Risk and Reward: Taking a Chance Fuels Confidence

Mar 30, 2018

By AMA Staff

How do you reinvent yourself when you’re suddenly without a job? How do you face a world that doesn’t respect your career history and accomplishments? And how do you move on from failures?

Take a page from the start-up playbook, suggests Wendy Sachs, author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot—and Relaunch Their Careers (AMACOM, 2017). Entrepreneurs reinvent themselves frequently. After a failure, they pick themselves up and move on. They take action, and they take risks, Sachs said.

Many women avoid risk in their careers, and it hurts their prospects and confidence level. During a live interview presented in March by the AMA Women’s Leadership Center, Sachs talked about what women can do to adjust to a shifting job market.

Building confidence: skills and competence aren’t enough

Sachs noted that a lack of confidence holds women back. They hesitate to promote themselves, believing they haven’t achieved enough. But skills and competence levels aren’t enough. “Competence is not as important as confidence,” she said. Girls are raised that if they just work hard and get As, they’ll get ahead. Boys are raised to be disruptors, and this can open doors.

But women do have a way to tap into confidence. “The fastest way to grow our confidence is to take risks,” Sachs said. “And confidence begets confidence.”

She also recommended these steps toward a better future:

Embrace failure. “I don’t think I would have written Fearless and Free if I hadn’t failed so many times,” Sachs said. Women are not comfortable with failure. They are afraid of being judged. But when you’ve gone through failure a few times, you’re not afraid of it anymore; you learn not to take it personally. “It’s all part of the journey,” she said.

Engineer serendipity. This means taking action to put yourself in a position to enable seemingly chance innovations, she said. It’s being open to new ideas and seizing a moment when it presents itself, Sachs explained. It’s also working on side projects that interest you, networking whenever you can, asking for help, and helping others.

Take “sorry” out of your vocabulary. At one job, “I was told I was too abrasive,” Sachs said. “I thought I was just being direct.” Her colleague, on the other hand, apologized a lot, and people liked her. In Sachs’s next job, “I was apologizing like nobody’s business.” She said she didn’t know if people thought she was very smart, but they liked her. But she stopped when she realized that “sorry” was a power deflator, a way to look gentler when she asked for something.

Be an “amplifier” for other women—and yourself. Sachs belongs to an online women’s group where members cheer each other on—they “amplify” their work and their value. She suggested that women form such groups at work or start one with women from other industries.

We’re good at advocating for other people. “We need to do that for ourselves,” Sachs said. “Surround yourself with other women who will make you feel like a badass.”