I was having coffee with a friend right before a conference where I was about to present my start-up. I was tapping my foot nervously and not really drinking my coffee. “What’s up?” my friend asked. “I’m nervous,” I said. “About what?!” I gave her an annoyed look and pointed at my conference pass. “There’s absolutely no need to be nervous about that. You are a woman, we have to work twice as hard as men. Hence, you will rock it. Also, you are most likely way better prepared than anyone else. Stop messing with your head! And never, ever say that you’re nervous in front of an investor or business partners. You’re just going to ruin your chance, nobody wants to do business with someone who doubts themselves. They want somebody who knows what they want.” She had a point. I had worked really hard to come where I was. I also had prepared my presentation well in advance. And two hours later, everything had gone really well.
I have written many times about self-doubt here. (In Postcard #80, for example) From a rational point of view, I know that being nervous before an important meeting, exam or presentation is utterly useless and even counter-productive most of the time. Still, I often find myself in the same situation again. But whenever this happens, I think about this short pep talk my friend gave me at the café that day.
Throughout my career, I did see some men who were nervous. But the vast majority of those who doubted themselves and were nervous wrecks before important events were women. Nevertheless, almost all of them were the ones outperforming everyone else. I always wonder why. Where we really indoctrinated from an early age onwards that we are never good enough? Or is it the negative experiences we have made?
When I started my career, I asked one of my mentors for advice on starting my job. “Always be prepared. Always be better prepared than anyone else. You will always be the odd one out in the meeting as a woman. Unfortunately, you will have to prove yourself more.” She was absolutely right. In each and every meeting, I made – and still make – sure that I am fully prepared. While I know that there are plenty of people in leadership positions – especially men – who come fully unprepared, have no idea about the content but still talk the most, I am not that kind of person. And whenever people tried to criticize or undermine me or my ideas, they had way less points to attack, because I had done my homework.
Unfortunately, this also means that it is almost impossible to show weaknesses – despite many studies suggesting that leaders who do are able to build better relationships with their teams. To a certain extent it also contributes to the image that successful women are “cold”, “not relatable”, “distant”, “sad” and “unapproachable”. I find it very hard to balance this fine line between not showing my weaknesses and sharing experiences and situations where I struggled. I do think we need to share weaknesses, so that others can learn.
We are all human beings and the last thing I want is to paint an image of entrepreneurs that everything always works out, everything is just a “breeze to overnight success”. There are many times which are really challenging. But there are also the situations where we do really, really well. And we also need to acknowledge that and celebrate them. If we have these positive things in our mind, it is easier to be more confident and believe in ourselves.
Next time when the tension and adrenaline kick in before an important event, try to tell yourself how far you have come and that there is no reason for doubt or being nervous. You can and will rock it – the only thing holding you back is yourself.