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Take the journey from self-limitation to self-confidence: six ways to beat the inner critic

Imposter Syndrome

Empowering beliefs can open doors and allow us to maximise our potential. On the flip side, limiting beliefs can have equally a profound impact — shutting those same doors in our minds and holding us well back from our best selves.  

A recent study uncovered that 87% of women from entry right up to senior management levels experience symptoms of self-doubt, indicating that it’s something many of us still need to push through in our careers.  

In the latest instalment of the everywoman Leadership series, senior leaders Abbie Walsh and Gopali Contractor of Accenture, share their inspiring career journeys, and the tools and tricks they’ve used to stare down self-confidence issues before they’ve become stumbling blocks. 

 

ABBIE’S TIPS FOR MOVING PAST LIMITING BELIEFS 

Recognise what you bring to the table 

I’ve been given opportunities [throughout my career] and I have taken them, so determination is one of the voices in my brain — but that can sometimes lose the battle with the doubt voices. I think much of my anxiety comes from growing up in the 1980s in a northern city as a gay woman when being gay wasn't particularly accepted. It meant that when I entered the world of work, I had a sense of not quite belonging, which affected my self-confidence. That was exacerbated later on when I joined Fjord as a design lead, without having had formal design training. What I realised in the end was that what I did have in terms of skills was different, but it was definitely complimentary to people who did have much deeper craft skills. Once I believed in that, I could bring something valuable to the table. 

“I need to recharge regularly and to spend time on my own to do that, which isn’t always possible when you've got two kids and a full-time job.” 

Value work friendships 

I felt like an outsider through much of my career because I didn't have any specific role models. But what I did find was solace in the friendships I formed at work. I've noticed that more and more successful employee engagement is related to being able to feel that you can have friendships at work. That has been a massive revelation for me, especially during my time at Accenture, where I’ve found a lot of great colleagues and friends. I feel now, I'm in a position where I can be honest and stand up and say, ‘It's okay — you might feel like you don't completely fit in but there's a place for everyone.’ 

 

Harness your introversion 

I'm an introvert, which can be a crippling thing, but it can also be really powerful because it means that I often listen to my inner voice. I need to recharge regularly and to spend time on my own to do that, which isn’t always possible when you've got two kids and a full-time job, but I try and make the space — I force myself to go running every day, for example. Then when it comes to making big decisions, I try to go around all of the negative thoughts and gradually shut them down to the point where I can take a leap forward.  You also have to know what is and isn’t in your power, so you can chew out the negative commentary and focus on areas that you can positively affect. It's not always possible and sometimes I don't manage it, but it’s definitely a way that I’ve found to harness the power of my introversion. 

 

 

GOPALI’S STEPS FORWARD TO SELF-CONFIDENCE… 

Focus on authenticity 

There is always that fear of not being able to be good at what you do. I wasn't as bothered about whether I was successful at something, though — more whether I was authentic and genuine in it. So, whatever I did or said had to be right for me. I think you have to lay strong foundations like that, and then the doubt can fade away. And if you have a setback, you have to work hard — whether that is on a skill, on a relationship — and be genuine about it. Being authentic with people and in your work may not bring you results right away but in the end people ‘get it’ and even in the corporate world they are drawn to it. Then in turn that feeds back into your self-belief — you feel more that you can actually do something if you’re getting positive responses back. 

“I have two sons and I feel that if I can give back two good, sensitive men to society, that'd be good.” 

Prove yourself to yourself first 

When I was just starting my career in my twenties in New York, I was diagnosed with cancer and ended up being out of the work environment for two and a half years. Taking a break due to health reasons means you don't look the same or feel the same, but I still had that drive to go back to work [though] my self-esteem and confidence was at its lowest — I even wondered whether I still had the intellectual capacity to do a nine to five job, but I love life and I was determined I was going to live it completely as I could, given the circumstances. To get over low self-confidence you have to show yourself that you can actually do what you want to do. You don't have to prove it to anybody else. The spirit of fearlessness made me realise that if I were able to manage chemotherapy then what could be worse than that? I decided then in terms of the job, that I’d just figure it out. 

 

Pay it forward 

Nobody has an easy journey, and because of that I'm always raising my hand to ‘pay it forward’ through Accenture, because if not us, then who? So, I lead programmes like the High-Tech Women, for example, part of the Catalyst programme, an NGO that works with women who need mentorship in engineering. I've been fortunate to have amazing counsellors and supervisors in my career, and it’s important to build those kinds of relationships going forward. Outside of Accenture, I have two sons and I feel that if I can give back two good, sensitive men to society, that'd be good. I also try to connect with NGOs and go and talk at universities because it's nice for us to sit in our cushy offices and talk through all this, but what about the women who need mentorship, but who don't have access to leaders? I don't like to call myself a leader though, rather a person who has been through a journey — but even if I can inspire [just] a couple of girls, I've done my job. 

 

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