If you are in your early to mid-20s, on your first major job and perhaps making your first critical contribution at work, you have probably had some moments when you have sat down with yourself and asked whether you are really the right person for the job. Maybe you look back to your campus days when your only serious role was attending classes and finishing assignments and you realise that was child’s play compared to the job that you are facing now. You also look back at that stint as an intern where you worked under a more surefooted executive and on whom you seriously relied on every step of the way and you notice that your good days are long gone.
As if in science fiction, you note that all the easy things that could happen in your life now reside in an irretrievable past. You completed campus and are now in possession of your gleaming degree certificate, recommendation letter from your internship organisation and you have now landed your first job where everything actually boils down to you. Kujenga nchi has ceased to be that thing adults do because you are now part of this adult population. Bummer, I know!
The task ahead of you is daunting. It is not as if you cannot hack it but there is that little voice that asks you, “what if something goes wrong?” You keep seeing your fellow co-workers who are older both in age and experience walk confidently around the office corridors and you wonder whether your confidence levels can ever get to theirs. Indeed, you begin to doubt your capability of executing the job.
But your problems are far from over. Just when you are beginning to get used to the big black rotating chair, you receive an email about a conference which you are required to attend on behalf of your company. This is when it dawns on you that everyone in that company (except yourself) has a lot of confidence in you; your capabilities and your potential. So, how do you get yourself out of this ditch called self-doubt? How do you begin to build your confidence as a young professional?
a. Speak to your mentor
If you are a young professional and you do not have a mentor, please find one. A mentor is someone who has more experience than you and whose character and portfolio bears some of the things that you want to achieve in your career. S/he is also someone that you trust and deeply respect. When in self-doubt, a mentor is someone that you can sit down with (for even five minutes) and s/he will give you direction and restore your confidence. Please note that a mentor is not a praise-singer. Insight Consensus Influence in their newsletter to young professionals write that, learning from a mentor is extremely valuable because these mentors are likely to have gone through similar experiences at some point in their careers and they can therefore offer you some practical advice about how to navigate this phase of self-doubt.
b. Dress appropriately for the job
Confidence sometimes begins from the inside and then radiates to the outside. If you need to remake your hair and do a bit of wardrobe make-over, please do. If you are at work and feel underdressed and you are at the same time trying to build confidence, you know that is not going to work, right? So start there. Comfortable and impressive appearance will even put you in a slightly better mood during dark days so there you have it, dress well for the job. Forbes Writer Jacquelyn Smith argues that, it is better to start by sprucing up your appearance and recreating your wardrobe after you land a new job because these first impressions go a long way in the construction of your name in the company.
c. Build on your strengths
Are you good at public speaking? Are you an excellent report writer? Are you a flawless communicator? Let your own star begin to shine. There is no chance that you are good at everything so as you begin your career, remember those things that make you stand out. If you are presenting a proposal in the boardroom for example, build on the fact that you are a charismatic speaker with an excellent command of language. Do not worry too much about whether your presentation is the best presentation in the world. Look here, you are only 25 years old and you are just learning the ropes of writing a groundbreaking proposal. Dr. Ann Gatty Writing on Career Bright says that, doing exceptionally well is the result of focusing on one thing and getting passionate and inspired by it. She further writes that a good blend of skills, knowledge-wise and your natural abilities, is the competitive edge that you possess at your workplace. Remember to develop your talents.
Sometimes, the difference between good and bad results is adequate preparation. If you will be making a presentation at a conference, take time in your research and go through your notes until you feel confident. Rehearse with the tools/programs that you are going to use and generally just put your stuff together and all other things that you might need for the day. A little confusion can throw one off-balance and eat into your confidence. This also applies to your regular days at work. Taking some time to just think through your day and what you are going to need will go a long way in making you confident at work because you will feel prepared for the day; indeed, you are prepared for what the day holds.
e. Have enough sleep
Some movies are so tempting – they insist on being watched on a Tuesday midnight. Sometimes it is your friends on social media who have ‘really hot gossip’ that they want to tell you until 1 am. Oh yes! Mary your friend from Arusha could be in town and calls you to hang out on a Monday evening. Please, resist the temptation to stay with her until it is late. I know everyone has in their head a sleep duration that they believe works for them. But if you know that you cannot adequately defend a paper and attentively listen to and address the gaps that will be raised by the panel on four hours of sleep, please arrange to sleep on time. Sleep is also a good way of rebooting and getting one invigorated for the next day. When you are energised, the confidence comes.
I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.