Greyscales of confidence


In my post last month we talked about the importance of saying “no” to avoid workplace burnout. But saying “no,” especially to a superior, or even a colleague you like and get on with, takes a certain amount of confidence.

Let’s not pretend saying “no” is easy. What if you need those people later on? What if they file a grievance, go off with stress, react badly? To be a successful “no-er,” you must be confident in yourself and your own ability. (I hope you’ve not been using your newfound power too much though!)


Confidence has a perception of being very black and white. You’re either confident or you’re not. The end.

But I think confidence has an inordinate amount of greyscale in between. Here’s why.

Am I confident? Yes, I am. I always have been, I’ve never been afraid to shout out and wave my hand around and ask questions and stand up for myself. I’m the first one to put myself forward, and I stick out in looks too. I’ve previously mentioned that I don’t wear makeup in the office, but that’s not all, dear readers. I have a confession to make! As much as I hate stereotypes, for those who cannot see me and probably never will — I am a goth. And I’m not miserable and probably not going to grow out of it. I really don’t like “typical” (non-goth) clothes and I don’t suit them. Plus, my washing doesn’t need sorting because it’s all black. (Practical, I know. There’s method in the madness.) Now, I’m not quite wallpaper white with panda eyes and black lipstick, but I’m not far off either.

But here I am sitting at my desk, leaving for London in a few hours to meet the boss I have worked with for six months, but never met, and the lady who answered my LinkedIn plea to be taken into HR, and my mentor who’s taken me under her wing and puts so much time, effort and faith into me — and I’m really nervous.

What’s worse, I have no reason to be. All three of these lovely women are exactly that, lovely. They’ve supported me and opened doors and opportunities for me. Yet all that’s going through my mind is suddenly how podgy my dress makes me look, which has never bothered me before. I’ve even packed makeup, and as I said, I never wear makeup.

What’s possibly more amusing is that I’m traveling to the other end of my tiny country, alone at 25, to work with a person I’ve never spoken to, even on the phone, and have never met, to do some public speaking in front of a load of strangers far more experienced and older than I am – but that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me at all.

So, what is it about these three ladies, who I’ve never been in trouble with (yet, and hopefully never), that suddenly makes me feel so image conscious? All three know what I’m capable of, that I can do my job, so why am I so paranoid they’ll think any less of me because I ate a bit (a lot) too much at Christmas?

Status? Nope – none of them have made me feel like anything other than part of the team. I’ve never been made to feel as if they’re above me, though by title they are.

Strangers? Nope – never been intimidated by meeting strangers. Strangers are opportunities in disguise.

Women? Maybe — women can be pretty mean, but I’ve no reason to think they’re going to be or have a reason to be. I’m pretty confident in my ability to do my job well. There’s room for improvement – there always is — but nothing worth a telling off.

Insecure? Can’t be. I’m confident, remember? But yes. There is a difference between being confident in your ability and being confident in yourself. I am very confident in who I am, but not confident in what I am.

I’ve always thought of who as a very internal thing, and what as very external, which is why there are greyscales in confidence.

Just as some women are able to feel more confident from makeup, I am able to feel more confident from behind a computer screen because it’s very easy to change what I am from here – and that’s what makes me personally a bit iffy. What am I? Young, inexperienced, a bit chubby, learning. But I can paint an illusion of confidence from behind this screen. No one knows I’m only 25, no one knows I’m a bit chubby. But we always want to impress and, unfortunately, women don’t feel they impress with their knowledge and career mind and drive and ambition (though they do). We feel we impress by how we look. Do either of these women care how I look? Probably not, unless I looked unhealthy or ill. Do I feel they care? I’d say no, but this clearly isn’t the case. For some unexplained reason, I feel they care.

I am fortunate to not feel as much pressure as someone like my 20-year-old sister who feels like she has to try to be gorgeous all the time (and she is, even without all the makeup she cakes on). She won’t even go to the shop without her full makeup on. But this is a problem we women face — that we value confidence in the what, and not the who. It’s an issue we must conquer because the chances are that very seldom, if ever (I hope), a man or woman has commented negatively on your looks.

It is a societal problem that we feel our worth is based on our looks. Well, no one looks good at 90, ladies, so we might as well start learning to be confident in the who, now.

First step – taking positive feedback seriously. Tune in next month!


  1. […] promised in my last blog, let’s talk about taking your feedback personally. Bear with me […]


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