty of time to freak out afterwards 😂
BEST PART: What’s The Worst That Can Happen?
Didn’t make waves with your new challenge? See it a bit like that social media update you had thought about a really long time, but didn’t get any likes on. It will pass. Instead, you did your best, learned new things, expressed your honest opinions and stood up for your values (hopefully!). And that’s how you build self confidence, character, and a thicker skin.
Important: There will always be people, both men and women, who try to make you feel like you don’t belong, that you’re somehow different. Even if these people may appear open minded, they’re not true advocates of diversity. Please, never let their actions and words determine your self worth.
LAST: My Personal Sources Of Inspiration
I look to stand-up comedians for inspiration and courage. There’s a saying, that until you get comfortable with the silence and the bombing, meaning that nobody’s laughing at your jokes, one can’t improve and become a better comedian. One of my favourite bombing stories is by British stand-up comedian John Oliver, who before the Daily Show, and now his own #mustwatch, brilliant, and Peabody Award winning Last Week Tonight, he had had both 100% walk-out, and an audience member threatening him with a broken beer bottle if he didn’t stop his act. Thank God he didn’t stop and give up, because If he wasn’t making sense of the world right now, many of us would go to bed in tears instead of a smile on our face.
Important Note: The following advice from an excerpt “This Is How Sexism Works in Silicon Valley” of a new book “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change” by Ellen Pao, CEO Project Include and former junior investing partner, KPCB, ranks high on the list of being the dumbest, and most outrageous things I’ve ever heard:
“I often got ignored or interrupted. At one point, John (Doerr) had a suggestion for how I could get more airtime. He wanted me to go to school — to learn to be a stand-up comic.” – Ellen Pao
Trust me, if you’re not wanted to sit at the table because of your sex, it doesn’t matter how well spoken you are or how many great jokes you can crack. Finding inspiration and courage from stand-up comedians is in no way equivalent to suggest that one should learn to become one (if such thing even exists). It helps you to learn to let go of fear of failing. Bombing, i.e. failure, is an intrinsic part of stand-up comedy and learning the craft, and that’s also how one can tell a seasoned comic apart from an inexperienced one:
- Amy Schumer: “It’s not necessarily that your jokes get better, but you just own it more.”
- Ray Romano: “When a seasoned comic bombs, he knows how to go with it.”
- John Oliver: “There have been so many gigs that have gone badly over the years, that audiences have lost their capacity to hurt me.”
Along with my message on boosting confidence, I’ve put together a list of ten inspiring bombing stories feat. Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer, Kate McKinnon, Tina Fey, John Oliver, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Dana Carvey. There’s an entire goldmine full of encouraging, and funny, bombing stories on The Worst I Ever Bombed by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Thank you Jimmy for sharing! Start with Wanda Sykes, and how she overcame getting mic taken from her and escorted off stage in front of her parents on her third time on stage, and finish with this sage advice from Dana Carvey: “Bombing is normal. Humiliation is normal. Don’t be hurt, be like Arnold (Schwarzenegger): Yeah, you know, people didn’t laugh tonight, but next time we’ll get them better.” I’ll echo Dana / Arnold: If you thought that my video and message sucked and made no sense, I’ll do my best to do better next time 😁
No list is complete without bonus tracks, and I’ve got two special stories on confidence for you by Steve Martin and Will Ferrell, from my absolute favourite show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee by Jerry Seinfeld. Season ten will return on Netflix this fall, along with a comedy special Jerry Before Seinfeld.
“I decided to fake confidence.”- Steve Martin
Steve Martin has had a glass of wine thrown on him while performing stand-up, so it helped that he had decided to fake confidence from the very beginning. He performed as if he didn’t care what the audience thought, because If he was the slightest bit of nervous about something, he believed they could smell it and become judges. Note: Faking confidence is no different from having real confidence. The entire episode is a rare glimpse into what separates the good from the great, i.e. how as an accomplished comedian, writer, actor, and musician in his 70’s, Steve Martin still continuously seeks to improve his craft. And how he masters the rodeo of lunches: An egg salad sandwich.
“This is the end. This is it.” – Will Ferrell
Have you ever wanted to pursue something so badly, that you as an adult are ready to roll around and play with cat toys in front of a camera? Will Ferrell did just that in his late 20’s on his Saturday Night Live audition, which he describes as the make it or brake it moment. The now Golden Globes and Emmy nominated comedian and actor had prior rolling around on the floor with cat toys been working as a bank teller, among other things, where he had been met with skeptic voices telling: “You do comedy? I’d like to see that.” The rest is history. Delightful episode with Will and Jerry discussing Greek’s financial model. I can also dearly recommend his 2017 USC Commencement Speech – A great testament on the importance of recognizing and embracing each and everyone’s individual and unique qualities. Just as he was ready to play with cat toys, he didn’t hesitate to finish his first commencement speech by singing I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston, right after he had told the graduates to not listen to the critics.
As all these wonderful and talented people demonstrate, just because you bomb once and a while doesn’t mean that you aren’t great. Instead, embrace the “bombings” and keep cracking that confidence gap.
Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. Rated as one of the very best startup mentors in Europe, she has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies on product, marketing and growth. Pick My Brain! is her fixed price service tailored to early stage startups, gender wage gap adjusted for female founders. Contact Paula for digital strategy work or book her as keynote speaker about #Startups #WomenInTech #GenderEquality #Entrepreneurship. Read more about her work and connect @Twitter, @LinkedIn. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen” – Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital