Me: “How would you like to come across?”
I was coaching a professional woman on her personal presence.
Her: (after a few more contemplative seconds) “I’d like to be perceived as confident.”
After some persistent dig-deep questions, she acknowledged, a little hesitantly, that she was already confident.
Her response went something like this: “Yeah, I guess. I don’t command enough respect at work. But deep down, I know I can be reasonably confident.”
I believed in her confidence. The problem was she didn’t believe it. Not really.
And because she didn’t really believe it, she wasn’t making choices to express those attitudes and behaviours consistently. It reminded me of Sade’s lyrics: ‘You’re so much better than you know.”
This is common with women in the middle part of their careers – they have great experience, are probably mid-thirties to late-forties, and they may be coming up to a big career leap.
They might have kids and ageing parents to care for in addition to their jobs. And though they know they’re juggling incredibly well, they feel like what they’re doing isn’t enough. Like they’re not enough.
I call this the knowing-believing gap.
The place where the knowing-believing gap usually strikes, both career-wise and personally, is in how we come across. We doubt ourselves, and that seeps into our presence. The lack of presence can hold us back professionally and personally. And then we doubt ourselves.
Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
Presence ultimately comes from the place of knowing you are enough, of being true to your values, your strengths and your vulnerabilities.
Importantly, confidence is not the absence of vulnerability.
What makes having presence feel risky is that it means being authentic. Expressing more ‘you-ness’ might mean somebody won’t like or agree with you, which is why it can feel so uncomfortable.
“Authenticity,” my client says, “I know what it means, but how can I be more authentic? What do I have to do?”
The answer lays in our choices. From the magnificent to the mundane, our choices are the currency of our authenticity and our presence.
As a note to self, I have a Brené Brown quote taped to the kitchen wall: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
It’s easy to have presence when you’ve had 8 hours of sleep and a good hair day. But knowing how you want to be, and making choices to be that way, even when it’d be easier not to – that is true presence.
My presence satnav is set to ‘Wholehearted’, a powerful word from Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. That’s how I want to be. So like my client who wants to be confident, it’s a matter of showing up for life this way. It’s a choice.
Confession: my presence isn’t always wholehearted. Kids on half term, plus bad weather, equals non-stop arguing. Within about four minutes, my intended wholeheartedness has morphed into a full-blown sense of humor failure.
When we allow ourselves to be triggered into undesirable behaviours (like my client choosing not to speak in an important meeting, or my crusty mood), it’s a choice. Failing to recognize and trip up those triggers moves us away from having presence.
This is where the knowing-believing gap kicks in. My client feels she lacks confidence because she didn’t speak up. Or I feel like a bad mother because I got annoyed with my bickering kids.
Neither is really true. We just didn’t make choices aligned with how we wanted to be.
The core of presence is authenticity, and the core of authenticity is choice. Tapping into this chain reaction is desire, plus the dedication to notice and change your habits.
In her research, Brené Brown discovered that authenticity isn’t something some people have and others don’t. No one is born this way, you get this way. The same is true for personal presence.
I asked my client what she would you have to believe about herself to have more presence?
Her: “That I’m enough. That I’m already confident, and really believe it.”
Me: “And if you’re enough, if you’re already confident, how would that belief show up in your choices?”
Her: (long pause) “I’d be more aware of making more confident choices. Then I’d probably be more confident at work. And then it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn’t it? I just have to observe my choices.”
Be conscious of the self, not self-conscious. Fear constricts and limits. Choices open and empower.
With another windy week of half-term on the way, I’m digging out the board games. This is going to be fun!
Make good choices. Your presence is waiting to happen.