The confidence experiment: why women leaders fear being powerful & what we can do about it.
I have been working with high-powered, high performing women leaders for almost 8 years. I have been privy to the deepest fears and biggest secret desires of some of the world’s most powerful women. Women who are literally changing the landscape of our world for the better.
Week after week, in private sessions, they spill their truths in half-whispers over the phone line, into my ears.
Month after month, they open up their hearts to me, and their voices quiver as they tell me their biggest dreams and desires.
Year after year, they share the new, higher level struggles that come up for them as they rise and rise like bright, big-hearted suns.
So, it is safe to say, I know what makes powerful women tick… and I know what holds them back from really being completely unleashed into their full power.
And you see, this is a problem.
Because it’s these women being fully unleashed into their power and the expression of that power in the world, that is going to change everything for the better.
THE OLD PARADIGM
It doesn’t take much for you to look around and see what is screwed up in our world.
A lot of it is that we have built up a patriarchal system that is toxic to both women and men.
This type of patriarchal system is based on outdated and harmful definitions of power.
Aka, “power means that I dominate you and you submit to me.”
And the vicious cycle continues.
It is also based on unhealthy ideas of what it looks like to build success, make a living, and impact others.
In the old, toxic patriarchal system, we say things like “hustle,” “no pain no gain,” and take them to the extreme. We burn out. We chase the dollar, the glory, the social status.
We build incredible things.
And then we wonder why we still don’t feel fulfilled.
Why it still feels like there is something missing.
In the old toxic patriarchal system our world is so steeped in, the non-tangible has no value.
We only value metrics, blueprints, and tangible results, like having a big house, a million cars, seven zeros in your salary… and those things determine your worth as a human being.
Compassion, kindness, creativity, spiritual fulfillment, deep confidence, and a strong connection to your soul are not considered “results” that are worth mentioning, paying for, or striving towards.
In the old toxic patriarchy we step on each other to get to the top.
We leave people who need our help behind because we are so busy scrambling to achieve goals that deep down have no meaning to us.
And we believe we are broken and need to constantly fix ourselves.
So all of our marketing, ads, religions and more are based on telling us how fucked up we are and how we need some guru or product to save us from the terrible, wretched original sin of our imperfection.
Our egos dictate our every move, from a place of fear and survival.
We have trouble hearing the wisest teacher available to us, the voice, that if we just listened to it, we’d have everything we ever wanted and more: the voice of the soul.
It’s clear to see that this way isn’t working anymore.
THE NEW PARADIGM
Everywhere you look, the voices of the marginalized and the oppressed are rising.
The darkness seems darkest right now because it is dying.
Industries dominated by white, closed-hearted men are toppling, and more and more people are demanding more fulfillment and inspiration. They are rebelling against the messages that we are broken and daring to embrace their inherent wholeness, accepting themselves as they are, and celebrating that uniqueness in each being.
The women I work with, they are rising out of this toxic patriarchy.
They are here to create a new world, the new standards.
They are here to pull us out of the toxic patriarchy and into the new world.
They are being called to be a different kind of leader.
To rise above the BS, the false gurus and the noise, and to be wayshowers of integrity, alignment, & soul-driven leadership.
I’m not going to try to completely define the new paradigm. We are still in the process of fully defining it. That starts with knowing what doesn’t work and what we don’t want, and evolves into more of what we do want. But I know that wholeness, kindness, depth, and compassion are part of it. I know that equality is a part of it. I know that toppling systems that oppress all of us, is part of its mission.
If you’ve been led to this article, I have a strong hunch that you are called to be a leader for that, too.
THE DANGEROUS FEAR
But there’s one dangerous thing that is holding back those of us who are here to lead from alignment and wholeness.
It’s the thing that keeps your power just a little bit checked.
The complete range of your unique soul gifts just a little bit held back.
It’s the thing that dulls the most powerful weapon you have to change the planet, your soul.
It keeps us slightly disconnected from our inner wisdom, which is all we need to live that powerful destiny we feel called to.
Want to know what it is?
It’s the fear of being “too” powerful, “too” big.
- I’m afraid of getting too big for my britches.
- If I become more visible, I am less safe.
- What man, woman, or person will be able to be my friend, lover,
or colleague if I am too powerful for them?
- What if no one can hold space for that and I end up all alone?
- What if the higher I rise, the worst I can be torn down?
- How dare I be this powerful?
These are versions of what I hear every day, working with powerful, successful women leaders.
You’d think you wouldn’t have these fears when you’ve achieved so much.
But the truth is, when you are leading from that place in your soul that has called you to more since you were a child, you are also undertaking the most powerful, spiritual, personal development journey you’ll take in your life.
You’re going to hit new levels of hidden beliefs and fears, every time you step into the next highest level of your work in the world.
This fear of being too powerful, comes up even more strongly every time we are being called to become more powerful. Show up even MORE fully than before, barefaced and bold.
As powerful women, we fear being too confident, too direct, too visible.
But every time we hold back because of these fears, we hold back the very thing we use to change the world. And our impact is slightly dulled.
THE SECRET EXPERIMENT
These are the women I support. Badass trailblazers who are here to be unleashed as hurricanes of love in the world.
So I decided to try an experiment. I was determined to get to the core of this fear, to help my clients.
I decided to “test” out being super powerful and super confident for a full year.
I told no one about this.
The results were… interesting.
PHASE 1: ACCEPTING COMPLIMENTS PROUDLY
The first way I tested this out was by really allowing in compliments fully and simply saying thank you.
I let myself smile big, visibly look proud and happy when I got a compliment from someone
I didn’t try to wave it off or laugh about it.
I didn’t follow it up with a, “no, YOU are amazing,” or a, “oh it’s nothing!”
All I did was smile, open my heart, fill up with that person’s compliment, let the joy show up on my face and say, “thank you.”
The reactions were fascinating.
I met a woman who has been following me online for a long time. She approached me to tell me how much my words had impacted her and told people around us how amazing my writing was.
I smiled, let it fill my heart, felt great receiving it and said, “thank you so much.”
Her face smiled back, but her eyes darkened a little.
It seemed like she was expecting me to wave it off and downplay it.
She didn’t seem to know what to do with me accepting her compliment.
Weeks later, she attacked me online.
Most people I did this with were thrown, and acted similar to the above example.
What I drew from it: We have a real issue with women not downplaying themselves. Even those of us who claim to be all for women’s empowerment. I know because many women’s empowerment people in my space seemed bothered when I didn’t downplay their compliments. Micro-aggressions came out later on in my interactions with them as a result of me accepting their compliment.
PHASE 2: AGREEING WITH COMPLIMENTS
This one was a little bit scarier. I wanted to see what happened if I said, “I know! Thank you!” in response to a person’s compliment.
If I agreed with that person’s compliment, I wanted to see what would happen if I showed that level of confidence.
This one was also fascinating.
One woman “corrected” me in front of a bunch of women at a large women’s gathering after a woman announced to a table that I was an “incredible leader and writer.”
“Maybe you should just say thank you. I think that’s better, otherwise people might think you’re bragging,” she told me, looking perturbed and worried for me. She seemed to be concerned for my safety, and what people might think of me if I displayed that level of confidence.
Interesting that it was okay for her to say how amazing I was; but when I agreed outwardly, it wasn’t okay for me to do it. Really, I want you to think about this!
I was “corrected” a few more times by worried-looking women in my space.
Some raised their eyebrows.
And I’m pretty sure some people just went home and told their peeps that I was an arrogant bastard, based on the looks on their faces. (These are the consequences one must accept when one is secretly carrying out an experiment and testing people’s reactions).
The questions that arose for me from this were:
Why are people SO threatened by a woman knowing how amazing she is and owning it? Why is it okay for someone else to say it and own it for her, but not okay for her to own it?
Think about this for a moment.
This is not the same as bragging.
Bragging has a negative connotation and in my experience bragging has more to do with the old toxic patriarchy that says, “I’m better than you.”
That is a very different energy than, “I know, thank you.”
But yet the two were conflated frequently when I tried this phase of my experiment.
My only conclusion is that confidence in a woman is too powerful and threatening.
Imagine what a woman who knows her gifts and owns them could achieve.
PHASE 3: SPEAKING WITHOUT APOLOGY
This one was the most controversial of the three.
I stopped adding “just” in front of my sentences.
I stopped minimizing my voice and power by adding extra words to sentences.
I observed how the men around me spoke, plainly, directly, and without a lot of extra fluff.
I stopped using “apologizing” words in my communications, whether verbal, or written.
For example: instead of “just wanted to check in on how that web page is coming! Thanks!”
I wrote “Checking in on how the web page is coming! Thanks!”
A woman on my team who I had hired for a temporary projects became hostile and I had to let her go. Men became belligerent with me and mansplained me.
I was told by another woman, “I wouldn’t be very attractive to men” if I spoke to men so plainly. Another woman once again “corrected” me, and told me I should think about other people’s feelings more (to statements like the examples above).
Lesson learned: women who don’t apologize for their power all the time and just show up as themselves, are threatening to people.
CONCLUSIONS: FUCK IT
I was fascinated by the responses to this experiment.
Most heartbreaking was seeing the number of women who resisted my confidence, my owning of my power and gifts, and my plain, direct self.
“Shouldn’t women be my allies since we’re all experiencing this?”, I thought.
I have come to expect it from men who are steeped in patriarchy from the moment they are born, but I quickly realized that women — we are internalizing that toxic patriarchy just as much as men are.
No wonder my clients are afraid of being powerful.
It feels dangerous.
Especially seeing the reactions it can generate in the people around us.
We turn on each other.
Tear each other down when one of us becomes “too big for her britches.”
We fear another woman’s power because we fear our own.
So we try to ‘correct’ it, or bash it down, or passive aggressively turn down the confidence volume of another woman.
All because we are not allowing ourselves to own our own power.
And when we do this to each other, when we do this to our very selves, we hold back the very power that will change the world around us with our unique brand of leadership.
So here’s my advice, powerful sister:
Our world is fucked up from years of toxic patriarchal BS.
We’ve all internalized oppression in some way or other.
We all project that internalized oppression onto each other in some way or other.
We all try to correct someone for being too powerful.
YES, there is a big difference between using that power to dominate and suppress others.
YES, there is such a thing as arrogance born from that old paradigm of fucked up power mongering.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
My conclusion is:
Be confident, even when your knees are shaking.
Speak out as your soul and heart wants to speak, even when your voice is wavering.
See how amazing you are and own it, because that confidence will bring out your gifts to the forefront — the very gifts we need you to share with the collective.
Stop tearing down your fellow woman leader.
Stop correcting her to “protect” her from becoming too powerful.
Look within you when you feel triggered by the fierceness and confidence in her energy field.
Celebrate a sister who you see being powerful, even if you feel a twinge of envy in you.
Use that envy to fuel your own power and self-acceptance.
Come together with other women who are committed to showing up as powerful leaders as well, so that you don’t feel alone in doing this.
Stop giving your power to those who can’t handle your power.
Be kind, powerful, loving, compassionate, fierce… all the faces of the goddess.
Rise. Shine. Be the brightest fucking light you can be.
Because even if we are afraid to do this, THIS is what the world needs right now.
MORE women normalizing an image of women that is powerful, fierce, soft, strong — all of it.
Because this is what it is to be a leader.
It means, we go first.
We model first.
We do the scary thing so others can do the same.
We align ourselves to create the ripple effect of alignment everywhere around us.
Be confident. Be powerful. Be afraid.
Be a fucking force anyway.