Many women today can feel as if they are pulled between several different competing sets of standards. On the one hand, they’re told to be dominant and bold. This is certainly behavior that tends to be rewarded in the workplace. On the other hand, many women are still socially conditioned to avoid being ‘pushy,’ which is often a code-word that a lot of misogynists use in order to describe any woman who is self-assured at all.
Establishing a sense of self amidst all of this chaos is even more challenging. Women might feel as if they have to sacrifice their own identities in order to get ahead, and a lot of women in the workplace are already pressured to sacrifice too much.
It is still possible to be yourself and to be confident, however. Part of being yourself and being confident involves setting firm limits. You can try to take on new challenges with a strong sense of purpose. However, it’s okay to back down from some challenges if they really do make you uncomfortable past a certain point. Being self-confident does not necessarily mean being a daredevil.
It’s also a good idea to try to be confident in certain areas without feeling as if you have to be confident about everything. We all have our own abilities and talents, as well as our own flaws, and this helps to make us who we are. Focusing on your strengths helps to preserve both your individuality and your self-confidence.
You should also remember that confident people still get nervous sometimes. Being apprehensive about getting involved with a new start-up is normal. It doesn’t make you weak and submissive.
It’s also okay to acknowledge aspects of your personality that might not perfectly fit into the paradigm of the perpetually tough and strong worker who has no personal difficulties whatsoever. Some of the most confident and successful people in history had a wide range of different neuroses, phobias, and emotional limitations. They didn’t become famous and successful by denying those aspects of their personalities. They just learned to work around them.
Society continues to stereotype women heavily, including confident and powerful women. When almost any group tends to get heavily stereotyped, members of that group will find themselves trying to fit into that template. This always leads to a fundamental denial of the self, because of course all people are more complicated than the stereotypes that people often thoughtlessly replicate.
Some women might find it helpful to read the biographies of women who were powerful in their own right. Many of the most influential women of history get neglected all the time. Many people have heard of Madame Curie and her radioactivity research. Her story is sometimes framed as a cautionary tale, given her death by radiation poisoning. Anna Mitus helped create the measles vaccine and helped save more than 100 million lives in the process, and yet she’s not as famous as the polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk.
Many people don’t know the details of the lives of most famous women even if they have heard of them, and the stories of many women degenerate into caricature eventually. Reading about them can help you get a sense of who they were as individuals. Successful people have all had flaws and they’ve all faced challenges. Rather than chasing an amorphous ideal, it makes more sense to use real people as a reference point.