5 Steps to Stay Confident and Avoid External Validation
So...you got the job! After 18 years of school, and what felt like a never-ending job search, you’ve finally landed your first full-time role. You’re elated, excited, proud, and you can’t wait to tell your parents, siblings, partner, friends, neighbors, and really anyone you see for the next 48 hours: I GOT THE JOB! THEY HIRED ME!
But, the night before your start date, the dread sets in. What if I’m not qualified? What if I fail? What if everyone can tell I’ve never done this before?
When starting your career, it is completely natural to feel unsure of yourself or afraid of what others may think of you and your contributions. But, it also may feel natural to help assuage those feelings by seeking approval from others. While I encourage you to seek constructive feedback from your co-workers and boss in your career, that isn’t what I’m talking about.
What I am talking about is the behavior when we ask others to tell us we are okay: external validation. This behavior comes in many forms: it may be unnecessarily apologizing, constantly seeking praise for completing tasks, or even inferring critical self-judgments from a professional setback.
External validation is like a drug: it feels good at the start, but when it’s gone, it’s extremely painful. The longer you rely on it, the harder it is to pivot towards a new direction. The start of your career is a great time to begin fighting those tendencies in order to grow your self-confidence. Here are a few simple steps to help you on your way:
Step 1: Write down the answer to the question, “What qualities do you want to demonstrate to yourself and to your co-workers?”
There are a myriad of qualities from which to choose from: analytical, thoughtful, composed, hard working, inquisitive, effective, etc. These are likely the qualities you’d want to hear about yourself from others, and therefore, these are the qualities you need to start demonstrating daily in the workplace.
Step 2: Internalize those qualities.
This is just a fancy way of saying read them back to yourself on a daily basis.
Step 3: Identify every opportunity to demonstrate those qualities in your professional interactions.
Want to demonstrate thoughtfulness? Don’t ask “what should I do?” rather, state “here’s how I’m thinking about this.” Want to exhibit your effectiveness? Determine your key performance indicator goals and beat them. Want to show composure? Thank them for waiting instead of apologizing for being a few minutes late.
Step 4: Notice yourself in situations where you want to seek external validation, and refuse to give in.
This might be when you’ve worked hard on a project, when you’re doing something a bit outside of your daily norm, or even when things don’t go your way. Resist the temptation and give yourself what you need: a few deep breaths and reassurance that you are, in fact, okay.
Step 5: Go back to Step 1.
For many of us, the pursuit of approval never stops; whether we’ve just started our career or have been working for decades. The people from whom we seek approval changes, the stakes vary, and situations differ, but the fundamental pull to have a third party validate us remains. For those reasons, these steps are a critical lifelong practice in business.