#IWD: PERSPECTIVE ON CONFIDENCE

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MICHELLE WESTFORT, SVP CHIEF GROWTH OFFICER, HARVARD EXTENSION  
PIVOT WORLDWIDE

When you meet someone with confidence, you just know it. They speak directly. They make more statements. They ask fewer questions. They seem unbreakable. Whether it is with friends, a significant other, or within the workplace, having confidence is critical in so many areas of our lives.


The understanding that you can do anything - to be who you want to be and appreciate your own qualities--can be a particular challenge for some- especially women. Are people just born with confidence or is it learned? Can we gain confidence? Lose it?

Confidence Comes from our Environment
Growing up in suburban New Jersey and attending a private parochial school in Randolph, I learned confidence at an early age by looking up to a tight knit community of leaders- many of whom were women.

My peers from school all went on to highly respected professional careers. While we didn’t know it at the time, we were learning how to be confident. Our parents were all hard working individuals that respected each other and made our education a priority- they put us in a supportive environment that helped us become confident as individuals and as future leaders.

As a small ‘team’ we stayed together and moved from classroom to classroom with various teachers, but no shift in who came into or out of our grade/cohort during that time. I am absolutely certain that the environment in which we learned helped us become self-assured adults. Arguably, some of our biggest lessons in life were learned in that special environment: divorce, cancer, hurt, respect, business, relationships, priorities, and even language.

Our experiences learning a second language together, going on field-trips and being a part of school fundraising, community service and feeling connected to other countries were all part of building a certainty in ourselves and our ability to succeed.

Confidence Comes from Experience
Knowing you can do something because you have done it before creates a sense of comfort. When I think back at where that feeling came from, I remember the sense of security in testing the waters in different areas of academics, arts or even friendship.

One such example was when I risked trying something outside of my natural ability. It is no secret that I can’t sing and landing the lead role in “Peter Pan” meant that I needed to do that…in front of a whole school of people! I was nervous to do it and wondered if I’d be judged by others (girls in particular) but I wanted to perform even though I didn’t have great confidence in my voice. I practiced and practiced. And although I ultimately performed a lackluster series of songs, it felt ok. I felt safe in my environment and I has a sense of belonging to my classmates, my school and also at home.

Confidence Comes from Never Giving Up
Beginning from our youth, we can take our experiences and gain something because we know that however we’ve felt at the moment of failure, we recognize that it’s not permanent. Women tend to question: What was said? What was the reaction? What will be the impact? And these questions could be just as relevant between the home and the workplace.

That behavior sets us up to limit ourselves. So instead of harping on something that went wrong, we can instead shift our thinking to, “Oh well. That stunk. What’s next?” and that has been a huge lesson for me throughout both my academic and professional careers. Not every class, meeting, business deal, interview, presentation, or negotiation is going to go well. In fact, most won’t go perfectly.

Being able to bounce back and remember that we can take each opportunity and learn from it. We can do things differently and be thankful that these daily failures won’t contribute negatively to our confidence.

I learned confidence from being in a supportive environment and being around role models who set high expectations and often reminded us that we were going to make a difference in the world. There is no coincidence in a great learning environment and future success- it’s a positive correlation.

On this International Women’s Day 2017, I’m grateful that I learned this first-hand and carry that sense of confidence with me into everything that I do- as a wife, a mother/daugher, a leader and a friend.

Ladies, be confident. No one can take that away from you and you can ‘own’ it. You are the expert of what you know and your experience is valuable- speak it, share it and appreciate it but above all, if you weren’t as fortunate to be in a supportive environment at an early age, it’s never too late. Practice positivity and engage with other women. Surround yourselves with people that encourage you and build your confidence. Go for what you believe in and know that you CAN do anything you want to do.

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