In 6 Reasons We Don't Chase Our Dreams , Barton Goldsmith (psychologytoday.com) offers six things that hold us back from pursuing what we want:
Pursuing big dreams is scary. It's easy to fall prey to "not enough" syndrome and start comparing ourselves to others. I've been pursuing my dream of business ownership for two years. It took me the better part of the first one and a half years to work my way out of the beliefs I had about my ability to measure up as a new business owner. Even though I was excited about my new adventure, it was also terrifying. It took awhile to build up my confidence.
In The Confidence Code, Katty Kay & Claire Shipman wrote that confidence is a complex yet essential life ingredient. Women in particular have suffered from a lack of self-belief; we may have the skills necessary to pursue a dream or accomplish a goal, but we often don't believe that we can succeed, so we don't even try. We may have big dreams or set lofty goals, but our desires don't turn into action. Or in my case, I was taking action, but was playing it safe and holding myself back due in large part to my lack of confidence.
What gets in our way of taking action? Kay and Shipman wrote that over-thinking, people pleasing, and an inability to let go of defeats are three ways that we undermine our confidence. I shudder now when I think about how many hours I have wasted either writing a blog post (and rewriting and revising: one time I spent over two and a half hours reworking one blog post!), or worrying about what people would think about a post I had published (or wishing I hadn't written a particular post).
Related to these obstacles is a desire for perfection. Constantly striving for perfection is not only time consuming, but it can also stop us dead in our tracks. Kay and Shipman wrote that of all things "women do to themselves to undermine their confidence... the pursuit of perfection [is] the most crippling. If perfection is your standard...the bar is always impossibly high, and you will inevitably and routinely feel inadequate."
According to Kay and Shipman, women in particular are susceptible to perfectionism, obsessing about our performance at home, at work, and even on vacation. The impacts of perfectionism impact us not only as employees, but as mothers, as wives, as sisters and as friends.
I am a perfection-seeking working mother. (You can read more about my experience with this in a recent LinkedIn post ). I have struggled to blend my role as a mother with my desire for perfection and control. ( Did you read another recent post about how I was put to the test by a mis-matched outfit? )
I am learning that it is not realistic to expect everything to be perfect. Women, especially mothers: We need to let go of this desire to be perfect all the time. The fact is, we are all human beings and we are going to make mistakes. And yes, we are going to fail. And I've found that as I have started to let go of my desire to be perfect, it's so much easier to enjoy what I'm doing and who I am with in this moment. When I'm not trying to control what my husband does or how my daughter acts, I find it much less stressful for everyone and we are happier.
Kay and Shipman made several suggestions for strengthening your confidence. Confidence comes from believing that we can succeed at something and from taking action. Confidence comes by not letting your doubts consume you and by letting go of your comfort zone to do hard things. The authors add that it's easier to keep going if you are optimistic and hopeful about the outcome, if you have self-esteem (belief in your worth), and if you have self-efficacy (belief in your ability to succeed at something). You build your confidence when you take risks and try new things. And by the way, you need to be comfortable with failure. We learn from our failures. The more we fail, the more we learn and the more comfortable we become with taking bigger risks later. Being compassionate with ourselves when things don't go as expected goes a long way, too.
I've taken a lot of action over this past year to strengthen my confidence. Some small steps, and some big steps. Almost all were scary. But each time I did something new, each time I put myself out there, it got easier. Now I've taken a really big step by entering in the Dream Big, Grow Here contest. This grant is available for Iowans to fulfill their dreams for self-employment or business expansion. I'm competing for the chance to win an industry-specific grant which would help me fund some specialized training I am pursuing this year. You can read more about why I entered the contest in a recent LinkedIn blog post , or read the details about my entry on the Dream Big, Grow Here site. If you feel so compelled, I would much appreciate your vote!