Build a Network and Your Self-Confidence

I recently had a discussion with a female friend who is a practicing attorney. She mentioned that she believes she would be more successful in her career if she were thinner. She confided that some of her typical daily concerns include whether there will be places to sit at various locations, such as client sites or court rooms, and whether the chairs will have arms, which may require her to squeeze into the chair.

This conversation left me disheartened and led me to reflect upon my professional career. I recall the anticipation, anxiety, and preparation for interviews as I contemplated my professional appearance. Society and the legal profession dictated that I should wear a black skirt suit, nude pantyhose, black pumps, and a string of pearls. My nails should be a natural color, so they would not be distracting to others. My lipstick should also be natural and not too colorful.

I spoke with more of my professional female friends, in all age ranges and from diverse backgrounds, and I noticed that most of us had received the message early in life, from society, family, etc., that as women, we should be perfect. We should appear and act a certain way, whether it was our weight, clothes, or hair. We should carry our gender with us everywhere, including boardrooms, courtrooms, and trading floors.

Based on these conversations, I concluded that women are likely to experience internalized anxieties related to their gender and physical appearance, which can create underlying stress that contributes to self-doubt, lack of self-confidence, and ultimately, a fear of failure (this conclusion does not contemplate other significant research surrounding these issues that may potentially also lead to a fear of failure, such as the imposter syndrome). A fear of failure may discourage risk-taking, and arguably, without taking risks, it may be difficult to achieve success. Indeed, many professionals that society deems successful have experienced failure.

In light of this conclusion, it is important for female professionals to cultivate relationships with other female professionals with whom they can be vulnerable and have an open and honest dialogue regarding these internal anxieties. This network can provide professional women with the tools needed to build self-confidence and thus, reduce their fear of failure, which can lead to additional success.