The Eye of the Beholder

As a young professional finding my way in the big bad real world, I find myself constantly assessing my progress, strengths, and weaknesses. More often than not, I’m already aware of my strengths, and I find myself seeking out feedback to determine my weaknesses. While it may sound like an easy thing to do – and at the risk of sounding cocky – this is often difficult because I am a high-performer at a firm with a passive aggressive culture. What does that mean? I often get told what I’m good at and have to press hard to know what I should work on.

Well, a few days ago I was provided unsolicited feedback from a manager that I really admire and respect. While I have not worked directly for her on any client work, I worked with her a few days last month organizing an internal presentation. Additionally, I’ve been struggling with a situation at work, and she has been a great mentor through it all. Therefore it came as no surprise when she requested that we grab coffee on Monday afternoon. What did come as a surprise to me, however, is when she told me that I don't come across as confident.


“Uhhhhm. Really?” I thought to myself.

It was the last piece of feedback I’d ever think to hear. As I continued to listen, I heard her say things like how she was not confident either at my age, especially since she never had anyone around her to give her positive feedback and….

“Confidence? Really? I think I was in shock.

I’ve spent a great deal of time since then analyzing this feedback. Being that I’m known (and made fun of) for analyzing and over analyzing things, this should come as no surprise to some. Over the last two days I’ve had several conversations with myself. First, I was telling myself that she clearly missed something, and I shouldn't bother thinking about it too hard. Then, I started telling myself that she wouldn't lie and that her opinion is one I really respect. Eventually, I got to a point where I realized that even though the feedback goes against everything I believe about myself, maybe there are situations where I do not appear confident. Besides, nobody is 100% confident 24/7, right?

One of the definitions I found online for confidence is “belief in oneself and …abilities; self-confidence.” Now... if you know me (or even read that first paragraph), you’ll know that I’m very sure of myself and what I have to offer. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that I’m the person you want on your team. I’m a go-getter. I’m intelligent. I’m sharp.

Does that sound like someone who lacks confidence?

It doesn’t… So what’s the point of all of this then? This situation has taught me that everyone will form an opinion of you, and sometimes it will completely differ from how you view yourself. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t valuable feedback to digest. While I may think that I’m confident, my demeanor (often quiet and reserved in new situations) will be perceived differently by different individuals. My confidence mostly comes from my strong performance, and they may or may not give me more time to demonstrate my abilities before they judge me. And I think that's okay. It'll happen. I've decided that it doesn't mean I need to change anything. Rather, it's simply something that I will remain more cognizant of in the future. After all, life is full of lessons - most of which I'm beginning to believe are in your 20s.


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