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Insert Yourself: Getting Comfortable With Discomfort to Reach Your Goals

Insert Yourself: Getting Comfortable With Discomfort to Reach Your Goals

Years ago, I was sitting with a mom and her daughter discussing how anxiety can limit opportunity, and the mom said to her, “You have to insert yourself.” It’s a simple statement, but it’s stuck with me because so often, women don’t! Whether it’s a job opportunity, a date, or an event, women frequently stay on the sidelines or wait for an invitation, and thus, miss out on growth opportunities. 

What if you put yourself out there for opportunities even though you weren’t sure you would get them? Or, what if you asked for what you wanted, full stop? You might think, “That’s just not me! I’m not extroverted, I’m not a natural leader.” You don’t have to be born with the ability to lean in and ask for what you want. It’s something you can learn and hone over time. Making a commitment to inserting yourself and tolerating the distress that comes with pushing your boundaries is a life-long strategy that can make a notable impact in your life.

For decades, women have been taught to wait to be invited. Think about it: traditionally, who asks who out on a date? Who proposes marriage? Who talks most in a meeting? Who do we picture as a CEO? From birth, parents and adults interact with girls and boys differently. Research has shown that, although boys and girls receive the same amount of praise from their parents, the type of praise they receive is different. Process praise (defined as praise for a child’s efforts and strategies) accounts for 24.4% of the praise boys receive, whereas for girls it only accounts for 10.3%. Being given more process praise from a young age puts boys at an advantage, as it makes them significantly more likely to have developed a growth mindset by age 7-8. Little girls are most often praised for their appearance and sweet dispositions, while little boys are lauded for being out-going, creative and smart. This foundation has been built over years of conditioning and gender-specific expectations – and has such a powerful impact. However, we can challenge these norms and shift the way we interact in the world. By understanding where the anxiety comes from, women can proactively work to enter new scenarios and tolerate the discomfort of the unknown experience, reaping major rewards in the end. 

Research validates that women insert themselves less than men. Men will apply for a job that they are 60% qualified for, whereas women will only apply if they are 100% qualified. How can people NOT hire men in these positions if they aren’t even seeing women’s applications because we aren’t sending them? Studies also show that men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. However, their performances do not differ in quality. This confidence gap is notable. Researchers and writers, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write, “Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. All of that is the bad news. The good news is that with work, confidence can be acquired. Which means that the confidence gap, in turn, can be closed.” 

Okay, so we see that there’s a gender difference in how men and women interact with opportunity. Why does this matter? Because if you cognitively understand that the voice that makes you feel awkward or that says you aren’t ready or qualified is just societal training and not reality, you can counter that feeling with a reframe and insert yourself anyway. Your internal dialogue could look something like this: I notice the thought and feeling that there’s no way I would be able to be student body president. This is probably due to my social conditioning as a woman, not because I’m really not qualified. I’ll never know if I don’t try. I’m going to apply even though I feel anxious about this! 

A lot of what keeps women quiet and from inserting themselves is social anxiety and our desire to do things the “right” way. This underlying conditioning not only impacts our ability to achieve, but also can negatively influence our experiences when we ARE in a situation we’re seeking. Let’s say you find yourself at coffee with someone you really admire. Anxious racing thoughts about what she thinks or what she expects can pull you completely out of the situation, disconnect you from YOUR desires, and result in you not being your brightest, best self. I know many women who won’t go to a networking event alone, even though research shows this is one of the best ways to network. They are too nervous about who to talk to, if they’ll look weird walking in alone, or what to do if no one talks to them. Or, if they go, they spend most of the time on their phones, as opposed to sliding up to interesting looking people and starting conversation – which is why everyone is there in the first place! Yes, you might seem a little odd or disrupt a flow of a conversation initially, but once you get started, you’ll be able to connect with new people and impress them with your sharp intellect and humor. The benefit of that connection far exceeds the awkwardness of inserting yourself – but you have to be comfortable with the discomfort in order to get the benefit.

Here’s a secret: successful people don’t become successful because they are the best, smartest, or most qualified. People become successful because they inserted themselves to make an opportunity happen – even though it was risky or vulnerable. As we build up tolerance for discomfort, it will get easier each and every time. In the beginning, you might often pair an outreach with a personal statement. This is a disclaimer that women often put in front of a risk or insertion, i.e. “Here’s my essay, but I was tired when I wrote it, so it might not be any good.” or “Hey, do you think we could grab coffee? I know it’s super late notice and I gave you only a little bit of a heads up that I would ask so no worries if not.” One of my best friends and fellow psychologists coined the term of a personal statement because she found herself pairing personal excuses for behavior so much, and now she catches herself when she does it and laughs at herself too. I do it too! It’s natural to put a disclaimer when you’re inserting yourself into a situation that makes you uncomfortable, but your job is to notice, stop, and push forward without personal statements over time. Part of putting yourself out there is practicing and growing confidence and conviction, full stop. You are capable. Lead with that. 

Putting yourself out there might not ever feel good. You might always have the instinct that you’re being too forward, that you should just wait, that it would be too awkward. Your job is to practice feeling this fear and doing it anyway. One of the best tools we have as humans is the ability to change our thoughts, to expose ourselves to fears and overtime conquer them, and to develop a growth mindset. The way you conceptualize and approach situations can shift your societal programming. Even if you don’t fully believe it, repeating a mantra of, “I am qualified for this and they would be lucky to have me” or “I am cool and people will appreciate that when I show my unique sides” can allow you to step out of that comfort zone and make your possibilities endless. 

There’s a lot in the world we can’t control. But you CAN control whether or not you put yourself out there for something or not. You can control the risks you take. When you proactive putting yourself out there, your opportunities for success exponentially increase. Feel the discomfort, but reach out anyway. Reframe your thoughts and take risks. There’s so much that might come from it – and so much we can model for future generations of women and girls.  

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