Sock it to me

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Confidence comes from within.  It is based on knowing who you are at your core and is built on your knowledge, skills, strengths, character, values, experiences and past performance.  Confidence can ebb and flow – and you have more control over it than you think.

A few months ago, I let my confidence slip and gave up free real estate in my mind to doubt and had to fight to get it out.  After struggling with a running injury for several weeks, I went to a doctor for help.  After many weeks of trying to find a diagnosis, I was told “you will never run again.”  I was upset and confused.  I didn’t feel the injury was that serious and I didn’t feel that I had been given a thorough exam.  But those word rattled in my brain: “you won’t run again.” It evoked fear and self-doubt.  Running isn’t just a form of exercise for me. It is integral to my balance. It gets me into nature.  It is a social activity with friends.  I use it when traveling to explore cities. It quiets my mind when I am over-analyzing.  And perhaps most important to me, it helps focus me: I do most of my writing and thinking while running.  Take that away and I feel lost and unsure how to work.

I began to seek second opinions and continued cross-training in a way that wouldn’t aggravate my injury.  I kept moving forward trying to trust my confidence and confront the “you won’t run again” fears and doubts that echoed in my mind. I assembled a team of doctors, physical and massage therapists, and my running coach to help me put a plan in place. I talked to friends who kept encouraging me to keep moving forward and keep my confidence high.

Two weeks ago, my 21st half marathon approached.  I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to run – I hadn’t run a step in over eight weeks.  The turning point came the week of the half marathon.  A friend gave me a running jersey and told me to use it as motivation.  To use it as a symbol of getting strong again and working towards getting healthy again. Whether I was going to run one mile or the whole 13.1 in the race, I should use the shirt as a reminder that I can and will do this. 

On the morning of the race, I woke up and realized that I had evicted doubt. He wasn’t taking up space in my brain anymore. It was just me and confidence.  We stood together at the starting line and power posed as recommended by Amy Cuddy.  And we had a great time completing my 21st half marathon injury-free.

Often, we let things get in the way of our confidence.  These are limiting beliefs. These are the voices in our head that don’t always talk to us in the kindest voice.  These are the voices in which we would never use to speak to our children, but we are fine using when talking to ourselves. This voice is the one that imposes doubt.  It tells us we can’t, we shouldn’t, or we aren’t doing anything right. That takes up free real estate in our minds, limiting the space for confidence. These are often based on experiences or conversations with others in which we have given too much weight.  We hold on to these conversations, often with a teacher, parent, friend or coworker, and end up believing something that isn’t right…and allow it to define us. 

These limiting beliefs become labels we apply to ourselves and truly limit our performance and potential.  In most cases, they aren’t even true.  But we hold on to them and allow them to shape our perceptions of what we can or can’t do.  As leaders, we must be constantly on the lookout for these limiting beliefs and break them – both for ourselves and our team.  They hold back our confidence and hamper our performance.  We must intentionally create reminders of our confidence and shut out any unnecessary noise that may chip away at it. 

A few years ago, a friend and I were working together on a project at work. When the project ended, she gave me a package and a thank you note. The note mentioned things about me that she noticed and appreciated.  Inside the package was a pair of socks.  They said “I am awesome” on the toes and the word “awesome” was written under the foot.  In the note she said “I hope you always remember this about yourself. And on the days you need a reminder, pull these socks out and wear them.”

These socks make me ridiculously happy.  I ended up getting another pair that says, “I am strong” and find myself pulling them out after a long day to serve as a reminder as my friend suggested.  In fact, those were the socks I put on when I set out to do my first run, as a reminder to myself that I could do this. They have become a talisman for me. A symbol and a reminder of who I strive to be as a person and a leader.  These are a confidence booster because they remind me, and because they were given to me by someone else who also sees me that way.  The night before I have a big presentation or meeting I am facilitating, I am in my hotel room wearing these socks.  Each time I see them, I think “Yup, I am!

I think one of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is to recognize when one of your team members needs some external recognition and affirmation. This most often occurs when an employee’s confidence or resilience is waning, and they are allowing self-doubt to creep in.  The best leaders I’ve seen have a keen eye for these moments.  When they notice them, they pull the individual aside, put a proverbial arm around them and tell them why they need them. They point out where the individual is strong and at their best, help them feel seen and valued, and give the person a much-needed boost. These moments help restore the person’s confidence and motivation and allow for them to create their own reminders to carry them forward.  They help create the person’s own mental version of their socks and create stronger commitment and engagement. 

What would your socks say?