Dear Dana, I am just starting my career, how do I build self-confidence?

Starting a career is always daunting. As you set out on this journey, remember that you are new, and not knowing everything is okay! If you find yourself facing a problem or project that you don’t know how to tackle, that’s completely normal. It is not a reflection on you or your intelligence.

Here are three main things to keep in mind as you build your confidence and your career.


Continual Learning

The biggest key to building confidence is to learn, learn, learn.

Consume knowledge voraciously. Ask relevant questions to your boss, onboarding trainer, coworkers, and teammates. Knowledge is power and it will help you build up the confidence to tackle new problems and work toward your career goals.

Shadowing is a great way to learn and grow your confidence and career simultaneously. Focus on shadowing people who are one rung above you on the corporate ladder and whose job you find interesting.


Mentors

Mentors are the people who help guide you on your career path. Finding a mentor whom you respect and can ask career-related questions to, is a great way to gain confidence.

I had only one mentor in my life and he just happened to be my boss. And while he was the only true mentor I had, he impacted my life in such a huge way.

Back in the day (a lot further back than I care to admit), when my children were very young, I told my mentor that I wanted to leave at 4:30pm every day. I had (and still have) workaholic tendencies and I wanted to spend more time with my children. And he held me accountable! He would stand in the doorway of my office and tell me, “It’s 4:30. Time for you to go home.”

In the beginning, I would always try and push the time. Just a couple more emails. Just one more meeting. But he wouldn’t let me. He would say, “Nope. Pack it up.” And then loom ominously in my doorway until I did.

After a while, he didn’t have to stand in my doorway.

Mentors don’t always show up in that hierarchical way, however. When looking for a mentor, look for someone you respect and like, who is in a position that you want to hold one day, and in the industry you want to work. This will allow them to guide you, help you avoid pitfalls, and offer advice that is unique to your industry.

Asking someone to be your mentor is an incredibly daunting task, at first. You may feel silly or be worried about rejection. Put all those feelings aside! Most people enjoy talking about their journeys and offering the wisdom they have built up over the years.


Practice Makes Permanent

This may sound silly but you need to practice handling tough situations or situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Whether that be delivering critical feedback or presenting a presentation to your boss.

And I don’t mean, wait for those things to pop up and learn as you go. That is going to happen anyway. I’m talking about being proactive about handling those situations by practicing them first, by yourself, and then with a friend or trusted peer.

Let’s go with practicing giving critical feedback as an example.

You have to give someone critical feedback but you’re worried about offending them and/or sounding less knowledgeable. First, practice the situation in the mirror. Actually go and stand in front of a mirror in your house and pretend you are giving the person your critique. Watch yourself, your body language, and your facial expressions. The visual really helps you to see what things you may be subconsciously projecting. Are you crossing your arms? Are you fidgeting?

Once you have that, practice the situation with a friend or trusted peer. In this case, try to avoid family members because they may be more invested in the situation and have a hard time staying neutral and giving you unbiased feedback. You may also feel offended if a family member tells you that your approach is wrong. Find someone who can give you honest feedback and stay unbiased when telling you what you’re doing well and what you’re doing poorly.


Building confidence in your career is all about immersing yourself in your job and industry, learning through shadowing and mentors, becoming comfortable with situations that make you nervous, and most importantly, giving yourself time.


Don’t push yourself to be more confident tomorrow or even next week. Continue learning earnestly and the confidence will come on its own.


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