Recently, I was a coach at the Career Center at the Watermark Conference for women. Twenty or so of us coaches sat as the 6,000 conference attendees had the opportunity to come and get some coaching from us in short increments of 20 minutes. It was a full day of listening to the wide array of issues that were occupying the minds of these professional women.
Since then, I’ve thought about many of the conversations and one keeps coming back to me. It was with a woman who had a list of things she was told by her manager she could work on in order to move forward in her career. At the top of the list was Confidence. We had a short conversation about this – as much as was possible in the short time allotted.
Now, though, I think we can all use this conversation to look more deeply at the messages we receive, the messages we give ourselves and what we do with these messages. The thing is, this woman seemed quite confident to me and in talking to her, she seemed to feel quite confident as well. Her confidence, however, had a different feel. And listening to the reasons behind some of her behaviors, I heard further confirmation of the flavor of her unique confidence. And this flavor was Gentleness. Hers is a Gentle Confidence.
This woman isn’t the team member who speaks the most or the loudest. She is discerning about how and when to offer her opinion. These qualities and more make up her own version of confidence, but because it looks different than the ‘norm’, I could feel her suspecting that maybe her version was wrong somehow.
It makes me curious that the manager has missed the beautiful quality of Gentleness that exudes from her, although I do understand how it can be missed. So many of us have firm ideas of what “Confidence” looks like. And I’m sure that this is even more true in the male-dominated sector within which this woman worked. If we don’t see confidence in that form, in others or in ourselves, we can easily jump to the conclusion that it is missing and maybe even that we have to fix something in order to get it.
Partly, I think the issue is that Gentleness might be seen as weak, perhaps because of its softer edges. However, there can be such power in Gentleness – when we use it with others and when we use it with ourselves. There is quite a strength behind it and often times even a firmness that challenges those sharper edges of others who might shy away from bringing a Gentle approach in.
I wonder what would have happened if that manager had told the woman, “You know – I see in you a Gentleness that is very powerful. I encourage you to step into that more and more as I see this is where your confidence lies.” Or if the woman, herself, was able to connect with the truth within and had identified the type of Confidence that was hers – tapping into the Gentleness, leaning into it and reaping its powerful benefits – with or without letting her manager in on her unique secret.
Imagine how the woman would be able to move forward from this place – feeling honored by who she is and honoring herself for her uniqueness instead of trying to squeeze herself into some prescribed box. This is such a great lesson for each of us. Instead of honing in on what is missing in the formula of ‘ideal’ behavior, there’s a way to focus on the beautiful unique qualities in each of us.
Your invitation this week is twofold: 1) to explore the Gentleness within you – when do you use it, when do you disregard it, how can you nurture it and 2) what other aspects of yourself do you suspect that you might be disregarding because they aren’t fitting into the expected box? How might you nurture this part of yourself this week?