Back in June, the Atlantic published a fascinating article about the confidence gap between men and women. My boss (a female) sent it to me. We both found the article to be so true. Some of the big points I remembered were that men tended to be overconfident while women tended to be under-confident. When applying for jobs, only women who had ALL qualities and experiences required would apply, but men who only had SOME of the requirements applied often. One of the writers gave a workplace example of a male coworker constantly pitching ideas to the boss, and the boss would often tell him no. But it didn’t stop the guy from pitching another idea the next day. A female worker, in contrast, would get one rejection and then would take weeks to pitch another idea to the boss. The article suggested that women tend to take failure personally and feel like they have to live up to ideals of perfection. Today, a blogger named Rachel Pieh Jones blogged about it over at She Loves, and she called all women to close the gap.
I went back and skimmed the initial article again today, and then I took the confidence quiz at the end of the article. (You can also access it here.) My confidence came back as Medium. But then it gave suggestions for increasing my confidence. It suggested that I adopt a “fail fast” approach to tackling new tasks:
“Fail fast, as it happens, is a techie buzz phrase, and more important, it’s a hot business strategy. It’s based on the principle that it’s better to throw together a bunch of prototypes, roll them out quickly, see which one sticks, and toss the rest. These days, the world won’t wait for perfection, and spending the time endlessly refining your product is just too expensive. Failing fast allows for constant adjustment, testing, and quick movement toward what will actually work. The beauty is that when you fail fast, or early, you have a lot less to lose. Usually you are failing small, rather than spectacularly. And you have a lot to gain from learning as you fail.
We’ve come to see the theory of failing fast as the cornerstone of what women need to do to build modern confidence. And it’s an especially useful paradigm for women who have some confidence, but want to get to the next level . . . . and this bite-sized failing seems manageable. We need to fail again and again, so that it becomes part of our DNA. If we get busy failing in little ways, we will stop ruminating on our possible shortcomings and imagining worst-case scenarios. We’ll be taking action, instead of analyzing every possible nook and crevice of a potential plan. Think about failing as part of success, as part of good leadership.”
Here’s the thing: I often feel like a failure. Just yesterday I was crying on my bed (that’s where I do most of my crying for some reason) because I feel so lost.
I’m going to church more regularly again, but I am dealing with some major questioning of the most basic Christian beliefs – like What if I don’t believe the Adam and Eve story? And what if we don’t need salvation, or at least not the formulaic kind? Deep stuff.
I like my job, but I struggle to feel effective. I wonder if I should go back to the classroom next year, or move out of education, or stick with it.
I’ve given up my daily writing hour for now, and I’m still struggling a big to find other niches of time throughout the week to write. I’ve been having trouble with writing in general. I feel like I’ve spent 2 years interacting with so many bloggers and writers in the (mostly) progressive Christian realm, and I’ve found a wonderful family, yet I can’t get the agents I want (who are representing the great books I read) to notice me. And I want to give up.
When I decided to retire my writing hour, Steven and I had a long talk about how we can both make my writing a priority and how I can move from daily writing into non-daily writing. He mentioned how much I love to read fiction, especially YA novels, and if I’d consider writing in that genre for a change. When he asked that, I sighed. I studied poetry for my MFA, then quit writing it to focus on creative nonfiction. And I have to admit I’m a little burned out on that now. And I wonder if maybe I’m just not a good writer period (cue confidence gap). Could I write fiction? Do I even know how?
Back to the confidence gap again. Even though I have a freaking creative writing degree, I think I can’t do it. I think I didn’t specifically study that and I’m not an expert and I couldn’t make it work. It’s not my specialty.
But a long while ago I started writing a story about a teenage girl who is caught between two cultures, two languages, and two religions. She’s having to deal with a tragedy and find herself in the midst of a country that is supposed to be home but isn’t. It’s a story that incorporates some elements of my time in Thailand, but it’s its own story with characters and events very different from those of my past. I wonder if I could go back to that. I don’t know.
There is is again: that feeling of lostness, doubt, floating between the known and the unknown.
Fail fast. How can I adopt a fail fast approach to my life? How can I not let failure cripple my confidence, psyche, and emotions? When I know that failure is such a difficult thing for me to deal with?
The last paragraph of my confidence quiz summary said this:
“Make a list of 5 things that have seemed to risky to try, or projects you have been perfecting for too long . . . Take action on one of them, framing to yourself as an experiment in confidence growth. Keep track of what happens. Keep going down the list until you experience some failure. And then—this is critical–do not ruminate about what went wrong or beat your self up. Think about what you’ve learned and how you can use that information the next time. Soon you will experience what we uncovered in our research—taking action not only reflects confidence, it builds it.”
I’m not sure if I’m ready to make that list. I’m more of a planner than a free-faller. I’m more of a success person than a fast-failer. But something is churning inside of me, and I think if I try to let failure into my DNA, I might find myself in the middle of a path that makes sense again. For now I’ll be ruminating about that list, wandering through as best I can, and hoping that being lost doesn’t ever mean failing.