Let's face it: There isn't a single woman I've met, across industries and seniorities and personalities, who doesn't face periods of time where she's just not sure if she's doing a good job or the right thing or if she is really going to be able to keep up the good work.
Personally, I swing between times where I am 100% sure I am God's gift to my office and times where I feel like I need to quit my job and crawl into a cave. And I fully believe these changes in confidence are normal. Or, at least, some variety of confidence is normal. We all have days where we feel insecure, even if we're generally confident. And some of us have lapses in confidence more than others. I don't think that's a flaw or something that can be fixed with a self-help book or a coach or a summer camp; it's human. Sure, confidence can be increased incrementally, but no one can or should feel 100% sure of themselves all the time. That kind of thinking breeds real jerks who lack empathy and sound judgement skills. Ask anyone who's worked at a startup led by a "personality."
I read a quote on courage (one of the true expression of confidence, in my opinion) that really changed how I thought about the whole thing. In a quick Google search, the quote's attributed to Nelson Mandela, but honestly, I don't trust the internet, so I'll attribute this to our addiction to creating shady quote round-up websites. It goes a little something like this: "Courage isn't the absence of fear, but the triumph over it."
In the same way, to me, confidence isn't an absence of insecurity but the triumph over it. There are ways to project confidence and act powerful without feeling 100% sure of yourself. Here are just a few ways:
While feeling insecure at work can cause a whole host of emotions, reigning them in and being as level as possible is one way to demonstrate power. If you need to take a second to feel the emotional effects of feeling insecure, try to get out of the office for a while. When you return, be intentional about acting on even-keeled thought rather than nervousness or turbulent feelings. And, maybe most important, be careful to be kind to everyone, even if you're feeling down.
One of the best ways to appear powerful even when you're feeling less-than-awesome? Asking for feedback on or for help with whatever you're unsure about. No one expects you to be perfect or to feel put together all the time. Being honest with the people around you and asking for help shows them that you're willing to learn and grow to fill those gaps — if they're present — and can generate a lot of respect. It reminds them that they don't have to be perfect and that you're open to supporting them, too. Once you've asked for help, actually listen to the advice and feedback you receive. Working others' ideas into whatever you're working on can help you feel more secure, sure, but it also shows them that they matter to you. Anyone will follow a leader like that, perfect or not.
Even though it feels easy to shrink into yourself when you're having one of those days, using powerful body language is more important then than ever. Standing straight with your arms unfolded can work wonders on how open and confident you look to others. Research done by Harvard and Columbia business schools suggest that holding your body in expansive "power poses," like a mountain pose with your legs hips-distance apart, can actually increase testosterone while decreasing cortisol, a stress hormone. This hack can help you feel a bit more confident.
Carol Kinsey Goman, an executive coach and leadership consultant, in an article for the American Management Association titled "10 Powerful Body Language Tips," also advocates for using your hands while speaking because it increases the brain activity needed to speak well. She writes: "Brain imaging has shown that a region called Broca’s area, which is important for speech production, is active not only when we’re talking, but when we wave our hands. Since gesture is integrally linked to speech, gesturing as we talk can actually power up our thinking." So, next time you're nervous, try writing on the white board while you speak or gesturing to a presentation slide. It can actually help carry you along.