Three Easy Tools to Build Your Professional Courage

I’d never thought much of courage until my 33rd Birthday, when I made the pledge to do something every year that I was afraid to do.

A few weeks later, my husband and I met a paraglider. When he suggested I try running off a mountain and jumping into the sky, I had to say yes. In the moment that the sail lifted us up, I felt the most amazing sense of security and freedom I’d ever felt at the same time, and I realized that this is what they mean by stepping into your courage – literally.

Since then, I’ve made a bit of a hobby out of identifying and building upon actions and areas of our lives that can help us find our courage.

In this piece, I’ve highlighted for you three different strategic areas to guide you towards self-awareness and courage.

1. Understand your strengths

Women often feel like we need a PhD in a subject before we can call ourselves an expert. However, we all exhibit natural character strengths that add to our ability to be good at what we do. Whether you already have a chosen career or calling or you are still looking for the perfect job, understanding your way of “being” and your way of “doing” can deeply inform your choices, build your confidence and help you to focus on what you do best.

For example:

An ace marketer is likely able to actively listen to a client’s problems and instinctively understand the solutions that will work for the client and their audience.

A software architect (not just engineer) is likely strong in both strategy, problem-solving, and abstract thinking. She may be able to visualize and see relationships and processes that would twist the average person’s brain into a knot.

Self-awareness builds confidence

Positive self-awareness through focusing on our strengths is a huge boost for our self-confidence. We naturally tend to focus on our weaknesses. But if you think of yourself as a sailboat, your weaknesses might be compared to small leaks. You need to fill the leak(s), but if you don’t put up your sail (your strengths) you’ll never get anywhere!

How can you learn about your strengths?

I use several techniques with my career coaching clients. Two require you to take online surveys, and the last one requires you to spend some time thinking and talking with your inner circle.

This is a paid test (no affiliation) that is used by life and career coaches around the world. This test can be described as highlighting what you “DO” best. There are 34 strengths of which we each have 5 top strengths. There are two cost levels of the test, I find the least expensive actually gives the most useful explanation, you can do it on your own or with a career coach.

These strengths tend to be fixed over time, but they can be very helpful in giving you the mindset and the vocabulary to describe what you do and why you do it well. My 5 strengths combine together to make an entrepreneurial mindset that thrives on new information and new actions. Knowing my strengths allowed me to let go of the desire to be focused on one thing and allowed me to embrace my natural strengths. Freedom and courage!

  • VIA Character Survey

VIA is a free test (also no affiliation). This test is designed by researchers in the field of Positive Psychology and it focuses on how you “BE.” These strengths often closely align with your values and what you find important in life, while they also describe your personality and interest in certain topics.

When you do this test it’s important to understand that although the results highlight your top 6 strengths; you are not necessarily “weak” in the strengths that are not your top 6. It’s simply the top 6 that most define how you BE.

The VIA strengths are not fixed and if you chose to focus and work on a lower strength, you can move it up the scale. This survey is useful for helping you to understand what you value.

My number one VIA strength is “an appreciation for beauty.”

This describes why I value an aesthetically pleasing environment. I get attached to architecture, and I love beautiful scenery. Once I had an interior office with no windows, awful dirty paint and industrial furniture. I felt awful, stifled, and grumpy every time I had to sit at my desk.

One day I saw a lucky bamboo plant. I bought it and put it on my desk. Next, I washed the walls and I hung a colorful Van Gogh Print. Suddenly, I was able to sit at my desk and work — my energy could finally flow!

The VIA strengths can help you to understand why you focus on honesty or give you validation for your commitment to spirituality. Use these results to give you insight into what is important to you and what you might want to change or improve upon in your career or work environment, be it human relationships, your physical situation or your mental state.

Conduct your own 360-strengths review. Make a list of your top 5 strengths as you think would be defined by you; your boss; your peer; your employee or your professor.

Now, ask people from your social circle (your parents, your partner, your BFF, your neighbor or hairstylist are all good options) what they see as your top five character strengths.

Compare your personal results to those from your inner circle. Are you surprised? Did you underestimate yourself in any way? How can you use these to inform your career decisions or build your confidence?

Ideally, you can conduct all three options for a full-circle view of your strengths. Your natural way of doing, your way of being, and then how this plays out in your life. Once you know these words, think about how you can use them to build out or enhance your professional narrative.

2. Define your values

When you are clear about your values, it is easier to speak up for what is important to you and to go after what you value.

The VIA survey mentioned may give you insight into some of your values, but not all of them. As an individual, what you value is up to you. There are no “shoulds” in values. Shoulds are things OTHER people tell you to do or value.

Every individual has a different set of values. Some people highly value time alone, others value quiet, while others appreciate the noise. Some people value being “part of something” while others value “going solo.”

Make a list of what you value in your personal life and at work. Look at how these values affect your choices and then explore where in your life you feel that you might be overlooking or conceding on something you value.

Knowing your values allows you to speak and think and express yourself with authenticity and confidence. If you define your values, it makes your choices in life easier, and you will worry less about offending others or doing what others say you should do because you will know what is important to you.

3. Visualize the result

The emotions that you feel in your “imagination” are biologically recognized by your body the same way that you feel and experience live emotions. Similarly, when scientists watch for brain activation in those visualizing an event, the same areas of activity are stimulated as during a real event.

Going to a job interview? Visualize answering the questions, visualize different ways the room might be arranged. Visualize how you will respond if you are put on the defensive, or in an uncomfortable chair.

Giving a presentation or Facebook live? Visualize what you will say, how you will respond, practice looking in people’s eyes or what you will do if there is a technical glitch. Practice smiling and making eye contact.

Visualization builds your confidence by allowing your mind to run through various events and outcomes, preparing your response ahead of time. When we are stressed often we fall into fight or flight mode. This is one reason we get performance anxiety. If you’ve visualized how a situation will play out, particularly with you at your best, but also given certain negative scenarios, you will be prepared, and more likely to do your best!

You can probably see how all three of these skills work together, but I’ll lay it out straight. If you know your strengths and values, you can own your story and or write a compelling professional narrative. You can create rules to live by and be confident in working to have these honored in your professional and personal life. Combined together, these three things build our self-awareness and are the recipe for building confidence.

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