You wouldn’t criticize your best friend for overlooking an email when she’s preoccupied by a sick little one, right?
In this age of having-it-all and parenting blogs, it seems like every other minute we working moms are confronted with a message that makes us feel that pang of “I worry I’m not fill-in-the-blank enough.”
In my work helping businesswomen develop confidence in their authentic leadership style, I've learned a few no-fail strategies to help conquer self-doubt that you can start right now:
1. Get grounded in your sense of self
Our brains are wired to scan the environment for threats. Moments that threaten the self tend to hinge on feelings of rejection—worry that we will bomb an interview, make a mistake in front of a group, open up to someone about our parenting choices and have them judged.
Try this: Write out a list of your values (kindness, creativity, hard work, etc). Then pick three that are absolutely core to who you are—you wouldn't be you without them. Set a timer for 10 minutes, then write about one of them, why it's important to you and how it has served you well in life.
When you're reminded that you like who you are, you are less likely to worry what other people think about you. This allows you to own the present moment with ease and grace. This exercise is especially helpful going into situations that cause anxiety such as an interview, presentation or parent-teacher conference.
2. Ask the real experts how you’re doing
You are brilliant. But when it comes to evaluating how you're doing at work and as a mom, you are probably way off. Leadership assessment expert Rob Kaiser compared how male and female leaders’ self-ratings compared to how their coworkers rated them on a performance assessment and found that women rated themselves twice as harshly as their colleagues (and their male counterparts). In my experience, we do the same thing as moms when we beat ourselves up over small things—when, in reality, our kids are perfectly happy, healthy and thriving.
Try this: Ask four to six people who know your work well, such as your boss, peers and direct reports, for feedback on your strengths. The question is simple: "In an effort to be the very best employee/boss/etc. that I can be, I’d like to get feedback on my strengths. When you have a few minutes, please write down a few strengths of mine, and if you remember a particular time when I was at my best by exhibiting that strength, please share that, too."
Ask the same of people who know you and your parenting well. Note who counts as an expert: your spouse, your best friend, your child if they're old enough. Not on the list: Google (ahem). Also, when your child's teacher or pediatrician says they're doing well, that means YOU'RE doing well, mama.
3. S.T.O.P. and ask yourself: What’s really going on?
To succeed in the workplace, you’ve likely mastered “soft skills” such as compassion, empathy and the ability to show appreciation. But how do you do when it comes to the way you talk to and treat yourself?
Imagine this scenario: Your husband opens the cabinet to grab a coffee mug and finds a melted heap of what once was a pint of ice cream on the shelf. You think, “I am such an idiot!” (Yes, that is an oddly specific example—it also happens to be autobiographical).
Try this: Stop. Take a breath in, count to five, hold for one beat at the top and then breathe out for the count of five.
Observe what is really going on. When you were putting away the ice cream, were you also cleaning up the kitchen, packing lunches, talking to your husband about his day and responding to client emails? If so, what was really going on is that you were doing a lot of things at once and you accidentally put ice cream in the cabinet.
Proceed with compassion. Reframe the situation as if it were happening to someone else you care about. What would you say if your best friend called herself an idiot because her husband found melted ice cream in the cabinet? You would say, “You’re not an idiot! You were taking care of your husband, kids, house and clients!”
By investing the time in knowing how well you really are doing and getting back in touch with what makes you a great person, the next time the voice of self-doubt starts in with you, you can flip the script on her and say: “I may not be perfect, but I AM smart, I work hard, and I am good at my job. And I am a great mom.”
And that, my fellow working moms, makes you amazing.