Do Women Writers Have a “Confidence Gap?”

Jul 012014
 
Confident-Businessman

Are you as confident as this guy? According to most surveys, probably not.

Well duh. Of course we do. Since it’s mostly women who read my blog, I feel we can talk amongst ourselves. So just between us, when I read this article about our lack of confidence, I felt a blush of familiarity.

“The Confidence Gap” posits that there’s another reason why women are not breaking the glass ceiling, besides the tug of motherhood and entrenched sexism. It’s our confidence level.

That’s so us.

As a speaker, teacher and coach, I see this “confidence gap” with women clients, female students, and at conference sessions full of women. So many aren’t sure they are ready to write that book or go for it with their blog or write for publication. They think they need more credentials, more classes, more conferences.

Women take months to start a project, because we are not sure we can do it. I procrastinated for two years before starting this blog. That was five years ago this month, and this blog has been a source of joy ever since. Men, on the hand, do not hesitate as much.

As the authors state: “Do men doubt themselves sometimes? Of course. But not with such exacting and repetitive zeal, and they don’t let their doubts stop them as often as women do. If anything, men tilt toward overconfidence…”

We women writers have a black belt in hesitating. We don’t want to fail. The writer Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about this movingly in an interview“Fear of criticism, fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear that I am washed up, fear that I am and have always been a fraud, fear that I will get a nasty review in The New York Times…do you want me to keep going with this list?”

Fortunately, she has a good solution to being vulnerable and getting down on yourself. It’s to build yourself up. “Going all Vince Lombardi” on yourself, as Gilbert says, might also help with perfectionism. This is an issue for every writer. We keep trying to make our work better, and so often, we never think it is good enough. But perfectionism is a confidence killer, and it is especially a problem for women.

Here’s another fascinating observation from the article: “Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified. We fixate on our performance at home, at school, at work, at yoga class, even on vacation. We obsess as mothers, as wives, as sisters, as friends, as cooks, as athletes.”

Recognize yourself here? I do. It would be ironic to end this article by proposing that we all work on ourselves. Let’s just be aware of our “confidence gap” and start with that. And please tell me, I’m not imagining this about us, right? Do these points resonate with you?

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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  44 Responses to “Do Women Writers Have a “Confidence Gap?””

  1. Wow! I don’t even know where to start with this one! I am the queen of lack of confidence but oddly enough, in public I show an amazing confidence so people are always surprised when I say I have none. But yes, I tend to put off big projects, well I put off big projects that distinctly focus on ME (like a memoir), and I am constantly doubting myself, assuming I’ll fail or people won’t like me (I think this is worse). It is an odd mix of confidence and self-doubt. And fear. And yes, I have always been like this.

    But… my sister never was. And I know many women through blogging that have confidence in spades, who push themselves as being so FABULOUS!!! And my husband has that same lack of confidence as I, fear of not being who he should be, being not enough or being too much. Although when I doubt myself or feel bad about myself I put things off while he dives right in, albeit prophesying doom and gloom. So I actually think that this confidence gap is less gender related and more of who we are, how we were raised…. And I always tended to think that the lack of confidence and all that self-doubt were actually a sign of creativity!

    What has helped me overcome this utter lack of confidence is focusing on my successes, forcing myself to be positive and focusing on one thing at a time, putting it into some kind of perspective. Yeah, see, this is my topic. Thanks for starting the discussion as I am curious as to what others say.

    • Fascinating, Jamie, about your sister and husband. Yes, I suppose there are exceptions, and this article makes sweeping generalizations, to some extent. My husband is different from yours. When we encounter something new, he rushes towards it, whereas I hang back, afraid to fail. So I participate less. This is what the article talks about.

      Re successful bloggers, they too deal with doubt and hesitation. They are just better at pushing them aside than we are. Your solution is the same as Gilbert’s, to focus on your successes.

      Re doubting yourself, being afraid to fail, worrying whether people like you — yes, been there. I think we all go through this to varying degrees. It is part of what makes us human!

      I am not sure I am getting your point about how self-doubt and lack of confidence are a sign of creativity. Can you explain more?

      • Well, I often talk about lack of confidence and self doubt with a very very talented friend of mine and I come to the conclusion that it is that self-doubt that makes us continuously analyze our work, strive to get better, evolve and change. Again, those people who I see or who appear to be very confident, who boast a lot, etc when I look at their work I don’t see it evolve at all over a matter of years… they stay where they are and I just assume because their confidence makes them think that they are already at their summit? Or don’t need to improve/evolve/change? Does this make sense?

        • This is an interesting question; perhaps it’s easy to coast and be complacent. This kind of thing happens in higher ed frequently; professors who get tenure and stop pushing the boundaries of their scholarship. But food changes too fast for anyone to be too complacent for too long; editors move, for one. When things keep coming to you, with hard work and all that, do you forget rejection’s pangs? Do you ever get to be so awesome as to be untouchable–i.e., just a streak of success that doesn’t stop? I wonder…..

        • Yes it does. It’s one thing to analyze yourself, though, and then move forward, and another to have self doubt keep you from moving forward. As an old boss of mine used to say, “The man who don’t stub his toe ain’t moving forward.” Poetic.

  2. Sorry, didn’t discuss perfectionism. “But perfectionism is a confidence killer…” oh yes it is. How many projects are piled up on my desk and laptop because fear of not getting it perfect strangle me and keep me from moving on. Now maybe this is gender related? My husband and sons are worse perfectionists than I yet that only makes them work harder and get it done while it makes me… not work.

    • I have those too! I have to send things out and I don’t want to. Fear of rejection and fear of not being good enough. If I don’t send it out I don’t have to deal with the response. Elizabeth Gilbert has a great essay about that, about letting other people reject you, rather than you rejecting yourself.http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/thoughts-on-writing/

  3. STORY OF MY LIFE. Seriously. I am currently struggling with how to transition into writing as a career, and the biggest hurdles are my perfectionism and lack of confidence. Even though it’s not rational, I have a fear that any pitch/proposal/story I write won’t be good enough. As a result, I’m finding it difficult to get started, even though this is my dream job.

    • Congratulations, Joy. Here’s the thing: there will be lots of rejection! You have to believe in yourself and keep going. See the link I gave Jamie from Elizabeth Gilbert. She addresses it.

  4. Women do because they have to overcome more to get the feedback loop going strong. Sucks really.

  5. The idea of a “confidence gap” definitely resonates with me, but I think the necessary level of confidence just needs to be learned. I would venture that more boys than girls are taught this confident attitude during childhood, and that because of that gender gap in how many children are raised, women often have to work on their confidence as adults. I feel confident now, but I can tell you exactly how I learned it: being a classroom teacher for six years. Standing up in front of a group of 20+ (often unruly) kids day after day for hours on end was far enough outside my wheelhouse that it took a lot out of me, but my comfort level increased bit by bit. The confidence I learned while teaching has stayed with me, and I’ve found it now helps me in everything I do.

    • I too have become more confident as I have gotten older. It’s one of the silver linings! But when it comes to writing, not so much. I can write this blog easily because it’s about having conversations with other writers. But when it comes to sending out my own work…wow. I still have lots of work to do.

  6. I think that it is more a factor of “where” we are in the process. Men are stars all along the progression – they are great just because they “are.” Women think they are judged by the results rather than the “trying” – at least that is how it looks to me. Running the race is a great thing – winning is, of course, better at some point in time, but hey! here I am running the darn race. Look at me – even if I don’t win. The secret is the “look at me!” – women dodge the spotlight until they are perfect. Men jump into the spotlight to record their journey to perfection.

    • Interesting point, Karen. It sounds valid to me. And we had better grab for the spotlight now, because we’re never going to get to perfection!

  7. Absolutely! People who know me will tell you that confidence is the one thing I am not lacking. That is because I hide it so well. Trust me this is so true but only we know it. The rest of our friends are oblivious to it. I really want to change that.

    • Yes, we all have to “act as if.” It works a lot of the time and has saved me on many occasions. The theory is that if you “act as if” enough, it will become second nature.

  8. I think one solution for the perfectionism problem, at least for female WRITERS, might be journalism school. I was taught in j-school that when the deadline comes you publish with the material you have. Period. It’s very liberating in a way. I’m not saying I have beaten the confidence gap in all respects, but I my training definitely helped.

    • Well, I went to journalism school, and I still have the confidence gap. It comes from within, regardless of what people think about you. I made my deadlines and published a ton of work, but I still don’t think I’m good enough in many situations. You don’t struggle with that?

  9. I have been plagued my whole life by a lack of confidence so it is curious that I chose professions where it is important to be—or at least appear—confident. Perhaps that has been my way of dealing with the issue. When I was practicing obstetrics I found that being overly prepared helped me feel confident and perform well. As a writer, it is more complicated than that. I spend more time than is necessary on everything I write because I am highly critical of my work. And why haven’t I written that book proposal yet?

    • Annie-Your question struck a chord with me and I can relate to your “why haven’t I written that book proposal yet?” After chewing my way out of a cubicle working in the food industry for twenty-three years to be a writer, I tortured myself for not writing a compelling book proposal for my two book projects. That is up until last week. I wrote my first. But only because I’d recently completed the entire manuscript first. I’m not sure where you are with your book project, but I can say from experience, (regarding nonfiction) that it is much easier to write the proposal with a finished book. And I’ll tell you, it was liberating to write that proposal. Good luck and keep writing.

    • Hah! Yes, I have come across so many writers who want to spend all their time on the research, they just love it so much. When reading your comment it occurred to me that maybe they are just procrastinating about writing the story, worried that it won’t be good enough.

      Funny about how being overly prepared can help you in so many professions, but in writing, not so much.

      • Great point about the story not being good enough. That nagging self-doubt is the hardest thing to shake. Even after I wrote the book, then the proposal, and as I wait to hear from the agent, I still have the it’s-not-good-enough feeling. Does it ever go away? In my case, probably not. It’s what motivates me to be a better writer.

  10. Oh, you are singing our collective song, Dianne. Sigh. It’s why I have two cookbook ideas that are pressing on me and I haven’t actually made time to sit down and finish the proposals/summaries I have working on, that lovely people such as yourself have given me feedback about in various situations. It’s why I sometimes feel stuck. It’s why I have an idea for a blog, finally, after wrestling with whether or not I want to go that route, but I haven’t done it yet. I am making really small steps, but so small as to feel Lilliputian at times, perceptible to no one but me. Nonetheless, I am trying to push ahead, forge ahead, with what I want to do. I used to think that it was an issue of time–If I only had a week with nothing already on the calendar (ha!) or even a couple of days, I could bang all this stuff out like a pro. What’s more likely? I’m afraid of not getting it right, not being smart enough, not being prepared enough, the whole “not good enough” problem. I have not been doing this my whole journalistic career, which also contributes in some way to the gap, too; it feels like many of my peers have, but I know that’s not the reality. Instead, I bring other experiences including almost 10 years of travel writing to the topic, among other things. I think with every great new thing I do, that voice gets smaller, but it’s still there. Thank you for giving us a great space to talk about these issues we all share.

    • By Jennifer Hanlop Jan 13 2012 tramadol buying online legal Waxing.

      Oh Carrie. Thank you for being so honest. Really, the bottom line is that you are taking small steps and moving forward. Just keep going that. You will get there.

      I have had weeks with very little on the calendar, but that doesn’t mean I accomplish what I need to do. I slow down, spend more time lingering over lunch, get lost reading articles online — in other words, procrastinate.

  11. This is so true..I completely relate to also what Jamie says…

    @all, Harvard Business Review just published a paper on this topic, in the June 2014 issue:
    http://hbr.org/2014/06/women-find-your-voice/ar/1

    Have a good weekend!

    • Great summary. Fortunately I rarely have to be in these kinds of meetings, but it’s all part of the same theme, isn’t it?

  12. I completely agree. I used to think it might have been just an issue with me, but as I build more relationships with women who I always viewed as strong and much more capable than myself, I have realized that this is something that resonates with all women. I do think that accepting this about ourselves as women is a great step in the right direction. Working on changing this part of myself has never been an effective solution. I simply am aware of it and let it be a part of my life. Somehow it seems to be less overwhelming, especially when you can open up about it with a group of women who understand exactly what you are feeling.

    • Yes, if you are a perfectionist, you probably already have a long list of things you’re supposed to be working on, so I didn’t want to overwhelm everyone. It’s kinda hard to make a list item: 1. Become more confident. Doesn’t really work that way.

  13. Thank you thank you Thankyou. Yes, resonation level: 150%. No, you are not imagining this. So good to read it here. I thought it was just me. I love your idea: awareness. Noticing this, knowing it, and moving forward. Till I need to be reminded. Then I will nod deep breath and go back in, relieved of burden of shame and blame. Fall down 7 times, get up 8. Going back in now, Coach!

    • There’s no benefit to the whole shame and blame thing, is there, Nancy? Still, we sometimes get trapped in it.

      Yes, you will keep going. Look at all you have accomplished. That is what Gilbert suggests. Sometimes when I read my resume, I think “Damn, girl!” Of course, other times I read it and feel like a fraud. Thankfully they are fewer.

  14. OMG, Dianne, you encapsulated it perfectly. I have been struggling with the lack of confidence thing my entire life, and whenever anyone asks me to be on a panel or participate in some discussion or event, this fear of being “exposed as a fraud” grips me. Even in the face of being told how impressed–even awed–someone is by my resume or cookbook or whatever, I still always feel inadequate.

    Women are put at a disadvantage from the day we are born, and it’s a testament to our strength that we somehow manage to accomplish all that we do. I just wish we could all be a little easier on ourselves.

    • Amen sister! Well, now we are talking about it and thinking about it, and maybe we actually will remember to be easier on ourselves. Or hear our self-talk and change paths. Okay, now I’m sounding like a therapist.

  15. Hi Dianne. This is a terrific conversation. I have been plagued with this criticism/failure/fraud/ridicule circle since I began this writing journey. Strangely though, when I sold fish I had no problem with confidence (interestingly the commodity fish biz is predominantly male dominated). If I could apply those same feelings of fearlessness and bottle them up, I might be in another business entirely! I like your solution-awareness. Thanks.

    • That’s funny, Maureen, how you felt very confident selling fish. Maybe because it has to do with advancing someone else’s product, whereas, in writing, the product is generated by you?

  16. Aloha Dianne, I have been dealing with these self-doubts as well–for years. I think women have been struggling to find their ‘voice’ for centuries and we feel that if it isn’t right (or perfect), we will be judged in a male dominated world as frivolous, hysterical or insignificant. We want what we are saying or writing about to be important and acknowledged as significant. What is saddest is that this tends to lead to women feeling the need to compete with each other–not encourage, spur on and lift one another up.

    P.S. After reading, re-reading, editing, I am finally submitting this reply, hoping that it is not critiqued too heavily…..sigh…

    • That is what is so wonderful about blogging, Tracy. You can define yourself and your topics on your own terms, and there is no editor. And many people have made it a full-time business.

      I do not critique my commenters, Tracy, so please don’t worry. I sometimes disagree, but generally I am just pleased to have a conversation!

  17. Ciao Dianne, I do procrastinate and I have to admit I’m also a perfectionist. I don’t want to put anything out there unless I think it passes muster — but it is never 100%. I decided to start a blog — and I can’t believe I’m actually five months into it. I’ve written almost 60 posts and I do think my “voice” is improving and I owe a lot of it to you — I bought your book Will Write for Food and I am enjoying it but more than that I’m learning. I find your advice to be right on the mark. I do write and rewrite — not to make it “perfect” but to make it perfectly reflect me and what I’m trying to say.

    • Congratulations, Marisa. And thanks for the kind words about my book. Thank you for saying that rewriting and editing is not about perfection but about reflecting your views accurately and clearly. It’s important to understand the difference. The last thing we need is to try to make our work perfect.

  18. Diane, another voice whispering “yes” to your original question. My hand has been hovering over the “publish” button for a good three weeks now, to make my first blog post. But no, the tweaks and inner arguments continue, and the blog doesn’t go live! I think it’s worse because I’m worried that my approach to my subject going to annoy some purists, and will be a target for criticism–and the self-doubt gets even worse. But I still feel it’s a valid approach. Would a man have this hesitation? I don’t think so.

    • Maybe he would be uncertain but would press the button anyway. I hope after reading this post that you will publish. I will say “Congratulations!” now! Go for it, Donna.

  19. I’ve been crippled by a lack of self confidence for all of my life and it has held me back from doing many things – in the past. I have found my 50’s to be incredibly liberating in this respect. I’ve come to recognise opportunities as just that, not scary things to confront me, and have found the confidence to reach out and grab them. It started with baby steps, but each one has increased my confidence incrementally and I now rarely hesitate. If I’m presented with something I want, that I’ve never done before I simply say “yes”, knowing I have the smarts and abilities to work out how to do it later. I can’t tell you how much that has improved my self-confidence. Wish I’d been able to see that I could have done this many years ago.

    • Exactly! I have found the same in my 50s. I am better at handling my self-doubts now. I too wish I had figured it out earlier. Thanks Amanda.

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