Book review: The confidence code

Katie White

Meerkat Mob Book Club Review

The first time I head about The Confidence Code: The Art and Science of Self-Assurance —What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman was from a good friend who read it for their book club. She mentioned that confident people don’t talk about other people. That was all it took to start the questioning… I didn’t talk about other people, did I? I was confident, wasn’t I? And finally, the nagging feeling that simply the act of questioning was confirmation enough. I must not be confident. Oh no.

I did what many people who don’t want to admit to a potential lack of confidence would probably do – I firmly and resolutely hid from the book. No, not proud, just honest. Then when Sharon reached out to do a book review this month, I knew it was time. I committed to The Confidence Code. I was finally going to face this. No more hiding.

I’m an avid reader, yet I struggled with this book. It is undeniably well-written and well-thought-out. It unpacks confidence layer by layer in compelling scenes. One moment you are sitting with Christine Lagarde admiring her scarf and aplomb along with the authors. Soon after you are transported to a neuroscientist’s lab watching rats display confidence. Oh, yes, it seems animals have confidence. Each new piece of the confidence puzzle is revealed within these carefully crafted moments. Yet, I struggled to get through – why?

Unpacking Confidence: The “Stuff that Turns Thoughts into Actions”

Despite hearing the confidence challenges of some of the most successful women out there, it is uncomfortable to look at our own confidence. The journey of unraveling our own internal mess of contradictions and complexities takes mental and emotional effort. It is also uncomfortable to look at confidence as a fairly systemic problem for women. If the journey of unraveling ourselves is hard, the path to enact societal change is truly daunting.

Tackling these questions is where I found the best parts of the book. The authors skillfully unpack the following:

  • The Definition of Confidence: “the stuff that turns thoughts into action”
  • The Confidence Cousins: the differences and connections between confidence and self-esteem (“I’m a valuable person and feel good about myself”), optimism (“I’m grateful and expect a favorable outcome from any given situation”), self-compassion (“I’m kind to myself even in setbacks – setbacks are simply part of the human experience”), and self-efficacy (“I can succeed at this”)
  • The Human Code: the impacts on our confidence from our genes and the confidence related hormonal mechanisms, neuroplasticity and our environment, subconscious memory, and potentially epigenetics
  • The Gender Component: why and how women grapple more with confidence and how to be confident without forsaking femininity
  • The Magic Formula (for the non-gene related portions of confidence): “hard work, substantial risk, determined persistence, and sometimes bitter failure”

After all that unpacking, it turns out that I’m pretty (perhaps even unusually for a woman) confident in many work-related areas. (Wondering about your own confidence level? Take the test here.) Yet, even in those confident areas, I often dance an ugly dance of familiarity with the darker sides of the confidence cousins.

Outside of the confident areas? I have a lot of work to do. I need to practice taking more personal risks and learn through experience that I will either master those situations or fail (whether a beautiful, graceful fail or a clumsy, stinging bellyflop fail) and still be fine.

What areas are you most confident? Where do you act with fluid assuredness? And where do you hide in your thoughts? How in those areas might you challenge yourself to take action?

I would wholeheartedly recommend The Confidence Code for anyone who wants to go on the journey of figuring out where they fall on the confidence scale, dive deeply into understanding confidence, and ultimately foster turning thoughts into action. For those who aren’t sure that confidence is what matters most, i.e. perhaps you believe that competence not confidence wins the day or you cringe at people who take the floor in meetings; in which case, the recommendation grows even stronger.

We are competent and resilient, we just need to prove it to ourselves through determined, repetitive action. Our thoughts matter, but it is our actions and decisions that create true change and leaders. We need to be positive and proud of simply the act of acting. Leave behind perfectionism and rumination. Fail or succeed. The outcome will be beautiful either way – it will be confidence and progress. Even if it’s a clumsy, stinging bellyflop of a fail, we’ll survive and be better for it.

Katie White is CEO of KW Consulting & Design & member, Luneer Collective

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