Thoughts on

The Confidence Gap

I’ve been having a bit of an epiphany in the last several months.  I think it may have started with The Happiness Project, and several other work happenings have continued to spur it on, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I live my day to day life, and how much my perception can affect how I feel at work and home.  I’ve realized that for me to be happy and feel better, I not only have to work on remembering to do the little things I enjoy and improving my relationships (which are both important.)  I also have to let go of some of the fear and anxiety I’ve been holding on to. I’m an engineer, and my entire career and college experience has taken place in a male dominated environment.  In my classes, my male schoolmates always seemed to know more than me, so I just assumed that they did.  Time after time, I would get my grades back only to realize that I was doing better than my study partner John or my lab mate Steve, even if outward appearances didn’t show it.  Since I’ve started my career, I’ve been consistently paralyzed by fear that I didn’t know what I was doing.  What if my calculations are wrong?  What if this report isn’t good enough?  Even more so when I’m in the field (which happens quite often) and there is literally no safety net.  And it seemed like all of the male coworkers knew so much more than I did.  More recently, I’ve decided to stop worrying so much about if I’m wrong.  When I read this article the other day, it really hit home.  It says exactly what I’ve slowly started to realize.  Men, in general, have more confidence than women.  Even if they don’t really know what they are talking about, they tend to think that they do, or that they at least know more than us.  This has been a huge inhibitor in the success of women in upper level roles because we simply don’t feel like we should be there or are afraid to speak up because we think we might be wrong.  This is so maddening to me, but it makes so much sense.  I’ve decided to let go of the fear and start believing in myself and my abilities.  Here are some kick ass women to get us inspired.  And if you have a couple of free minutes, you really should read this.  It will blow your mind.





All images via the fantastically titled pinboard Vote for Women by Ginny Branch Sterling

Tina and Amy  /  Susan  /  Jessica  /  Hillary

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  1. Megan

    Yes, yes and yes. If there is anyone that works the hardest and knows the most about their field, it is definitely you. We should never let those silly old boys who like to act like they know everything make us feel less than. Give em hell Bean.

    • Colleen

      Thanks Meggy!

  2. Taylor

    What a lovely reminder and very eye opening. I’m certainly guilty of the confidence gap. Thanks for the inspiring hump day post. Side note: Let me just say that the two of you inspire me all the time. Yall are strong, beautiful, kind, creative, smart and talented women. I cannot think of two other women that constantly inspire me to just do better.

    • Colleen

      Thanks Tay – so sweet!

  3. Nicole

    Great post!! LOVE LOVE LOVE.

    I have only begun to read the article you linked to, but I’m excited to finish it. I have had several “A-HA!” moments over the last few months as I come across an increasing number of news stories, statistics, anecdotes and articles that indicate this as being a very large problem. I both love and hate how much I can relate to them.

    When I took a new job a year ago I made a conscious effort to work on some of the bad habits I felt I had developed in my old job. I tried to view it as an opportunity to develop habits of success. I began speaking up more, having an opinion and trying to be proud of it, taking time to be proud of a job well-done. It’s kind of unbelievable how often I still second guess myself, wondering if I’m being bitchy or too aggressive.

    So great to hear that you are taking note of the same things and that we are not alone!!! I will join you in making a decision to be more confident.

    • Colleen

      Good for you lady! So glad to hear you are trying to assert yourself! I hate that if girls tend to speak up then people label them as bitchy, but I guess I’d rather be that than scared of having opinions.

  4. Jillian

    Fantastic read. Thank you for sharing! I can totally relate to this piece and look forward to improving on my daily confidence levels. I”ll definitely pass this along.

    • Colleen

      Thanks Jillian!

  5. kyle

    Thanks Colleen – Hooray for this piece. Such an important conversation. I want to add to the mix here as I too had a moment of clarity and received some tremendously useful feedback.

    I was never consciously aware of the confidence issue manifesting. Apparently it had. It came to light in a dry run interview, right out of the gate: “Tell me about your most recent role.” Super simple question. Straight down the line. Totally ready. I added color to my resume with a succinct description, rife with action words, deliverables and measured statistics. “Let’s pause there,” my patient male counterpart said, “That’s a great start.”

    Eeek! I hadn’t even finished, I thought. What was compelling in my head clearly made a lackluster impression in reality. Now, the feedback: I had focused on the team and tremendous impact we all had on the organization, at a macro level. My sentences were structured to highlight what the team delivered, not what I delivered. This made perfect sense; after all, it said as much on my resume, why didn’t I say it in the moment? So we tried again, this time using the opportunity to characterize my accomplishments differently. By switching segues and introductions from “We delivered…” or “The team reduced…” to “ I managed” and “I coordinated”, I made more of an impression, inextricably linked to my confidence and ability.

    Still not convinced I should be so bold, I asked whether my second attempt using “I” statements was better. To me it sounded like a classic case of arrogance if not blatant bragging. He reassured me, “It isn’t bragging, it is the truth.” See, it doesn’t matter if you delivered work alone or with help from the whole organization. No one expects you to operate in a vacuum or deliver such tremendous volumes of work alone. Regardless – You still did it. So, my takeaway is always be honest and always take the credit you deserve. Radiate confidence in your actions and also in the words you choose. Everyday. Don’t shy away from talking about your accomplishments in the right way- no one else will do it for you.

    • Colleen

      Such great advice Kyle! Thanks pretty lady! You just keep on being a bad ass.

  6. Marilyn

    I have the book Lean In. I will give it to you!