Katerina Douskova8 min

Confidence in a Nutshell: How to Trust Yourself

Inside STRVAug 15, 2022

Confidence is not a status that can be achieved. It will always fluctuate and you need to be prepared for that. Instead of aiming for 100, the goal is learning to trust yourself — and that starts with baby steps, which are at the core of the framework I’d like to introduce to you.

Before I share my personal approach to becoming more confident in various areas of your life, please keep in mind that it is just that: my personal thoughts grouped together, not backed by science.

In many ways, this framework is a conjunction of my experiences with mentoring/coaching under Femme Palette and WCT, managing a team as STRV’s Chief Product Officer and being managed by others in business, development, QA and product management roles.

I will be diving into what I call the Confidence Pyramid — applying it in your professional life, common pitfalls on the way to improvement and how to avoid becoming a Confidence Asshole.

What I’d like to address first is that insufficient confidence is not tied to a single group of people. It is at the root of most human struggles, regardless of age, gender or the end goal.

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Confidence Is Not a Gender-specific Issue

Over the years, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of mentoring both males and females. A person usually comes to me wanting to discuss a career shift. But when we boil it down, the blockers have nothing to do with the industry and everything to do with some level of confidence.

Unable to ask for help, not knowing how to enter a room or start a crucial conversation... all common challenges because it’s in our nature to lack confidence in certain situations.

After doing some research, I realized that my experiences were echoed by disturbing statistics. 62% of women and 50% of men do not believe they are intelligent. 66% of women and 60% of men are not confident in their ability to do their job. And that leads me to the problem.

When 6 out of 10 people on your team may not be confident in their abilities, it’s quite terrifying — for colleagues and for managers. How do we reduce that number as much as possible?

The Confidence Pyramid Leads to Confident Humility

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The Confidence Pyramid is made of four levels. Each level must be completed before continuing on to the next, and mastering the last level leads to the ultimate confidence goal: Confident Humility — being able to confidently pass on knowledge without being an asshole.

“Humble enough to know I am far from perfect. Confident enough to know I can do anything I set my mind to.”

You can build these little pyramids for anything in your life, whether it’s figuring out what to do with your finances, being more comfortable with your body or pursuing a new career.

Level 1: What I Know

The first level is about gaining knowledge.

  • How much do I know about the task/activity/topic?
  • How can I learn more?
  • Are there people I can reach out to?
  • Are there more experts around that could help me?

Level 2: How I Apply It

The second level is about trying it out. Put the knowledge you’ve acquired to the test.

  • How can I test out my knowledge?
  • Is there a safe space where I can practice?
  • Is there someone more senior that can help guide me?
  • Who can I talk to about it?

Level 3: How I Feel About It

The third level is about checking in with yourself. How do you feel about your progress?

This level is divided into two parts: internal and external.

Internal:

  • Can I be honest with myself and see how I’ve been progressing?
  • Can I be self-critical but self-praising at the same time?

External

  • Can I accept feedback from others?
  • Can I filter through the noise of feedback and comments?

Level 4: How I Share It

The last level is about sharing your knowledge. Once you become confident in this area, it’s about going back to the beginning. With someone else.

  • How can I become a good teacher?
  • How can I pass on my knowledge?
  • Am I able to share information with others in a meaningful way?

* Remember that your level of knowledge can always be improved but if it’s bigger than someone else’s, you can help that person get to your level or even surpass you.

How Does the Pyramid Apply to Your Job?

Could you teach someone to ride a bike? Most likely, yes. You’ve done it countless times, so teaching the skill shouldn’t be a problem. But when you take on something bigger — like your job — things become more complex.

Let’s look at it from an engineer’s standpoint. Setting up a GitHub account is easy; teaching someone to debug is a lot harder.

The key is to break your job down into many small tasks and categorize them. Which ones are you confident in? How can you improve in the ones where you lack confidence? Who can you ask for help? Figure out how many of these webs you have to untangle and take it step by step.

Where It Goes Wrong & How to Get Unstuck

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Level 1 (What I Know) - Unmotivated to Start

The problem: It’s too much. You feel that it will take a long time to learn or that you won’t be good at it. You prejudge yourself — the absolute confidence killer to starting anything.

Remember: There’s no shame in not knowing, and you can’t know until you try. It sounds corny, but it’s true. You can find hidden talents throughout your lifetime if you just give something a shot.

Social media shows us the successes of everyone from entrepreneurs to our friends. We see them at the top of the pyramid and forget that every expert was once a beginner. This leads to, “I won’t be as good as that.” Sure, not right now. But if you’re at Level 1, you can’t compare yourself to somebody at Level 4. That gap is going to be huge, and it’s not fair to you.

Level 2 (How I Apply It) - Expecting a One-way Street

The problem: You believe that once you soak up the theory, the next step is trying it out and it’s done. This sets up false expectations of being the best right from the start.

Remember: Learning something and applying it does not mean you won’t go back to Level 1. You may need to learn a bit more or need a bit more mentoring. The Level 1–Level 2 cycle is continuous. Even at Level 4, it’s still a lifelong journey.

Level 3 (How I Feel About It) - Too Self-Critical or Dependent on Others

The problem: Internally, you may be too critical of yourself. Externally, you may depend on others’ feedback too much. In both cases, you build yourself a ceiling you can’t get through.

Remember: Don’t take your past mistakes as failures but as lessons. And to filter through the feedback, find a healthy balance between the internal and the external.

That balance is completely different for everyone. Some people need more external confirmation, others are driven by their internal critics. But if you don’t find a healthy middle ground, you run the risk of becoming a Confidence Asshole or of having Misplaced Confidence.

1) Confidence Asshole (Internal > External)

Someone who went through Level 1, learned something, succeeded once, and now they feel they’re done. The problem is that settling in Level 3 crushes any chance of reaching Level 4.

These people are usually challenging to work with because at no point can you say, “Can you go back to Level 1 and try learning something new?” They assume they don’t need to hear any feedback because they can’t get any better. There’s a fine line between confident and arrogant.

2) Misplaced Confidence (External > Internal)

Someone whose confidence relies on external opinions. They do not believe in themselves and place a lot of weight on what others think. This case is more common among females.

In a supportive environment like STRV, people with misplaced confidence are safe. But what happens at a new job, like a competitive sales position? By putting everything they think about themselves into the hands of others, chances are that someone’s going to destroy their confidence.

Additionally, no matter how much praise is given, they can’t seem to accept it. It’s nearly impossible to open their eyes wide enough for them to see their true potential.

If this is your case, here is my go-to advice (provided by my own mentor 15 years ago):

“Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t go to for advice.”

Ask yourself: If you had a problem and needed guidance, would you ask this person for help because you respect them? Establish whose opinions you value and take that criticism. Everything else — in one ear, out the other. (In other words: No more pleasing trolls.)

Level 4 (How I Share It) - Unable to Award Your Accomplishments

The problem: Failing to accept praise, award your accomplishments and realize you’re getting pretty good at this. This makes you feel unfit to offer advice.

Remember: Once you’ve gone through the internal/external battle to find your balance, take a bit of time to reflect on your achievements and see if you can offer to help someone.

When you help another person, a mental switch makes you think back to all the lessons you’ve learned and a beautiful thing happens: you become more confident — because you realize that all the struggles, pain and success you’ve experienced are now helping someone else.

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Just Say “Thank You”

For me, one of the hardest lessons was being able to say “Thank you” with a period at the end.

In Product Management, good PMs often take responsibility for all the difficulties but the moment there’s any sort of praise, they step aside and say, “It was the team.”

Giving credit where credit is due is encouraged but, at least for a split second. put a period at the end of that “Thank you.” Take a moment for yourself. Realize that you were a part of this huge concoction, gearing the wheel. You were not invisible.

“Humble enough to know I am far from perfect. Confident enough to know I can do anything I set my mind to.”

In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate this quote because it bears repeating. And if you’re looking for some highlights to carry with you:

  • Confidence is about learning to trust yourself in different situations.
  • Confidence is not about always knowing what to do.
  • Confidence is a state of mind that fluctuates based on situations.
  • Confidence is not a permanent status that is achieved.
  • Confidence is about asking for help when you need it.
  • Confidence is not about taking every critique that comes your way.

Confident individuals are okay with failing. They realize that confidence is not about mastering something perfectly; it’s about getting out of your own head and trying something for the very first time — even if you end up sucking at it. Because what matters is that you tried.

This article is based on Kate's Confidence in a Nutshell Workshop. If you have questions or are curious about the topic, you can contact Kate via LinkedIn.

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