Cultivating your inner badass

January 30, 2014

Sophie Tucker, definitely a badass

When a listener described me as ‘badass’ last year I got an odd thrill. It didn’t sound like me at all: the self-doubting, not-sure-I-can-do-it person born and brought up in the self-deprecating UK.

So how can a person like me – or the old me, anyway, because I have been improving – become more ‘badass’? That was the question posed in a webinar I was on yesterday, courtesy of 85 Broads. Barbara Roche was the speaker. She’s a leadership communication coach who also teaches at the Wharton School of Business. She works with a lot of professional women who are highly accomplished. Yet many of them still have crises of confidence.

A lot of women pretty much live in that state. Lack of confidence has haunted me all my life. If women had the same sense of self-belief many men do, we’d be making far more of a mark on the world. But we're hampered by an inner voice that is always chattering, telling us we’re not quite up to par.

Cultivating confidence: 

  • Before I outline some of Barbara Roche's points, I'm putting a stake in the ground. Confidence comes from doing things that make you uncomfortable. At the start of each new job or project I've been a mass of nerves, questioning my abilities and worrying I'll flop. Looking back, I can see how much my confidence has grown over the years. This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't taken on new challenges and done things that terrified me (like live radio). So at least some confidence comes from new experiences. That said, the evil inner voice still has a lot to answer for.
  • Barbara Roche started the session by defining ‘badass’. Turns out it has two definitions. She immediately rejected the first, ‘tough or aggressive’, and embraced the second: ‘formidable, excellent.’ I’ll take that one too. She said the point was to talk to us about “how to bring out the most formidable parts of yourself so you can seize the moment and advance in your career – or your family dynamics.”
  • Women "caveat all our sentences about what we're good at." Sound familiar? I've done this countless times. You start saying something positive about yourself and then insert a 'but'. One of the things Barbara forces clients to do is speak an entire sentence about themselves that does not include a caveat. And do it again - and again.

  • She cited the work of Carol Dweck of Stanford University, who has done a lot of work on mindsets.

 First, the fixed mindset:

Must be perfect

Fear of failure

Qualities set in stone

Then, the malleable mindset:

Continuously learning

Willing to try

Qualities are malleable

  • It probably won’t surprise you to learn most women Barbara sees have a fixed mindset. The majority of men have a malleable one. I’d say I am now much closer to having a malleable mindset, but for most of my life it was fixed, and I still struggle with some of those qualities.
  • One of Barbara's male clients told her he thought of himself as Arnold Schwarzennegar – yes, that’s how he began his days (as a badass, essentially). Whereas “most women look in the mirror and see flaws, things that are going wrong." You have to set an intention to start each day with a "growth mindset” in order to cultivate badassdom. 
  • Shed the people who are bringing you down: the colleague who wastes hours of your week moaning about their life, or the friend who is mired in negativity. They're sucking your energy and your ability to get anything done and feel good about yourself. It sounds a bit woo-woo, but bad energy saps you.

What I took away from this webinar was that a lot of what keeps women under-confident is in our heads. Yes, I knew that. But sometimes being reminded that this self-sabotaging mindset is just a mindset is helpful. I can attest that it takes practice to start silencing 'the voice' and getting it to talk to you in different and positive ways. It's difficult to break the habit of a lifetime. But it can be done - in stages. One suggestion? Start looking at the men around you and observing their behavior. I did this and marveled at their chutzpah (especially when they were years younger than me). Then I tried to copy it - within my own comfort zone, yes, but still, I took a leaf out of their collective book. 

One woman who truly fits the 'badass' moniker is Erika Napoletano. She's written a book called The Power of Unpopular. If you need a little female badass in your life, head to her site and check out some of her blog posts. And be prepared for some forthright opinions.